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NBA AM: Free Agents Seeking Redemption

Every player enters free agency in pursuit of a major payday, but some also seek redemption.

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With the salary cap increasing significantly this summer, rising to the neighborhood of $92 million, there will be plenty of cash for franchises to spend. With piggy-banks being opened, there will undoubtedly be a slew of guys in line to receive paydays that would only have been considered pipe dreams just a few years ago.

Players are set to cash in and on the flip side, franchises that have been tight against the restricted cap will now have a bit of breathing room to plot the course of their respective futures.

The NBA is a business and making money is the primary objective for players and league owners. However, there are times when a player embarks on their free agent journey with a need to redeem themselves and turn their career around.

Here are some of the guys hitting free agency this summer on a road to redemption:

Dwight Howard
Free Agent Type:
Player Option

Just a few seasons ago, Howard was the marquee free agent available on the market. How quickly does time (and value) change when it comes to modern day athletes? Howard has seemingly gone from one of the Houston Rockets’ cornerstones to on the outside looking in at the organization’s future plans. Although Houston managed to reach a Western Conference Finals with Howard in the fold, the 2016 season was filled with inconsistency, a coaching change and rumors of Howard and All-Star guard James Harden struggling to play with each other on the floor.

Howard was once one of the league’s most dominant big men and while still a nightly double-double threat on the low block, his value has diminished considerably. But if he chooses to not exercise his player option for the 2017 season, which most expect, he’ll get an opportunity to choose the destination that helps get his career back on track.

Ty Lawson
Free Agent Type:

Just a few seasons ago, Lawson was routinely putting up solid nightly box scores while serving as a floor general in Denver. But after a few off-court incidents, the Nuggets traded Lawson to Houston, where the veteran looked like a shell of his former self. The Houston experiment ended shortly after the trade deadline and the veteran finished the campaign with the Pacers, playing less than 15 minutes per appearance.

It wasn’t too long ago Lawson was considered a top-15 point guard in the game. Was the recent decline a brief hiccup or an indication that the tailspin won’t ever end? That’s a legitimate question surrounding Lawson now.

Lance Stephenson
Free Agent Type:
Team Option

There were some who believed Stephenson was snubbed as an All-Star during his final season in Indiana a few years ago. But his tenures with the Charlotte Hornets and Los Angeles Clippers did little to continue the momentum as Stephenson flopped in both places. But a midseason trade to Memphis presented Stephenson with a chance to regain his form. The veteran swingman averaged 14.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 26 appearances with the Grizzlies to close out the season. Stephenson’s performance was admirable because of Memphis’ plethora of injuries and he helped stabilize the wing on demand.

The Grizzlies will head into next season with a new coach, so it’s yet to be determined if the team will pick up his $9 million team option. If not, he will head to free agency seeking another opportunity to prove he should be considered an above-average performer.

Josh Smith
Free Agent Type:

Since Smith left the comfy confines of Atlanta, his career has deteriorated in rapid fashion. At his height, Smith was a borderline All-Star and a player who was routinely in the Defensive Player of the Year discussion. But over the past few years, Smith has struggled to find a fit. From Detroit to Houston to Los Angeles and back to Houston again, Smith has transitioned from a 35-minute a night guy to a role player hoping to have his number called.

Teams won’t be knocking down his door at the start of free agency, but squads looking for a low-risk, high-reward type of investment with plenty of playoff experience may soon find their way to Mr. Smith. But let’s see if he still has something left in the tank or if the recent decline is a permanent movement.

Roy Hibbert
Free Agent Type:

Hibbert has descended from being an All-Star level performer on a title contender to a guy struggling to scrap up more than 20 minutes in the rotation on a lottery-bound team. The league is changing and plodding big men without an outside shot and inconsistent rebounding results are not of premium value. But Hibbert does offer rim protection and, in the right situation, could once again carve out a valuable niche.

While the free agent riches won’t necessarily be on the table for Hibbert this summer, there will be more than a few suitors looking to improve their interior depth that may decide to give the veteran an extended look.


Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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