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NBA Daily: Which Second-Tier Free Agents Should Teams Retain?

Several teams may lose players to free agency. Shane Rhodes analyzes which players should be a major priority for their respective teams.

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The 2018 offseason is loaded.

LeBron James, Chris Paul, Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins headline a free agent talent pool deeper than any other over the last few seasons. With the start of the free agency period in the coming days, their movement could change the NBA landscape as we know it.

While every team won’t be fortunate enough to grab one of those top-tier stars, there exists plenty of value and depth throughout the free agent market, both restricted and unrestricted. There are plenty of talented free agents that played an important role for their current teams and could certainly make an impact if they find themselves elsewhere next season.

In the case of some of those players, their current teams should let nothing stop them from retaining them — even if it means breaking the bank.

Who are those players? Let’s take a look.

Clint Capela, Houston Rockets

A few years ago, no one would have thought Capela would be a candidate for a max offer sheet. Now, assuming James isn’t headed to H-Town and Paul hangs around, the Houston Rockets must retain Clint Capela, regardless of the cost.

The burgeoning big man had a career year with the Rockets, posting 13.9 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. Capela was a force on both sides of the ball; highly efficient offensively and dominant defensively, he led the league in field goal percentage (65.2 percent), was second in blocks (137), eighth in rebounds (802) and fourth in defensive rating (100.5).

With LeBron James opting out of his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers, there isn’t much of an avenue for Houston to upgrade their roster (short of some Daryl Morey magic), so, while he could cost a fortune to keep around, Capela should be retained at all costs. The Rockets offense, centered around Capela himself alongside the duo of Paul and Most Valuable Player James Harden, was historically dominant. Another season of growth and chemistry could go a long way to making it even better.

Not only that, but Capela proved a crucial piece to the puzzle that is bringing down the Golden State Warriors — he posted the highest offensive and defensive rating of any Rockets players in the seven-game Western Conference Finals — and that alone should be enough for Houston to keep him around.

Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics

Marcus Smart is worth more to the Boston Celtics than he is to most other NBA franchises. Offensively, while he is a capable passer, the career 36 percent shooter (29.3 percent from three for his career) is an odd fit in the modern up-tempo NBA offense.

Still, the impact Smart can have on the court is undeniable and more than a few teams would probably take the gamble on his defensive intangibles. Those intangibles, his defensive instincts, are exactly why the Celtics MUST hold on to Smart.

He is their team identity.

Smart is exactly what Boston wants to be; gritty, tough, versatile and more. One of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, Smart can and will take on any defensive assignment. He plays with unwavering intensity and, while some of his bone-headed shots on offense make suitors cringe, his knack for making high-impact, winning plays, more than offsets his offensive struggles.

The energy Smart brings to the court is exactly what every championship contender needs, and the Celtics, on the cusp of returning Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to the starting lineup, could use it more than anyone.

J.J. Redick, Philadelphia 76ers

With shooting at a premium in the NBA, J.J. Redick stands to make money regardless of wherever he ends up.

The veteran sharpshooter, who has made a career out of knocking down shots from behind the three-point line, is still one of the best in the business. And, while the Philadelphia 76ers have their sights set on larger acquisitions, retaining Redick is of prime importance to the team, assuming those acquisitions don’t pan out.

The 76ers head into the offseason with a concerning lack of high-percentage shooters under contract for next season. Mid-year acquisitions Marco Bellineli (38.5 percent from three with the 76ers) and Ersan Ilyasova (36.1 percent) are, like Redick, free agents. Ben Simmons knocked down a whopping ZERO three-pointers in his rookie campaign. Markelle Fultz isn’t guaranteed to regain his shooting touch from downtown after a strange rookie campaign.

Redick, a career 41.5 percent three-point shooter who hit at a 42 percent clip from downtown last season, clearly remedies this deficiency.

As he was this past season, Redick would again be the perfect complement to the 76ers starting lineup. The threat he poses on the perimeter opens up the middle for Simmons, Joel Embiid and others. Plus, if Simmons remains a non-factor outside of the paint, Redick’s stroke would be even more crucial to Philadelphia’s success.

Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers

The Portland Trail Blazers have been different since the midseason arrival of Jusuf Nurkic in 2017.

Following the departure of LaMarcus Aldridge the prior summer, Portland’s roster was missing something, especially on the defensive end. They dropped to 20th and 24th in the league in defensive rating in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, respectively. Their record dropped as well, sinking from 51 to 44 wins, then 41.

In Nurkic’s first full season with the team? The Blazers clocked in at eighth in defensive rating and won 49 games on the year.

The Bosnian big man has flourished since making the move to Portland and was crucial to their most recent playoff push. On the year, Nurkic averaged 14.8 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game across 89 games with the team. He placed seventh in the NBA in defensive rating (101.5) and ninth in defensive win shares (3.9).

Beyond the counting stats, there really isn’t anyone on the roster who could replace Nurkic. Rookie Zach Collins, who averaged 15.8 minutes per game in his rookie season, isn’t exactly ready to step into the role. Meanwhile, Portland’s other prominent big man, Ed Davis, played some of his best minutes alongside Nurkic, not in his stead.

Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic finally appear to have a direction.

While most of the league has gone small over the years, the Magic appear to be bucking the trend. With the selection of Mohamed Bamba alongside Jonathan Isaac, their first-round selection from the previous year, and Aaron Gordon, the fourth overall pick in 2014, Orlando has built a jumbo-sized, highly athletic frontcourt built to beat up teams on the inside and on the glass. Gordon, however, is a restricted free agent.

If it wasn’t clear to you by now, the Magic should avoid letting him go at all costs.

Not only is Gordon currently the Magic’s best asset, but, with his newfound three-point stroke, his upside as a player has never been higher. Gordon averaged a career high in points (17.9), rebounds (7.9) and assists (2.3) per game last season while knocking down 33.4 percent of his shots from behind the three-point line, a marked improvement on the 28.5 percent in his three seasons prior.

With Bamba and Isaac in the fold, as well as fellow talented big man Nikola Vučević, the 6-foot-9, 220 pound Gordon could be a major mismatch against other starting forwards on the offensive end, while they could all be a nightmare for other to contend with defensively. And, while the Magic are notably lacking in guard talent (Evan Fournier notwithstanding), a team this athletic could certainly make some noise in a less than stellar Eastern Conference.

These players, as many others did last season, made major impacts with their respective teams last season. And, while it may be for differing reasons, all of these players can make a winning impact next season as well. So, should a major blockbuster trade or signing not be in the works, these teams should do what they can to retain them.

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