After a short venture into free agency, Josh Smith is slated to make his Houston Rockets debut tonight against the Memphis Grizzlies, providing what could be one of the most promising midseason signings in modern league history. However, he won’t be the last guy to get snatched up off of the free agency wire this winter, as there actually are quite a few serviceable players still available to sign with NBA teams this season. Here’s a look at the best of them:
Ray Allen – Teams have been waiting on Ray Allen since July, but he has held firm in that he really isn’t interested in punishing his aging body over the course of an entire season. That said, he also hasn’t closed the door on a return, and the last we heard his agent had told teams to start calling with serious offers in January. Cleveland, of course, is the team most often linked to Allen should he return, mostly since he’s reportedly interested in teaming up with LeBron James again. But Chicago, San Antonio and Dallas could be appealing options for him, too. Allen averaged a career-low 9.6 PPG in Miami last season, but a veteran that experienced chipping in even 15 minutes a game could be extremely valuable for a team in the hunt for a championship. It’s not like he’s lost his shooting touch or anything.
Rashard Lewis – The last we heard from Lewis, he had a new contract rescinded by the Dallas Mavericks after it was discovered that he would need knee surgery. He’s apparently much better now and is working himself back into shape so that he can have a shot at another NBA contract, preferably with the Miami HEAT. Dallas likely won’t be interested in another go at him as they have since signed younger, healthier players with his skillset, but if Lewis can prove he is healthy and nimble enough to play, he’d likely get a few sniffs from teams looking for a veteran stretch four.
Tarik Black – Waived by Houston on Friday to make room for Smith, Black may never actually become a free agent depending on what happens during the waiver process. Black proved to be a pretty good replacement for Dwight Howard during his injury earlier this season and is young enough and promising enough to appeal to a number of different teams. Having averaged 6.2 PPG and 7.3 RPG as a starter for the Rockets in modest minutes, Black proved to be an NBA-caliber talent. He’s not a shot-blocker, but he’s a very efficient scorer and could work as a third big in a lot of NBA systems. Cleveland needs frontcourt help with Anderson Varejao out for the season, and Black could be an option there. Other teams will nibble, as well.
Gal Mekel – Already released twice this year, talented Israeli guard prospect Gal Mekel is back on the market after being cut loose by the New Orleans Pelicans about a week ago. He reportedly had several offers from Euro clubs looking to take him on, but he has held firm in his hope to land with an NBA team that will actually keep him. It hasn’t worked out in Dallas or New Orleans, but it certainly still could somewhere else.
Andray Blatche – Currently dominating for China’s Xinjiang Flying Tigers, Blatche is a former NBA starter in plenty good shape to make a return to the league at any time. He’s averaging 29.3 PPG, 4.9 APG and 2.8 SPG in the CBA, and while the competition certainly isn’t the same there, it does show that he still has what it takes to play in the NBA. It was a bit of a surprise that he wasn’t signed by a team this past offseason, but for the right opportunity and money, he could make a pretty seamless transition back to the U.S.
Tyrus Thomas – As our own Alex Kennedy reported earlier this season, former No. 4 overall pick Tyrus Thomas is looking to mount a comeback this year. While tryouts with a couple of NBA teams several weeks ago didn’t amount to much, it’s worth noting that Thomas is still only 28 years old and has a lot more NBA seasoning than some of the other D-League and international free agents that aren’t quite as experienced. He probably isn’t bound for All-Stardom, but he could still be very good, particularly now that he’s over some of his personal issues and more focused on basketball than he’s been in years.
Smith is going to have an impact unlike many midseason free agents that have come before him, but for teams still looking for talented players with the ability to really change the course of a team’s season, there’s a chance that one of the players above could at least be part of the solution.
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