As you may have heard, next summer is when many of the NBA’s premier breadmakers will be up for bidding, which means it’s not an overly star-studded class of free agents this year, especially when you take those who are restricted out of the equation.
Ben Gordon, Carlos Boozer, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, and Paul Millsap are a few of the marquee names on the unrestricted list; I’m not counting Kobe Bryant, who’ll opt out but almost definitely resign with the Lakers. Beyond the headliners, though, there are a few guys out there who won’t command big dollars or be considered cornerstones capable of helping turn a franchise around, but who can help contribute to a winning cause. We’ve profiled a few of the most notable players who fit that bill here.
In alphabetical order:
Chris Andersen, Forward/Center: Through the Nuggets’ first eight playoff games, the Birdman has averaged 7.7 points, 6.2 boards, and 2 blocks in about 22 minutes per; without his energy and toughness off the bench, the Nuggets’ path to their first Western Conference Finals appearance since 1985 would have been much bumpier than it has been. With him in the lineup, I think they sweep the Mavericks. (Andersen missed Game 4 with a stomach flu.)
Two months ago I wrote about Andersen’s feel-good comeback season, and his strong play since then has done nothing to deter his value this summer. Expect the NBA’s Executive of the Year, Mark Warkentian, to get first crack at reupping Andersen to a modest 2-3 year deal, but there’s sure to be other suitors knocking on his door–the open market is most always kind to motivated big men who know their role (in Andersen’s case, defense and rebounding) and consistently fulfill it well.
Trevor Ariza, Forward: Now in his fifth NBA season, it’s hard to believe that Ariza will only turn 24 years old next month. He’s on the precipice of finally becoming a consistent, high-impact starter who does all the little things right and still has plenty of room to grow on offense. In many ways, Ariza reminds me of Detroit’s Tayshaun Prince (minus the latter’s pterodactyl wingspan): a glue player who’s comfortable in a supporting role but capable of stepping up when needed.
Health remains somewhat of a concern: this was the first time in his young career he’s been able to make it through an entire 82-game season. His potential, versatility, and experience playing alongside a cast of All-Stars in LA, however, will undoubtedly make him a hot commodity. Speaking of Detroit, don’t be surprised if the Pistons make a play for Ariza whether they trade Prince or not (and I think they’re going to at least try to); I also expect the Lakers to prioritize Ariza over Odom.
Matt Barnes, Forward: Barnes was up and down all season during his first (and probably only) year in Phoenix, but given the right situation, system, and coaching, I think he can be a steadier perimeter presence than we’ve seen since he started getting consistent minutes during the 2006-07 season in Golden State. Specifically, he needs to be reigned in as far as three-point shooting goes; it’s not that he can’t hit ’em, but he’s a 33% career shooter from behind the arc and has no business launching over 4 attempts per like he did in Phoenix.
Is Barnes a starter? No. That’s why I think he’d be a perfect fit for the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that’s clearly on the rise and would greatly benefit from having Barnes’ nagging man-defense, ability to run the floor, and veteran experience behind Kevin Durant. I love the potential matchup problems opponents could have dealing with a lanky second unit led by 6-8 Barnes at the three, 6-6 Kyle Weaver at the two, and 6-7 Shaun Livingston at the point.
More of 2009’s second tier-unrestricted free agents after the jump…
Brandon Bass, Forward: Undersized as a 6-8 power forward, Bass has flashed a surprisingly effective offensive game on the blocks from time to time, including a nice touch on his close-range jumpers and a high-percentage free-throw shot (he was 12-14 in Game 3 of Dallas’ 106-105 loss to the Denver Nuggets).
Given almost the exact same amount of PT during each of his two years in Dallas–just under 20 minutes per–Bass has posted nearly identical numbers: about 8.5 points, 4.5 boards, 49% FG, and just under 1 block. Does that mean his development has topped out? I don’t think so. I don’t know that he’s capable of the kind of jump Paul Millsap took this year while Carlos Boozer was out, but I do think Bass can flirt with double-double averages if he can just find the minutes.
Rodney Carney, Forward: The book is still out on whether the 25-year-old from Memphis can consistently produce at this level, but I’m not ready to give up on the kid just yet. The NBA certainly has no shortage of athletic swingmen with loads of potential but an erratic-at-best jumpshot; a career 42% shooter, that describes Carney in a nutshell.
He never really fit in (some would argue he was never given a proper chance to) with the Philadelphia 76ers during his first two seasons, so along with a future first-round pick he was sent to the Minnesota T’wolves last July in exchange for a $2.8 trade exception; yep, that’s how highly he was thought of in Philly. Not a great season in general–somebody needs to tell him he’s not a good three-point shooter–but he had his moments (like when he averaged 18.5 points/per between March 29 – April 5).
He won’t command much attention, and theoretically could even end up overseas, but Carney is a low-risk gamble that someone out there should strongly consider taking a flier on.
Antonio McDyess, Forward: After being sent to the Denver Nuggets last season as part of the Billups-Iverson trade and susequently released, McDyess resigned with the Detroit Pistons out of loyalty and love for the franchise that gave him the opportunity to resuscitate his career and compete for championships. Don’t expect any such sentimentalism this summer.
He’ll be 35 years young once the ball jumps on the 2009-10 season, and though there’s plenty of fight left in those legs and he’s put his injury-plagued past long behind him (he’s played all 82 regular season games in three of the past four seasons), he clearly has no time to waste on a team in rebuilding mode like Detroit is.
His pricetag won’t be nearly as high as his expectations: he’ll be looking to sign with a legitimate championship contender on a 1- or 2-year deal. Cleveland, Orlando, or the Los Angeles Lakers could be options, but wherever he ends up, McDyess’ presence as the probable first big off the bench could be invaluable. His post-All Star break numbers as a starter in Detroit this past season were off-the-charts-good, all things considered: 12.1 points, 11 boards, 51% FG, 1.6 assists, and 1.2 blocks per.
Chris Wilcox, Forward: I’m far more intrigued than most by the eighth overall pick in the 2002 draft. I don’t know that Wilcox is a winner, but the guy has produced when given minutes. He never panned out with the team that drafted him, the Los Angeles Clippers (hey, few players do), but posted strong numbers on a bad Seattle SuperSonics team for three straight seasons, a stretch in which he averaged 13.6 points on 54% FG and 7.6 boards.
One of the knocks on Wilcox is lack of defense in the post–at 6-10, he’s never averaged more than 0.6 blocks/per over a full season–and he hasn’t exactly staked a reputation as a team-first player. I want him to land on a competitive team with serious postseason aspirations; we’ve never seen him in such a situation after turns on bad Clipper, SuperSonic, Thunder, and Knick teams. He won’t turn 27 years old until September, and like many others on this list, has the talent to make an impact in the right situation.