Under the Radar Free Agent Signings
*Photo via Getty Images
July 4th is not an official date on the NBA calendar but it probably should be. Independence Day has tended to be a reliable benchmark for when the free agent fever starts to cool. Usually the players at the top of the free agent power ranking make their decision within the first few days and then the other pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place. But sometimes it's not always those first big names that raise teams to new championship aspirations.
We all know the names that move the needle. LaMarcus Aldridge, the last big fish on the market to make his decision, and had suitors holding their collective breath from Portland to Toronto before he finally signed with the San Antonio Spurs. Kevin Love at least had his commitment to Cleveland tested a bit. At the very least, folks around the league were hopeful they could rattle Marc Gasol's cage and pry him away from Beale Street. Dwyane Wade, legitimately or not, was at least rumored to be tempted to fly away from the only NBA nest he's ever known in Miami. DeAndre Jordan was recruited away from Los Angeles to Dallas. Jimmy Butler, Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, Greg Monroe, and Draymond Green rounded the list of big names on the market that teams felt they could hitch their wagon to. Even the name recognition of Paul Pierce overrides some of the most efficient signings of the summer.
While these big names naturally drew the most attention, mentions on Twitter, and talk-time on sports radio, it is wise to keep an eye on the tier of free agents just below the bold headlines, because they may be the players that make up the championship DNA a team needs to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Speaking of teams winning the championship, look at the team that just hosted a parade last month. Think of the roles guys like Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa played. Examine the team they beat in the Western Conference Finals, the Houston Rockets. After they missed out on Chris Bosh last summer, the Rockets turned to Trevor Ariza, who may be the heart and soul of that team. .
With that in mind, let's explore some “under the radar” free agents signings who could make a big difference come next season.
DeMarre Carroll,Toronto Raptors
-Contract: 4 years, $60 million
Carroll was the only member of the Atlanta Hawks not voted as an All-Star. But he was fresh off a postseason that saw him score at least 20 points in six consecutive games, proving his worth. Atlanta made resigning Paul Millsap the top priority of the off-season and after giving Millsap the max, they simply could not afford Carroll.
Carroll may be exactly what the Raptors need. Carroll is perfectly suited to be the third or fourth option, exactly what he should be in Toronto. He'll fall behind Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan in the pecking order. Last season, the Raptors scored 111 points per 100 possessions, fourth in the league. In an offensive that took the eighth most three pointers last year, the Raptors only hit 35.2 percent of their attempts. That's where Carroll can help them offensively. Carroll connected on 39.5 percent of his regular season threes and 40.3 percent of his playoff threes. He is also perfectly suited for the new small ball trend in the league. Carroll can play the four when opposing teams choose to go small.
Only five teams had a worse defensive rating than Toronto. Last year Carroll held opposing small forward to an efficiency rating of just over 13, proving the defensive end of the court is where the addition will pay dividends.
As for the money Carroll will be making, given the skyrocketing cap and the league's new television deal that's causing it, this isn't unreasonable. On the contrary, Carroll should prove that he's actually a bargain at that price.
Tyson Chandler, Phoenix Suns
-Contract: 4 years, $52 million
Both parties found a good fit in their opportunism. Even the departing team may have benefited. Phoenix had previously run a patchwork center rotation based on short-term competence and long-term prospecting. Chandler gives the Suns their best option at that position in years. This allowed Dallas to unchain themselves from Chandler and pursue DeAndre Jordan with guns blazing.
As outstanding pick and roll target and master of defensive positioning, his addition adds backbone and intelligence to a team that could use both. Alex Len is still probably the future of the center position in Phoenix, but this will provide him a great mentor to learn from. He is a clear upgrade in terms of basic defense, rebounding, and finishing ability and will provide a finishing target for Brandon Knight as he penetrates.
Ed Davis, Portland Trail Blazers
-Contract: 3 years, $20 million
The loss of all star forward LaMarcus Aldridge has pushed the Trail Blazers into scavenger mode. Davis is not even in Aldridge’s stratosphere, but he may soften the blow of his loss. Davis is a good rebounder, an efficient scorer, and a reliable team defender. I liken him to a young Zach Randolph. Whether or not he can reach that potential is very much in the air. But maybe more importantly than if he exceeds expectations and becomes a good replacement for Aldridge, his addition shows a forward thinking approach at a time when the Blazers could have operated from a position of panic and desperation. This track can be frustrating for fans, but makes progress through judicious activity. Stock pile good, young assets. If they develop and flourish, they become part of your future or great trade chips in the future. Look at the approach Boston has taken. There is no need to tank, the draft picks will fall where they may and spend the intervening years by amassing talented players on the rise.
Cory Joseph, Toronto Raptors
-Contract: 4 year, $30 million
Joseph leaves the San Antonio Spurs, where he has backed up Tony Parker since coming into the league. Now he will be backing up Kyle Lowry in Toronto.
Joseph pieced together a breakout season last year as Tony Parker was hobbled by injuries all season. In 79 games, Joseph posted career highs in almost every statistical category. Joseph hit a remarkable 50.4 percent from the field and hit 36.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Providing championship experience and playing behind an injury prone Kyle Lowry, Toronto may get every penny's worth of this deal.
Robin Lopez, New York Knicks
-Contract: 4 years, $54 million
Here is the perfect name for this list. Knick fans will scoff at this signing because they were expecting a marquee name to come to the Big Apple. He may not be a Broadway star but he is not a bad consolation prize when adding role players around Carmelo Anthony.
Lopez’s numbers, 9.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, for Portland last season will not turn many heads. He is quirky, almost awkward at times and will never be the one on one offensive threat his brother is. However, he is quintessential teammate who truly embodies the phrase "do the dirty work.” He is effective diving off screen and rolls, setting picks, and crashing the offensive glass. With his ability to hit mid-range jumpers and a good set of hands, he could serve as an efficient and easy target for passes when defenses load up on Anthony. Defensively, he is a big body who clogs up the paint, challenges and changes shots at the rim, always boxes out, and has no problem battling with the most physical of big men. He regularly covers up mistakes for his teammates without asking for much in return, which may make him a perfect big man to be beside Melo.
His last two postseasons appearances were not great. In 2014 he was eaten alive by Dwight Howard. In 2015, his minutes were cut down as the Memphis big men got him in foul trouble. However, the price is just about right for Lopez.
Gary Neal, Washington Wizards
-Contract: 1 year, $2.1 million
What makes the Neal signing especially significant for the Wizards is, that in a league catering to small ball, he can be on the floor at the same time as John Wall while Bradley Beals slides to the small forward. Washington did add a three to fill the void left by Paul Pierce by trading for Jared Dudley. Dudley will be on the floor to defend the opponent's best wing player but the first person off the bench to replace him may be Neal. Because Neal took such a small contract, the club will maintain their full mid-level exception and put it to use in further improving their roster. So without putting management in a bind, Washington adds another shooter and part-time ball handler to relieve John Wall. How coach Randy Wittman uses Neal determine his true value but after watching Washington struggle without Wall in the playoffs, it's not a bad insurance policy.
David West, San Antonio Spurs
-Contract: 1 year, $1.4 million
Most years, signing David West would be a headline for the Spurs. This off-season, the Spurs already got their headline name, LaMarcus Aldridge. West always plays the same position as Aldridge, and Tim Duncan. But that's ok. West is not going to San Antonio seeking a starting role, he may not even play very much. He is not going to San Antonio for money, he left almost $11 million on the table. West knows what he's going to San Antonio for. He knows his value, knows his game, knows how delicately he will fit in the hierarchy of the franchise, and he chose San Antonio anyway. All for the chance at a championship.
Players always say winning is everything. But this is how you prove it. You take less money, less minutes, and less personal comfort. Turn down everything offered to you by the good teams and join a great one. West did just that. He opted out of his final year in Indiana which would have guaranteed him $12.6 million and took the veteran's minimum salary, $1.4 million. The very next day the Spurs resigned Manu Ginobili to a two year deal. The Spurs are gearing up for a serious title run, maybe the last with the old gang of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, but we've thought that before.
Brandan Wright, Memphis Grizzlies
-Contract: 3 years, $18 million
Before the upcoming salary cap explosion this deal may have been solid, but in the context of this new budget splurging, it seemed as if it were a reminiscent of another era.
I played against Brandan Wright as a sophomore during his senior year at Brentwood Academy. So I followed his career very closely. He is now returning to his home state (and mine) as a solid two-way player. He has struggled to find his place in the NBA until the past few years where he settled in as an effective big off the bench in Dallas. He shot an incredible 75 percent from the field in a Maverick uniform last year, but that did not keep Dallas from trading him once the chance to acquire Rajon Rondo came about. Wright was traded to Boston then to Phoenix after only eight games. With a career PER of 20.6, Wright has a history of very efficient play.
With Kosta Koufos having left Memphis in free agency, Wright is expected to slide in comfortably as the first big off the bench. He will provide some athleticism for the otherwise slow, bulky Memphis team. In the West, where depth is crucial, Wright may prove to be one of the best values of the off-season.
UNDER THE RADAR RE-SIGNINGS:
Jae Crowder, Celtics
-Contract: 5 years, $35 million
Mike Dunleavy, Bulls
-Contract: 3 years, $14.4 million
Danny Green, Spurs
-Contract: 4 years, $45 million
Khris Middleton, Bucks
-Contract: 5 years, $70 million