Five NBA Free Agent Deals That Should Be Made
Every year, when the calendar flips from July to August, free agency winds down to a stop—not because of any official deadline, but because teams have filled up their rosters and/or salary caps, and because few desirable free agents remain untaken on the open market. Even though all of the league's premier stars—well, except for Eric Bledsoe—have been signed to long-term deals, there are still plenty of valuable role players who remain unemployed.
Here are five deals that I would like to see done, based on the mutually helpful fit between player and team:
1. Rashard Lewis to the Detroit Pistons
After Lewis's stunning entry into the Miami Heat starting lineup deep into last year's playoffs, it seemed inevitable that there would suddenly be a market for the 16-year veteran. The Dallas Mavericks signed Lewis to a one-year deal, but then voided the contract after discovering issues with Lewis's knee during the physical, putting him back on the free agent market.
While Lewis would definitely add an interesting dimension to the Mavericks, I would much rather see him reunite with his old coach, Stan Van Gundy, in Detroit. The most effective era of Lewis's long career came when Van Gundy coached Lewis on the Orlando Magic. In 2008–09, Lewis finished first in the league in made three-point baskets, and he was Orlando's second-leading scorer behind Dwight Howard.
While Lewis no longer has the versatility to be a leading scorer, he could certainly be a valuable bench option for the coach who knows how to best maximize his talents.
2. Ekpe Udoh to the Memphis Grizzlies
A lottery pick in the 2010 Draft, Udoh is popularly considered a bust because of his anemic scoring average—4.4 points a game so far on his career. No, Udoh will never be a reliable offensive option, but it's also incorrect to categorize him as a bust. The game is played on both ends of the floor, and Udoh is a tenacious and effective defender who helps shut down the paint for opposing teams.
In Udoh's four NBA seasons for the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks, his teams have played much better defense when Udoh is on the floor compared to when he is off it—better by a margin of five points per 100 possessions, a pretty remarkable difference over such a large sample.
As a member of the Memphis Grizzlies, Udoh would face no expectations in terms of his offensive contributions, and would fit in immediately with the bruising bigs Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Kosta Koufos on the defensive end. Udoh has a very specific skill-set, and the Grizzlies are one of the few teams in the NBA that would be able to maximize it.
3. Emeka Okafor to the Charlotte Hornets
Remember Okafor? After being sidelined for all of 2013–14 with a back injury, nobody has been willing to take a chance on Okafor, even on a "show-me," one-year minimum contract.
Since the Hornets lost last year's starting power forward, Josh McRoberts, to the Miami Heat, they have two intriguing but extremely young options at that position in Noah Vonleh and Cody Zeller. While it will be important for the long-term health of the franchise for Charlotte's last two first-rounders to get significant minutes, Okafor could provide stability and perhaps a mentoring presence in a reserve role—not to mention a back-up plan if the young players' development goes haywire.
And, yes, there would be a certain poetry if Okafor were to return to the place where his long, strange, loss-filled career began.
4. Jordan Hamilton to the Philadelphia 76ers
Over in Philadelphia, general manager Sam Hinkie hasn't signed a single free agent this summer, not after a furious draft in which he selected seven total players. If the Sixers are willing to sign a free agent, they would only do so because that player would be young, cheap, and a conceivable long-term fit in their up-tempo system.
Hamilton fits the bill. As a 6'7" small forward, Hamilton has the rangy size and wingspan that is basically a job requirement to get on the Sixers' roster, and a respectable three-point shot as well (35.8% for his career). While Hamilton never stayed in the rotation during his brief tenures with the Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets, he has all the characteristics of a player that Hinkie is willing to experiment with—in no small part because, at the present moment, Hamilton's value is at perhaps at its lowest overall point.
5. Greg Oden to the Phoenix Suns
As good as the Suns were last year, they were that good while devoting two roster spots to large, minimally used centers: Alex Len and Viacheslav Kravtsov. The Suns are hoping that Len, the No. 5 overall pick of the 2013 draft, develops into a franchise cornerstone and that his meek, 42-game rookie season quickly becomes a distant memory. Kravtsov, however, was released before the end of the 2013–14 season, meaning that there is conceivably another space on the roster for a back-up big.
No, Oden's methodical, plodding style is not a good fit whatsoever for Phoenix's exciting, rapid style of play. But the Suns do have that near-mythical training staff, a staff that has given revitalizing energy to Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Jermaine O'Neal, Jason Richardson, and so many other veterans who have crumbled down into debilitating health problems the moment they left Phoenix's healing confines.
It's highly unlikely that Oden would improve the Suns, but for the sake of basketball, for the sake of seeing what alternate history might look like, let's see what that training staff could do with the league's most perennially (and tragically) injured player.