That Chris Paul trade sure has taken some of the steam out of the hype preceding NBA free agency.
In one big deal, the Clippers traded the all-star point guard to Houston for seven players (including Lou Williams and Patrick Beverly). That big transaction was preceded by the other blockbuster deal that saw Jimmy Butler dealt to Minnesota for Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn.
The NBA draft certainly added some intrigue, what with the rights to no. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz being usurped by Philadelphia at the last minute.
Therefore, the opening of free agency on Saturday might not be as big a splash as many thought, as a lot of big name UFAs (i.e. Kevin Durant and Steph Curry) will likely remain with their current squads.
Yet, there may be a few surprises left in store.
All teams, other than maybe Golden State, have holes to fill and we are concentrating on the 14 who missed the Big Dance this year (some for the umpteenth time).
Here are they are and who they may target, in no particular order.
14. Denver Nuggets – Defence At Forward Positions
The Nuggets defence in the interior and on the wings wasn’t all that great in 2016-17, contributing greatly to their ninth place finish in the West (one lone game back of Portland). They were tied for third worst in average points surrendered in the paint (47.4 per game) and they also coughed up 18.0 points per game off turnovers, fourth worst in the NBA. Like many other teams, we’re sure, Denver could use Toronto’s Serge Ibaka at power forward. He’s a premier defender who grabbed 6.8 rebounds and made 1.6 blocks per game this past season. If a strong defensive power forward doesn’t materialize, Denver could target Golden State’s Andre Iguodala, who kept LeBron in check during the finals.
13. New Orleans Pelicans – Character Players With Game
With DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis battling each other for team supremacy, the Pelicans need some character (read, heart-and-soul) players to keep a nice balance on the team. We’re not talking “good guys” who are stiffs on the hard wood, but rather ballers who let their actions speak louder than their words. First and foremost, they need a shooter or two. As a team, the Pelicans shot just 35 percent from beyond the arc, which was good enough only for 19th (which was pretty much where they finished in the standings, overall). J.J. Redick, one of the better shooting guards available, would be welcome, as he fired home 42.9 percent of his three-point attempts.
12. Dallas Mavericks – Scoring, Period
The Dallas Mavericks were the lowest scoring team in basketball last season with just 8,029 total points, or just under 98 per game. Little wonder, then, that they finished 16 games under .500 (33-49) and missing the playoffs for just the second time in 17 seasons. The Mavs, then, need scoring threats everywhere but at small forward, where Harrison Barnes led the team with 19.2 PPG. They need an upgrade at point guard and Indiana’s Jeff Teague has been a very reliable and durable producer in Indiana. He played all 82 games in 2016-17 and had 15.3 PPG, along with 7.8 assists. With Dirk Nowitzki (also a free agent and not likely to leave) not getting any younger, a center/power forward with offensive flair is also needed in Big D. Not many shooters to be had there, so they may have to content themselves with an upgrade at guard.
11. Sacramento Kings – Depth, Everywhere
When Rudy Gay leaves, which is a near certainty, the highest scoring player remaining on the Kings will be Buddy Hield (15.1 PPG). With DeMarcus Cousins long gone and Gay sure to follow, the talent deficit in Sacramento is acute. Therefore, the rebuilding Kings need help, everywhere. Jrue Holiday needs fresh environs and Sacramento could be a good fit and an upgrade over starting point guard Darren Collison. Replacing Gay and his 18.7 points at small forward won’t be an easy task, either. Washington’s Otto Porter Jr. is definitely younger than Gay (24 to Gay’s 30) and sports a will to compete (6.4 rebounds, 1.5 steals) and a deft scoring touch (13.4 PPG, 43.4 percent three-point efficiency).
10. Minnesota Timberwolves – Interior Defence
Getting Jimmy Butler from Chicago may preclude the T-Wolves from doing much of anything in free agency. Not that they may not want to, but adding a superstar in Butler makes them a contender already. Where they do need help is defence in the paint. They were pretty horrid in that capacity last year, with youngster Karl-Anthony Towns learning on the fly and being over-matched on a lot of nights around the rim. While KAT learns the defensive ropes, the T-Wolves could make an offer to San Antonio Spurs reserve center Dewayne Dedmon. In limited minutes with the Spurs (17.5 per game), Dedmon pulled down 6.5 rebounds and made 0.8 blocks. He’s not a big scorer (5.1 points) but was efficient, sporting a field goal percentage of 62.2 percent.
9. Los Angeles Lakers – Defence, Period
The Lakers were sieve-like in 2016-17, finishing with the worst defensive rating in the NBA at 110.6. Rookie point guard Lonzo Ball will certainly help iron things out defensively in the back court, but questions abound everywhere else. They didn’t rebound well (fifth last in defensive RPG), or block shots with any proficiency (3.9 per game, fourth lowest). The Lakers also tied Denver for third worst in points given up in the paint at 47.4 per game. That’s why the rebuilding Lakers should target Nerlens Noel, who picked his game up considerably after moving from Philadelphia to Dallas last season. The center/power forward averaged 6.8 rebounds (after just 5.0 with Philly) and 1.1 blocks in 22 games with the Mavs. Otherwise, L.A. could go the veteran route for defence and make offers to Andrew Bogut, or Amir Johnson, both proven defensive players.
8. Phoenix Suns – Front Court Help
Phoenix did well at the draft, getting small forward Josh Jackson out of Kansas, as well as SG Davon Reed (Miami) and SF Alec Peters (Valparaiso). What they truly need, right now, are some big men who can make an impact. The Suns were the second worst team in the NBA last season because their veterans let them down and the youngsters were too raw to make a go of it, night in and night out. Their back court looks great, going forward, with SG Devin Booker (team high 22.1 PPG) and PG Eric Bledsoe (21.1 PPG) leading the charge. However, veteran C Tyson Chandler was pretty much a non-factor up front, as was fellow greybeard SF Jared Dudley. Chandler could be replaced by a younger and cheaper option in Marreese Speights, while Dudley is easily subbed out for C.J. Miles.
7. Miami Heat – Go-To Man
The Heat narrowly missed the playoffs in 2016-17, tying the Chicago Bulls in the standings at 41-41 but losing on the head-to-head tiebreaker (2-1). Of all the teams listed here, they are best positioned to make gains in 2017-18. What they lack, even with Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside and Dion Waiters in the line-up, is a go-to scorer. That guy could be Utah’s Gordon Hayward, who announced Friday that he will opt out of his contract with the Jazz to become a free agent. Of all positions on the Heat roster, small forward is one they need an upgrade on, as the Justise Winslow/Luke Babbitt platoon was a little underwhelming. Hayward poured in a career high 21.9 points per game and shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc. Sounds like a good fit to us.
6. Detroit Pistons – Three-Point Assassins
The Pistons were abysmal at three-point shooting in 2016-17, ranking in the bottom five in attempts and hitting on just 33 percent of them to finish third last in the league in that category. There are several three-point bombers available in free agency, including Washington’s Otto Porter Jr. (fifth overall at 43.4 percent), Clippers J.J. Redick (sixth at 42.9), Indiana’s C.J. Miles (15th at 41.3), Toronto’s Kyle Lowry (16th at 41.2) and Utah’s George Hill (29th at 40.3). Of them all, Hill might be the best option, in that he is an Indiana native and Detroit is close enough to home. The Pistons don’t have a lot of weapons and need to take a run at one or more of these players if they want to get back into contention.
5. Charlotte Hornets – Back-Up Floor General
When Kemba Walker needed a rest, the Charlotte Hornets back-up coterie of point guards — Ramon Sessions, Briante Weber, Brian Roberts and Aaron Harrison — couldn’t fill his shoes adequately. Sessions was the “best” option, with just 6.2 points per game and 2.6 assists. The market isn’t saturated with bench depth PGs, however, San Antonio’s Patty Mills would be ideally suited to the Hornets lack of depth at that position. Patty Cakes has been a back-up his whole career and has done an admirable job. In his sixth season with the Spurs, he recorded 9.5 PPG, 3.5 assists and shot 41.4 percent from beyond the arc (good for 12th in the league). The Hornets would do well to sign him.
4. New York Knicks – Pretty Much The Whole Enchilada
Whatever the Knicks do in free agency, they will do with a new man in the GM chair, what with the firing of Phil Jackson. And the Knicks need help at just about every position. Starting PG Derrick Rose is a free agent but with his injury history and high price tag, he may not be back. The Knicks have said they would like to re-sign him, but it’s not a certainty he’ll ink a deal. They did draft French national PG Frank Ntilikina eighth overall, so the Knicks may want to sign a veteran like George Hill, Jeff Teague or even Kyle Lowry to groom him. New York could also use a dependable starting center and shooting guard. Kyle Korver, while a little older could easily fill the shooting guard position on a short-term deal, but starting centers are in short supply, the best of the bunch being Nerlens Noel. The new GM will have to be ultra-creative to get this roster clicking again.
3. Orlando Magic – Shooting Sorcery
Only Oklahoma City was worse than Orlando at three-point shooting in 2016-17. And the competition for lights out three-point wizards on the free agent market will be fierce. As we already pointed out about Detroit, there are several available. Terrence Ross, acquired in the trade that sent Serge Ibaka to Toronto, was the Magic’s most prolific three-point shooter, averaging 5.6 attempts per game. Yet, he hit on only 34.1 percent of those attempts, which is below average. A low cost signing could be Cleveland’s James Jones, who is a Miami native and could be enticed to go back to Florida. He is a strong candidate coming off the bench and is a career 40.1 percent shooter. Atlanta’s Tim Hardaway is also a Miami native and a decent enough shooter to consider. Otherwise, the Magic might want to go for broke on more expensive options like Derrick Rose or Gordon Hayward.
2. Philadelphia 76ers – Point Guard
Yes, we know, the Sixers pulled the trigger on a draft day deal and got the no. 1 selection, surprising no one and picking point guard Markelle Fultz first. Fultz, though, will need shepherding and the only name that comes to mind that makes sense is Toronto’s Kyle Lowry. The Sixers are close to becoming a playoff team with the young talent they have assembled, including Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor. Lowry is Philadelphia born and all signs out of the Six indicate he is likely gone from the Raptors. An elbow injury hampered the all-star’s play in 2016-17, yet he put up 22.4 points and 7.0 assists in 60 games, while shooting a sterling 41.2 percent from three-point range. If Philly is serious about being a contender, Lowry is their man.
1. Brooklyn Nets – Where Do We Start?
Of the 30 teams in the NBA — including the woefully dysfunctional New York Knicks — the Nets are the biggest hot mess. Put it this way, when Jeremy Lin is one of the best players, that team is in deep, deep trouble. No offence to the popular point guard, but the Nets need to upgrade there, as well as every other position, whether at starter or off the bench. And, no help from the draft floor is forthcoming, thanks to that shortsighted trade with Boston a few years ago, that left them without a high number one pick until at least 2019. Thus, if the Nets want to give the fans something to cheer about, they ought to at least send offers to high end talent like Blake Griffin, J.J. Redick, Gordon Hayward and Paul Millsap. They did get young point guard D’Angelo Russell and center Timofey Mozgov in a trade with the Lakers, but those are baby steps.