It’s hard to believe, but the NBA regular season is just days away. Thanks to some schedule changes within the league, the season will start about two weeks earlier than normal so we get NBA action in mid-October. While the majority of rosters are set, there are still some big-name free agents out there looking for jobs. We will explore many of those players, why they are still unemployed, and where they could possibly end up.
Some of these guys could undoubtedly help an NBA team but often times talent isn’t the only thing that keeps them off a team. Some guys have attitude issues or poor work ethics which undercut their abilities and make them poor fits for any team. Others may simply be looking for too much money and don’t realize what they are today rather than what they used to be.
This list of players span the gamut and includes former All-Stars, lottery picks, international players and former college stars. This list isn’t comprised strictly of over-the-hill guys in their 30s as most are in their 20s and as young as 25. All of these guys can still contribute one way or the other whether it’s through their on-court performance or being a valuable locker room presence (shout out to Dahntay Jones and James Jones). It would be a shock if at least some of these guys aren’t picked up at some point but here are the top 15 remaining NBA free agents.
15 David Lee - L.A. Clippers
Of every player on this list, Lee is, by far, the wealthiest but not just from the $95 million he made in his career, but from his grandfather striking a fortune in the early 1990s. Lee signed a two-year deal with the Spurs last season with the second year being a player option. He opted out of a contract worth $2.3 million but it’s looking like a poor decision as he’s still on the open market.
Lee is 34 but he still put up solid numbers as a reserve last season. You would have thought that a similar situation would have popped up already but maybe Lee is asking for money than the $2.3 million he was set to receive. I think he’ll eventually lower that price and join a playoff contender. The Clippers could use a backup for the oft-injured Blake Griffin and Lee could also spell DeAndre Jordan. It would also reunite Lee with Danilo Gallinari as those two looked like the Knicks frontcourt of the future about eight years ago.
14 Terrence Jones - Detroit Pistons
Jones is a jack-of-all-trades master-of-none power forward but I’m shocked he didn’t field a good NBA offer and headed to China. He’s always rated highly by the analytics and had some good seasons in Houston. But he was waived by two teams over the span of five weeks last season and signed to play in China relatively early in the offseason. Perhaps this was the reason why:
Source: Terrence Jones, former HOU, NOLA and MIL forward, signed one of the largest single-season deals in China history with Qingdao.— David Pick (@IAmDPick) July 30, 2017
He’s already said that he’s targeting a return to the NBA this season and his CBA season could end as soon as February 2018. I think a fringe playoff team will turn to Jones after the All-Star break next year and see what he can offer over the remainder of the season. The Pistons still have a hole at power forward after trading away Marcus Morris and it wouldn’t surprise me if Jones is a starter in Detroit by season’s end.
13 Brandon Jennings - Phoenix Suns
Remember when Jennings was a trendsetter when he bypassed college to play professionally overseas? Well, things have come full circle as Jennings is headed to China after signing with the Shanxi Brave Dragons of the CBA. Jennings was admittedly horrible last season with the Wizards and he’s played with four NBA teams over the last two seasons. He really hasn’t been the same since tearing his Achilles’ tendon in 2015 but he’s still just 28 years old. He seems like one of those guys who will play the CBA season and then seek to join an NBA team during the second half of the season. It will likely be a team that suffers a point guard injury at some point of the season and needs added depth so it’s tough to speculate which team it will be. Maybe a team like Phoenix will take a chance on him as Eric Bledsoe seems to always be injured.
12 Mike Miller - Orlando Magic
Mike Miller said he didn’t want to retire but the decision may not be his. He was waived by the Nuggets this offseason after scoring all of 91 points (and making nearly $8 million) over the last two seasons. At 37 years old, Miller is nothing more than a locker room veteran at this point and he would seem like a logical replacement for James Jones in Cleveland; but they have a full roster. Still, he can help a team on a minimum contract and why not a return to the Central Florida area and the Orlando Magic? Miller spent two years in Gainesville at the University of Florida and then the first 2.5 years of his NBA career with the Magic.
It was a controversial move when Miller was traded from Miami and Tracy McGrady is still pissed about it today. The Magic are a young team and could certainly use a veteran leader in the locker room.
11 Spencer Hawes - Utah Jazz
The 7’1” manbun has played for five teams over the last four seasons and was waived by Milwaukee during the offseason. Despite having 10 seasons under his belt, Hawes is just 29 and he has a modern game which should draw interests from teams. He’s a career 35% 3P shooter and posted an 18.6 PER with the Bucks last year which was the highest mark of his career. I think Utah would be a good spot for Hawes because he brings the one thing they lack: a stretch big man. They have Gobert and Favors but they need someone who can pick-and-pop when setting screens for Ricky Rubio. Hawes isn’t the best defender in the world but he would be going to a team that could mask many of his deficiencies on that end. The only way Utah wouldn’t want to make this move is if they feel coach Quin Snyder would be slighted that he no longer has the best hair on the team.
10 Jared Sullinger - New Orleans Pelicans
At the age of 25, Sullinger has essentially eaten himself out of the league. He signed a one-year contract with Toronto last year, promptly got hurt, and didn’t stay in shape while rehabbing. After making his debut in January 2017, he was then sent to the D-League just 10 days later and would return to the D-League again in February. He was then traded to Phoenix at the trade deadline and waived the next day by a team with one of the worst records in basketball. Sully signed with to play in China in September which tells me he didn’t have many, if any, NBA offers. He’ll have to show that he’s dedicated while overseas to stir up interest stateside but, remember, this is a two-time All-American we’re talking about. Someone will give him another chance and that someone may be the New Orleans Pelicans if and when Anthony Davis suffers another untimely injury.
9 Trey Burke - Miami Heat
Burke is the only NCAA Player of the Year (from the last 5 seasons) who is currently without an NBA job. He played for the Wizards last season and was close to finalizing a deal with the Thunder this season, but backed out at the last minute. Burke has yet to find his calling in the NBA and has struggled as a starter and as a backup. Perhaps he should go down to the G-League and try to reinvent himself as a scoring guard regardless of position.
Burke is an Ohio native and is friends with LeBron James but with Cleveland’s roster full, maybe Burke can go to LeBron’s former home of Miami. Eric Spoelstra is great at developing players and the Heat could use a third-string point guard behind Goran Dragic and Tyler Johnson.
8 Donatas Motiejunas - Dallas Mavericks
D-Mo was the starting power forward on a team that advanced to the Western Conference Finals and is still just 27 years old. But after a dreadful last two seasons with Houston and New Orleans, he now finds himself in China. He signed a $2.2 million deal which reportedly makes him the highest-paid foreigner in the league and is four times as much as he made last season. It’s almost a given that Motiejunas will play out that contract but the good news is that the CBA season can end as soon as February 2018 which means D-Mo could end the season on an NBA roster.
I could either see him signing a 10-day contract with a contender down the stretch or opting for a two-year contract with a non-playoff team that would lock him up through the 2018-19 season. Much of that depends on his performance overseas but the Mavericks would make a good landing spot as he could use some on-the-job teaching from Dirk Nowitzki.
7 Derrick Williams - Orlando Magic
After 426 regular season games, Williams finally made the playoffs for the first time last season. That came as a result of him being waived by the Miami Heat late in the season and then being signed by the Cavs for the remainder of the season. The Cavs now have a full roster and made no effort to even bring Williams back on a non-guaranteed deal.
At 26, he’s one of the youngest players on this list and let’s not forget he was the second overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft. You would think that if fellow No. 2 bust, Michael Beasley, could stick around on an NBA roster that Williams could as well as he’s never had any off-court issues. Williams has made no indication if he plans on heading overseas but I think he’ll likely end up in the G-League. Williams shouldn’t plan on being picked up by an eventual Finals team again so look for him to settle with a bottom-of-the-barrel team like the Magic just to get an NBA paycheck.
6 Rodney Stuckey - Milwaukee Bucks
If it wasn’t for Darko Milicic, trading away Chauncey Billups so Rodney Stuckey could take the reins in Detroit may be GM Joe Dumars’ biggest mistake. A decade later, Stuckey, just like Milicic, is out of the league after being waived in March by the Pacers. Stuckey’s strength was always his ability to get to the basket, draw fouls, and get himself on the line. Now at 31, he’s lost some athleticism and can no longer do that which makes his 30% 3P shooting even more glaring. He can’t get to the rim and he can’t shoot from outside but he still has some value as a big point guard he can post up smaller defenders. He should adopt the game that Shaun Livingston has and use his size to his advantage against defending point guards. Livingston had success under Jason Kidd in Brooklyn so Milwaukee seems like a good option for Stuckey.
5 Monta Ellis - New York Knicks
Among active players who have played 300+ games, Monta Ellis has the second highest scoring average without an All-Star appearance. Only Rudy Gay has a better average without an All-Star appearance. That’s the good with Ellis but the bad is that his average dropped by five points last season and he was also suspended for the first five games of this season. Ellis is an unabashed gunner who lacks efficiency but he can still help a second unit with instant offense off the bench. Or, he can go to China and become the second coming of Stephon Marbury and dominate the CBA. I think Ellis will ride things out until midseason and wait until a backcourt injury strikes a team. I wouldn’t be shocked, and Knicks fans wouldn’t be shocked, if Ellis ends up playing in MSG by season’s end.
4 Festus Ezeli - San Antonio Spurs
At least he got paid…
Ezeli signed a multi-year contract with the Blazers last offseason and promptly missed the entire year with a knee injury. They waived him this offseason but he still collects $8.4 million for just signing his name on a contract. Assuming he can get healthy, Ezeli should be signed at some point this season as he was one of the most prominent available centers when he became a free agent last summer. Ezeli is a throwback center – he can’t space the floor or guard on the perimeter. But he can protect the rim and former teammate Andrew Bogut just signed with the Lakers so there is still a need for a player like Ezeli. I could see the Spurs taking a chance on him as the Spurs defense took a bit of a step back last year. Ezeli is an extremely destitute version of a 40-year-old Tim Duncan, but he could help fill that role that Duncan had two years ago.
3 Thomas Robinson - Phoenix Suns
An athletic, bruising power forward, Thomas Robinson came along 20 years too late. He would have fit right in during the 1990s when defense and rebounding was all that was required from the power forward position. But he’s out of place in today’s game and doesn’t have the offensive skills, or range, to stick on an NBA team. He was the No. 5 overall pick in 2012 but has played for six different teams over the last five seasons. Robinson claims that if he was in the “right situation” he would easily be among the top 10 rebounders in the league but that situation no longer exists. He worked out for the Celtics in August but was not offered a deal and signed to play in Russia.
I think he can still play in the NBA, as a backup center, for a team that likes to run and get up and down the court. With the Suns’ Alan Williams possibly out for the season and Tyson Chandler trade bait, they could take a chance on Robinson at some point in what would likely be his last chance in the NBA.
2 Ty Lawson - Memphis Grizzlies
Lawson used to be in the conversation about best NBA players to never make an All-Star team but that now seems like it was decades ago. Ever since he was traded from Denver, off-the-court problems have afflicted Lawson and he’s played for three teams over the last two seasons. He played with the Kings last season but with their acquisitions of George Hill and De’Aaron Fox, there was no chance he would return. After saying he had offers during the summer from NBA teams, Lawson ended up signing with the Shangdon Gold Stars of the CBA.
I think Lawson will be back in the NBA before the end of the regular season as a backup point guard on a veteran team. The Memphis Grizzlies have a good track record with reclamation projects and they could take a chance on Lawson as they don’t have much depth behind the player who took Lawson’s title as “The Best Player to Never Make an All-Star Team,” Mike Conley.
1 Deron Williams - Chicago Bulls
Remember those debates on who’s a better point guard between Deron Williams and Chris Paul? Now, Williams can’t even beat out Jose Calderon for the third-string PG job in Cleveland and is still on the street. Williams is certainly no longer the three-time All-Star he was with the Jazz/Nets but he’s still better than many of the other backup point guards currently on teams. This is likely the case of Williams asking for too much money despite the fact that he’s already made over $141 million AND is still owed over $16 million the next three years from the Nets. If Williams just wants another paycheck and doesn’t care about winning, then Chicago could use some help at the 1 or he can take his chances that a contender’s starting point guard will get hurt and sign somewhere midseason.