With the NBA trade season picking up into high gear as the calendar flips into 2017, the often over-looked second free-agent season is also upon us. That’s right, it’s the wonderfully under-rated time where 10-day contracts have potential to turn into key post-season performers, and veterans looking for one last shot at glory return to the site of long-ago success or even find themselves a happy footnote to history at the end of a bench after years of stardom without the ring. The National Basketball Association indeed reigns supreme as the only one of the four major American sports that can take someone whose only recent access to a basketball court was his neighborhood hardtop and immediately put them into action against the best in the world.
Some of the names listed below will be very familiar, including a few that might surprise you that they are still even available to be signed, and some you may even be learning about for the first time.
With that in mind, we are excited to introduce you to the Top 15 NBA Players Who Are STILL Free Agents And Where They Might Sign
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15 Andre Miller - San Antonio Spurs
He’s 40 years old and if re-signed would supplant Vince Carter as the oldest player in the NBA. He would be older than four coaches. His playing career overlapped with Charles Barkley. A 17 year vet for nine different teams (including four in the past three seasons), Andre Miller finally found himself on the outside looking in for the first time in his historic NBA career this fall. After reports surfaced that he was “80, 90 percent sure he’s retiring,” ESPN then announced in late October that “NBA free agent point guard Andre Miller, 40, still wants to play & hopes to sign with a playoff caliber team.”
So could there be a contender interested in the only person in NBA history to have scored 16,000 points, dish out 8,000 assists, and get 1,500 steals without making an All-Star team? Our money is on a return to San Antonio, where Miller played 13 games in 2015-16, to spell an underperforming Tony Parker and super-sub Patty Mills for extra valuable minutes of rest in the stretch run. A steady hand to guide the offense from the end of a deep bench? Sounds like the Spurs. For his part, Miller, who has never won a championship, would welcome the opportunity for one more shot.
14 Branden Dawson - Indiana Pacers
A second round pick by the New Orleans Pelicans in the 2015 NBA Draft saw only six games of playing time in his first season with the Los Angeles Clippers, but the Indiana native and Michigan State alum showed potential during the summer league this past off-season, averaging 10.0 points (on 62.5% shooting) and 6.6 rebounds in 20.2 minutes per game. Still, the Clippers waived him after play concluded, and while the Orlando Magic invited him to training camp, he failed to make the club.
Dawson, at 6’ 6”, plays like a power forward at small forward height, and might just be feeling the squeeze of not having a position. He also has character questions, having been arrested for domestic violence during the 2015-16 season. Lucky for him, his home state’s ball club is extremely shallow in depth at Power Forward and he might even be in the position to earn solid minutes and gain playoff experience down the stretch as the Indiana Pacers fight for a playoff spot.
13 Steve Blake - Portland Trailblazers
The 36 year old point guard was recently granted indefinite leave from the Sydney Kings of the National Basketball League to return home to spend time with a sick family member. While his focus will certainly be on his personal issues, Blake was quoted in November as saying “I’ve realized that I won’t be going back (to the NBA) but if Portland wanted me to play I’d definitely consider it.”
The 13 year veteran had three separate stints with the Trailblazers, most recently averaging 18.9 minutes over 81 games as a back-up point guard in the 2014-15 season. Portland has stumbled quite a bit since it achieved a 51-31 record that won them the Northwest Division that year, and while it probably has a lot more to do with losing LeMarcus Aldridge than Steve Blake, the Blazers do still find themselves searching for a player who can trigger the offense beyond Damien Lillard and CJ McCollum as they fight for a spot in the playoffs. That just happens to be what Blake does best, positioning him to be a potentially strong under-the-radar signing to help right the ship.
12 Tayshaun Prince - Oklahoma City Thunder
Former Detroit Pistons stars Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince still talk regularly via group text. But only one of them still playing, or trying to play, so “every time something happens or someone has something brewing or whatever, or someone does something … they check in and say, ‘Hey what’s going on?’ to me,” said the still not-retired Prince. Last season, when he signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves to play for his former Pistons coach, Flip Saunders, the agreement was that he would be a mentor and defensive stopper off the bench. Saunders however, died tragically of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma early in the season, and as Prince put it, “everything was kind of doomed from the start… so many super talented young guys, who just didn’t know how to play together.”
Perhaps as a result of that experience this offseason he decided that he only wanted to play with a contender, and while some clubs expressed interest, no offers cam through. One such team that could use some veteran leadership and a defensive stopper to add quality minutes to the small forward position? The Oklahoma City Thunder. While they have Andre Roberson as a stellar defensive small forward, he is a horrible free throw shooter, shooting only 30% for the season, which could prove quite damaging in the playoffs. Prince, for his part, has never been great from the line, but is a solid 76% for his career. With Jerami Grant demanding more minutes with his quality play and possibly ready to take the jump to starter, the addition of Prince would allow OKC to perhaps trade Roberson and position themselves for a deep playoff run.
11 Dorell Wright - Los Angeles Clippers
In 549 career games, over 12 NBA seasons, Dorell Wright has averaged 8.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.5 assists as a role player for the Miami Heat, Golden State Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers, and Portland Trailblazers. The Los Angeles native signed with the hometown Clippers this past summer, but was waived by the team during the pre-season. Its our bet he re-signs, and this time sticks with them for good. Having at one time averaged 16.4 points per game over a full season as a starter with the Warriors (2010-11), Wright has proven himself capable of excelling with significant minutes on the court. The Clippers are looking for a couple more weapons as they try to overcome the mid-season loss of Blake Griffin for up to six weeks potentially. Wright is an adequate three point shooter, knocking down at a .365 clip for his career, and can mirror started Luc Mbah a Moute in using his 6’ 9” frame to provide length on both sides of the ball in coming off the bench, meaning that even when Griffin returns he would still serve a purpose in the deep LA rotation.
10 Jeff Ayres - Los Angeles Lakers
The D-League 2015-16 All-Star saw two stints with a team playing their home games in the Staples Center last season… The LA Clippers. He signed a ten day contract after Blake Griffin served a suspension for punching a clubhouse employee, providing added depth at power forward, and returned in mid-March through the end of the season. Ayres is a six year veteran with a Championship Ring (from the 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs), and is known for his defense, his hustle, and his intangibles. “I've always been really vocal, it just depends on what I've been saying,” Ayres laughs. “I play hard, I wear my emotions on my sleeve so I'm just always intense and fired up and it comes out like that.”
While the Clippers are solidified with a deep bench this season, the Lakers, for whom Ayres’ D-League team, the aptly named D-Fenders, are the sole affiliate, could use some veteran depth in part to help develop fellow power forwards Julius Randle and Larry Nance, Jr., 22 and 23 year old former first round picks respectively. Seems like they might not have to look far to find it.
9 Matt Bonner - Chicago Bulls
Stop us if you’ve heard this story before. A team with great star players who can get to the rim at will loads up on three point shooters who they can dish back out to, and end up going far in the playoffs. Jimmy Butler, Dwayne Wade, and Rajon Rondo: meet Matt Bonner. Bonner shoots at a 41.4% career rate while the Bulls currently rank dead last in the NBA, shooting just over 30% as a team. What’s more, the 12 year veteran spent the last ten seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, winning two championships in the process, meaning he has experience playing with a veteran squad and finding his way to fit-in as well as the pedigree not to back down from teaming with players with the winning pedigree of Wade and Rondo. With Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez taking most of the minutes clogging the lane, Bonner can also provide a change of pace, forcing the opposing team to stretch their defense. He’s a perfect fit to elevate a team sitting right around .500 as a potentially high impact under-the-radar signing.
8 Cory Jefferson - Atlanta Hawks
Speaking of teams needing three point shooting and hovering around .500, look no further than the Atlanta Hawks. Nearly equally as bad as the Bulls from behind the arc, they could benefit from adding Cory Jefferson, “Mr. Irrelevant” as they say, the final pick of the 2014 NBA draft, to come off the bench. Jefferson, who plays as a slender power forward or lengthy small forward at 6’ 9” and 218 pounds, is built to play pick and roll basketball but has also developed a three point shot this year with the D-League’s Austin Spurs.
Yes, you heard right, Jefferson currently plays for San Antonio’s d-league affiliate. Mike Budenholzer, the Hawks coach, rose through the ranks over nineteen season to become San Antonio’s number one assistant to Gregg Popovich, who, of course, boast the renowned “spread pick and roll” offense. Bodenholzer has integrated a similar style to Atlanta’s play, which means taking a chance on Jefferson might make him “Mr. Irrelevant” no more.
7 Briante Weber - Denver Nuggets
While players like Jeff Ayres and Cory Jefferson are certainly potentially good signings, look no further than NBA’s Developmental League own website, and you will find relatively unknown Point Guard Briante Weber listed as their current number one prospect. The three-time Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year who finished his collegiate career only 12 steals from becoming the NCAA’s all-time career leader has seen some brief NBA time with the Memphis Grizzlies and Miami Heat, for whom his D-Team, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, is an affiliate to.
By recent count, Weber was averaging 13.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6.8 assists and a league-leading 3.2 steals per game. While the Heat could certainly use his help, we predict he will be snatched up by the battling-for-a-playoff-spot Denver Nuggets, who boast one of the worst defenses in the NBA and an under-whelming duo of point guards Jameer Nelson and Emmanuel Medley. The D-League’s website describes Weber as a “ball hawk”, and that might be just the energy the Nuggets need to fight their way into the postseason.
6 Kirk Hinrich - Cleveland Cavaliers
While the headlines in finding an adequate point guard to replace retired Mo Williams as Kyrie Irving’s back-up heading into the stretch run have mostly circulated around former LeBron James running mates’ Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers, our money is on former rival Kirk Hinrich (who spent all or part of 11 of his 13 NBA seasons with the Chicago Bulls) returning mid-year for one final shot at the title. Adding a veteran of the 35 year old Hinrich’s savvy and stature for the stretch run is more in line with previous LeBron teams, and our guess is that on his end, he wouldn’t return to the NBA at all at this point in his career without an honest chance to win a championship. Add in that Hinrich, who stands at 6 4” and is a career .375 three point shooter, can provide the range and the scoring capability to play not just behind but alongside Irving as a shooting guard, and he is an ideal match for the Cavs as they also look to fill the hole left by JR Smith’s extended absence.
5 Kendrick Perkins - Cleveland Cavaliers
With Chris Andersen out for the season, the Cleveland Cavaliers are also shopping for a back-up big man. Expect them to do what LeBron James teams frequently have done in the past: dip into an old well to find a substitute. Perkins has done one thing consistently through-out his up-and-down career, contribute solid minutes to very good teams. He has played on the Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen led Boston Celtics, the Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook led Oklahoma City Thunder, and, most recently, a 17 game stretch-run with the LeBron led Cavs in 2014-15. He has, however, steadily declined over the years and it is truly questionable what he has left to offer. Thankfully the Cavs don’t need much, as the “Birdman” was only offering 2.3 points and 2.6 rebounds over 9.5 minutes per game. Perkins provided similar stats in his stint just two seasons ago, and continues to hold a deserved reputation as a defensive enforcer, which might just be enough to help deliver another championship for Cleveland.
4 Chris Kaman - Golden State Warriors
Call it a hunch, but while Kaman’s name has most closely been associated with returning to the NBA this season to either the team he started with (he was the sixth pick of the 2003 NBA Draft for the LA Clippers, for whom he played eight seasons) or he most recently played with (two seasons with the Portland Trailblazers), we think he will end up running with Golden State’s Big Four. While the Warriors clearly don’t need any more talent, Kaman provides two simple things… rebounding and leadership. With Durant’s good friend Kendrick Perkins possibly off the board in his return to Cleveland, one of the more vocal players on Portland last season, calling out his teammates on their work ethic as the team turned around its season in the second half, might just be the right fit. Golden State has the best record in the NBA, yet there are many who question if the chemistry is as strong as last season, as they implement KD into an already competitive rotation. They are also relatively shallow at center with journeymen JaVale McGee and Zach Pachulia backing up undersized Draymond Green, neither of whom possess the all around game Kaman at least had in his prime.
3 Norris Cole - Boston Celtics
While the Ohio native unquestionably probably prefers to return to chasing titles running alongside LeBron James, his experience as a former teammate of the King might make a better fit for one of their biggest Eastern Conference rivals, the Boston Celtics. Cole thrived when he left Miami mid-way through 2014-15, landing in New Orleans for what would end up being a season and a half, where his scoring average reached double digits for the first time in his career and he had the highest PER of his career. With young Marcus Smart showing little sign of taking major steps in his game as a bench player, the journeyman Cole, now entering what would be his sixth season could become a more steady hand providing valuable minutes playing behind Isaiah Thomas. Additionally, his recent growth as a scorer might allow the second unit to blend more seamlessly with the shoot-first play of Thomas in the first unit. Of course, Cole’s insight into LeBron and other former Heat imports also wouldn’t hurt come playoff time.
2 Mario Chalmers - Houston Rockets
Speaking of point guards who used to run with LeBron, Mario Chalmers, much like Cole, seemingly came into his own after being traded from Miami last season, where he thrived coming off the bench as a back-up point guard for the Memphis Grizzlies. His PER of 18.0 playing during that time would actually put him in the top 20 of NBA point guards this year, in the vicinity of respected veterans like Patty Mills and Goran Dragic and exciting young players like Zach LaVine and Jrue Holiday. Patrick Beverley is a perfect fit as starter for Houston, a supporting piece who uses his defense and intensity to complement James Harden and Eric Gordon in the high octane Mike D’Antoni offense. However, as Steve Nash once proved, an offense-focused point guard can truly thrive in his system as well, and when Harden is on the bench (and he will need the rest down the stretch as he is currently averaging a nearly league high 36.4 minutes per game) the team lacks a distributor who can also take it to the hoop. Chalmers is no Nash of course, but he can be a spark plug off the bench, and it would be exciting to see what he can do in a system extremely more conducive to scoring than Memphis.
1 Josh Smith - Toronto Raptors
Josh Smith is currently overseas under contract in China, but his three-month $1.5 million deal to play for the Sichuan Whales in the Chinese Basketball Association expires in early February. Why the short contract? Smith has every intention of returning to the NBA, where he couldn’t find a team interested in his services this past off-season, possibly due to his seemingly poor disposition that plagued him in recent years with the Detroit Pistons, LA Clippers, and Houston Rockets. But, in his prime, Smith was a borderline All-Star over nine seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, using his length to provide versatility on both sides of the ball. He was good enough to even sign a max contract as a free agent with the Pistons as recently as 2013.
So, who would roll the dice on a talented player with character issues? How about a team that seemingly needs just one more weapon to truly compete for a spot in the Conference Finals. Smith could even end up slotting into a starting spot ahead of Pascal Siakam as a Power Forward presenting a solid third scoring option next to DeRozan or Lowry for the Raptors, but most likely would serve best as a scoring spark plug that their deep and versatile bench currently lacks. Smith, who just turned 31, may finally be ready to be a quality teammate too. He was quoted this summer as saying “I’m not a guy that is oblivious to my surroundings, I know that changes need to be made… I’ve done things to take steps toward bettering myself, having patience.”
There is perhaps no free agent left who is as big a roll of the dice, but that’s what makes free agency’s second round so exciting.
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