NBA free agency officially kicks off at 12 a.m. EST Monday. The class is not nearly as strong as next year’s, but does include franchise players Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. Paul’s likely to remain with the Clippers following the Doc Rivers trade; as for D12, if his meeting schedule is any indication, Howard could very well leave L.A. — he’ll meet with the Rockets, Hawks, Warriors, Mavericks and Lakers before Tuesday’s over, according to reports.
But what about the other guys? Here’s 5 under-the-radar — calling them second-tier may be a bit of an overconfident stretch — free agent acquisitions that could make a key difference with whatever team signs them, in no particular order.
No. 5: Carl Landry, 29, PF, Golden State Warriors
Jarrett Jack gets a lot of the credit, but Landry was a fine free agent acquisition last summer. For the 4th straight year, he averaged double-figure points (10.8), even in the lowest minute totals (23.2 per) since his sophomore season. He played in 81 games, easily a career-high, and shot a respectable 54% from the field and 82% from the foul line. In 12 postseason games, his minutes went down (20.5) — largely thanks to Andrew Bogut’s return — but his scoring went up (11.8).
Per 36 minutes, Landry averaged 16.8 points and 9.3 rebounds, just below All Star teammate David Lee’s 18.1 and 11; Lee (14.4) also attempts close to 3 shots more per 36. And Landry’s 17.6 player-efficiency rating finished 3rd on Golden State last season, trailing only Stephen Curry (21.3) and Lee (19.2).
Landry opted out of the final year of a 2-year, $8-million deal, well below his market value. With Bogut, Lee, Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson due a combined $48.1 million next year, Golden State simply doesn’t have the cap flexibility to re-sign Carl. His quality mid-range game and motor will, for sure, be of use to one of 29 other teams.
No. 4: Marco Belinelli, 27, SG, Chicago Bulls
Despite his abysmal 10.43 PER for the 2012-13 season, Belinelli showed flashes of gaining Tom Thibodeau’s trust … and cracking his thin, injury-riddled rotation. For the season, he averaged only 9.6 points per game, his lowest since ’09-10, and shot a career-low 36% from 3. His postseason was more of the same, though he did drop 24 points in a Game 7 road win vs. the Brooklyn Nets, with the Bulls minus All Star SF Luol Deng.
Belinelli’s a creative scorer with an ability to get hot … and is worth $3-5 million annually on the right contender looking for a punch off the bench. Aside from one year in New Orleans with Chris Paul, in which he shot 43.7% from the field and 41.4% from 3 in 69 starts, Belinelli’s never had the fortune of playing alongside a playmaker at the point.
Per 36 minutes in Chicago, the Italian still managed to score 13.4 points. Chicago already has $73.2 million tied up in 8 guys next year, so it’s unlikely Belinelli’s back in the Windy City.
No. 3: Wayne Ellington, 25, SG, Cleveland Cavaliers
Ellington proved his worth following a January trade to Cleveland. In 38 games for Byron Scott, he averaged 10.4 points, and shot 38% from 3, 44% from the field and 90% from the stripe. During that time, he also averaged career-highs in rebounds, assists and steals. Per 36 minutes, the former UNC product netted 14.5 points.
Ellington, in his 4th season in the league and playing for his 3rd team, played like a guy fighting for his NBA life … and may have just well saved his career. He showed a surprising ability to create his own shot from the outside; for his career, he’s a very healthy 38.2% 3-point marksman.
The Akron Beacon Journal‘s Jason Lloyd surprised Clevelanders on Saturday, when he reported GM Chris Grant decided not to extend a $3-million qualifying offer, making Ellington an unrestricted free agent. With more than $20 million in cap space, barring a major free agent acquisition or contract-heavy trade, I expect Ellington to return to northeast Ohio.
No. 2: Earl Clark, 25, SF, Los Angeles Lakers
Hardly an afterthought in the D12 blockbuster, Clark broke out in his 4th year in the NBA. For much of the season, head coach Mike D’Antoni was starting him over 4-time All Star Pau Gasol. He has great size, 6’10”, for a 3 and agility for a 4, with an ability to knock down the outside shot, though he finished sub-34% from 3 on the year.
In addition to Gasol, Howard, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, Clark had his own injury problems, missing 23 games. But the former lottery pick out of Louisville still managed a career-high 7.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in 23.1 minutes, with career-bests in rebounds, steals, assists and blocks. Per 36 minutes, Clark chipped in 11.4 points and 8.6 rebounds.
Too much was asked of Clark last year in L.A., but he proved, for the first time in his career, he’s a capable 2nd or 3rd guy off the bench. Despite their cap limitations, all indications point to Clark returning to L.A. on a modest deal, especially if D12 signs elsewhere and/or Pau’s traded. Cleveland, coached by former Lakers head man Mike Brown, will show interest, but Clark told Lakers’ beat mean Mike Medina in April he’d consider returning to L.A. even if less money’s on the table.
Earl Clark told me he wants to come back to Lakers even if they can only offer less money, fewer years compared to other possible teams
— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) April 29, 2013
No. 1: Martell Webster, 26, SF, Washington Wizards
In career-high minutes last year in Washington, Webster averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, and shot 42% from 3, 44% from the field and 85% from the foul line. It was the first year Webster averaged double-figure scoring since ’07-08 in Portland, and it was the first year he played in 75+ games since ’09-10.
After John Wall returned in January, Webster scored 15+ in 14 games, including a 34-point effort in a March 16 win over Phoenix, in which he drilled 7-of-10 3-balls. For a guy signed to a 1-year, $1.6-million deal, that’s incredible value.
Buyer’s beware: Webster’s missed 170 games in 8 NBA seasons, including all but 5 minutes of the ’08-09 campaign. But now that Washington has a young core of Wall and Bradley Beal in the backcourt, and veteran pieces Nene, Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor, the playoffs are within reach, assuming full health. And Webster’s only 26.
CSN Washington reported after season’s end there was a mutual interest in a Webster return. Thursday, the Wizards drafted Otto Porter, Jr., a SF, No. 3 overall, so if there’s room for the sharpshooter Webster, it’s likely off the bench, something he said he’d be OK with 2 months ago.
Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.