Clippers: Summer’s early winner, but questions loom

July 7, 2013

We’re 6+ days into free agency, and most of the big chips have fallen. Dwight Howard to Houston, Chris Paul to stay in L.A., Al Jefferson to Charlotte, Josh Smith to Detroit, Andre Iguodala to Golden State and Paul Millsap to Atlanta. Four notable pieces still on the market include Brandon Jennings, restricted and likely to stay in Milwaukee; Monta Ellis, probably headed to Denver or Atlanta; Nikola Pekovic, restricted but likely out of Minnesota; and Andrew Bynum, who knows.

Below, I take a look at my ‘winner’ of free agency through 6 days.

The Los Angeles Clippers

L.A. was known for its deep bench last year, boasting the likes of Jamal Crawford, Willie Green, Lamar Odom, Ryan Hollins, Matt Barnes, Eric Bledsoe, Ronny Turiaf and Grant Hill. At 40.1 points per game, L.A.’s bench trailed only Dallas and Denver in scoring, and Crawford finished the runner-up in the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year voting.

But a postseason bench is not 12 guys deep. Hill played in 1 game in the team’s 6-game opening-round loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, and Ryan Hollins and Willie Green averaged less than 7.5 minutes per and did not appear in every game. DeAndre Jordan’s inability to make free throws saw him to the bench in crunch-time minutes, and Lamar Odom, and his 11.0 PER, was ineffective all season.

Six days into free agency, the Clippers have turned Caron Butler and Bledsoe into J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, re-signed Matt Barnes and acquired Darren Collison, an ex-UCLA product, for pennies on the dollar. L.A. drafted sharpshooter Reggie Bullock at No. 25 overall. Oh, and they extended arguably the top free agent in this year’s class, Chris Paul, for 5 years, and traded for a championship coach in Doc Rivers, who brings instant credibility, and an offensive system, to Staples.

Concern: Lack of frontcourt depth

My concern with this team, as they flirt with luxury tax territory, is frontcourt depth, especially after a playoff series where they were bullied by the Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph; in that series, Gasol and Randolph averaged a combined 38.1 points and 15.5 rebounds. Right now, with Turiaf and Hollins unrestricted free agents — though ones, according to Brad Turner of The Los Angeles Times, they’re interested in re-signing — the only NBA-caliber bigs on this roster are Griffin and Jordan, the latter of whom cannot play down the stretch and is owed an immovable $22.4 million through 2014-15.

Doc could always move Blake to the 5 and play Barnes or Dudley, 6’7″, at the 4. Both are strong individual defenders. And, then there’s also the rest of the summer. L.A. flirted with Carl Landry, whom eventually agreed to a 4-year, $27-million deal with Sacramento, one that L.A.’s cap flexibility, or lack thereof, would not have permitted. Rivers just needs to fill a 19.7-minutes-per-game slot opened by Odom’s likely departure, whether that’s more minutes to Blake, DeAndre, both or other faces.

Improvement: 3-point shooting

In last year’s postseason, L.A. shot a measly 30.4% from 3. L.A. loses an OK 3-point shooter in Butler and an improving one in Bledsoe, but Dudley (40.5% career) and Redick (39%) are improvements. Redick’s averaged double-figure scoring numbers each of the last 3 seasons, including 15.1 in 50 games in Orlando before his trade last season. Dudley’s also been in double figures each of the past 3 years, and has never shot below 45.9% from the field in his 6-year career.

Bullock shot 44% from 3 last year at UNC, and possesses great size, 6’7″, for a hybrid guard-forward. Barnes is 33% from deep throughout his career, but is especially efficient in the corners.

Bottom line: More weapons for CP3, Blake

The spacing provided by these shooters should open Blake post-ups and CP3-Blake pick-and-rolls, L.A.’s bread-and-butter source of offense. With Paul, Blake, Jordan, Redick, Dudley, Collison, Barnes, Crawford and Green, L.A.’s as good 1-9 as any team in the league. All 9 of those guys are capable of double-digit scoring nights any game.

With Collison, a former teammate of Paul’s in New Orleans, L.A. has a very capable backup point. Collison may not have Bledsoe’s ceiling, but he’s averaged double figures all 4 seasons of his career and only 25. After a disappointing season in Dallas, you can bet on consistent energy from Collison. Should Doc decide to go this route, Collison’s very effective in 2-Lopoint-guard lineups — in 2011-12, Indiana’s most efficient lineup to play at least 100 minutes together featured Collison and combo guard George Hill in the backcourt.

Now, if the Clippers can sure up their frontcourt, I’ll put them right next to San Antonio.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


Assorted thoughts on Jarrett Jack to Cavs

July 7, 2013

Two days removed from the Earl Clark addition, about which I published 700 giddy words, Chris Grant made another move, this one much more unexpected. The Cavs and Jarrett Jack have agreed to terms on a 4-year, $25.2-million deal, with a team option for year No. 4. The move was first reported by Marcus Thompson of the Contra Costa Times.

What follows are unorganized initial thoughts on the move.

Pro: Cleveland adds a Sixth Man of the Year candidate

Golden State’s not a playoff team last without Jack. A sixth man who started 4 regular season games, Jack averaged 12.9 points, 5.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds in 29.7 minutes per game. On his 5th team in his 8-year career, Jack shot 45.2% from the field, 40.4% from 3 and 84.3% from the line, all super-efficient numbers. Per 36 minutes, Jack netted 15.7 points and 6.7 assists. He finished with 14 first-place votes for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award, finishing 3rd behind J.R. Smith and Jamal Crawford.

For a 6’3″ guard, Jack’s an incredible finisher and all-around offensive talent, with an ability to attack, score in isolation and distribute. A very physically imposing, strong guard, his Draft Express profile from 2005 noted Jack might be the best defensive point guard in that year’s draft, one that saw 3 — Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Raymond Felton — selected in the top 5.

In the NBA, Jack’s been a solid role player from Day 1. He’s played in at least 79 games all but 1 year; he missed 21 games in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season as a member of the New Orleans Hornets. He’s a career 11-points-a-game scorer, who’s averaged 4.4 assists and 27.9 minutes. His career high for scoring is 15.6 points in 45 games for the ’11-12 Hornets. Given his consistency, I’m comfortable in not attributing his success last season to ‘contract year’ status.

In last year’s playoffs, Jack really flourished. His minutes jumped to 35.5 per game, in part thanks to Stephen Curry’s bum ankle in the San Antonio series, and he averaged 17.2 points per game on an unreal 50.6% from the field. It was the first time Jack won a playoff series; his only other postseason appearance, in 2010-11 with the Hornets, ended in 6 games to the Lakers.

Con: Terms of the deal

My only reservation with this contract is its length — 3 years with a team option for a fourth. Jack turns 30 in October, but Cavs fans can take assurance in a) Jack’s worth ethic, and b) his relatively clean injury history. Still, a 32-year-old guard, probably still coming off the bench, could make Cleveland fans uneasy 28 months from now.

At the same time, Grant’s not going to receive the luxury of underpaying. For one, Cleveland’s not New York, Miami or L.A. And, secondly, this team’s simply not a title contender. The Darren Collisons of the world are not headed to Cleveland on tragically underpaid $1.9-million contracts to chase a ring, at least right now.

So, I guess I talked myself out of that concern?

Question: What does this mean for backcourt rotation?

This move leaves a lot of rotation questions for Mike Brown. In Golden State, Mark Jackson often, and with success, used a 3-guard lineup of Curry, Jack and Klay Thompson to suit his team’s up-tempo style. But Brown loves his big guards — think Larry Hughes and Sasha Pavlovic, the latter of whom started over 100 games as a Cavalier because he’s 6’7″ — and it’s hard to imagine him resorting regularly to a Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Jack backcourt.

And, in that case, who gets the crunch-time minutes alongside Kyrie? A cold-blooded scorer like Jack or Dion, and what does that mean for Dion’s future in Cleveland? I’m assuming Brown will ride who’s hot on a night-by-night basis, but still an interesting subplot headed into what’s bound to be an increasingly interesting season.

Then, there’s those behind Kyrie, Dion and Jack. C.J. Miles is likely to return on an affordable $2.25-million player option, but you’d have to think Wayne Ellington’s now the odd man out. The Cavs declined to extend a qualifying offer to Ellington before free agency started, yet hinted at a desire the UNC product return. With 6’8″ guard-forward Sergey Karasev and maybe even No. 33 overall pick Carrick Felix looking for minutes, I’m not sure where Ellington fits in.

Pro No. 2: Cap flexibility remains for summer of 2014

Cleveland still has plenty of room to potentially slide in a max contract next summer, as Fear the Sword‘s David Zavac explains here. Anderson Varejao has a partially guaranteed team option of $9.8 million for Anderson Varejao in 2014-15, as well as team options of $4.5 million on Earl Clark and $3.25 million on Alonzo Gee.

By my calculations, even if the Cavs pick up team options on AV, Clark and Gee, a very unlikely scenario, Grant would still have about $14 million in cap space to play with, if the cap were set at $62.5 million. A note: That does not account for any 2014 draft selections, or any additional free agent acquisitions. Scratch Clark and Gee, a much more feasible scenario, and that frees up $7.75 million more in cap space.

Where Dan Gilbert’s wallet will start to take a beating in luxury taxes is 2015-16, if the Cavs happened to land a max free agent next summer. Irving and Tristan Thompson are both in line for lucrative extensions next October, which would kick in for the ’15-16 season. The following October, Waiters and Tyler Zeller, depending on how they develop, could be in line for similar raises. And the following October, the same for Anthony Bennett and Karasev. Oh, the joys of the lottery!

Conclusion: I like the Jack signing!

OK, it took me 900 words, but I like this deal. One reservation I did not include above is Jack’s tendency to sometimes dominate the ball, especially in late-game situations. This Cavs team needs scoring, so I welcome any offensive addition, but it also needs to be made clear, particularly in the last 5 minutes of games, this is Kyrie Irving’s team.

I’m done this time.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


Free Agency Day 5: Warriors land Iggy

July 6, 2013

Barely more than a year ago, the Golden State Warriors were coming off a 23-43 lockout-shortened season under rookie head coach Mark Jackson. This year, the Warriors won 47 regular season games, 6 playoff games and developed their young core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, in addition to All Star David Lee.

Today, the Warriors added Andre Iguodala for 4 years, $48 million. Iggy, 29, a former All Star and Olympic Gold Medalist, gives Golden State an athletic, capable wing defender alongside Harrison Barnes. He’s instantly Golden State’s best perimeter defender, key in a conference with Kobe Bryant, James Harden and Kevin Durant on likely playoff teams. And he gives Curry a super-athletic running-mate on the break.

Iguodala tallied 13 points on 45% from the field, 5.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.7 steals in 35 minutes in Denver’s up-tempo style last season, pushing the Nuggets to their best regular season mark (57-25) since they were the ABA’s Denver Rockets in 1974-75 (65-19). He’s averaged double-figure scoring ever year since his rookie campaign in 2004-05. In 9 seasons, he’s only missed a remarkable 27 games, despite never averaging less than 32.8 minutes per game (’04-05).

Iguodala’s mid-range game is not reliable, and his FT percentage has dropped drastically — 82% in ’06-07 to 57.4% last season — in recent years. He’s a career 32.9% shooter from deep. His secondary ball-handling and defensive prowess, though, is well worth the asking price. Iguodala, according to Adrian Wojnarowski, turned down 4 years, $52 million from the Nuggets, who’ve lost their top executive, Masai Ujiri, and head coach, George Karl, this offseason. Earlier this week, Sacramento offered Iggy 4 years, $56 million, but rescinded hours later.

Headed into next season, Jackson will probably start Curry, Thompson, Iggy, Lee and Andrew Bogut; then, he’s got Barnes, Draymond Green, Festus Ezeli and Kent Bazemore off the bench, all capable pieces. Suddenly, Golden State’s went from a team likely to take a step back this season, due to the likely free agent departures of Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack, to one right back in the hunt. (And this was the only team to beat the Spurs in Western Conference playoff action, despite Curry’s bum ankle and Lee playing limited minutes on one leg.)

The Warriors actually came into Friday about $11 million over the 2013-14 projected cap of $58.5 million. But Utah, a team with no shortage of cap space following Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap’s departures, agreed to absorb the expiring contracts of Richard Jefferson, $11.05 million, and Andris Biedrins, $9 million, as well as Brandon Rush’s $4 million along with multiple draft picks, including a first-rounder in 2014. That’s $24 million in dumped cap space, sliding the Warriors enough under the cap to pay Iggy $12 million annually.

Golden State was one of 5 teams to meet with Dwight Howard this week, but he’s since narrowed his choice to Los Angeles and Houston, according to ESPN’s Chris Broussard on Friday night. Regardless, if Golden State can add a backup, scoring big and reserve point guard, there’s no reason this team can’t compete next year. Then, Bogut’s $14.2 million expiring will offer a little free agency flexibility in next summer’s ultra-deep class, especially if they continue to build a winning organization.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


3 reasons to love the Earl Clark signing

July 5, 2013

About 86 hours into free agency, Chris Grant made his first move. Enter Sporting News’ Sean Deveney.

And TNT’s David Aldridge.

Boom. And here’s 3 reasons why I love this deal.

1. It’s all about the $.

A team option for year No. 2 of this deal means zero risk for the Cavaliers, a team clearly trying to preserve at least enough cap space for next summer to make a run at a max free agent. If Clark fails to meet expectations, Grant can easily wash his hands of the former Louisville product a year from now, and we’re right back where we started.

Should he so desire, Grant could still throw $15 million a year at a Nikola Pekovic, Paul Millsap or Andre Iguodala and remain firmly under the cap, though I’d guess those are unlikely. Or, Grant could fill out his roster with short-term deals and rookie contracts, then leave ample room for a major splash next summer, should LeBron James explore the market. Until this year’s rookie class is signed, the Cavaliers actually have $0 on the books for next season, just team options.

On Clark’s end, after a breakout year in an ugly situation, I expected more potential suitors. Clark had never played more than 12.5 minutes per game before last season, and still only averaged 7.3 points with the Lakers. But his age, 25; size and versatility, 6’10” and can play the 3 or 4; and range, 34% from 3 last year and improving, make him an appealing target.

Now, he’s in Cleveland on essentially a 1-year, $4.5-million deal. And you know he’ll work his ass off because it’s very much a contract year.

2. Versatility, baby.

That Mike Brown loved this kid enough to help lure him to Cleveland, after coaching him for only 5 regular season games in L.A., tells me a lot. Mike D’Antoni said last year that Clark could guard all 5 positions. With Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao at the 4, early reports indicate the Cavs plan on using Clark at the 3. Clark should compete with Alonzo Gee and No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, another stretch 3-4 at 6’7″, for a starting spot.

A thrown-in part of the Dwight Howard deal, Clark averaged a very respectable 11.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per 36 minutes. L.A.’s most commonly used 5-man lineup — Clark, Howard, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace and Steve Nash — left Clark at the 4 for close to 340 minutes. D’Antoni loved Clark so much, he started him in 36 games, often over 4-time All Star Pau Gasol.

Clark immediately becomes the best perimeter defender on the Cavs’ roster. In a conference with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson, he’ll draw a range of assignments.

Consider these words from ESPN L.A.’s Dave McMenamin, who covers the Lakers.

3. Another weapon for Kyrie, Cavs.

Just add another face to a team loaded with young, quality talent. I’m not suggesting Clark is as important to Cleveland’s long-term future as Kyrie Irving, Thompson, Bennett or even Dion Waiters, but it’s not every day you add a playoff-caliber role player. (I’m not concerned with his dismal postseason stats against the Spurs — 3.5 points, 3 rebounds and 37% shooting — given how short-handed L.A. was for that series.)

I anointed Clark one of my 5 second-tier free agents to watch last week, before I knew Cleveland had interest. If there was any doors open on a Luke Walton or Omri Casspi return, those are, thankfully, shut. With team options on both for 2014-15, I’m guessing Clark and Gee will spend 2013-14 fighting for one spot, unless the Cavs strike out next July.

This move was made because of Clark’s defensive prowess. But he can grow as a 3-point shooter — hopefully enough to stretch the floor for Kyrie-AV pick-and-rolls and Tristan post-ups — and rebounder.

By no means is this a blockbuster move. But be excited, fellow Cavs fans.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


3 thoughts on free agency after 3 days

July 4, 2013

We’re almost 72 hours into NBA’s free agency period. Of the two major dominoes, one has fallen; Chris Paul is, unsurprisingly, returning to L.A. on a 5-year, $107-million extension. The other cornerstone in this class, Dwight Howard, has met with 5 teams — Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Golden State and L.A. — with a decision coming as soon as Friday.

Several second-tier names are still on the board, namely Andre Iguodala, Tyreke Evans, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Nikola Pekovic, Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith.

Here’s 3 random thoughts as we head into Day 4. Happy Fourth, all!

1. I love what the Clippers are doing.

Priority No. 1: Bring back Chris Paul, the league’s best PG. Check. Priority No. 2: Hire a championship coach to replace the fired Vinny Del Negro. Check. Priority No. 3: Add perimeter shooting and secondary ball-handling. Check.

The latter was completed Tuesday, when the Clippers acquired J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley in a 3-team deal with Milwaukee and Phoenix. As part of the deal, L.A. sent Caron Butler’s $8-million expiring and top asset Eric Bledsoe to Phoenix, and Milwaukee snatched 2 second-round draft picks.

Bledsoe, 23, is an extremely athletic, promising young combo guard who improved immensely from 2011-12 to 2012-13. He averaged 8.5 points, 3.1 assists and 3 rebounds in 20.4 minutes, nearly doubled his 3-point efficiency (on limited attempts) to 40% and shot 45% from the field. His 17.6 player-efficiency rating trailed only Paul and Blake Griffin among regular rotation players. But with Paul inked long-term, there was little room for Bledsoe in the rotation, and he probably could have bolted as a restricted free agent next summer.

The Clippers acquired 2 potential starters for next season, too, should Rivers elect to keep Jamal Crawford as a sixth man. Redick, a career 39% shooter, immediately becomes the Clippers’ top 3-point threat; L.A. shot a league-average 36% last season and 30.4% in the postseason, good for 14th out of 16 playoff clubs. J.J. also is a capable defender who can handle the ball in second-team situations, and teams will have to respect his shooting on CP3-Blake pick-and-rolls. In 50 games for the Magic last year, Redick averaged 15.1 points.

In Dudley, Rivers gets a younger, better and cheaper Butler — a guy who can hold his own, in most cases, on defense, shoot the corner 3 and even run a second-team offense. Dudley, a career 40.5% 3-point shooter, has averaged double-figure points each of the last 3 years, all on pretty bad Phoenix teams. He’s still only 27, and has shot at least 45.9% from the field in each of his 6 NBA seasons.

Considering the market for swing guards/forwards this postseason, 4 years, $27 million — the signed-and-traded contract Redick reportedly signed — is hardly a burden. J.J.’s still 29 and has played in the postseason all 7 years of his career. The Wolves signed Kevin Martin for $28 million over 4, the Wizards signed Martell Webster for $22 million over 4, Atlanta signed Kyle Korver for $24 million over 4 and the Wolves signed Chase Budinger for $16 million over 3.

There’s not a player on that list I’d take over Redick. If the Clippers managed to re-sign Matt Barnes on the cheap and lure Carl Landry below market value — a big who, unlike DeAndre Jordan, could play in crunch time — I’d put them in the same conversation as San Antonio, a healthy Oklahoma City and Memphis.

2. Did the Wizards overpay for Martell Webster?

Shortly after news broke Washington used their mid-level exception to ink Webster for 4 years, $22 million, with the final year only partially guaranteed, Twitter morphed into a ‘THEY OVERPAID’ frenzy.

Webster, picked No. 6 overall out of high school in 2005, is still only 26, and averaged 11.4 points on 44% shooting last season, a ‘contract year.’ Some, including me, thought the selection of Otto Porter at No. 3 would make him expendable, but you would think he goes into next year as Washington’s starting SF.

The rag on Webster is durability. He’s only played 2 full 82-game slates in his 8-year career, with the most recent coming in 2009-10 as a Blazer. In 2008-09, Webster played all of 5 minutes. The 2 back surgeries that caused Webster to miss 55 games in his 2 seasons in Minnesota have, at least per my research, not since flared up.

Again, look at the market. Korver signed for $2 million more over 4 years, without nearly the slash game and athleticism that Webster offers. Kevin Martin signed for $6 million more over 4, but is a horrific defender. As evidenced by taking on the contracts of Nene and Emeka Okafor last summer, the Wizards are in win-now mode. And a healthy Webster gives them a more-than-capable starting SF/sixth man.

For a much more comprehensive examination of the Webster move, read this Truth About It post.

3. What’s up with New Orleans’ guard situation?

As I’m writing this post, USA TODAY‘s Sam Amick is reporting Sacramento Kings’ restricted free agent Tyreke Evans has given the Pelicans a verbal commitment on a 4-year, $44 million offer sheet. By all indications, Evans wants to play in New Orleans — much like current Pelicans’ guard Eric Gordon wanted to play in Phoenix — but Sacramento will still have 3 days to match once the offer sheet is signed.

For a few hours Tuesday, it looked like Evans would be headed to New Orleans. Sacramento had offered Iguodala a 4-year, $56 million deal, only to call their own bluff by night’s end. You would guess that Sacramento, and its approximately $17 million in cap space, would now re-sign Evans.

The addition of Evans would leave a lot of questions in New Orleans. The Pelicans just traded 2 lottery picks (barring a playoff appearance) for Jrue Holiday, an All Star last season, and are paying Gordon $14.3, $14.9 and $15.5 million over the next 3 years, respectively. Greivis Vasquez, last year’s Most Improved Player runner-up, and Austin Rivers, last year’s No. 10 overall pick, are also under contract for 2013-14.

The Pelicans would love to find a taker for Gordon’s albatross of a contract, but that’s unlikely for a guy who’s missed nearly twice as many games (97) as he’s played in (51) the past 2 years. Rivers, 20, has potential, but an ugly rookie season and 5.95 PER kills his value. Vasquez’s name, also circulated in trade rumors, is perhaps the only appealing to GMs.

If Evans winds up in New Orleans, somehow at least one of these guys has to go.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


3 free agents I’d love to see in Wine & Gold

June 30, 2013

Cleveland Cavaliers GM Chris Grant has quite the rainy day fund to play with, or not play with, this summer. Within the past 2 days, Marreese Speights has declined a $4.5-million player option, and Grant decided not to extend $3-million qualifying offers to Omri Casspi and Wayne Ellington, effectively making all 3 unrestricted free agents. Cleveland owns a $2.25-million team option on C.J. Miles, who was reportedly on the block on draft night.

So, if the Cavs pick up Miles’ option, Grant will have about $30.25 million tied up in 7 players; if not, about $28 million tied up in 6. That does not include any of the team’s 3 draft selections — Anthony Bennett, Sergey Karasev or Carrick Felix — all of whom I’d expect in a Cleveland uniform on opening night.

The salary cap for the 2013-14 NBA season is set for around $58.5 million, and the floor, or minimum teams must spend on players, about $52.65 million, according to Grantland’s Zach Lowe.

Grant has money to burn. But he also has to be smart — next summer’s free agent class, and of course the possibility of LeBron returning, is much better, plus Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson will be due considerable extensions about 16 months from now. So Grant either has to a) front-load any hefty deals, or b) sign veteran guys to 1-year deals.

That said, here’s 3 lower-tier free agents Grant could have at a bargain.

No. 1: Greg Oden, 25, C, free agent

To me, this is a no-brainer low-risk, high-reward type of move. Oden, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2007 Draft, played a year at Ohio State. Alongside Miami, who’s restricted in the amount of money they can offer the 7-footer, Cleveland’s the team most commonly mentioned in the Oden sweepstakes.

Cleveland passed on Nerlens Noel and Alex Len in Thursday’s draft, and thus need a center. The Cavs are not players in the Dwight Howard chase, and, despite a HoopsWorld report to the contrary, I refuse to believe Grant’s serious about signing the sideshow that is Andrew Bynum, who played the same amount of games as Oden last year.

Yes, Oden has not played since the 2009-10 season, and has only played 82 games in his entire career. But consider these stats from his 21 games in ’09-10: 11.1 points on 60% from the field and 77% from the foul line, 8.5 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks in 23.9 minutes. Per 36 minutes, that’s 16.7 points, 12.8 rebounds and 3.5 blocks; in 35.8 minutes per last year, Dwight Howard averaged 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks.

It would be unwise to expect these numbers from Oden right away, or even at all, but even glimpses over 15 quality minutes a night is worth a few million. A rim-protector and quality finisher in close, Oden would also give the Cavs the 3rd No. 1 overall selection on their roster. If he can be had for $8-10 million over 2 years, with a team option for the second, I’m all for it.

No. 2: Corey Brewer, 27, SF, Denver Nuggets

I’ve loved Brewer’s game for as long as I can remember. Tennessee’s Mr. Basketball in 2004, a 2-time national champion at Florida in 2006 and 2007, the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player in ’07, and an NBA champion in 2011 — though he only appeared in a combined 19 games, regular season and playoffs, for the latter.

Energy, defense, intangibles, more energy. Perhaps George Karl’s up-tempo style was the perfect fit for Brewer; he averaged 12.1 points in 24.4 minutes last year. But he’s also shown he can score in a slower style — he started all 82 games for Minnesota in 2009-10 and netted 13 points per 30.3 minutes.

Mike Brown would love Brewer’s length — he’s 6’9″ — on the perimeter, but how he’d fare defensively in the post, at only 188 pounds, against guys like LeBron James, 250; Carmelo Anthony, 230; and Paul Pierce, 235, is another story. Either way, if the market for small forwards collapsed and Grant threw $3-4.5 million annually at this guy — Brewer made $3.25 this year — I’d be thrilled.

No. 3: Shaun Livingston, 27, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers

Grant doesn’t have to look outside his own locker room for candidate No. 3. A Christmas Day signing in 2012, Livingston contributed, probably too much, to the Cavs this year — he averaged 7.2 points, 3.6 assists and shot 51% from the field in 23.2 minutes. The former No. 4 overall pick even started 12 games as Kyrie Irving missed time late in the year.

The fact that Livingston was able to return from this and, 6 years later, is still a solid role player in this league tells me everything I need to know about the guy. I love his 6’7″-frame on the perimeter, his ability to back down smaller point guards and score over the top, and his effectiveness in delivering the ball to his bigs. By all indications, he’s a quality teammate and an even better backup point for Kyrie, a spot the Cavs had struggled to fill prior to his arrival.

Fox Sports Ohio’s Sam Amico reported June 1 the Cavs like Livingston, but his camp was likely to seek a deal larger than they’d be willing to pay. I’m not saying throw $4-5 million annually at Livingston, but if he finds the market a bit cooler than he expected, I’d be more than happy with a 2-3 year deal worth $2-3 million per. Health is no longer much of a concern; Livingston appeared in 66 games for 2 teams last year, 58 in the lockout-shortened campaign the year prior, and 73 in 2010-11.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


5 second-tier free agents to watch

June 30, 2013

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.

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.


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