NBA free agency: Five potential bargains
The NBA’s free-agent negotiating period begins Monday at 12:01 a.m. ET. While some teams are targeting the big prizes, every club will be hunting for low-cost value. Here are five players who might fit the bill.
Spot shooters who can put the ball on the floor without the sky falling are valuable in a league where defenses so deliberately tend to the three-point line, and Dunleavy could offer that very skill at an affordable price. The 32-year-old swingman with a pliable all-around game just completed a two-year deal with Milwaukee that paid him $3.8 million per season, and he isn’t likely to boost that salary two years later just as the teeth of the NBA’s revised luxury tax begin to sink in. Role players will likely pay the price under the new collective bargaining agreement, with those such as Dunleavy clearly valued but modestly paid.
For Dunleavy’s sake, I hope he can trudge through that market to find a home with a winning team. He spent the first stretch of his career underwhelming for the struggling Warriors, was shipped to the Pacers just in time to miss out on Golden State’s “We Believe” run and jumped to the Bucks just before Indiana began its ascent. Dunleavy is a strong enough shooter (42.8 percent from three-point range last season) and a scrappy enough defender to offer real value to a contender, but up to this point he’s done good work for mediocre teams in relative quiet. That should change, as Dunleavy makes too much sense as a low-key addition to a contender.
Pistons center Andre Drummond drew praise and awe for his rookie explosion last season, but lost in his productivity were Bynum’s contributions as an off-the-dribble enabler. Drummond was only activated when Detroit spread the floor and let Bynum go to work in the pick-and-roll, affording the 30-year-old guard the space needed to compromise defenses and manufacture open looks.
The 6-foot Bynum, who made $3.3 million in 2012-13, isn’t quite versatile enough to succeed as a starting point guard. But he rated as one of the 30 most efficient scorers among pick-and-roll ball handlers last season, shooting 50 percent after coming off a screen. He also averaged 6.8 assists per 36 minutes through kick-out passes to shooters and well-timed feeds to Drummond, all of which is quite valuable when coming from a second-unit playmaker.
His size, iffy defense and lack of shooting range will limit what he can offer in big minutes (and what he can draw on the open market this summer). But Bynum works well as a ball-dominant guard for 15-20 minutes a game — particularly for a team that can pair him with an effective pick-and-roll partner. He’d be an outstanding source of on-the-job training for a young, athletic big man, or an effective means of getting the most out of a past-his-prime veteran. All he needs is room to operate and a coach willing to trust him with the ball, the barest necessities of pick-and-roll success.
As of Friday, the Kings had yet to make Douglas a qualifying offer, which would enable them to match any offer he receives. If they don’t do so by Sunday, Douglas would become an unrestricted free agent. The Kings were flush with guards even before drafting Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum on Thursday, and though Douglas played fairly well in 22 games for them last season after being traded from Houston, they may not be interested in re-signing him.
That leaves an opening for some smart, flexible team to scoop up the 26-year-old Douglas as a three-and-D type to play off a wing creator. Putting too much playmaking responsibility in Douglas’ hands rarely ends well, but he could be an effective floor spacer for players like Manu Ginobili, James Harden, Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant, all while badgering opposing point guards on defense.
Douglas, who was paid $2.1 million last season, is set to be undervalued because he’s a nominal point guard who really shouldn’t be running an offense on a regular basis. But Douglas’ appeal is far greater to a team that can take the ball out of his hands and rely on him only for what he does best.
Prigioni is 36 and doesn’t have the slightest interest in scoring, but he would be a wonderful facilitator to pair with more ball-dominant guards. He’s the rare playmaker who doesn’t need constant (or even frequent) control of the ball to be effective because so many of his passes come as Jason Kidd-style feeds from a standstill on the perimeter.
Prigioni is a bit more interesting off the dribble than Kidd was late in his career, but his function as a catalyst is essentially the same. The ball simply moves more freely and effectively with Prigioni on the floor, and he creates a wider playmaking benefit than even his 6.7 assists per 36 minutes would suggest. Overall, New York averaged an extra 2.3 assists per 48 minutes with Prigioni on the court, along with a 2.7-percent increase in effective field-goal percentage (which factors in the added value of three-pointers). That can’t all be attributed to the work of a pass-first point guard operating on the margins, but there was something genuinely infectious about Prigioni’s style of play last season, when he played for the veteran’s minimum of $473,604 as an NBA rookie.
Because the Knicks didn’t sign Prigioni to a long enough deal to secure his Bird rights, they would have to dip into their mini mid-level exception (starting salary of about $3.1 million) to re-sign him to match an offer that exceeds his qualifying offer ($988,872). The same is true of fellow restricted free agent Chris Copeland, who will likely draw interest as a floor-stretching forward in a market short on players of his type. Perhaps the Knicks would be willing to match a reasonable offer for Prigioni, or perhaps not. But rival teams have the benefit of knowing New York’s cap for re-signing Prigioni and Copeland, along with making other additions, up front, allowing them to potentially price the Knicks out of matching an offer sheet.
Wright is coming off of a weird season playing for a weird Sixers team. He never quite caught his groove as a scorer. Nevertheless, he could be a nice value add for a team looking for wing depth. His effort tends to wax and wane, but on the right team that habit of floating through possessions or losing focus at times could be mitigated by a controlled role and explicit directives. The 27-year-old, who made $4.2 million last season to complete a three-year, $11.4 million contract, could do well on a team with more offensive structure.
Wright makes three-pointers at an above-average clip, but he can also slide between positions defensively, put the ball on the floor for counter drives and rebound more effectively than other shooters of his caliber. He’s one of those across-the-board contributors who can be easily overlooked because his standout quality — his athletic potential — is fading a bit, but Wright should still be valued based on his per-36 averages of 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and three assists last season.