- With the NBA trade deadline behind us, it's time to focus in on the second-wave of free agency and point out the best veterans on the open market.
Now that the NBA's trade deadline is behind us, the league turns its collective attention to the buyout market: a scrap-heap, second-wave free agency for the veteran set. Expectations should be tempered. The best-case buyout addition is typically a reserve or a fill-in starter. Some work as replacements for injury or help replenish the ranks after a lopsided trade. That can be important, albeit not in a league-shaping way. Picking up the right veteran at this stage in the season is more a move to stabilize the natural order than to upset it.
A few clarifications off the top before we dive into who might be available:
• As of the latest reporting from Marc Stein of the New York Times, the Knicks do not intend to waive recently acquired center DeAndre Jordan. The best of the potential buyout big men may never actually hit the market.
• Wesley Matthews, who was traded with Jordan from Dallas to New York, has not only negotiated his exit but will reportedly sign a deal with the Pacers for the prorated veteran minimum, per David Aldridge of The Athletic. Of all the playoff teams in need of wings and perimeter shooting, Matthews found the spot with the greatest opportunity for playing time.
The following players are either on the market or soon will be:
Anthony's career as a Bull ended as inauspiciously as his career as a Rocket, which ended as inauspiciously as his career as a member of the Thunder. Buyer beware. It's hard to concoct a better opportunity for Anthony than the ones offered in Oklahoma City and Houston, both of which proved untenable. Anthony is a walking liability on defense, the kind that can be picked out and worked over for pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll. Whatever role Anthony has must be limited. This isn't a volume scorer hiding in plain slight. It's a spot contributor who needs a tailored ecosystem around him to be effective, which is part of the reason why he's been available throughout the season and yet unclaimed. Some team might still talk themselves into signing Melo, on the grounds of what his game used to be. Conspicuously, the Lakers just opened up a roster spot.
Ellington was an accessory to the Tyler-Johnson-for-Ryan-Anderson blockbuster, included for the sake of saving Miami some money—and thus giving them reason to participate. There was never any reason for him to be in Phoenix, and so he won't be; Ellington will be released by the Suns today, according to John Gambadoro, and free to launch up threes for the team of his choosing. One possibility, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski: Detroit, ever in need of viable wings and floor spacing. The Thunder and Sixers should inquire as well.
The Knicks have already announced Kanter's release, bringing an official end to his tortured stint as a benchwarmer. Kanter has likely kissed the floor at Madison Square Garden for the last time. Unfortunately, the rest of the league's teams might not have much more playing time available for him; Kanter is such a specialist—and has such pronounced limitations—that it can be difficult to keep him on the floor for more than a few minutes here or there. Some playing time is better than none at all (as was the case when Kanter had seven DNP-CDs in eight games in January), though if a playoff team traded Kanter away last season and a lottery team would rather not play him this season, the "right fit" seems like a narrowly defined window.
Chicago had an active deadline, but one that didn't involve Lopez—a 30-year-old center on an expiring contract who plays the same position as one of the Bulls' best young players. A buyout seems inevitable, to the point that rumors linking Lopez and Golden State have persisted throughout the year. Lopez hasn't yet been released, though players of his kind usually are. When he hits the market could come down to the same thing it often seems to with the Bulls: how much money it will actually save the team to grant Lopez a buyout.
Contending teams have kept an eye on Dedmon all season, anticipating that the rebuilding Hawks might eventually cut him loose. Of interest in their pursuit: Atlanta has won 18 of its first 53 games, far too many to actually compete with the perfect tanks in New York, Phoenix, Cleveland, and Chicago. A bottom-three record—and the worst lottery odds—are likely out of reach. To even hold on to their current lottery positioning, however, Atlanta might be best served cutting loose some of their veterans. Dedmon would be first in line. There isn't opportunity for a defense-first center in every matchup, but when needed there is no substitute. You could do worse than keeping a defense-first seven-footer on the bench in case of emergency.
If there were any doubt that Lin would soon be in a different uniform, it was quashed by Atlanta's acquisition of reserve guard Shelvin Mack via trade. A veteran backup can be useful for a rebuilding team, but two seems unnecessary and Lin could genuinely help a number of playoff teams. Would Philadelphia have interest in a more dynamic backup point? Could Charlotte—where Lin played some good basketball alongside Kemba Walker—take another veteran rotation? Might Houston or San Antonio take a look? Lin is a better driver and more seasoned than your typical backup, and could soon be available to punch up a team's second line.
The Clippers aren't entirely out of the playoff race, though they're making moves along those lines. Gortat started for the Clips as recently as Tuesday. Now he'll be looking for other employment, joining what could be a competitive pool for a few playoff-relevant roster spots. Gortat wouldn't be a bad choice for a limited role, though anything more at this point would be a stretch.
Randolph, who served as bench decor for the upstart Kings, has yet to play in an NBA game this season. Dallas had little incentive to change that, and according to a report from Shams Charania of The Athletic, will waive Randolph to allow him to pursue other opportunities. What value Randolph has at this point is highly conditional. Certain matchups and styles just aren't tenable for a 37-year-old bruiser, in particular those that would expose his lack of mobility. It goes without saying that a bench role, if anything, would be best. Within that, whatever team Randolph signs with should have room within its offense for his mid-post stylings. Even last season, Randolph was able to score at a respectable clip. Those points just tend to only come a certain way, somewhat inefficiently, and with clear tradeoffs.