The NBA Playoffs are still a good two months away, but that doesn’t mean teams haven’t begun preparing and planning their rosters for the home stretch. Why? March 1 marks the last day a player can be waived and still sign with a new team and be eligible to play in the playoffs (players who have yet to play in the NBA this season have until the final day of the regular season to sign with a playoff team).
Some non-contenders are in the process of buying out their veteran players, allowing them an opportunity to chase a ring, maybe for the last time. With the Chinese Basketball Association’s season also coming to an end, some former NBA players are returning to the free agent market.
Teams that make the playoffs do so for a reason: they’re the best of the best (unless we’re talking about an Eastern Conference team not stationed in Miami, Indiana or Toronto… in which case they’ve only made it because only eight of the Western Conference teams can make the playoffs), adding a capable role player is just another piece of the puzzle. Indiana took a flier on the talented but moody, and often injured, Andrew Bynum in an effort to apparently add as much size as possible to combat the Heat. Just this week, Glen “Big Baby” Davis was set free from the rebuilding Orlando Magic and has signed with the Clippers (reuniting him with the coach he won a championship with, Doc Rivers), providing L.A. with a capable big man off the bench. Jason Collins, he of much non-basketball related publicity this season, finally received a call from the Brooklyn Nets and will probably stick. With Nene suffering yet another injury, this time in the form of a sprained MCL (out 4-6 weeks, just in time to get back in the swings for the playoffs), the Wizards went out and signed journeyman forward Drew Gooden to a 10-day deal as well.
With every move being calculated, teams are looking for any additional benefit they can. Here are ten players who should get picked up by a playoff team.
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10. Beno Udrih [UPDATE: Udrih was claimed off waivers by Memphis]
The 10-year veteran started his career with the San Antonio Spurs, where he was a member of two title teams. Since then, Udrih has bounced around from Sacramento, Orlando, Milwaukee and most recently, New York, where he was just waived. Now as we were writing this, it’s being reported he’ll join Memphis, as the Grizzlies are fighting for a playoff spot out West.
Udrih put together a strong four-year stretch from 2007-2011, where he averaged 12.6 PPG, 4.7 APG and 3.1 RPG while shooting 48.1 percent. This season, Udrih spent time in and out of the Knicks rotation, averaging 5.6 PPG and 3.5 APG in only 19 MPG, and even reportedly asked for a trade last month. Any number of teams could use a serviceable backup at point guard, but now that he’s likely a Grizzly, will Udrih accept little to no playing time on a contender after his issues with minutes on the Knicks? Regardless, Udrih should create some type of role with Memphis because they’ve spent time this year looking for another veteran ballhandler.
9. Roger Mason Jr.
Mason, a 10-year veteran, played sparingly with the Heat this season before being traded to the Sacramento Kings (who dumped him immediately). Mason doesn’t have gaudy numbers, but he is a capable combo guard, who possesses a three-point shot (he shot 41.5 percent last year, and is a career 38.3 percent three-point shooter), which should be enough to warrant a call from someone. In fact, I was surprised the Kings elected to release him (this is the team that traded for John Salmons!!!). @MoneyMase should be on a playoff team’s bench by the end of the week.
8. Ivan Johnson
Johnson decided to take what was called a “lucrative” contract in China this season despite reported interest from NBA teams. Before that, Johnson spent two seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, averaging 6.5 PPG and 3.9 RPG off the bench. Quite a few playoff teams could use another big body on the bench (the Nets and Hawks are told to be interested in signing Johnson), and with the Chinese season concluding, Johnson should have the additional benefit of being in better game shape than veterans who’ve yet to play this year.
Fun fact on Johnson: twice Johnson has gotten into trouble for giving someone the middle finger gesture–once while playing in the Korean Basketball League (where he was “banned forever” for the gesture… has this happened in the NBA? Are there players who are actually categorized as banned forever?), and then again toward a Celtics fan after Boston sent Atlanta packing in the 2012 Playoffs. Hand gestures not withstanding, Johnson is one of the better scoring big men available to a team right now.