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.
7. Antawn Jamison
Can you name the active players with 20,000 points, 8,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists? If you guessed Kevin Garnett, Dirk and Tim Duncan then you, sir, are a genius (sorry, that Taco Bell-Pandora ad is stuck in my head). But, you probably forgot to include Jamison on the list. The 37-year-old, 16-year veteran averages 18.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG and 1.6 APG for his career, and shoots a respectable 34.6 percent from deep as a stretch four. One of the absolute worst defenders in the NBA in terms of effort (Seriously, as a Ohio native who watched Jamison on defense during the LeBron teams I can say this. I watched as whomever had Jamison guarding them practically licked their lips each time down the floor), Jamison may not get the opportunity to reach the playoffs one more time. Why? Because the two teams who needed the most interior help going forward (the Hawks playing without Al Horford and the Clippers) are the two teams that let him go. If that’s the case, this is a sad ending for one of the more dynamic scoring bigs of my generation. Someone let him sit on the bench for one more run, a la Tracy McGrady with last year’s Spurs.
6. Earl Clark [UPDATE: Knicks are finalizing a deal with Clark]
Clark may be on the verge of signing a 10-day contract with the New York Knicks, but whether or not that lasts Clark will find himself a new home after being traded by the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Philadelphia 76ers, who proceeded to waive him. It’s just too bad New York probably isn’t a playoff team.
Clark was one of the better stories last year, coming out of nowhere for the Lakers to average 7.3 PPG and 5.5 RPG while showing an improved three-point shot (33.7 percent from three).
Clark turned those numbers into a two-year, $8.5 million deal with the Cavs (the second year not guaranteed), and proceeded to fail miserably as a sometimes-starting small forward. But Clark, who still is only 26 years old, is one of the few young veteran players available on the market right now.
Standing 6-11, Clark can defend multiple positions for a playoff team. With less expectations now, Clark might be the perfect fit for a team like the Knicks looking for a wing/forward defender.
5. Ben Gordon
The 30-year-old, 10-year veteran is no stranger to the playoff atmosphere, having starred for the Chicago Bulls. (Four years of 20-plus playoff scoring averages, a high of 24.3 PPG in 2008-2009.) Gordon hasn’t been a part of the Bobcats rotation this year, having played a total of 279 minutes so far this season, and is rumored to be working on a buyout. This is not the first time Gordon has found himself in the doghouse (see Pistons, Detroit for more), but he can still knock down the long ball, if nothing else (a career 40.2 percent shooter from three-point range).
I could be wrong here, but I think Gordon may have one or two more big games left in his system. Teams can seemingly never have enough three-point shooters when the playoffs come around, and Gordon is the second-best there is to offer in that respect (keep reading for number one!). Expect someone to grab him if he is indeed let go.
4. Metta World Peace
What happened in New York? Artest … err World Peace, who has played a grand total of 42 minutes since January 24–the day he told media outlets he was healthy after receiving platelet-rich plasma treatment on his knee–was released Monday and is looking to sign with contender. A step slower with age, Metta is still a versatile defender, and has stayed out of trouble this year. Peace had a great rebound season last year with the Lakers, averaging 12.4 PPG, 5.0 RPG and 34.2 percent shooting from three-point range, before appearing in only 29 games for New York this season. Any number of contenders will look to add the only NBA player who loves the Cookie Monster more than a 5-year-old before the deadline (Miami, San Antonio and OKC are all possibilities). One of the NBA’s biggest personalities and toughest defenders, we’ll hear his name a few more times before the season concludes.
3. Caron Butler
Butler, who is a member of the Milwaukee Bucks, is working on a buyout to allow the 12â€“year veteran to pursue a ring in his final years. The Miami Herald is reporting the Heat players prefer Butler to Danny Granger (if both are indeed bought out), and Butler, who played for the Heat and remains close to Dwyane Wade, can still contribute.
Butler has appeared in only 34 games this year for the Bucks, but is averaging 11.0 PPG and 4.6 RPG. His athleticism has diminished, but he’s an average three-point shooter (36.1 percent from downtown this year), who knows how to play tough defense. I’m pulling for his release; Tough Juice deserves one final playoff run.
2. Jimmer Fredette
Jimbo Slice, as only I refer to him, will more than likely sign with a lower quality team that can offer him more minutes, but I have another idea. Yes, signing with a team with less star power might garner him long-term contract, but Jimmer can be a playoff legend. I watched some of his BYU games back in the day; I want Fredette in the playoffs, where he can catch fire and perhaps even make a real impact on the series.
Imagine Jimmer on the Bobcats, who have no three-point shooter, running around Al Jefferson and Josh McRoberts screens, and stealing a game from the Pacers. Think of Jimmer on the run-and-gun Suns team paired up with Dragic in the backcourt. I WANT JIMMER TIME. I WANT THE JIMMER LEGEND TO CONTINUE. Fredette, for his career, averages 7.0 PPG on 40.2 percent shooting from three. Is he a starter? No. But Jimmer has the capability of becoming a heat-check type of shooter of the bench. Please Adam Silver, make Jimmer sign with a playoff team.
1. Danny Granger
The Granger for Turner/Allen trade caught most of us off guard; it really looked like the Pacers decided their core was strong enough to compete for it all. But Larry Legend rolled the dice and decided to add the younger, and probably more talented, Evan Turner to his squad.
Granger, the former face of the Pacers, has been released by the 76ers, and Granger will surely garner the most attention out of all available players. A step slower then he was in his prime, and struggling with his jump shot so far this season (averaging 8.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG on 35.9 percent shooting), Granger is still a high-quality player. The Spurs, Thunder, Clippers and even his former archrival Miami Heat will all be interested in adding him to the roster. The question remains where will he sign? The former Most Improved Player and All-Star will have his choice of teams, and could be a key contributor rarely available so late in the season for a contending team.
What do you think?
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