It was just a little over a year ago when the lockout forced a group of NBA rotation players overseas in search of employment. The Chinese Basketball Association opened their doors to a handful of players under the condition that those players finish out their contracts in the league no matter when the lockout ended. Guys like J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler and Kenyon Martin all came “home” after stints in the CBL and joined playoff contending teams to finish out the season last March.
This year a new trio of fairly well known names look to share the same fate — except this time it’s not that the lockout forced them abroad. It was a lack of interest from NBA teams that sent them to China. A harsh and humbling reality that may still hold true for some of these players. Nonetheless, the triumvirate of Tracy McGrady, Gilbert Arenas and Eddy Curry all played well (statistically speaking) in the CBL. Nobody will expect them to come back to the league and average the same numbers they did in China. However, they could be useful rotation pieces to teams in the playoff hunt. All unrestricted free agents or players currently playing overseas can be signed all the way up until the final day of the regular season: April 17.
Let’s take a look at each and name five teams that could potentially use their services for the final push of the season.
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CBL Stats: 25 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 56 percent shooting in 29 games
McGrady’s all-around skill level has never been in question, but his heart and ability to stay healthy often have been. After a heartfelt goodbye/retirement from the NBA in a letter in the fall, T-Mac set sail for the CBL and led his team, the Qingdao Double Star Eagles, to a disappointing 8-24 record. His stats indicate that he can still play in the league but is he even interested? Who could he help?
The Portland Trail Blazers need help in just about every position off the bench. McGrady could play behind Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum at the two and three positions, giving the team another playmaker to help them make a run at the No. 8 seed in the West.
The Memphis Grizzlies are long on defense but short on offense, ranking just 26th in points per game. Scoring has never been a problem for McGrady and his ability to share the ball would fit nicely with the bigs Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
The Golden State Warriors lack a legitmate backup at the small forward position (no offense Richard Jefferson) behind rookie Harrison Barnes. Instead, they opt to slide Klay Thompson to the three and play a backcourt of Jarrett Jack and Stephen Curry when they rest Barnes. It works and I am certainly not knocking it, but T-Mac is a viable option to help bolster the bench. Plus he has some playoff experience (albeit in losing efforts), something that not many of the young Warriors have.
The Brooklyn Nets are another team with limited scoring ability, ranking just 20th overall in the league. However, it’s McGrady’s playmaking that would be a welcome addition in Brooklyn. The Nets are an abysmal 28th in assists per game and are desperate for someone to get that second unit going. T-Mac also has some familiarity with Joe Johnson as a teammate after the two joined forces in Atlanta a season ago, which would make for a nice reunion and a sizeable backcourt.
The Los Angeles Lakers have been a rumored desired destination of T-Mac for a few years now. How awesome would it be to see T-Mac and the Mamba on the wings with Steve Nash leading the break? Okay I realize this isn’t 2002, but nostalgia is fun sometimes. Still, T-Mac could be a serviceable backup to Kobe and Metta World Peace, limiting the amount of time Jodie Meeks is on the court. McGrady’s ability to pass would be immense in Mike D’Antoni‘s offense and could make Dwight Howard a happier Superman.
CBL Stats: 20.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 50 percent shooting in 14 games
The man that once had as much swag and nicknames as Diddy has been humbled. Arenas was one of the first causalities of the NBA’s amnesty clause when Orlando decided they would be okay with paying him to be off their roster. Since then, he has had a brief stint with the Grizzlies and took to the CBL’s Shanghai Sharks this past fall. His path back to the league is ominous, especially trying to find him a home on a playoff contender with his lack of defense and injury propensity. But here are a few teams that could potentially use him. (Prepare to be stretched)
At first glance, the Utah Jazz don’t look like a team that would make for a happy marriage with the mercurial Arenas. However, with Mo Williams just recently returning from ligament damage in his thumb, the Jazz have been searching for help at the lead guard position. Sure Arenas is a volume shooter, but Jamaal Tinsley has been so bad filling in for Williams that Alec Burks and Earl Watson now share the point guard duties. Arenas could be a stopgap of sorts.
The Chicago Bulls already have their share of injured backcourt players and are still awaiting the return of their former MVP, Derrick Rose. With the news that Rose may or may not come back and Kirk Hinrich unable to string more than 10 games together without injury, Arenas could be an option. Although he is not likely capable of playing the type of defense Tom Thibodeau would endorse, the Bulls have Nate Robinson running around out there a lot and I don’t think Agent Zero could be much worse.
The Los Angeles Lakers have flirted with the idea of adding Arenas like they have T-Mac for a while but nothing has ever come of it. L.A. is stocked with mediocre guards and Arenas could easily move ahead of guys like Darius Morris and potentially Jodie Meeks in a reserve role. His shooting could space the floor for Howard in the middle and give Nash and a facilitating-minded Kobe another outlet on dribble drives. Nash and Steve Blake are not pictures of health either, so in the event of an injury to either, Arenas would be nice, although a bit risky insurance.
An injury to Tony Parker is the only reason I mention the San Antonio Spurs here. The Spurs lack a guy of true note to run the point while Parker deals with an ankle injury. They have opted for Cory Joseph, Patty Mills and Nando de Colo to hold down the fort in the absence of Parker. But Arenas could be an option if the Spurs were looking for more punch. Gregg Popovich is not likely to take on a guy like Arenas with the “Go in his mouth” attitude of Stephen Jackson already in the fold but the option is there.
With the season-ending injury to Lou Williams, the Atlanta Hawks lack scoring off their bench, ranking just 22nd among reserve units in that category. Kyle Korver has been shifted back and forth as a starter and reserve as Larry Drew searches for the right rotation to give his team some scoring backbone. Arenas is no longer as dynamic as Williams was but could still fill a similar role in short minutes, allowing Korver to stay with the starters.
CBL stats: 23 points, 10.1 rebounds and 61 percent shooting in 29 games
What does it say when teams would rather employ guys like Jason Collins and Hamed Haddadi than you? It hurts my feelings and I am not even a big fan of Eddy Curry. But this is his reality. He latched on with the Mavericks to start the season but was let go for Troy Murphy, which is all the indication one needs on Curry’s standing in the league. Still, the old saying you can’t teach size applies for as long as Curry wants to play basketball. His weight is under control and he is currently working out in Chicago. Certainly he could help someone… right?
The Boston Celtics have a need for a big that can give the team some semblance of a presence in the post when Kevin Garnett takes a breather. Ranking 26th in points scored in the paint is not something the Celtics can continue to ignore if they hope to make any noise in the postseason. Curry could also benefit from a strong veteran presence like KG. It’s not inconceivable to think there could be a fit there.
The Hawks have been surprisingly competitive despite some lesser known names coming off their bench. Al Horford and Josh Smith are rock solid upfront but their reserves are more like hustle guys (Pachulia, Johnson, Petro) than skilled bigs. Adding a guy like Curry would allow more sets where Horford could play his more natural power forward position. It would also allow for some great high-low action and pick-n-roll play in the Atlanta offense.
The Los Angeles Clippers have great team chemistry and probably are going to ride with what they have into the playoffs. But even as good as they have been, they don’t get great production from the center position. DeAndre Jordan is still developing with his defense way ahead of his offense. Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins are both defensive-minded guys as well. Curry could help balance out all that stoppage at the center position by providing the offensive option in the post they don’t have outside of Blake Griffin.
Curry had a camp invite with the San Antonio Spurs but was eventually waived before he caught on with the Mavericks. A return to the Alamo could make sense if the Spurs wanted to bolster their frontline. They seem to have given up on DeJuan Blair as a contributor and Curry would be a decent option as insurance if Tim Duncan or Tiago Splitter were to get injured.
The Houston Rockets have a lot of talent at the power forward position, but are a bit thin at the center spot. Greg Smith has been a nice surprise but is unproven as a reliable backup behind Omer Asik. The Rockets rank 18th in points in the paint, largely because of the dribble penetration of James Harden and Jeremy Lin. That ranking could rise slightly if they had a post presence like Curry backing up Asik.
Will any of these three ever play in the NBA again?
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