Ironically, just as last week’s NBA Draft had about as much star power as a WNBA game, this summer’s free agent class is also incredibly weak up top. Today, news broke that David West will opt out of his contract and become a free agent. He seriously might be the best player available this summer. Compare that to one year ago when it seemed every franchise player was on the market.
But just as the draft was, this class is deep enough that there is talent available. And every great team needs a Steve Kerr or a Derek Fisher or a Bruce Bowen or a Dennis Johnson or a Vinnie Johnson. When I say “role-playing” guys available, I’m talking about a certain group. I’m talking players I would legitimately feel comfortable with in a must-win in the Finals. If I was just a piece or two away from a title, I wouldn’t grab or go after players that have the basketball IQ of a squirrel (J.R. Smith) or avoid defense at all costs (Jamal Crawford) or struggle to make shots (Chuck Hayes) or are too talented for their own good (Aaron Brooks, I don’t need my backups shooting to run down the starters) or who I can’t see leaving their current situation (Grant Hill, DeAndre Jordan, C.J. Miles), or aren’t aggressive (Jeff Green) or guys that have too much potential to be boxed in (Wilson Chandler, Nick Young). I want guys who have specific skills – a jump-shooting two, a defensive big man, an athletic three.
With that, here are the 10 best role-playing free agents available this summer, the Ron Harper All-Stars.
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10. Mario Chalmers/J.J. Barea – It’s a pathetic summer for point guards. Pathetic. T.J. Ford, Aaron Brooks, Patty Mills, Early Boykins. Those are some of the top signal callers available. As we saw in the Finals, Chalmers and Barea can both play roles on a title team: Chalmers for his defense and three-point shooting…Barea for his annoying shot-making.
Dallas and Miami will look to bring them back (Chalmers is restricted, Barea, unrestricted), but with the buffet line so dried up, someone is pound to overpay.
9. Samuel Dalembert – We need a center right? Just as the PG spot will have teams fighting for scraps like they’re Eli and Solara stuck in a post-apocalyptic world, really big guys are gonna be gobbled up quickly. And Dalembert is one big dude. Perfect for someone who needs a big anchor inside, and won’t ask him to do much more than stand there, be big, ugly, and block a shot/grab a rebound here and there.
Dalembert isn’t much of a talent, but every great team could use someone like him. He can play the Luc Longley role. I almost put Kyrylo Fesenko here until I realized he’s Kyrylo Fesenko.
8. Shane Battier – Heartbreakingly, Battier wasted his prime years languished on a Houston team that was never quite good enough. Then, he finally catches a nice wave with the Grizzlies last year, who would’ve been PERFECT for him maybe two or three years ago.
He’s the master of defensive tricks, seemingly “inventing” stuff like the hand-in-the-face technique. Give him 20 minutes a night on a great team, and he’ll make a big difference.
7. Glen Davis – I said recently that while Davis shouldn’t be an option as a full-time starting power forward, he’s solid as hell as a backup, part-time fill-in. Last year, before his public mental breakdown in the playoffs, Big Baby dropped 12 and five, the best year of his career. He’s hit game-winners in the playoffs and played a central role on a couple deep Boston playoff runs.
Sadly, my guess is some lottery team drops dough on him, he starts and averages something like 13 and six, attempts so many charges that eventually Blake Griffin kicks him in the face, we forget all about his slobbering playoff moments and he ends up wishing he never left Boston by the third week in November.
6. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute – A Battier in training. The Milwaukee restricted free agent struggles offensively, but he’s one of the most versatile defenders in the league. He’s covered Kobe. He’s checked LeBron. He’s rumbled with Kevin Garnett. He’s a perfect example of someone who may never win an individual award but every GM will always want him.
5. Tayshaun Prince – Serious question: what’s in the water in Detroit? Careers/things fall off there. Prince, Ben Gordon. Ben Wallace. Charlie Villanueva. D12. ABC’s “Detroit 1-8-7”.
Prince is on this list mainly because, well, he’s one of the few that’s actually done it. 2004. He locked up all the way to a title. Maybe all he needs is a change in scenery. The question though is whether he would fit in better on a young team that needs experience, like say the Clippers, or would he look better with a team of vets?
4. Kenyon Martin/Carl Landry – Having Martin on your front line assures you of a couple of things:
* Your tattoo-to-naked-skin ratio will be near the league leaders
* Your PG will become better at throwing lobs
* You will be much improved defensively
Martin’s athleticism is dipping, but if he’s your third big man, you’re in a good spot. He can still move and cover ground on defense.
Landry is like the exact opposite. He gets buckets no matter what. He scores on put-backs, on jump shots, on rolls to the rim, and with or without plays called for him. He’s the prototypical backup power forward, someone who’s toughness and energy makes a difference for 20-25 minutes a night.
3. Jason Richardson – When J-Rich was traded from Phoenix to Orlando last December, my fantasy team got screwed. He was dropping nearly 20 a night and hitting threes at a ridiculous pace. Then, his minutes were cut and his opportunities dwindled in Orlando.
It’s all a transition. Richardson is now past 30, and it’s time he realize his potential as a championship fourth wheel. Someone, perhaps Chicago, needs to nab Richardson and watch him hit big threes for them next spring. J-Rich cares and actually attempts to play team ball, he NEVER turns it over, can definitely shoot and will hound like Iggy in a defensive system.
2. Tyson Chandler – Chandler has the perfect home in Dallas. Let’s pray he doesn’t leave. He’s the latest example of what happens when someone is overrated for years, only to become perfectly rated by their latest team (Dallas) and turned into a defensive anchor, eventually becoming extremely underrated and now this summer, someone will probably overrate and overpay him again.
1. Arron Afflalo – One of my favorite players in the league. He’s the ultimate role player: makes threes, is content with 10 shots a night, plays smart, plays hard, defends every time down and continuously gets better (and he did all of this in Denver, which was the anti-thesis of developing good role players, surrounded by stupid shots, terrible tattoos, selfish players and J.R. Smith. Extra points for this). Afflalo is actually on the cusp of moving beyond this list.
But he’s also one of George Karl’s favorite players. Afflalo is a restricted free agent and it’s imperative that Denver brings him back. They’ll probably match anything that isn’t outrageous. But imagine if Afflalo ended up on San Antonio or some other contender? EVERYONE would know who he is.
What do you think? Who would you want on a championship team?
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