Financially, the NBA’s middle class has been hit hard by the new CBA. With stiff new luxury tax penalties making all but the most free-spending teams (i.e. the Brooklyn Nets) leery of adding too much salary, there just isn’t as much money to go around for guys best suited to playing 15-20 minutes on a contender. Starting in the NBA Finals and being a highly popular teammate in the locker room couldn’t save Mike Miller from being amnestied by the Miami Heat; the days of the $6 million per year role player may be all but over.
With Miller suddenly on the market, the Memphis Grizzlies swooped in, signing him to a one-year, $1.4 million deal. The move could pay huge dividends for the Grizzlies, who desperately need Miller’s shooting to spread the floor for their big men. Miller is a force multiplier for Memphis, playing a valuable role that may not show up in the basic statistics. As a result, he is at the forefront of the new market inefficiency in the NBA -- veteran role players from the free agency bargain bin.
- Mo Williams, Portland Trail Blazers
It’s been a steady fall from grace for Williams. Four years after his only All-Star appearance, he had to wait until August for a contract. Without the benefit of playing next to LeBron James, he was miscast as the starting point guard with the Utah Jazz, but he should flourish in a return to a sixth-man role in Portland. Still only 30, he has plenty of basketball left in him. Last season, in 46 games with the Jazz, he averaged 13 points and 6 assists on 43 percent shooting.
Williams is one of the best shooters in the NBA and he can create his own shot off the dribble. Combine that with a functional floor game and he has the ability to carry a second unit offense. That makes him a perfect fit in Portland, who had one of the worst benches in the league last season. Depending on the match-ups, Williams could close out games for the Trail Blazers, freeing up Damian Lillard to play off the ball. He’s a legitimate 6MOY contender.
- Al Harrington, Washington Wizards
Harrington fell off the map last season, playing only 10 games for the Orlando Magic while recovering from knee surgery. The year before, he was one of the best bench players in the NBA, averaging 14 points and six rebounds a game on 46 percent shooting in Denver. Because he declared for the draft straight out of high school, he’s 33 and entering his 16th (!) season in the league. That’s a lot of miles on his body, but he has the type of game that ages well.
Tall guys who shoot can play forever and Harrington, a career 35 percent three-point shooter at 6’9 230, is no exception. He’s the rare stretch-4 who can also threaten defenses when he puts the ball on the ground, making him an intriguing addition to the Wizards offense. He can run the pick-and-pop with John Wall and open up the floor, all for the price of a one-year minimum deal. With Emeka Okafor’s status unknown, there are plenty of minutes for Harrington in Washington.
- Anthony Morrow, New Orleans Pelicans
Throughout his NBA career, Morrow has done one thing and done that thing very well. He takes a lot of 3’s (3.6 a game) and makes them at a very high percentage (42 percent). While his one-dimensional game has made him a journeyman, on his fifth NBA team in six years, there will always be a place in the league for a dead-eye shooter with Morrow’s size (6’5 210). In New Orleans, where he signed a two-year deal for the minimum, he may have finally found a home.
This season, the wealth of young stars in New Orleans should create a lot of open 3’s. If Monty Williams puts Morrow and Ryan Anderson on the floor with some combination of Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and Anthony Davis, defenses will be in a real bind. Those line-ups might give up a lot of points, but there’s no real way to defend them either. New Orleans will provide a lot of match-up problems for opponents, a sign of respectability in and of itself.
- Wayne Ellington, Dallas Mavericks
Ellington’s signing slipped under the radar amidst a flurry of free-agent moves in Dallas this offseason, a pattern that has become familiar in his NBA career. He has bounced around the league since being drafted at No. 28 overall by Minnesota in 2010, playing for three teams in four seasons. After a memorable 25-point outburst against Miami last season, Ellington seemed like a good fit as a bench scorer in Memphis, until a budget crunch forced him out of town.
The talent is there. At 6’5 200, he’s a prototype 3-and-D shooting guard with the ability to score points in a real hurry. While the Mavericks have a crowded perimeter rotation, Ellington’s size and athleticism should allow him to carve out a role as a reserve, especially when Dallas goes small with Shawn Marion at the 4. Coming out of college, he was drafted 18 spots ahead of UNC teammate Danny Green. In a small role on a good team, he has the skill-set to do similar things.
- Shawne Williams, Los Angeles Lakers
This season, Williams is one of a number of talented castoffs in Los Angeles vying for another chance in the NBA. His issues were primarily off-the-court; he has a rap-sheet as long as his 7’3 wingspan, with multiple arrests for marijuana possession as well as felony distribution of codeine. On the court, he had his best season playing for Mike D’Antoni in 2010 with the Knicks. If Williams has gotten his life together, there is an opportunity for him with the Lakers.
At 6’9 230, he has the size to match-up with power forwards and the quickness to defend small forwards. Most importantly, with a career 35% shooting percentage from three, Williams can provide the floor spacing that D’Antoni’s offense needs to breathe. With Pau Gasol moving back to the 5, Los Angeles needs a stretch-4 like Williams who can defend, increase their team speed and stay out of the way on offense. At the age of 26, he still has time to turn his career around.
- Beno Udrih, New York Knicks
Udrih, a big point guard who can shoot and make plays at both backcourt positions, can step right into the role created by Jason Kidd’s retirement in New York. At 6’3 205, he has the size to share the floor with Ray Felton or Pablo Prigioni in one of the two-PG lineups that was so effective for the Knicks last year. Udrih is a 10-year veteran with a career 14.0 PER. A decade ago, it would have taken more than a minimum contract to sign a player with his skill-set.