Best Landing Spots for Former Orlando Magic Point Guard Jameer Nelson
With NBA’s free-agency period officially underway, all sights are about to be set on the wheelings, dealings and whereabouts of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and the rest of the summer’s top-tier talents.
But while the focus is bound to stay squarely on the big boys, there’s sure to be plenty of movement on the fringes as well.
“The people, the way they embraced me there in Orlando over the last 10 years, were phenomenal,” Nelson told the Orlando Sentinel shortly after the announcement. “Not too many players can say they played in the same place in any sport for 10 years.”
Nelson doesn’t tout the talent or clout of his free-agent contemporaries. But at 32 years old and with a track record of solid point guard play to his credit, the diminutive Nelson is sure to attract the attention of upper-echelon teams looking for quality backcourt depth.
We’ve gone ahead and compiled a list of 10 teams—some contenders, others on the cusp, still others not so much—that could prove to be perfect fits for Nelson’s unique skill set.
Los Angeles Lakers
If Nelson is looking for the biggest payday and a chance to play big minutes right away, he should probably shoot the Los Angeles Lakers a flirty text message or something.
No one knows how long L.A.’s rebuild stands to take. What we do know, however, is that the Lakers should have well under $40 million in committed salaries entering next season—$9 million of which is going to Steve Nash, who, let’s face it, isn’t likely to log maximum mileage.
Kobe Bryant and company are at least a few years from challenging for the Western Conference throne. And even that might be a generous estimate. But if Nelson isn’t terribly concerned with contending and prefers instead a nice, sun-soaked trot into career sunset, his best bet is to hop aboard the Kobe bandwagon.
As things stand, the Houston Rockets are poised to be somewhere between $7 and $10 million over the salary cap this summer.
If, on the other hand, the Rockets can find a taker for Jeremy Lin’s $15 million deal while avoiding taking back too much filler in return, they’ll absolutely be in need of a back up for—or perhaps a starter in lieu of—the mercurial Patrick Beverley.
With James Harden as its chief offensive focal point, Houston’s point guard needs don’t extend much beyond a two-fold calling card: check your position and hit the open jumper.
Nelson has never been the most reliable perimeter defender, but his three-point shooting is beyond reproach (career mark: 37 percent).
The Rockets are too close to contention to give Nelson a big payday. As a stopgap solution at perhaps their weakest position, however, Nelson more than fits the bill.
With Shaun Livingston poised to entertain his fair share of free-agency options, the turmoil-ensconced Brooklyn Nets will certainly be on the lookout for a competent backup to Deron Williams.
There’s just one, rather large caveat: Because the Nets are so far over the salary cap, they’ll only be able to offer Nelson a veteran’s minimum contract.
For Nelson, that, in all likelihood, should make playing in Brooklyn a non-starter.
That said, we’ve certainly seen weirder—particularly from 30-something veterans in the midst of career twilight. Here’s what we know: whomever Brooklyn winds up hiring to replace Jason Kidd, he’ll have to convince Nelson the Nets are closer to contention than the rest of us believe.
Like the Lakers, the Phoenix Suns are awash in cap space. Unlike the Lakers, these plucky young upstarts don’t have to wait three years to be competitive.
They’re already there.
Much will depend on how the Suns approach the restricted free agency of Eric Bledsoe, the two-way backcourt dynamo expected to field offer sheets aplenty in the coming days. If Phoenix finds itself priced out of the Bledsoe market—by dint of either going after another big-name player or the nature of the offer itself—they’ll need to redouble their efforts to find a suitable wingman for Goran Dragic.
Like Dragic, Nelson’s shooting allows him to play either guard position, a strategy wielded with spectacular success last season by first-year coach Jeff Hornacek.
On Wednesday, the Dallas Mavericks bid adieu to starting point guard Jose Calderon in a trade that sent the veteran Spaniard—along with backup Shane Larkin, shooting guard Wayne Elington and a pair of second-round draft picks—to the New York Knicks in exchange for Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton (per USA Today’s Sam Amick).
Translation: Raymond Felton could be the Mavs’ opening night starter.
Translation: Dallas needs another point guard.
Nelson would, by all accounts, usurp Felton as the de facto starter almost immediately. And depending on how the team’s free-agent chase plays out, the Mavs might be able to offer Nelson a bit of the best of both worlds: a decent pay check and a chance to play for a conference stalwart.
Theory: An NBA team could win the title with Mike Conley as its starting point guard.
That doesn’t mean the Memphis Grizzlies can play him all 82 games at 48 minutes per, however.
With the contracts of both Nick Calathes and Beno Udrih now officially expired, the Grizzlies will likely be looking to add a veteran point-guard to their frontcourt-heavy rotation.
And while Calathes or Udrih would certainly be a cheaper option, Memphis does have both its mid-level ($4.6 million) and mini mid-level ($2 million) exceptions to use this summer.
It’s hard to see Nelson biting on the latter, but even at the mid-level, he could give the Grizzlies a scoring punch from the point they haven’t had since Jerryd Bayless was running the second-unit show.
Speaking of Jerryd Bayless, his contract with the Boston Celtics just ran out, meaning the Cs will be in need of a backup to Rajon Rondo.
True, the Celtics did just draft Oklahoma State phenom Marcus Smart with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2014 draft. But with Rondo’s future fully up in the air, Boston can certainly use a proven point-guard presence—either as a third option or, should Rondo be traded, as a mentor for Smart.
Boston has a fair amount of cap space to play around with, as well as both their bi-annual and mid-level exceptions (both around $2 million). They’re nowhere near being competitive, but as a one or two-year layover, Nelson could do a lot worse.
Portland Trail Blazers
After exercising their team option on Robin Lopez—something they’d be quite dumb not to—the Portland Trail Blazers stand to be just under the salary cap.
If All-Star point guard Damian Lillard had his way, the Blazers would work to re-sign backup sparkplug Mo Williams (per CSN Northwest’s Chris Haynes), who gave Portland’s woeful bench a much-needed boost last season.
In the event Williams decides to take his talents elsewhere, however, the Blazers would be wise to try and squeeze Nelson—a slight positional upgrade, to be sure—into the fold.
As one of the West’s most refreshing up-and-coming teams, the Blazers have made good on their considerable youth and upside. Adding a player of Nelson’s caliber, however, could give Portland help where it needs it most: the second unit.
San Antonio Spurs
With the exception of the usual suspects, no one on the San Antonio Spurs made better use of the NBA finals as a lucrative launching pad than Patty Mills.
Now the Australian national has a chance to capitalize on his status as a second-unit dynamo in free agency.
Even if Mills leaves, however, the Spurs are slated to have close to $10 million in cap space—more than enough to give Nelson perhaps his last, best shot at securing his first ever championship ring.
Even from afar, it’s not hard to see how Nelson would fit: He’s basically a rich man’s Mills, someone capable of both marshaling the offense and canning three, four, five three-pointers in a row.
Needless to say, Nelson probably wouldn’t have much of a problem playing backup—or taking a pay cut—to play with these guys.
You know how we just got done talking about Patty Mills and his awesome performance in the finals? Yeah, Mario Chalmers had the exact opposite experience.
After all the Big-Three opt-outs and other ancillary goings on, the Miami Heat currently have one player officially on the roster: Norris Cole.
Obviously, there’s a very good chance that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are reunited in South Beach—along with whatever free-agent gems and flotsam Pat Riley can cobble together. Not to mention the team’s crew of rookies, highlighted by point guard Shabazz Napier.
Assuming the Big Three return, it’s likely the Heat will look to upgrade at the point guard position—at least until Napier can be relied upon to hold the reins. Enter Nelson, who would basically become Chalmers Mach 2—a guy expected to do little more than guard his position and hit the open jumper when called upon.
For his part, All U Can Heat’s Wes Goldberg tends to agree:
Nelson, however, could be the point guard Miami needs now. With Chalmers due to be a free agent, youngsters Norris Cole and Shabazz Napier will be the only point guards on the roster. Although his best years are behind him, Nelson would be a solid veteran to add to the mix.
Miami would present an opportunity for Nelson to win during the final years of his career while staying in Florida.
Then there is this: On Miami radio station 790 AM The Ticket Monday afternoon, Ethan Skolnick noted that the Heat regret drafting Dorell Wright at No. 19 over Nelson (who was selected next by the Denver Nuggets, then traded to Orlando).
With so much in flux, it’s impossible to speculate just how the Heat will approach this offseason. But for a team likely to be looking on the fringes for some bona fide backups, Nelson could be in play sooner than later.