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Best Bargains of the 2014 NBA Free-Agent Class

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 2, 2014

Best Bargains of the 2014 NBA Free-Agent Class

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    Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and the rest of the top-tier, franchise-altering superstars in this year's NBA free-agent class aren't really on the market in a serious sense.

    Their possible destinations are limited to a select few teams, predetermined by their oceans of available cap space and proximity to contention.

    That means the rest of the league will have to satisfy their roster needs through more modest pursuits, putting out feelers for guys like Luol Deng, Chandler Parsons and Kyle Lowry. But even those players will come with hefty price tags most squads won't be able to afford.

    So that leaves a crop of undervalued fallback options whom cost-conscious teams must settle for.

    "Settle" might be the wrong word, though, as many of these less-heralded free-agent options could provide a major boost to whichever team signs them—and at a relatively affordable rate to boot.

    As we're using the term, "bargains" pertains to players who'll sign for rates dictated by the market—not stars like Dirk Nowitzki or Chris Bosh, who'll take pay cuts to stick with contenders. And when we look back at some of these deals, they'll look comically cheap in hindsight.

    Here's a list of players who'll give teams a solid return on their offseason investments.

Greivis Vasquez, PG, Restricted

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    Greivis Vasquez doesn't move particularly well and has never posted a field-goal percentage above 43.3 percent, but he could be a steal for any team looking to acquire a capable facilitator at a discounted rate.

    Remember, Vasquez handed out 704 assists in 2012-13, a total that led the NBA. Given the minutes, he'll get the ball into the hands of scorers on any team.

    Priority No. 1 for the Toronto Raptors will be re-signing Kyle Lowry this summer, which could lead to Vasquez becoming an unfairly forgotten man. And if it takes a bit of an overpay to keep Lowry from falling into the hands of the Miami Heat, don't expect the Raps to blink.

    The upshot: Vasquez might be able to sign a relatively modest offer sheet with another team that the Raptors either can't or won't match.

    Vasquez has never made more in a season than the $2.1 million he collected in the final year of his rookie contract last year. His current qualifying offer is for $3.2 million, and if he gets a little more than that on a three-year deal, he'll be a great value.

Anthony Morrow, SG, Unrestricted

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    If Jodie Meeks is worth $19.5 million over three years to the Detroit Pistons, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, all bets are off when it comes to overpaying shooters in today's NBA.

    Apparently unsatisfied with just one specialist, the Pistons are angling for Anthony Morrow as well, according to Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News.

    Morrow has been a chronically undervalued specialist for his entire career, and his decision to opt out of the final year of his deal with the New Orleans Pelicans suggests he's looking to cash in. Of course, in this instance, "cashing in" merely means getting more than the paltry $1 million salary he collected last year.

    A player of nearly unparalleled perimeter accuracy, Morrow has a career three-point percentage of 42.8 percent. He led the league with a 46.7 percent clip back in 2008-09 and buried 45.1 percent of his triples last season.

    He won't do anything else, but with spacing becoming the hottest commodity in NBA offenses, Morrow's dead-eye marksmanship is extremely valuable. In the right situation, Morrow will be a major bargain.

D.J. Augustin, PG, Unrestricted

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    D.J. Augustin was briefly out of the league before reviving his career with the Chicago Bulls last season. Since flashing the skills of a genuine off-the-bench spark plug in the Windy City, he's assured of a gig going forward.

    The only questions are where he'll play and how much he'll command.

    According to Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas, the former Texas Longhorn could be headed home:

    Sources said the Mavericks have expressed interest in point guard D.J. Augustin, who could potentially diminish the backcourt shooting void left by the departure of Jose Calderon in the six-player deal with the New York Knicks

    He won't be a heralded signing, no matter where he ends up. But Augustin can run an offense, hit a three (he shot 40.1 percent from distance last year) and put points on the board in quick bursts. The 6'0" guard's lack of size makes him a defensive liability, and he definitely doesn't profile as a starting-caliber guard—two shortcomings that should keep his price relatively low.

    Expect him to help whichever smart contender inks him to a cheap deal.

Josh McRoberts, PF, Unrestricted

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    Here's a fun stat: Josh McRoberts averaged 76.8 passes per game last season, per SportVU data provided to NBA.com. That ranked fifth in the entire league, behind Kemba Walker, Mike Conley, Chris Paul and Joakim Noah.

    Impressive, right?

    If the San Antonio Spurs taught us anything during their Finals run, it was that ball movement is the single biggest key to effective offense. Nobody's saying McRoberts is Boris Diaw, but his demonstrated willingness to keep the rock moving is a rare skill and a major plus for any offensive unit.

    Maybe that's why the Portland Trail Blazers have already shown interest, per Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com:

    McRoberts, 27, is attractive to Portland due to his toughness, playmaking ability and shooting range. He’s seen as a no-brainer fit for this team and we’re told he’s fond of Portland.

    Unselfishness, toughness, playmaking skills and shooting range from a power forward?

    Sounds like a terrific piece to me.

    Fortunately for potential buyers, guys like Kevin Love and Channing Frye will likely steal most of the stretch 4 thunder this summer, leaving McRoberts free to be had for a song.

Isaiah Thomas, PG, Restricted

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    Okay, this one's a little unusual, mainly because Isaiah Thomas is also a player who could potentially be grossly overpaid this summer.

    A devastating scorer who finishes remarkably well at the rim despite his small stature, the 5'9" Thomas has a lot to offer any offense. He's aggressive, plays with tons of pace and loves to compete against the league's big-name point guards.

    But his diminutive size makes him a liability on defense, and we don't have any context in which to judge him outside of the Sacramento Kings' broken system.

    We've seen plenty of players put up great numbers on bad teams only to fizzle out when forced to work in the more structured environment of a winner.

    At any rate, if Thomas could be had for the mid-level exception of approximately $5.5 million, he's a great get. At that price, though, you'd have to assume the Kings would match.

    If some sucker comes along and wants to give Thomas a multiyear deal that pays close to $10 million per season, well...let's just hope for that team's sake Thomas' 20.3 points and 6.3 assists per game are for real.

    The smarter move, and the one that would qualify as a bargain, would be to pay Thomas for the role he's ideally suited to play: a supercharged scoring machine off the bench.

Patrick Patterson, SF/PF, Restricted

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    You can never have enough perimeter shooters in today's NBA, especially those who can play a frontcourt position.

    Patrick Patterson buried 41.1 percent of his three-point attempts in 48 games after coming to the Raptors in the Rudy Gay trade last season, and he's exactly the kind of sneaky-smart signing any team would be lucky to make.

    Here's B/R's D.J. Foster on the 25-year-old:

    In addition to his offensive efforts, Patterson is a strong rebounder who isn't afraid to play physical defense and mix it up in the paint. He's limited as a rim protector, but with the right center next to him, Patterson could be a perfect asset for a team that likes to play fast and shoot lots of threes. He's a strong worker that should have a role off the bench for a long time in the league.

    Who wouldn't want a guy like that?

    Like his teammate Vasquez, Patterson is a restricted free agent, which means Toronto can match any offer sheet he signs with another club. But also like Vasquez, Patterson might not be high on the Raptors' list of priorities this summer.

    If an opportunistic team swoops in with an offer in the $5 million to $6 million range, Patterson could offer defense and shooting at a very fair price.

Shawn Marion, SF, Unrestricted

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    Shawn Marion made over $9 million last year, which seems like a lot for a 36-year-old wing who hasn't ever shot the ball efficiently from the perimeter and might finally be running out of the absurd athleticism that earned him the Matrix moniker over a decade ago.

    But Marion was still a really good NBA player in 2013-14.

    It's not easy to find guys who can guard four positions effectively, and Marion served as the Mavs' do-it-all stopper last year. There's no reason to believe he can't do it again.

    And in an encouraging sign, Marion actually knocked down 35.8 percent of his triples last year, his best accuracy rate since the 2002-03 season.

    If he returns to the Dallas Mavericks on a new deal for something like $6 million to $8 million, he'll be a key part of their rebooted, championship-hungry roster. And if he winds up someplace else—say, Miami, for example—at an even more severely discounted rate, he'll represent an absolute steal.

    Marion still has game left. Some lucky team will get to find that out firsthand next year.

Pau Gasol, PF/C, Unrestricted

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    We know two things for certain about Pau Gasol's free agency.

    First, we know he's worth much more than the $10 million to $12 million annual salary he wants, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. Even though much of his mobility and lift have abandoned him, Gasol remains a brilliant passer and terrific all-around player.

    Last season, he posted a player efficiency rating of 19.3 and per-36-minute averages of 19.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists, per Basketball-Reference.

    The second thing we know is that Gasol will always, always be the most delightfully cordial tweeter in the NBA. As teams have been clamoring for his services since negotiations began at midnight on July 1, he maintained the "aw-shucks" humility and genuinely positive attitude that have made him so beloved around the league:

    "Lots of phone calls from teams that are interested in me to be a key part of their goals. A lot to be considered. #FreeAgency," Gasol tweeted.

    I'll pay $10 million to $12 million just to have a through-and-through good human being on my roster any day. If he also happens to be seven feet tall with polished all-around skills, all the better.

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