After an exciting summer that saw the Pelicans make bold trades for Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, Dell Demps had some roster spots to fill and started by bringing back Al-Farouq Aminu, then signing Greg Stiemsma before finally bringing in Anthony Morrow on a minimum contract. Morrow was kind of an afterthought in a hectic offseason, but by the end of the year, he was a fan favorite and a 2014 summer priority.
Morrow was not a hot commodity last summer (obviously), but why? Well, it was a unique set of circumstances. In Brooklyn, they just loaded the roster with big money guards and there was no role left for Morrow. Then, in Atlanta Kyle Korver was already in place and that left no room for Morrow. Finally, when he got to Dallas, he got hurt. So when he got to free agency, General Managers saw a guy who had fell off a cliff. From 10+ points per game over each of his first three years to just 4 ppg in 2012-2013. All these factors led to a guy who just three years earlier got a muti-year deal worth $4 million per to get a minimum deal last summer.
Morrow’s story is not a unique one. Every year a couple of guys fly under the radar and get picked up on bargain basement deals. Last year, in addition to Morrow, Nick Young, Darren Collison, DJ Augustin, and Mo Williams all signed for far less than they had made in the past and resurrected their careers. They were all guys who had produced in the past, but ran into some bad situations and were forced to take a huge pay cut. But they all provided tremendous value for the team that took a chance on them.
So, who in the 2014 free agent class could fit this profile? After Demps makes some bigger moves early in the summer, who might be standing around at the end of free agency that Demps can swoop in and grab for the league minimum? Here are some names:
James Jones, F, Miami Heat
This year, James Jones shot nearly 3 three-pointers a game and shot 52% from deep. The problem? He has only played 20 games. As recently as 2011-12, Jones was a big part of the Miami rotation, but since Ray Allen was added to the team, the Heat really haven’t had any use for Jones. But like Morrow, Jones is a terrific knock down shooter, as he has hit 40.3% from deep over his career. He is 33 years old, and teams haven’t seen him on the court much these past two seasons, but he is a long wing shooter with championship experience. Might not be a bad guy to add on the cheap.
Dejuan Blair, F/C, Dallas Mavericks
Blair looked like the steal of the draft after the Spurs plucked him in the 2nd round in 2009 and he proceeded to get 2nd team All-Rookie. But as the Spurs started to play much faster and space more, Blair began to play less and less. This year, he signed with the Mavericks for the minimum, but because of the emergence of Brandan Wright, his minutes have shrunk yet again as the season has gone on.
But in a lot of ways, he is still the same player as he is a beast around the rim despite his lack of size, shooting 64% from 0-3 feet. He also has a healthy rebound rate once again after dipping in the last two years. In fact, he had a higher offensive rebound rate than any Pelican this season and had a much better defensive rebound rate than Smith, Withey, or Stiemsma, and even slightly higher than Aminu. Blair would fill in some gaps for this Pelicans team – providing physicality and rebounding on a cheap contract.
Brandon Rush, G/F, Utah Jazz
Rush is a guy that Demps tried to trade for on two separate occasions, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he took a flyer on him this summer, since the price will be so low. After signing a two-year, $8 million contract with the Warriors in August of 2012, he tore his ACL that November and hasn’t been the same since. He only played two games last year and just 30 this year after being traded to the Jazz.
The guy who played for the Warriors in 2011-12, however, would be the dream addition for this Pelicans team. Rush played great defense and shot 45.2% from deep. In his career, Rush is a 45.1% shooter from the corner three spot and is a good finisher at the rim (65% in 2011-12). But Rush might never be the same after ACL surgery. Or maybe it just took him this year to recover and he can be back to 90/95 percent next season. If so, he can be one of the best bargains in the NBA. Just like Morrow was this year.
Andris Biendris, C, Utah Jazz
You wanna take a real all or nothing swing? How about signing Biedrins to a minimum contract? It is hard to believe, but Biendris just turned 28 years old three weeks ago. Remember, this is a guy who put up 12 points and 11 boards in just 30 minutes per game. He is a guy who once lead the league in FG percentage and legitimately earned a $54 million contract because of his stellar play. But out of nowhere, Biendris fell off a cliff, as his FT percentage plummeted to unfathomable depths and his confidence went with it.
After a slow decrease in minutes for the Warriors each of the past few years, Biendris got just 45 minutes for the Jazz, taking just one – yes, one – shot all season. He truly has hit rock bottom, and maybe he will never return. But he is a Center who is still young that has shown that he can play well in this league, so perhaps he is worth a shot. And perhaps next year, he will take more than one shot if we give him one.
The Next Roberts, Ajinca, or Babbitt
Demps has also been terrific at finding guys in Europe to bring over on minimum contracts and have them contribute. In addition to these three, Demps also found Gustavo Ayon, who played well for a year before being shipped off to Orlando for Ryan Anderson. Some GMs draft guys in the second round and stash them in Europe. Dell kind of does it the other way – he lets the guys play over there for a few years and then hand picks the one he wants. Here are some he might be interested in this summer:
Derrick Brown, F, 26 years old
Brown is a guy who has an excellent wingspan and is incredibly athletic. He played in the NBA for three years after being drafted by the Bobcats in the second round, and played well in 2011-12, but didn’t get a new contract when he became a free agent. Instead, he went to Europe and has been tearing it up, shooting 61.2% from the field over the last two seasons while doing a decent job of getting to the line. Like Babbitt and Ajinca, Derrick Brown has had a taste of the league and is starving to get back.
Kyle Hines, PF/C, 27 yrs old
Hines is an undersized big but he plays huge, in part because of his wingspan. Hines is only 6’6″ but he plays a ton of center because of his 7’2″ wingspan and 245 pounds of solid muscle. The guy is built like a wrecking ball, and because of that he is one of the leading rebounders in Euroleague and he can finish around the basket too. The hope here would be that he can be a Reggie Evans-type player that performs at a high level despite not exactly looking the part.
Justin Dentmon, G, 28 yrs old
Dentmon can flat out score, especially from beyond the arc. Both the Spurs and the Mavericks have given him two game stints in the NBA after he performed well in the D-League, and now that he is lighting it up in the Euroleague, he should get another shot in the NBA. In fact, his numbers and his game closely resemble Brian Roberts’ numbers, as Dentmon is an excellent free throw shooter too. But Dentmon is a better three-point shooter and is a better passer than Roberts.
Curtis Jerrells, G, 27 yrs old
Remember him?! Once upon a time, Dell Demps traded for Jerrells but he didn’t pan out as the backup point guard. Now, Jerrells is playing well overseas and has added a much more consistent three-point shot to his repertoire. Like Pierre Jackson, Jerrells went to Baylor and had a great college career as a lead guard. Unlike Jackson, Jerrells actually stayed overseas and now his game is all the better for having done so.
Joey Dorsey, F/C, 30 yrs old
I will admit some bias here, as Dorsey is one of my favorite college players of all time. He is an undersized center who is a tireless worker and smart defender. Dorsey was the 33rd pick in 2008, but he never found a place in the league, but has shined over in Europe. He racks up rebounds and blocks in bunches and doesn’t need the ball to impact a game. The biggest weakness in Dorsey’s game is his FT shooting – he makes DeAndre Jordan look like Mark Price – but again, he doesn’t need the ball in his hands. He can provide a hunger and a toughness in the locker room that this team could use.
Sasha Kaun, C, 28 yrs old
Yes, that is his real name, and Kaun is a real player. Some of you might remember Kaun from Kansas, but since then, he has been in Europe getting better each and every year. He is an excellent offensive rebounder who is below average as a defensive rebounder. He also shows great touch around the basket and quite a bit of athleticism for a big man. And while Kahn is 6’11”, it is his 7’6″ wingspan that could have GM’s drooling. He might be worth a look, if only to push his successor Jeff Withey as he tries to take on a bigger role with the Pelicans next year.