WHILE the entire basketball world awaits Kawhi Leonard’s decision, the rest of the NBA teams have begun to take shape after the second and third days of free agency.
Isaiah Thomas will have the chance to reclaim lost glory with his fourth team in two years, the Washington Wizards. The Utah Jazz wasn’t done with their busy summer as well, gambling on Jeff Green and Emmanuel Mudiay. Willie Cauley-Stein and Glen Robinson III were welcome additions to the rejigged Golden State Warriors, while the Los Angeles Lakers added roster fillers in Troy Daniels and Jared Dudley.
Unlike Kawhi and most of the big-name shockers from Day 1, though, the players above have been acquired for the minimum pay, if not slightly above it. And because a few squads have enough cap space to sign the best remaining free agents, expect more sneaky deals to be sealed in the coming days.
From ring-chasing shooters to ex-superstars with a lot to prove, here are the 10 reliable players that title-contending squads can recruit for cheap.
The newly minted champ is one of the more coveted 3-and-D guys that's still available in the market. We’re only including him here because Green is reportedly waiting for Kawhi’s decision before he makes his. The defensive stopper and deadly sniper can even sign for something above the minimum if he doesn’t sign with a hard-capped contender.
The Lakers re-signing KCP would make a lot of basketball sense if they don’t win the Kawhi sweepstakes. He was arguably their best shooter last season, generating instant offense either in a starter's role or as the first guy off the bench. Not only is Caldwell-Pope a solid perimeter defender, but more importantly he is just 26 years old.
He may have taken a step back after leaving the Celtics and returning from injury, but the two-time All-Defensive Second Team member still has room to grow at 28. Bradley made a name for himself as a promising two-way player, which he showed flashes of in the Grizzlies’ stretch run. A change of scenery might help him fully regain form.
Iman is another relatively young 3-and-D vet that any aspiring, cost-cutting contender can add. Last season, he started as a mentor to an up-and-coming Kings squad before taking his championship experience with the Rockets. Leadership, backcourt moxie, and outside shooting make Shump an enticing get.
The former NBA champ and Sixth Man of the Year hasn’t played since November 2018, when the Cavaliers focused on their youth movement. Smith, 33, is known for his brain farts and dumbfounding boo-boos, but has also proven to be a capable shooter and defender alongside the right personnel — a.k.a. LeBron.
Vinsanity announced that the 2019-20 season would be his last, so one last attempt at ring-chasing certainly doesn’t hurt his legacy. The eight-time All-Star won’t just keep the bench warm, though, after showing his value as a veteran presence in spot minutes with the Hawks. Heck, Half-Man, Half-Amazing can still dunk — even in dress clothes!
The three-time Sixth Man of the Year is another oldie who doesn’t plan on hanging it up any time soon. As a member of the Suns, Crawford dropped a record 51 points on the Mavs off the bench at age 39. Although they lost, the legendary bucket-getter showed he could still light it up at will if given the chance.
Rondo is another name that will most likely return to the Lakers if Kawhi lands elsewhere. Any team can utilize the mercurial point guard’s superb side, which essentially makes him a strategic extension of the coach on the court and a triple-double threat that can deliver once unleashed. He gets better when the stakes get higher, too — believe it, Playoff Rondo is real.
Despite his decent showing in the Finals, Cousins has so far failed to attract any suitors this free agency. Whether its concerns over his Achilles or attitude, something about the All-Star big man is turning teams off. It won’t be surprising if he accepts a minimum deal from a squad in NBA purgatory just so he can raise his market value again.
A year without Melo is more than enough for NBA fans. Granted that the Thunder and Rockets experiments didn’t work, but that doesn't mean no other squad can benefit from Anthony’s scoring. Maybe the time away from the game has made this ex-superstar more receptive to a reduced role and salary, especially if it can get him a ring.