The cap room has been spent and press conferences held. Free agency as we know it—that fury of rumor and movement that overtakes the entire sporting world—has come to a close.
What’s left are filler and formalities. Some are still on the market by choice, hoping for an offer that might never come. The perception of last summer’s salary cap spike and the way it curbed spending this summer created real dissonance in the league. Many players were expecting to make millions (or even tens of millions) more than they were ever offered. The market moved quickly in spite of this, but it left some free agents spiraling in their search for alternatives.
Below are the best of those left—none stars, but all potentially useful in their own way. Here are the top 10 NBA free agents still on the board.
1. NERLENS NOEL (RESTRICTED)
The Mavericks seem to have scared off potential Noel suitors with enough cap room to actually offer him the kind of deal he’s looking for. In play was the projection of a sunk cost; Dallas gave up a wing prospect (Justin Anderson) and draft picks at the trade deadline to acquire Noel within months of his free agency—the kind of investment a team typically makes only if it intends to follow through on re-signing the player acquired. Teams around the league operated accordingly. Noel’s restricted status ensured that the Mavs would have the last word (or really, the right of first refusal) on any formal offer, leaving Noel to negotiate a new deal with little in the way of leverage.
What shouldn’t be in question is Dallas’s interest. Noel is exactly the sort of center the Mavs have long preferred: a dedicated roll man with real defensive chops. Noel played strong individual defense on some woefully (and purposefully) incomplete Sixers teams over the last three years and projects as the kind of center who could anchor a defense with more structure. Quick feet and quicker hands make him a real catch. Anything he contributes on offense beyond that is gravy.
2. MASON PLUMLEE (RESTRICTED)
Plumlee has a lot of the big-picture skills (finishing, shot-blocking, frontcourt playmaking) that teams crave, but is missing some of the connective tissue that would elevate his game. Still he’s proficient enough to play a considerable role for the right team. Plumlee, like most, simply needs help. He can’t carry a defense by himself and isn’t a prolific enough rebounder to prop up small-ball lineups on the glass. He sees the floor well but shouldn’t be creating for himself. Put the right infrastructure around him, however, and Plumlee can round out some rough edges.
3. JAMYCHAL GREEN (RESTRICTED)
Green has carved out a place for himself as a sturdy big without much damning weakness. The worst that can really be said of his game is that over-fouling still gets in his way. Otherwise, Green can shoot a bit, rebound well enough, defend competently, and contribute without all that many touches. A drying market points to a likely return to the Grizzlies, one way or another. More on that situation here.
4. NIKOLA MIROTIC (RESTRICTED)
In his three NBA seasons, Mirotic has been more valuable in theory than reality. There’s no question he can help a team when his shot is falling. When it’s not, Mirotic rarely contributes enough as a defender, rebounder, driver, or playmaker to justify substantial minutes. There’s still time for Mirotic, 26, to turn things around; the relative dysfunction of the Bulls over the last few years offers some hope that his game might play better in a more stable environment. Yet as is the case with so many other restricted free agents, Mirotic seems increasingly likely to stick with Chicago the longer he sits on the market.
5. DERRICK ROSE
Rose is among the most capable and frustrating players left on the market. Even after a bounce-back year with the Knicks last season, it seems almost impossible to place him; Rose has to have the ball in his hands to be effective but doesn’t quite justify that investment with his play. His game naturally projects a higher-usage style, but any team that relies on him in that way limits itself. To make matters worse: Rose is a role player who still carries himself like a superstar. It would be one thing if he could defend, shoot from range, or even facilitate (by working off of other playmakers) at a respectable NBA level. That he can’t locks him into a particular sort of role that he isn’t quite good enough to carry. This is how a former MVP winds up fishing for minor offers.
6. IAN CLARK
Clark’s play with the Warriors likely bumped him out of minimum salary range, which is part of the reason Golden State went searching for alternatives in the first place. As franchises pull as many stars together as they can find, the responsibility for bench scoring has increasingly fallen to cost-effective players like Clark. The shooting and cutting Clark offered last season was good for an efficient 16.7 points per 36 minutes—enough to help spell Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson during rest and injury. Clark’s streak scoring is still a bit too inconsistent for a big deal, but his market should fit comfortably into the various (and moderate) salary cap exceptions available.
7. ZAZA PACHULIA
Every layup attempt with Pachulia is an adventure, full with twists and turns, booby traps and found treasure. You live with that for the sake of his smart defensive positioning. You put him on the floor anyway because of how much a single screen or box-out can change a possession. Pachulia will bend the rules governing basketball physicality as much as an officiating crew allows. The final product is a center who, in controlled minutes, can contribute beyond what his box score contributions suggest.