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Free Agent Bargain Hunting

Everyone loves a good bargain.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

I love a good bargain. I think I get it from my grandmother. She used to buy things at Bradlees or Caldor (shout out east coast department stores that are no longer in business) while they were on sale one day, then return them on Tuesday when her senior discount would stack on the sale price, and purchase them again.

She also used to send her 6 grandchildren into Burger King with $2.05 and an old receipt where you would write down a six digit code after calling the number on the back that required you to complete a survey in return for the rights to a free Whopper with the purchase of any size fries and drink. A small order of fries and a small drink (with tax) came out to exactly $2.05. She was an artist.

Anyway, basketball. Bargains. Most good teams have ‘em.

The Golden State Warriors got fantastic production from Kevon Looney at $1.5 million. The Milwaukee Bucks got near-elite production from Brook Lopez at just $3.38 million. The Houston Rockets had Danuel House on a two-way contract. Torrey Craig was nice piece for the Denver Nuggets at just $2 million. Mike Scott was a good stretch big for both the Clippers and 76ers at $4.3 million. Rodney Hood essentially won the Trail Blazers a playoff series at $3.4 million. Nerlens Noel was one of the better big defenders in the league last year at $1.7 million. Bargain contracts will be signed this summer. It happens every year.

We’re about to embark on one of the wildest free agency rides in league history. Approximately 40% of NBA players will be free agents. 16 teams have $10+ million of cap space. 9 teams have room for a max contract free agent. A lot of players are going to get paid, some of them will inevitably fall through the cracks, and that’s where you find your bargains.

In the interest of giving us some kind of guideline for this exercise, I’m going to define a bargain as a contract with an average annual value of $5 million or under, so I’ll be talking about bargain free agency options based on my own projections for what’ll they’ll cost you this summer. It’s not perfect science. If you think I’m off base on any of these projections, let me know in the comments, and if you’re wondering why significantly better players aren’t on this list, it’s probably because I thought they’d be priced out of my bargain line.

Richaun Holmes, 25, UFA, Phoenix Suns

Richaun Holmes might be the only player on this list that I’m certain is actually good at basketball. Most of the others would fall under the category of unproven, but intriguing or older and likely declining.

Because Holmes has value outside of raw potential, I debated his position on a list like this, but I polled some of the StR staff on his projected next contract, and the consensus was that he’d likely come in at or around $5 million per year, so he just made the cut.

Holmes was recently featured in Tim Maxwell’s big free agent center post where he graded out as an above average rim protector and rim runner, but a below average defensive rebounded and poor floor spacer. I can’t argue with those results, but finding 2-out-of-4 things you’re looking for out of a center next to Marvin Bagley when Bagley himself projects to develop into a good rebounder and serviceable shooter, at $5 million-ish per year, is good value.

Fit for the Kings: I’m going to say this every time it comes up, so I’ll say it again here — I want a shooter next to Marvin Bagley in the frontcourt. I expect Bagley to continue developing his outside jumper, but that isn’t where he’s ever going to do his best work. I would worry about spacing for both Bagley and Fox with Richaun Holmes here, but I’d have those same questions with most of the centers on the market this summer. DeAndre Jordan, Nerlens Noel, Ed Davis, Willie Cauley-Stein, etc.

If the Kings are not willing to play Marvin Bagley at center full-time, and they strike out on the top shooting center options in free agency (Nikola Vucevic, Brook Lopez, and Dewayne Dedmon) and are then forced to target non-shooting centers, Richaun Holmes at what will likely be bargain-relative-to-production pricing is near the top of my list. He’s not a tremendously skilled offensive player, but his energy and shot blocking would be a welcome addition to a team that hasn’t had that at center in quite some time.

Jordan Bell, 24, RFA, Golden State Warriors

Is Jordan Bell good? I don’t know, but I’d pay him less than $5 million per year to find out. Bell fits under the category of free agents I would have put Kevon Looney in last summer. He’s a young player that’s shown flashes of both offensive and defensive competence, but was never able to consistently crack the rotation of the best team in basketball over the course of his two year NBA career.

Bell is a restricted free agent, and with the Warriors likely losing Looney after his postseason heroics priced himself out of a contract Golden State could afford, they can and probably should retain Bell at whatever low number his salary comes in at, and figure out if he’s a good basketball player for themselves.

Fit for the Kings: I don’t think Bell is a particularly great fit with this roster, but at bargain pricing I’d entertain the idea of adding just about anyone with potential to this young core. Bell doesn’t do a few things the ideal big next to Marvin Bagley needs to be able to do — he doesn’t rebound well, he doesn’t spread the floor, but he does block shots at an impressive 3.2% rate (91st percentile) and that’s a statistic worth seeing if you can develop other skills around.

Dragan Bender, 21, UFA, Phoenix Suns

I’ve quietly made the case for Dragan Bender before. I don’t think a lot of my StR brothers and sisters are a fan of his, but allow me to make the case.

The Phoenix Suns have been a disaster wasteland for young bigs over the last several seasons. None of Marquese Chriss, Alex Len, or Dragan Bender lived up to their pre-draft potential in the Suns organization, and while the responsibility for that lack of development isn’t entirely the Suns fault, a change of scenery can do wonders.

Chriss bounced around to Houston and Cleveland after leaving Phoenix, and didn’t exactly prove the Suns wrong in their decision to move on.

Alex Len had a career year in Atlanta last season. He wasn’t spectacular, but for the 2-yr, $8.5 million contract the Hawks gave him last summer, he exceeded expectations. Some might even call him a bargain under that contract.

I’m not going to pretend like the reason Dragan Bender’s NBA career has been a failure thus far is because of the Phoenix Suns. In fact, I’m going to guess Bender is to blame for most of it, but that doesn’t mean the aforementioned change of scenery won’t help here. It has helped less talented players in the past.

I’m going to tell you everything I like about Dragan Bender. Ready? He’s only 21. He’s an unrestricted free agent. He’s 7-1, and he shoots 3s at an impressive volume. That’s it, but that’s enough for me.

The Suns declined Bender’s 4th year option back in October, and that did two things: It meant he was going to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and it meant his relationship with the Phoenix Suns was essentially over. They had no reason to play him last season. They had no reason to care about or continue his development. He was on the roster, but he had no real long-term future with the franchise, and when he did play, he wasn’t very good. It was a tough situation for a young player in a contract year, and as a result, his value around the league couldn’t be lower.

Bender shot just .218 from 3 last season on 2.2 3PA per game. If you’re digging for reasons to be optimistic, he shot a very respectable .366 from 3 in 2017-18 on 3.9 attempts per game. One thing Bender did improve last season was finishing at the rim. He upped his 2P% from .426 in 2017-18 to .688% in 2018-19, and shot 77% at the rim (95th percentile) overall.

We’re doing some funky optimism gymnastics here, but If you combine his 3P% from 2017-18 with his 2P% from 2018-19, you might have an NBA player, and again, at 21 years old and 7-1, I’m taking that chance at bargain pricing.

Fit for the Kings: The 2-yr, $8.5 million contract Alex Len signed with the Hawks last summer after a disappointing 5 years with the Suns gives us a uniquely perfect contract projection for Dragan Bender. My guess is that the exact contract Bender signs this summer will be slightly lower than the one Len signed last year, but it’s a good reference point.

The Kings are likely losing two centers this summer in Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos — they have room for a deep reserve center with potential.

I like Bender’s fit as a young player that could eventually fill in the Nemanja Bjelica stretch-big role as a reserve next to Marvin Bagley and Harry Giles. To me, Bender represents classic NBA bargain hunting. A highly-touted draft pick that didn’t work out with his original team looking for a change of scenery and (hopefully) a career rejuvenation. And if he’s bad, who cares? The cost is almost nothing.

Alex Caruso, 25, RFA, Los Angeles Lakers

Alex Caruso, noted Kings summer league killer, is heading into restricted free agency with the Los Angeles Lakers after signing a two-way contract with the L.A. last summer.

Caruso didn’t see a lot of playing time with the Lakers until after the All-Star break when their season was essentially over, and while it’s hard to place appropriate value on extended garbage time, Caruso was good.

In 20 games after the All-Star break, Caruso averaged 11.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 3.8 assists on .444 shooting from the field, and .469 shooting from 3, in 25.6 MPG. He’s your classic promising small sample size kind of NBA bargain. Was his end-of-season production legit? Only his next NBA team will know.

Fit for the Kings: Alex Caruso’s restricted free agency status complicates things, but the Lakers will certainly have their attention elsewhere. I like his fit as a big combo guard off the bench with Bogdan Bogdanovic. They can evenly share creation duties which would likely optimize both players. We’ve seen Bodganovic struggle when the Kings use him as the lone shot creator, and Caruso gives him great shooting with a little more playmaking than he got from Yogi Ferrell.

Garrett Temple, 33, UFA, Los Angeles Clippers

You know exactly who Garrett Temple is, and what he’d bring to an NBA team. If you sign Temple, you’re getting some real versatility on defense with above average 3-point shooting, and an A+ presence in the locker room.

Temple was solid for the Grizzlies last season before he was acquired by the Clippers for their late-season playoff push. His shooting fell off a cliff with the Clippers, but I’m not overly concerned about that. At bargain pricing, he’s either shooting well and you play him, or he’s not and you aren’t.

Fit for the Kings: Temple’s defense is solid, his shooting is almost a bonus, but his leadership in the locker room is what I’d be most interested in. The Kings slowly unraveled down the stretch last season after the Iman Shumpert trade, and I supported that move at the time, but I think it’s fair to say the Kings need that token veteran presence somewhere inside the locker room, and Temple is as good a fit as any in that regard.

I’m going to open up the rest of this post to other StR staffers to share some of their most notable bargain options:

Troy Daniels, 27, UFA, Phoenix Suns

Sanjesh: Daniels has been a great shooter throughout his NBA career, boasting a 40 percent clip from deep throughout six seasons on multiple seasons. His 3 year, $10,000,009 contract is ending and a team could definitely use his shooting.

At 6’4”, he’s mainly utilized as a shooting guard because he’s not a good distributor with the ball. He’s also not a plus defender, but his shooting is definitely keeping him in the league. He was second on the Suns this season in three point percentage behind T.J. Warren.

In 51 games with the Suns this season, he played 15 minutes a game in which he averaged 6.2 points, 1.4 rebounds and 0.5 assists on 38.1 percent three point shooting (3.8 attempts).

Fit for the Kings: I would like for the Kings to have an end-of-the-bench shooter who they can bring on when they need points. Buddy Hield can shoot the three really well on a high volume, but you can never have enough shooters. With Kyle Guy being drafted, I think he can turn into that guy who comes off the bench and drills threes but Daniels being signed to a 2 year, $7.5 million contract could benefit the Kings as a low usage and off ball shooter.

Tyson Chandler, 36, UFA, Los Angeles Lakers

Sanjesh: Chandler has been in the NBA for 18 years now and his time in the NBA is definitely coming to an end. But I have no question that a team will look to acquire him as a serviceable backup.

Chandler played for both the Suns and Lakers this year where he averaged 5.6 rebounds a game in 16 minutes along with 3.1 points. He owned a defensive rebounding percentage of 25.3 which would rank second on the Kings (min. 20 games played) and an offensive rebounding percentage of 11.1, which would be first on the Kings (min. 20 games).

Fit for the Kings: Chandler playing the role of an emergency big, like Kosta Koufos did, for a much cheaper price would be really beneficial. The Kings would love his rebounding, especially on offense with Chandler’s ability to smack the ball back to his guards for another possession. He’s not the fastest center with his age and he wouldn’t be playing big minutes, but he would make an impact with those minutes and also be a mentor for the younger bigs. A one year, $3 million deal could get it done (he made $2.1 million last year).

Kenneth Faried, 29, UFA, Houston Rockets

Sanjesh: The “Manimal” as he has been called throughout his basketball career, is entering the free agent market and is flying under the radar. Once he hit his peak with Denver, he steadily declined in production after that and ended up with Brooklyn early in the season, only to become a free agent and sign with the Houston Rockets where he flashed once again.

He averaged 12.9 points and 8.2 rebounds on 58.9 percent shooting from the field. His true shooting percentage of 62.2 on the season is also a career high. He had an offensive rebound percentage of 14.4 and a defensive rebounding percentage of 23.4.

Fit for the Kings: If the Kings look to pursue a backup big for depth like Chandler, Faried could be a target. His high motor off the bench could be contagious and he’s a fast guy that can play both the 4 and 5. He still has to prove that he can play like he once did, and he could be a steal at a one year, $3.5 million deal or a 1+1 deal worth $7 million. It won’t hurt to try.

Nerlens Noel, 25, UFA, Oklahoma City Thunder

Sanjesh: Recently declining his player option, Noel is entering free agency and teams could look to swoop up the big man on a cheap deal. Injuries have really hindered his growth since being the #6 overall pick in 2013, but there’s some upside to his game and he’s only 25 years old.

Noel averaged 4.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 13.7 minutes a game on 58.7 percent shooting. Those give you solid per 36 numbers even though he’s not at that level. He’s not a great offensive player but definitely gives you defense. His DFG% difference on overall shots was -3.8 and shots less than six feet from the rim was -8.1. He posted 2.5 defensive win shares and had a defensive box plus minus of 5.5, the highest on OKC.

Fit for the Kings: There’s definitely a “low risk, potential for reward” factor for the Kings if they take a flyer on Noel on a $4 million a year deal, even if he doesn’t play a prominent role. He can be a depth big and give the Kings some impact minutes. I’d definitely have him over Faried, but he might go somewhere for more minutes if the money is similar.