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Ball Don't Lie

Ranking the best of the rest of the NBA's free agent lot

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie
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Shawn Marion enjoys fun in the sun. (Getty Images)

The NBA is most definitely perched in its slow season, with the top free agents long having signed away, and the anticipated deal sending Kevin Love to Cleveland still a few weeks away from being NBA-legal. Beyond Friday’s Basketball Hall of Fame ceremony, and the next time Nick Young beefs with whatever the heck an “Iggy Azalea” is, all we’ve left to do is wait out the futures of all manner of available free agents.

Whether they be restricted, ancient, lunkheaded, undervalued, outmoded or just plain weird, they’re all out there. Here’s the best of what’s left:

Eric Bledsoe

It was rumored on Tuesday that Bledsoe would be willing to take the qualifying offer from the Phoenix Suns, play out his year, and hit the open market in 2015 as an unrestricted free agent. Whether this is a plant or not, it’s a solid feint from Bledsoe’s camp, which has absolutely no leverage in dealing with restricted free agency.

Bledsoe was not a high end draft pick, so his relatively slim qualifying offer of over $3.7 million would be less than a third of what the Suns are reportedly offering for next year’s salary, and under a quarter of the maximum contract yearly averages that he desires. It would seem to be a solid gambit, plenty of teams will pounce on Bledsoe as their highly-compensated consolation prize next summer, and he should make up that sort of qualifying offer cash in the long run.

Ideally.

Bledsoe has already undergone two of the scarier NBA knee procedures in tearing his meniscus twice. During the second repair, it was revealed that surgeons decided to take what is usually a penny-wise, pound-foolish approach to the knee, but that decision may have been instructed more by the bad shape Eric’s knee was already in more than it was a move to get him back on the court. They may have had no chance.

Not taking the guaranteed money is a risky move for Bledsoe, and while he’ll have solid free agent suitors next year if his knee goes out again, or he misses time (he’s missed a total of 72 games in four NBA seasons) with another injury, the market will worry the bottle.

From there, we move to the Suns’ approach, which is a smart but uneasy one. Bledsoe has already acknowledged that the Suns are “using restricted free agency against me,” and while he didn’t say this unkindly, this cannot be fun. Bledsoe would seem to have a brighter future than most guards making $48 million over four years, especially provided that he continues to team with Goran Dragic, but again – two knee surgeries, 72 games missed, not a long track record of running his team on his own. And relatively iffy numbers when charged with as much with Dragic off the court next season.

Bledsoe will likely stay a Sun. The only question is regarding how angry this Sun will be, and for how much money?

Greg Monroe

We’ve already discussed at length Monroe’s prospects in an earlier column, and little has changed since it came out. The Pistons are in a unique situation as they attempt to rebuild with both veterans on contracts, rookies on rookie deals, and Monroe’s restricted free agency looming.

Monroe, like Bledsoe, has little if any leverage, and it’s reported that he’s convinced Detroit isn’t so much holding his feet to the fire as it is they just don’t want the guy back. That’s debatable, new coach Stan Van Gundy is a competitor and though Monroe isn’t his typical power forward, SVG probably thinks he can make light of Detroit’s currently crowded front court situation.

Until a deal is reached, opposing teams aren’t going to waste time compiling a contract with Monroe just to get Detroit’s affairs in order, and they’re certainly not going to overpay and scare the Pistons away from matching a restricted offer. Monroe was a lottery pick, so he doesn’t take nearly as much hit as Bledsoe would in playing for the qualifying offer.

Shawn Marion

It’s worth noting that, though he had aged well in the years leading up to 2013-14, Marion’s production took a bit of a dive last season. His rebounding and assist percentage dropped severely, he shot less, and not even an uptick in three-point shooting (to a reasonable 35.8 percent) could stave of Shawn’s worst year yet. The addition of Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon’s heavy-usage ways may have played a part in some of that, but it’s important to note for teams looking for the Shawn Marion they saw in recent years, much less a decade ago.

Cleveland and Indiana know that, however, and this is why they’re attempting to lure Marion for either frontcourt depth (the Cavaliers) or as a desperate bid to save a decimated small forward slot (Indiana).

Marion would seem to be a great fit on the defensive-leaning Pacers, but it’s hard to believe the Pacers would break the luxury tax after years of taking a stance against such things, and Marion would have to play for “only” $2 million next season in order to allow Indiana from going over its limit. The team could add more wriggle room by releasing Luis Scola and Donald Sloan, but is losing depth at needed positions worth it to sign Marion at age 36? Especially when he’s a complementary player on a team full of players that can’t create their own shots?

This is why the Cavaliers seem a logical destination, especially after a very public meeting with the team’s coach and general manager on Monday:

It’s true that Marion would technically be brought on board to spell LeBron James, but if the proposed trade involving Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett goes down, even with Kevin Love coming into Cleveland the Cavs would be down a versatile forward, and nothing screams “WIN NOW!” like dealing the last two top overall picks and signing a 36-year old.

Ray Allen

Allen’s future has also been discussed recently in these parts, and his future is entirely up to him. Should he decide to return for his 19th NBA season, he’ll have the pick of the litter as just about every NBA team after his mix of sensibility and shooting. The Los Angeles Clippers, with former Allen cohort Doc Rivers running the show, would seem to be a candidate alongside Cleveland and Miami, but they’re just about hard-capped out entering 2014-15.

Ramon Sessions

Sessions seems criminally underrated just about every summer he’s available on the open market. He’s not ideal as a starter unless you’re boasting some sort of dream team alongside him, but as a penetrator and scorer he remains a productive player that is about to enter his prime. Sessions had to wait until September to sign as a free agent back in 2009, and this appears to be the case this time around as well.

Sessions gets to the line a ton, especially for a non-star, he’s not a three-point shooter but makes up for that with his wily scoring instincts that figure to hold up over the next couple of years.

Elton Brand

The former All-Star looked his age last year, sturdily working as a reserve big man at age 35. His block rate continues to rise as the years move along, he remains a heady and long defender despite his 6-8 frame, though he rarely shoots and his rebounding rates are declining, and he’s a long seven years removed from an Achilles tear.

Brand gave no indication as Atlanta’s year ended last spring that he was ready to retire, and he shouldn’t have to. As the NBA continues to get smaller and smaller, Brand’s footwork can still do some defensive damage off of a team bench. He won’t provide the sort of offensive spacing that teams are currently looking for in their bigs, but Elton Brand’s career shouldn’t be over yet.

Jermaine O’Neal

O’Neal didn’t suffer one massive, career-altering injury as Brand did in 2007, but he’s perpetually banged up, and you can just about pencil him in for missing a goodly chunk of the season. This isn’t O’Neal’s fault, his spindly frame and all-out play can’t help but bring on the bangs. He is to be credited for playing through a wrist injury that should have ended his season with Golden State last year, but it’s not known if Jermaine is going to be ready for the start of 2014-15, and what teams will be left to expect when’s available to suit up.

Jordan Crawford

The scoring guard is a talker, and a chucker, but in the right system someone like Crawford could still contribute off a team’s bench. More athletic than the brethren that follows him on this list, Crawford has to be considered as a tenth man at this point in his career.

MarShon Brooks

After being traded four times in a year and ignored for most of free agency, Brooks’ reps relayed to RealGM that the scoring guard was considering playing overseas next season … just in case those NBA teams want to go ahead and turn their offers in. Brooks was not awful in short stints with Golden State and Los Angeles late last season, and doesn’t turn 26 until next January. We rank him below Crawford on this list mainly because Brooks could give up and head overseas.

Chris-Douglas Roberts

The presence of three somewhat solid shooting guards in their mid-20s on this list, still looking for jobs, speaks to the shifting culture in the NBA. The league still covets a 6-7 guy that can shoot and defend, but if you’re not much of a shooter and/or defender, teams would prefer to use a roster spot on another versatile big man, and attempt to pair two point guard-types in the backcourt, guys that can hit three-pointers and get to the line.

The shooting guard position isn’t dying, but teams aren’t stepping all over themselves to fill their rosters with players at the position that just don’t do a whole hell of a lot of much.

Andray Blatche

A noted headcase, Blatche’s issues at this point are more on-court than off. He did well to somewhat mitigate his defensive shortcomings under three different coaches in Brooklyn, but even with Blatche’s ability to both space out a defense and punish poor close-outs with a drive, his goofball ways and lazy, loping defense isn’t exactly inspiring general managers to give Dray yet another NBA chance.

Francisco Garcia

The swingman remains a so-so three-point shooter at age 32, and there is a good chance that even with a single-digit Player Efficiency Rating last season, he could remain a sound three-and-D contributor for even a few more years.

Michael Beasley

The former high end lottery pick couldn’t even bother to give the pretense of being ready at any time for the Miami Heat last season, noticeably lazing his way through shootarounds and pre-game layup lines as the season and postseason moved along, confident in the fact that he wouldn’t play and feeling no pressure to break a sweat and relay to the coaching staff that he’d be ready no matter what. If yet another team wants to try to convince Beasley that flat-footed 19-footers aren’t all that great, good luck.

Greg Oden

The former top overall pick still looked awfully creaky even after taking three full seasons off to rehabilitate his unfortunate knees. Oden worked just 23 games for the Miami Heat, and though he wasn’t terrible, the standout per-minute stats that dotted his sadly short time in Portland didn’t show up in Miami.

You get the feeling that, at age 26, some team will take a chance on Oden eventually; but if he couldn’t cut it with a center-less Miami team, it’s hard to see a perfect fit at this point.

Emeka Okafor

The former Rookie of the Year missed all of 2013-14 with a herniated disc, and though it was reported that Okafor might work out for the Los Angeles Clippers, Okafor’s reps declined as much on Wednesday. This is a shame, as Okafor has gone from franchise cornerstone to potentially out of the league in just a few short years, at age 30. Perhaps another looksie from the rest of the league would be better served in February, giving the big man more time to heal.

Andrew Bynum

Speaking of time to heal, Bynum has played just 26 mostly so-so NBA games since the spring of 2012. He’s had the luxury of three different teams (technically four, as the Chicago Bulls did trade for him) taking chances on him and compensating him through repeated bouts of rehab. A stint with the Indiana Pacers last season was a massive failure, and the sight of a street-clothed Bynum yelling at a despondent Roy Hibbert on the Pacers’ playoff bench was one of the more disgusting scenes of a pretty disgusting playoff run for the Pacers.

Bynum still has talent and youth on his side. Maybe that’s always been the problem.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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