Not sure about you, but I am getting sick and tired of waking up each morning and getting a bigger jolt from the political news than the basketball news.
If you were given a choice of reading one and only one story today, which would you pick: “Trump vs. Pope” or “Trade Dudline Passes Quietly.”
Yes, it is an election year, and it is going to be a lively and historical one. But for those of us who live and breathe NBA basketball, there is a compelling need for things to get a little more interesting.
Thankfully, February free agency is here.
And by the time Feb. 29 comes and goes (yes, this is a leap year), the landscape of he playoff races could be significantly altered.
Does the idea of an Atlanta-Cleveland playoff series get your blood boiling? Yeah, me neither. But what if Anderson Varejao joined forces with Jeff Teague and Al Horford and Mike Budenholzer? Would that juice things up significantly enough for y’all?
Does the idea of a Washington-Toronto rematch in the first round make you shudder? Of course it does. But what if Markieff Morris and Co. had to contend with David Lee? That would provide a significant enhancement to a series that would make for a nifty backcourt battle between Kyle Lowry/DeMar DeRozan and John Wall/Bradley Beal. Say what you want about Lee’s limitations, but the guy has been around the NBA long enough to know how to score in the low post against anyone.
The next 10 days will provide that added level of excitement as we learn which players on the end of their current contracts will accept buyouts and become available to playoff teams. Varejao has already been waived by the Portland Trail Blazers after they acquired him from Cleveland, and Danny Ainge is set to sit down with Lee to see if it is in the best interests of both sides to set him free. (Just a thought, but would Ainge do a buyout with Lee if there was a chance Lee could come back to haunt the Celtics in the playoffs? Would a buyout become contingent on Lee signing with a Western Conference team?)
Here is a look at the top five February free agency candidates, and where they might become difference makers as teams try to match up with the powerhouse Cleveland Cavaliers in the East; and Golden State and San Antonio in the West.
Anderson Varejao, 33, 12-year veteran.
Would be a nice pickup for Atlanta after the Hawks lost Tiago Splitter for the season to hip surgery. Heck, he might even step in as a starter.
We mentioned this yesterday in assessing all the trades that went down at the deadline, but it bears repeating: Why on earth would the Trail Blazers let this guy go when they are poised to make the playoffs? Hey, nothing against Mason Plumlee and Ed Davis and Meyers Leonard and Chris Kaman, but Varejao is probably better, if not smarter, than at three of those guys.
Known affectionately in Cleveland as “Wild Thing,” Varejao spent his entire career with the Cavs, arriving one year after James was a rookie and then enduring through the Cavs’ rise, through Decision I, through the lean years when James was in Miami, and then the past year and a half since Decision II. He missed most of last season with a torn Achilles tendon.
His most productive years were 2011-12 and 2012-13 when he averaged double-doubles for the Cavs.
David Lee, 32, 10-year veteran
Lee and the Celtics were already working on a buyout the morning after the trade deadline, and he was not with the Celtics at their morning shootaround in Salt Lake City. He lost his spot in the rotation early in the season when coach Brad Stevens decided to go smaller with Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko.
“Yeah absolutely,” he said when asked whether he had anything left in the so-called tank. “That’s not even a question in my mind. And I feel great right now. I feel healthy. So yeah, that’s not even a question in my mind. It’s just looking like it’s not going to be in Boston.”
Lee spent last season with the Golden State Warriors and won a championship, and the Warriors — who had moved him out of the rotation primarily for his defensive deficiencies — dealt him to Boston, where Lee hopes to have the same type of significant role he had over his first eight NBA seasons with New York and Golden State.
Again, there is a question as to whether Lee and agent Mark Bartlestein will give the Celtics a handshake agreement to sign in the West. The last thing Ainge wants is for Lee to come back and burn his team in a playoff series, and with Chris Bosh’s future in jeopardy, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Lee could land in Miami.
Kevin Martin, 33, 11-year veteran
Once one of the most feared shooters in the NBA, Martin became untradeable as the Minnesota Timberwolves went even harder to a young movement this season. There were plenty of teams interested — but only if Martin was willing to waive the final guaranteed season on his contract — a $7.4 million player option.
He practiced with the team Wednesday night after the All-Star break, and was hoping to be dealt on Thursday. There was speculation he could have been packaged with another of the Wolves dinosaurs, Andre Miller, in a deal with Sacramento for Ben McLemore.
Martin’s availability is uncertain, depending on the negotiating stance the Wolves take with his agent, Dan Fegan. Martin has nearly seven and a half reasons to finish out this season in Minnesota, opt in, and then hope for a trade to a contending team in June or over the summer. The game-changer could be whether Fegan can line him up with a legit playoff contender that needs the help a career 38 percent 3-point shooter could provide. The last time Martin was with a good team, he shot .426 from the arc for Oklahoma City after being acquired as the return centerpiece in the deal that sent James Harden from Oklahoma City to Houston.
Joe Johnson, 34, 14-year veteran.
You didn’t realize he was only 34 did you?
The NBA’s second-highest paid player at $24.9 million, Johnson has quieted talk of a buyout in recent days by saying he has never expressed a desire to leave Brooklyn. And that could be a crucial statement, because the Nets and new general manager Sean Marks could choose to retain Johnson for the remainder of the season and keep his Bird rights, which would allow them to exceed the salary cap to re-sign him if they use their available cap space on a free agent point guard.
Marks will be faced with a quandary — blow up the team that currently exists by jettisoning Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, the tam’s two most tradeable pieces, for packages of young players and draft picks. Or go for someone like Rajon Rondo or Mike Conley or Brandon Jennings in free agency, and surround them with Lopez, Young, Johnson and Bojan Bogdanovic.
Johnson is still one of the game’s toughest covers at the two-guard spot and remains a deadly clutch shooter. One way or another, he is going to get a monster contract in the offseason. Yes, again.
J.J. Hickson, 27, seven-year veteran
The youngest guy on this list, Hickson was one of the first undersized players to move over and play center in small-ball lineups before that tactic started trending so heavily a couple years back.
He started 80 games for Portland three seasons ago and averaged a double-double, but his production has steadily trailed off over his three years in Denver after he signed with the Nuggets under the mid-level exception. Given his relatively small salary, his buyout should not take too much time. Also expected to be bought out by Denver is Steve Novak, the once-prolific 3-point specialist who still has a sweet stroke but hasn’t had many chances to showcase it in recent seasons.
Chris Sheridan is publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.