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Ashley Landis/Associated Press
The NBA free-agent pool continues to thin out, but intriguing options remain available. While the most productive players have likely inked their deals, front offices continue to eye candidates for rotation production.
The NFL season proves how critical depth is during this prolonged period of uncertainty, and that should extend into the Association as teams move forward sans bubble. Far from the starting-caliber likes of Fred VanVleet and Jerami Grant, remaining free agents fit smaller niches, but useful ones.
Of those left untied to a roster, one sticks out at each role. Among guards, wings and stretch bigs, three of the most interesting candidates left available are Shabazz Napier, Michael Beasley and Ersan Ilyasova. Here’s where they could end up.
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Ashley Landis/Associated Press
With Quinn Cook re-signing for his second run at a championship with the Los Angeles Lakers, what felt like a quality candidate for Shabazz Napier’s bench playmaking has suddenly dissolved. But the 29-year-old guard remains the best offensive initiator in the market and should land on his seventh team in six years.
At 6’0″ and under 200 pounds, Napier is no imposing presence on defense, and at 34.5 percent from deep on his career, he isn’t a lights-out gunner. Still, the shot is serviceable, and he has regularly proved a capacity to handle the rock and get things moving on the attack.
Last season, Napier averaged 10.3 points and 4.7 assists across 56 games (including 32 starts) for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Washington Wizards. This season, that productivity could be better-suited to a hopeful contender’s bench rotation. That makes the Houston Rockets an excellent candidate, as neither Chris Clemons nor Jerian Grant have cemented their worth as perimeter shooters or playmakers just yet.
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Ben Margot/Associated Press
Originally, most expected Michael Beasley to get his chance at an NBA return with the Brooklyn Nets. His chance at the bubble was denied by a failed physical, but he felt like a key choice for their bench rotation heading into 2020-21 given his offensive tools and fit with childhood friend Kevin Durant.
But barring a surprise cut in Brooklyn, the Nets’ roster is full and Beasley could be making his return elsewhere in the East. It’s certainly possible that Beasley goes un-rostered until the later part of the year, much like J.R. Smith in 2019-20 before the Lakers gave him a shot as playoff depth—but a young team could still bring him on earlier.
It should be no surprise that Beasley has been tearing up the offseason pick-up scene and consistently dropping buckets on signed pros. With that kind of presence in scrimmages and a streakiness capable of unstoppable buckets, a developing roster like Cleveland, Chicago or Orlando’s could round out their roster with the NCAA legend.
Past Terrence Ross, the Magic have no bench wings with a proven penchant for putting up points. With eyes annually set on the playoffs, Orlando feels like the best bet to take its shot and hope Beasley is ready for a Carmelo Anthony-like return to relevance.
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Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press
The Philadelphia 76ers’ lack of shooting has become too ingrained a meme in the basketball’s collective consciousness. But Daryl Morey has already begun the transformation into a team with spacing by bringing on Seth Curry and Danny Green.
Those additions help, as would the development of Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz. Yet that inability to shoot was as wide a chasm as any, keeping gunners a priority in Philly. Fortunately, Ersan Ilyasova is available and suited to about 15 minutes of spacing, rebounding and premium offense.
Ilyasova hasn’t averaged over 20 minutes per game since his 2017-18 stint with the Sixers, but he’s been productive in his time on the court. Putting his numbers in perspective, the veteran stretch four has averaged 14.1 points and 9.8 rebounds per 36 minutes over the past two years. More importantly, he’s shot a quality 36.4 percent from deep and 82.6 percent from the line.
If Morey wants to build out a teamwide foundation capable of spacing the floor, the team could make space for Ilyasova’s place in a playoff run.