NBA Free Agency 2018 will be defined by the lack of salary cap space available for prospective free agents, an after-effect of the bonanza summers that proceeded it. Few teams have funds available, some of those who do aren’t interested in using it yet, and quite a few teams with constraining tax concerns will hesitate to use even mundane exceptions. The market will be tight across the board for all but the very best players. Non-prime free agents will likely receive similar contracts regardless of ability. Smart franchises will be able to use this unique terrain to their advantage, bringing in underrated players on below-market deals to fill out the remaining holes in their roster.
With that in mind, here are three under-the-radar free agents this summer:
Aron Baynes, Boston Celtics
Baynes had a huge 2017-18 playoff run with the Celtics, showing off his versatile defensive abilities and stretching his offensive game to the three-point line. Boston had no trouble switching the formerly-plodding, laterally-challenged big man onto Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ben Simmons, and even LeBron James in their three playoff series. Baynes acquitted himself well in limited possessions against all three players. While not a full 1-5 switch defender, his ability to guard 3-5 and stay in front of primary wing creators adds to his high-end defensive toolbox. A low-usage big man with a defensive focus will come cheap in an era dominated by perimeter play. While Boston has made their preference to retain him known, Baynes is unrestricted and may find more money or a bigger role elsewhere, especially since the Celtics drafted Robert Williams and still have Guerschon Yabusele and Daniel Theis in their big man rotation, along with incumbent Al Horford and the returning Gordon Hayward, who will play small-ball 4 for them in their best lineups next season.
James Ennis, Detroit Pistons
Four teams in four years usually doesn’t bode well for a player’s ability to stick in an NBA rotation, especially when the same team has given up on him twice. Ennis finished the 2017-18 season with the Pistons and hasn’t found a consistent home for more than 109 games in a row, played for the Memphis Grizzlies over two seasons. A modest 3-and-D prospect, Ennis offers a low-usage, high-efficiency wing option for teams who strike out on some of their bigger targets. The last impression he left in general managers’ minds wasn’t a good one, as he struggled mightily to get his shot going in Detroit, but he had a good first half of the year and a consistent rotation spot in a high-quality system could be just what the doctor ordered for Ennis.
Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers
The under-sized center became a throw-in to make salaries work in the Chris Paul trade last season, but might be the best center remaining for the Clippers after DeAndre Jordan makes his expected exit. An old-school, rough-and-tumble big man down low, Harrell finishes very well around the basket, especially considering his 6’8 stature. His individual usage has increased each of the past two seasons without seeing any significant dip in efficiency from the field. Despite playing backup to the best player on his team last season, Harrell’s lineups were actually better than Jordan’s for the Clippers. He’ll be a restricted free agent and likely to return to Los Angeles, but if the Clippers move on and his price tag stays low, a team would do well to sign him and watch him outperform the contract.