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Slim pickings left
by Marc Narducci / September 12, 2008

Ira Newble - Icon Sports Media Most of the NBA teams have finished their shopping for free agents and while there might be some bargains at the end of the rack, there are no unrestricted free agents out there who are major difference makers.

Restricted free agent Ben Gordon of Chicago could make a major impact, especially if the Bulls engage in a sign-and-trade. Other than Gordon, the list of unrestricted and restricted free agents doesn’t appear to include any future all-stars.

One other restricted free agent who is not in Gordon’s class, but could be a useful rotation player for many teams is Cleveland’s Delonte West.

With the addition of point guard Mo Williams, West’s value to the Cavaliers isn’t as high, but he could always be included in a sign and trade.

He has been productive in spurts during his first four seasons, but West hasn’t passed the durability test. Last season he appeared in just 61 games, but did play well when it mattered the most.

West had a solid postseason, where he averaged 10.8 points and 4.2 assists in 13 games. One blemish was that he also averaged 2.6 turnovers per game last postseason.

Houston is expected to re-sign second-year restricted free agent forward Carl Landry, but it hasn’t happened yet. Landry, who experienced knee problems in his rookie season, showed that he could be a solid rotation player.

It will also be interesting to see if Houston re-signs unrestricted free agent center Dikembe Mutombo, who is almost as old as the NBA itself.

The remaining list of free agents is a thin group but that doesn’t mean that teams can’t benefit by signing some of these players. Many would be available for the veteran’s minimum.

Most of the remaining free agents won’t make a major difference on the court, but could give a few solid minutes when called upon while providing outstanding leadership.

Among the top unrestricted free agents is Golden State's Austin Croshere.

The 33-year-old Croshere can give a team some reliable outside shooting, solid rebounding and will fit into whatever role a team gives him. He has only played 105 games in the past two years with Dallas and Golden State, but has given a professional effort when called upon.

Another of the top character unrestricted free agents is Ira Newble, a 6-7 unrestricted free agent who bounced around last season with three teams, Cleveland, Seattle and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Newble is a player who won’t complain about a lack of playing time, will work hard in practice and provides a social consequence and role model for young teammates. His role in providing awareness and aid to the situation in Darfur has rightly earned him the admiration around the NBA and beyond.

Another unrestricted free agent who would make anybody’s all-character team is Kevin Ollie, most recently of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Ollie, despite his limited playing time last season, was among the most respected members of the team.

He never complained about his limited minutes and when called upon, always seemed to be ready.

Ollie is one of those classic hard-hat type players – the first to come to practice and one of the last to leave.

He turned out to be an outstanding mentor to what was a young Sixers team and specifically guard Lou Williams, who drew on Ollie’s leadership.

If a team is looking for an athletic guard who can jump out of the building, New York Knicks unrestricted free agent Fred Jones is available.

Jones appeared in 70 games and averaged 25.1 minutes, but he also had nine DNP Coach’s Decision.

The 2004 slam dunk champion, Jones shot a respectable .385 from beyond the arc last season (74 for 192).

Over the past four years Jones has played for four different teams, which fits the profile of a journeyman.

Bonzi Wells, an unrestricted free agent swingman from New Orleans, has proven in the past he can score, but not as much recently. During the playoffs last year he averaged 3.7 points in 14.2 minutes. Since averaging 13.6 points in 2005-06 for Sacramento, his game has shown a steep decline.

At 32, teams might be fear he is no longer capable of supplying instant offense off the bench and he’ll never be signed for his defense.

PJ Brown came out of retirement when he returned to action in March and became a useful bench player with the Boston Celtics. Brown, who turns 39 next month, is again an unrestricted free agent, and it’s unclear whether he plans to continue playing. He could still help a team like the Celtics, with his veteran savvy and great attitude.

Juan Dixon is a veteran guard who was buried at the end of the bench in Detroit. He can play either guard position and on some teams might be able to crack a nine-player rotation.

DJ Mbenga is a 27-year-old 7-foot unrestricted free agent from the Los Angeles Lakers who carries a rather unimpressive resume, having started just two games in his NBA career. Still, there always seems a team willing to take a chance on a 7-footer with NBA experience.

One has to wonder if 35-year-old veteran unrestricted free agent Juwan Howard has much left in his game. He saw limited playing time last season in Dallas, averaging 7.1 minutes in 50 games.

Some team will eventually take a gamble on Shaun Livingston, the unrestricted free agent point guard from the Los Angeles Clippers. The 23-year-old Livingston hasn’t played since suffering a gruesome knee injury on Feb. 26, 2007.

Livingston’s Clipper teammate, swingman Quinton Ross, started 44 games last season and appeared in 76. He would bring a defensive presence off the bench.

It’s possible that one or two free agents not mentioned here emerge and earn a place on an NBA roster. With most of the heavy spending finished, the remaining free agents will scramble for spots. Some no doubt will make an impact, but other than Gordon, these are basically players who likely will fill a specific role instead of taking a team to the next level.

Marc Narducci s a frequent contributor to HoopsHype.com

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