By Jonathan Hartzell, NBA.com
The NBA offseason tends to be dominated by articles and information about the top players in the league. Often forgotten about are the fringe stars and role players on every team who do the little things to help win games.
With this in mind, here are the five most underrated free-agent signings of the 2013-14 offseason:
Earl Clark, Cleveland Cavaliers – 2-years, $9 million
Clark instantly fills a void for the Cavaliers and he could help Cleveland make it back to the playoffs. The 6-foot-10 Clark had his best NBA season with the Lakers in 2012-13, averaging 7.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in 23.1 minutes. He will provide valuable length and athleticism off the bench at an extremely affordable rate and, at 25 years old, his game still has a lot of room to grow.
Jose Calderon, Dallas Mavericks – 4-years, $29 million
The Spanish guard played eight seasons with the Toronto Raptors before being traded to the Detroit Pistons midseason. As a Raptor he experienced only one winning season, but he proved to be one of the best distributors in the league. He added a significantly improved 3-point shot last season to finish the season averaging 11.3 points and 7.1 assists on 49.1 percent shooting and a league-leading 46.1 percent from 3-point range. The contract he signed with Dallas this summer is arguably too long and expensive for a player who isn’t a stalwart defender. However, this will prove to be an important deal if Calderon is able to help Dirk Nowitzki lead the Mavericks back into the playoffs.
Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks – 2-years, $19 million
This is a great deal if the Hawks’ plan is to make the playoffs this season. Millsap is one of the most underrated power forwards in the league and incredibly Atlanta signed him to a practically risk-free two-year deal. The 6-foot-8 forward from Louisiana Tech played his first seven NBA seasons with the Jazz and averaged 14.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.3 steals last season. The one negative about this signing? It pushes long-time Hawk Al Horford back to the center spot where he is nowhere near as dominant as he is as a power forward. But when you have the opportunity to bring in a player of Millsap’s talent level, preferred rotations and positions can be worked out later.
C.J. Watson, Indiana Pacers – 2-years, contract terms undisclosed
Watson has proven to be one of the NBA’s best backup point guards over the last few seasons and his presence on the Pacers will significantly improve their depth. Watson allows the Pacers to not fall too far behind when starter George Hill rests. Plus, Watson’s ability to handle the ball and shoot from 3-point range (41.1 percent last season) will let Indiana occasionally run a Hill-Watson backcourt. The 6-foot-2 guard spent last season as the top backup for the Nets’ Deron Williams and before that, spent two successful seasons with the Chicago Bulls. Watson knows his role and his ability to consistently perform it makes this a great signing for the Pacers.
Mike Dunleavy, Chicago Bulls – 2-years, $6 million
Dunleavy is an excellent floor-spacer who can consistently knock down 3-point shots at a high rate and provides the Bulls with solid bench depth after the departures of Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli. His presence should help create driving and passing lanes for Derrick Rose, who is reportedly one of the major reasons Dunleavy wanted to play in Chicago. The 32-year-old Dunleavy spent the last two seasons with the Bucks, averaging 10.5 points, 3.9 boards and shot 42.8 percent shooting from 3-point range last season. This signing looks like a terrific deal for Dunleavy and Chicago as it should help the Bulls reclaim their spot as a championship contender when Rose returns.