Old Faces, New Places 2015/16

Which veterans will help their new teams contend for a title?

It’s become a common theme over the past decade. Veteran players chasing rings over salary; sacrificing personal stats for a chance to win more or one last shot at a title. Gary Payton and Karl Malone started the trend when they joined Shaq and Kobe on the Lakers, while Ray Allen, Mike Miller and Andre Iguodala have had success most recently and now have some jewellery to show their grandkids someday.

This year it seems more prevalent with some big name veterans and former All-Stars foregoing bigger pay checks or feature roles for playoff success. They move via free agency or trade to new homes and new roles.

How will they fit with their new teams? What will they bring to the table? But most importantly, will they be the final piece of a championship puzzle? Let’s explore.

Mo Williams (Cleveland Cavaliers)

Not sure what Mo Williams has left? In 27 games last season following a trade to Charlotte, Mo-Will averaged 17.2 points, 6.0 assists and 2.2 3ptm in 31mpg and he only started 14 of those games.

The veteran combo guard manages to produce no matter where he plays. Heading back to Cleveland for his second stint there, this will be his 9th stop in the NBA, but first legitimate chance to contend for a title since his last go-round with the King in North-East Ohio in 2010.

“We’re very excited to welcome Mo back to Cleveland and we feel he will be a great fit with our team,” said Cavs GM David Griffin upon signing him in July. “Mo is a proven, high-calibre playmaker and his ability to space the floor at either guard position will be essential for us.”

With Kyrie Irving uncertain to be ready to start the season, a lot will be expected from Williams right away and, not taking anything away from our man Delly, but Mo-Will brings a little more experience and consistency to the back-up role than the Maryborough wonder and it might just be enough to push the Cavs over the edge when it matters most.

Paul Pierce / Josh Smith (Los Angeles Clippers)The Truth is back on this list, only he’s with another new team and has a running mate with him this time. Pierce takes his swag back home to LA where he’ll team up with his old buddy Doc Rivers and solidify the historically weak 3 spot for the Clips.

Pierce brings an inordinate amount of playoff experience, leadership and of course … cohones … to take (and make) big shots when it matters most. He’ll look to ‘call game’ on at least one occasion as the Clippers try to finally get out of the second round and contend for a title.

Speaking of making big shots when it counts, I guess if you can’t figure out how to stop a guy, then just acquire him. Doc Rivers will hope Josh Smith’s three-point prowess against the Clippers in the playoffs will carry over for his team so he can deploy him at both forward positions behind Pierce and Blake Griffin. His passing ability will fit right in on the Clips and his rebounding and shot-blocking ability will help when they go small with DeAndre Jordan off the floor.

LaMarcus Aldridge & David West (San Antonio Spurs)Probably the least surprising free agent signing of the summer, LaMarcus Aldridge returns home to Texas where Gregg Popovich hopes he can keep the Spurs relevant as contenders out West and take over from the Big Fundamental when he’s done.

Aldridge is a proven playoff performer, even if he’s never been on a contender. He almost single-handedly defeated the Rockets in the 2014 playoffs (with a little help from a Lillard three) and averaged 24.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks over the past two post-season runs with Portland.

There have been concerns over how he’ll fit with the Spurs given his propensity to hold the ball, but as  Zach Lowe noted recently, LMA shot 51% when holding the ball less than two seconds and just 42% when taking longer to shoot it (per NBA.com). That shows he’ll move the ball willingly and the Spurs know that.

Defensively, he’ll make them better as his length bothers opposing forwards and his agility lets him switch easily onto smaller opponents. At 30, he’s not young, but he’s a lot younger than the current core, save for Kawhi Leonard.

Speaking of not so young, David West is this year’s poster child man for chasing a ring over money. West opted out of his $12 million player option with the Pacers to sign for the veteran’s minimum (approx. $1.5 million) and a shot at a title that he didn’t see happening this year in Naptown.

West will anchor the second unit along with Boris Diaw, Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills, where he’ll provide efficient post play and free-throw shooting, strong rebounding and solid defense.

“At this point in my career, it’s all about winning,” West said in a July interview. “And again, I don’t want to be in a position where we’re just fighting to make the playoffs. I want to be in a spot where we can legitimately taste the Finals.”

That’s why Aldridge went to the Alamo and West is hoping he can end his career on a winner.

Ty Lawson (Houston Rockets)

If Ty Lawson can draw solace from anything that’s happened to him this off-season, it may be that he didn’t land in Sacramento as he’d expected on draft night. Instead, he lands on a team that finished as the #2 seed in the Western Conference last season and made it to the Conference Finals without their starting point guard.

Of course it wasn’t all good news for Lawson as he faced a second DUI charge this year and spent 30 days in a rehab facility for alcohol addiction. All reports are that Lawson is doing well since coming out of rehab and is focused on the challenge ahead in Clutch City, but he does still have the uncertainty of those two DUI cases hanging over his head.

He’s not the first NBA player to battle alcoholism. In his third NBA season, Chris Mullin also spent time in rehab and overcame it to have a hall of fame career. In a 2011 interview, Mullin recalled waiting nervously to check into his first game back, unsure how his home fans would greet him. They cheered, loudly. “That response made me realize that I was making the right changes,” Mullin said. “That’s when I understood I had the chance to do something good.”

At 27, and entering the prime years of his career, Ty Lawson also has that chance now. After a couple years of frustration on losing teams in Denver, he has a fresh start in terms of his health and the luxury of joining a team that needs him to be at his best to contend for a title. If he stays focused, he’ll give Rockets fans something to cheer about too.

Monta Ellis (Indiana Pacers)

There are plenty out there who don’t see the Pacers as contenders this season and think they’ll be fighting just to make the playoffs. Larry Bird elected to go smaller and faster and try to live up to their name in pushing the pace, after they ranked 19th in that category last season per NBA.com.

Enter a 10-year veteran who has built a career around exactly that. At 29 years old, Monta Ellis still ranked 12th in the league in average speed (per NBA.com/Stats), ahead of players like James Harden, Victor Oladipo and Kyrie Irving.

Ellis is not the most efficient player going around, but he can score, he can pass, he creates turnovers and transition opportunities and he can spread the floor; all traits that Bird and Coach Frank Vogel sought as they look to re-build this team.

After opting out with Dallas to hit free agency, Ellis bypassed courtships from Atlanta and Miami to sign with Indiana. His agent, Jeff Fried, was quoted at the time as saying Monta was swayed by the Pacers being “a playoff team with a winning culture.”

Ellis, who has only made it out of the first round once in 10 years, is hoping to help prove those doubters wrong.


Brandan Wright (Memphis Grizzlies)

Wright has been in the league 8 years now and while he’s never been able to hold down a starting role, he’s always been valued as the first big off the bench wherever he’s been. This year may prove to be his most valued role as he joins a contending team with an ageing front court.

Wright will back up both the four and five spots and with Zach Randolph now entering his 15th year in the league, it’s likely his minutes will be reduced for the third straight year.

Marc Gasol will turn 31 in January and while he’s coming off a career season, his minutes have come down the past 3 seasons and will likely hold steady around the 33mpg mark.

That leaves plenty of run for Wright; a player whose per-36 numbers have always been off the charts. He made over 64% of his FGAs last season, grabbed 3.2 o-rebs per-36 minutes and blocked 2.3 shots per-36. Basically, no matter how limited his minutes, he has an impact when he enters the game.

As Memphis looks for an edge to help them advance beyond the second round for the first time since 2013 and truly contend in the West, adding the reliable big man was the Wright move.


Other notable additions include:

Deron Williams (Dallas Mavericks) – has the ability to provide steady PG play for the Mavericks; something they’ve lacked in recent years. Can his body hold up though?

Greg Monroe (Milwaukee Bucks) – he’s hoping their taste of playoff action will keep these young Bucks motivated to improve, while his interior scoring and rebounding will be welcomed by Jason Kidd.

DeMarre Carroll (Toronto Raptors) – leaving Atlanta to go north of the border was as much about taking on a more prominent role as it was about the chance to win. Carroll will give them solid 3-point shooting and excellent defence and rebounding from the 3 spot which they’ve lacked in recent years.

Jared Dudley (Washington Wizards) – the veteran forward will take the Paul Pierce role to provide locker room leadership and playoff experience on the floor, only he’ll likely do it in a reserve role behind youngster Otto Porter.

Each year, contenders and playoff hopefuls look to add experience in a bid to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Some teams blend talent more easily than others, but adding a veteran presence – especially when it’s someone who is going there to win above all else – is usually an easy enough task.

Kareem Abdul-Jabaar once said: “The good and great are only separated by their willingness to sacrifice.”

Each of these players is hoping they’re making the ultimate sacrifice for the ultimate prize.


Author of the article

When you’re introduced to the NBA as a 6 year old in 1984, staying up late to watch Bird, Magic and Dr. J, it’s pretty hard not to fall in love with the game. I became consumed with the Association, and as my own game was developing, I tried to emulate as much as I could at an early age and learn how to play “the right way”. I have memories as a teenager of being glued to Saturday Basketball on TV and spending every spare cent I had on basketball cards and replica jerseys and so began my obsession with NBA knowledge and stats. I played my first season of Fantasy Hoops in 2002, as my serious playing days were slowing down. I now play in 5 or 6 leagues every year. To say I’m obsessed with Fantasy Hoops would be an understatement. To say I love nothing more than sharing my opinion on a player’s value would be entirely accurate, and I guess, the reason why I’m here. Follow me on twitter: @tomhersz @downtownball