Free Agency 2021

2021 NBA Free Agency: The best under-the-radar moves

The free agency frenzy has cooled down a bit since a hectic first day, as deals are nearly ready to be finalized once the clock strikes 12:01 p.m. ET on Friday, Aug. 6.

While everyone remembers the major deals like Russell Westbrook being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, Kyle Lowry heading to the Miami Heat and DeMar DeRozan landing with the Chicago Bulls, there are always a few smaller deals that will make a significant impact during the season that sneaks through the cracks.

Our NBA.com staff discusses our favourite under-the-radar signings of this free agency period.

Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): I really, really like the addition of Jeff Green for the Denver Nuggets.

Green has always been an interesting player, but he thrived last season on the Brooklyn Nets as a small ball five. He checked out as one of the most versatile defenders in the league, canned a career-best 41.2 percent of his 3-point attempts and somehow, someway, is still doing stuff like this at the age of 34:

Goodness.

Every team is looking for versatile defenders and 3-point shooters these days, but it's especially important for a team like the Nuggets who are built around Nikola Jokic, a 7-footer who draws double and triple teams in his sleep but has some limitations on the other end of the court, despite some real improvements last season. I can already see Jokic finding Green for wide open 3s and rim-rattling dunks on offence while Green returns the favour by wreaking havoc on defence.

On a two-year, $10 million deal, Green has the potential to be an absolute steal for Denver.

Yash Matange (@yashmatange2694): It's got to be Bobby Portis staying in Milwaukee for me.

It's more about the price he stayed at than anything else. Given the cheques that the Bucks payout to their Big 3, they couldn't have afforded to pay a hefty price to convince Portis to stay, especially after his performance in the Conference Finals and NBA Finals.

During the 2020-21 season, he averaged 11.4 points and 7.1 rebounds in just 20.8 minutes while shooting 47.1% from long range.

Playing a huge spark off the bench in limited minutes during the Bucks championship run, albeit while not playing much in the series against the Brooklyn Nets, Portis has made a mark for himself not only as a big body in the paint but also as an outside threat.

He signed on with the Bucks on a 2-year $7.4 million deal in Nov. 2020 and has now opted out to stay on a new 2-year deal worth $9 million.

Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): I'm gonna go with James Johnson to the Nets.

He'll turn 35 this season, but Johnson has been nothing short of solid in every stop he's made throughout his NBA career. It's no secret that Brooklyn's weakness was on the defensive end and while Johnson is just one person, he's definitely a plus on the defensive side of the ball.

As fans, we know Johnson for his grit and toughness, but he's also a cerebral veteran that's entering his 13th NBA season hungry to make a deep postseason run. Up to this point in his career, Johnson has been to the playoffs five times, with his deepest run coming with the 2016 Toronto Raptors, who advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Now, he has a chance to play a key role on an NBA title favourite.

Will Johnson be a one-for-one replacement of the aforementioned Green? No, the two are quite different as players. Johnson does, however, have the size to play that small-ball five at times and the defensive versatility to play in a variety of lineups.

Don't be surprised when Johnson's play sways the outcome of a key game for the Nets next season.

Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): Everyone wants to talk about all the older signings that the Lakers made, but what about the 23-year-old, former No. 11 overall pick?

Malik Monk didn't exactly live up to the expectations in Charlotte, but I'm excited to watch the young scoring wing in a new opportunity, playing next to two incredible playmakers in LeBron James and Russell Westbrook.

Inefficiency was one of Monk's biggest issues with the Hornets (shooting 40.3 percent from the field over four seasons) but oftentimes, he was creating his own shot off the dribble with the defence keyed in on him. Monk is a more than capable shot creator, but his role will be simplified in Los Angeles and that just might be the exact thing he needs to thrive in the NBA.

He knocked down 40.7 percent of his 3-pointers last season, and according to NBA stats, he also shot 41.6 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s - both of which were career-best marks.

When he's on the floor with James and Westbrook, his role will be precisely that: being ready to knock down 3s off the catch. And he'll still have the chance to showcase some shot creation skills and add a scoring punch to the second unit.

A fresh start is exactly what Monk needs and he brings some youth to a team full of seasoned veterans.

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