It’s not uncommon for teams to sign players in the last couple of days of the season. Good teams do it in order to have them available as depth in the playoffs — all players are playoff eligible, regardless of when they are signed, as long as they weren’t on a different NBA roster at close of business on March 1st. Bad teams do it, almost always with an unguaranteed contract through the following season, as an extended tryout of sorts, as a means of locking in a future piece they want to get an extended look at. That player might only ever be a future piece of their summer league team, but still. No risk, and a potentially mediocre reward.
Rare is the day, though, that this happens with “name” players. Yet it just did — the Knicks bringing back Quentin Richardson, and the Spurs bringing in Tracy McGrady, is largely unprecedented in terms of name recognition. These late signings are normally for the Marqus Blakely, Lawrence Funderburke, Larry Owens types, not players with a combined 27 years and $219 million in NBA salary between them. It hasn’t really happened before, and we shouldn’t really have been expecting it to either.
Fresh from starting small forward Chris Copeland as a de facto center two games ago, and with journeyman power forward Solomon Jones there last game, the Knicks have now apparently decided they’re absolutely fine for big man depth, and cut Jones, their sole healthy big, for some more wing mediocrity. This, at the risk of sounding harsh, is all Richardson provides. It’s been six years since he was a good NBA player; the athleticism has gone, the defense isn’t remarkable, and, if it’s not too ridiculous of a thing to say of the man with the 44th most three-point makes of all-time, the jumpshot was only ever average. Richardson will not provide any more for this Knicks team that Copeland or even James White could not already have done. If you’re going to sign some mediocre depth as emergency depth for the playoffs, shouldn’t you at least sign someone that plays your most needed position?
McGrady, at least, does that. By waiving Stephen Jackson for concerns about his attitude, after many months of assuaging doubters by saying, “it’s all right, it’s only because he cares so much about winning!,” San Antonio’s incredibly deep roster has the smallest of small holes. It lacks an extra small forward with size, experience, and some defensive versatility, and it lacks a quality passing forward in light of Boris Diaw’s injury. McGrady is those things, and he further brings a streaky jump shot and some experience. It’s mostly experience of underachieving and first round playoff exits, but perhaps even that counts for something.
Neither signing changes much. There’s no one you can sign on April 16th that can change much. In theory, however, they may have at least one useful night. It’s entirely possible that Richardson hits three threes in a playoff game, writing his own feel-good comeback story, and continuing the myth that he’s a shooter. It’s equally entirely possible that McGrady, despite probably being twelfth on the depth chart, fills a small but useful role in all games. He brings a versatile enough skill set to do that. That’s the theory, at least, and it costs only two unwanted players and a few thousand dollars to find out.
No risks, and potentially mediocre rewards.