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Fran Blinebury

Steve Blake will play an integral part this season for the Lakers, who may need to give more rest to Derek Fisher.
Steve Blake will play an integral part for the Lakers, who may need to give more rest to Derek Fisher.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Less-heralded free agents who could make an impact

Posted Sep 23 2010 10:01AM

It was a summer that will long be remembered for the big moves and the big talk by the biggest of names.

It began with a thunderclap when LeBron James and Chris Bosh moved south to join Dwyane Wade in Miami, raised a considerable racket when word circulated that Chris Paul was unhappy in New Orleans and now reverberates daily with the speculation of how and when Carmelo Anthony will leave Denver. In between, Amar'e Stoudemire went to New York, Carlos Boozer to Chicago and even 38-year-old Shaquille O'Neal doddered off to Boston.

Rarely, if ever, in league history have so many marquee free agent names changed uniforms. Yet when you filter out the noise and hype from the LeBronapaloooza fireworks, there were a handful of less heralded free agent pickups flying beneath the radar that could also make an impact on the fortunes of their new teams.

Steve Blake, Lakers

He packs his gym bag and quietly walks down the hallway from the Clippers' locker room at the Staples Center. But if Kobe & Co. are back in the Finals next June gunning for their three-peat, chances are this guy will have played a big role getting there. The seven-year veteran is the ideal backup behind Derek Fisher at the point and could even see his minutes bumped up if age slows Fish down at all. He can shoot 3s, pass the ball and doesn't turn the ball over, which always endears him to coaches. In this case, Phil Jackson will be happy to rely on his dependability after the unfulfilled expectations with Jordan Farmar (who is now in New Jersey).

Kyle Korver, Bulls

The most basic skill in the game is shooting the basketball and that's what he does best. After surgery on his left knee at the start of last season, he returned to shoot 53.6 percent in 52 games for the Jazz, breaking Steve Kerr's single-season record set in 1994-95. Former Utah teammate Carlos Boozer was the big free agent catch for Chicago, but Korver is a tasty side dish. He'll certainly benefit from all the open looks at the basket he'll get off Derrick Rose's penetration and gives the Bulls back the long ball threat that was missing last season in the absence of Ben Gordon.

Mike Miller, Heat

Despite all of their high salaries and their accolades and their All-Star resumes, there are going to be times when LeBron and D-Wade find the middle clogged up and shut down by opposing defenses, so they'll need a dependable outside shooter to loosen things up. Miller is coming off back-to-back seasons of not being quite so effective. But that was more likely the result of playing on some bad teams in Minnesota and Washington. This is the first time since he left the University of Florida that he'll be on a team with a championship pedigree and that will likely rejuvenate the career 40.8 percent 3-point shooter. His size will allow him to get some time at small forward when James plays the four spot and Bosh slides into the middle.

Drew Gooden, Bucks

Milwaukee is the ninth different NBA city for the itinerant forward and there's a good reason why the Bucks wasted no time in getting him signed to a five-year, $32 million deal. He plays hard, he plays smart and he's a great teammate. That makes him the ideal foot soldier and perfect off the bench for no-nonsense coach Scott Skiles. It's not just that he can muscle his way inside for the tough hoops, but also has a nose for the ball, averaging eight rebounds a game throughout his career in less in 28 minutes of average playing time. Gooden is one of the so-called glue guys, doing things that help win games, but don't show up in the box score. He's just the kind of role player that a team like the Bucks needs in a bid to make noise in the playoffs.

Brad Miller, Rockets

With Yao Ming working under a strict limit of only 24 minutes per game this season, the one thing the Rockets needed was a backup center capable of doing more than just taking up space at the offensive end. When Yao was healthier, they could afford to use Dikembe Mutombo as an insurance policy and defensive stopper. When Yao was out last season, they were forced to rely on undersized Chuck Hayes. Miller's age (34) and fall-off last season when he was not very productive in Chicago make him a slight risk. But they're counting on his reuniting with coach Rick Adelman from their Sacramento days and being able to be a facilitator and scorer in the Rockets' motion offense. Yao will still be the go-to guy down the stretch, but Miller will play a key role eating up minutes and knocking down shots if the Rockets are going to return to the playoffs.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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