Looking Ahead In Free Agency
Usually this time of year we debating the winners and losers of NBA free agency, discussing which players are good fits with their new teams and where chemistry or playing time could become an issue. Instead we are left waiting, wondering when the bonanza of 2011 free agency will be allowed to begin.
Next week? Next month? Next year?
When will the Denver Nuggets get a chance to blow their $25 million or so in cap space, depending on where the next cap lands?
We don’t know. Instead, what we are left with is looking at the free agent class of 2011 and analyzing closely who make fit where. And not just in 2011, but in 2012, 2013, and beyond…
Check out the snapshot of the free agency classes for the next six years:
Class of 2011
The 2011 free agent class is broad and deep, but it is not top heavy in any regard. While there are a few big names that intrigue – Caron Butler, Tyson Chandler, Nene, David West, Jason Richardson, Jamal Crawford and Marc Gasol – one would be hard pressed to point to anyone in the class and call them a sure future All-Star. Some of these players have been All-Stars in the past, but will they be again? Doubtful.
Instead, there are a lot of glue players, the ones who will fit nicely into a franchise’s chemistry and make a good team better. They just won’t put a team over the top. Players like Arron Afflalo, Thaddeus Young, Samuel Dalembert, Grant Hill and Jeff Green will make your team better, but they won’t sell tickets. Or jerseys.
Why is this significant now? In the past teams have almost always spent their cap allotment, whether they needed to or not, under the idea rolling it over to the next year diminishes the value because they may not have a complete team. With plenty of teams, theoretically, with room to spend under the cap once there is a cap and a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), that means some of these players already named are bound to be overpaid, and some maybe significantly so.
This is also a bad class for point guards, one of a team’s most important needs. The best PGs on the market may be Aaron Brooks and Rodney Stuckey, neither of whom are ideal point guards. If your team needs a starter this summer, they would probably be stuck should they have to make a decision on a signing now.
The good news is with Chandler, Nene, Dalembert and Gasol, in addition to names like DeAndre Jordan and Greg Oden, there are plenty of centers to choose from.
Class of 2012
Now, if a team really, really wants a point guard, 2012 is the summer they should be targeting. Need a young stud, a max contract player? Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose could all be free agents. Or, depending on options and extensions possibly given, none of them may be. If you want a veteran, Chauncey Billups, Andre Miller, Jason Kidd and Steve Nash will also be free agents. Something in the middle? Raymond Felton, Kirk Hinrich and Jameer Nelson could all be available. Of that great group of names, only Felton, Miller, Hinrich, Kidd and Billups will definitely be on the market.
This could also be a great time to pick up a shooting guard or a center. Ray Allen will be available, Eric Gordon could be a restricted free agent, and after that an interesting group consisting of Rudy Fernandez, Mickael Pietrus, Landry Fields and Courtney Lee could be available. At center Dwight Howard, Brook Lopez, Roy Hibbert, Andrew Bynum, JaVale McGee and Marcus Camby may all become available.
If you want to save your money for superstars, the summer of 2012 will give the summer of 2010 a run for its money. What if we never get a 2011 free agency, what if the entire season is lost and these 2011 free agents roll over to 2012? That, basketball fans, will be the most insane free agency in the history of sports. And no, that’s not an overstatement.
Class of 2013
After 2012 the exact details for a free agent class become a little murky. For example, rookies drafted in 2011, should their rookie scale contracts be signed for the 11-12 season, have 2013-14 team options that must be picked up by October of 2012. If they are not, players from that class could become unrestricted free agents in 2013. The chances of any falling into that category are slim, but it’s possible.
Even if they are all picked up, 2013 is already shooting guard and power forward heavy. At the two names like Andre Iguodala, Monta Ellis and Ben Gordon could all choose to become unrestricted free agents, joining Kevin Martin, Corey Maggette, Rip Hamilton and Manu Ginobili. All of those players could be attractive, depending on team needs. Tyreke Evans, James Harden and DeMar DeRozan could also be on the list as restricted free agents.
Power forward is very deep. Al Jefferson (his ideal position, not center), Paul Millsap, DeJuan Blair and Lamar Odom will all be unrestricted free agents. Taj Gibson, Bake Griffin and Serge Ibaka are scheduled to be restricted. Josh Smith will be a free agent forward as well.
And there will be point guards. Lots of them. Remember the 2009 NBA Draft, when point guards went like crazy in the first round (even ones not chosen by the Minnesota Timberwolves)? Those will all be restricted in 2013: Stephen Curry, Jonny Flynn, Ty Lawson, Darren Collison, Brandon Jennings, Jeff Teague and Eric Maynor. All of them have shown promise at one point and the intervening time between now and then could prove a few of them superstars.
Class of 2014
This is where the free agent options get a little thinner as far as how it looks in August of 2011. Most players in this category are stars. It’s also the first year Miami’s big three can choose free agency; Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James all have Early Termination Options for the 2014-15 season (if they fail to invoke these, they also have Player Options for 2015-16, so any of them could become free agents in 2014, 2015 or 2016).
As if that wasn’t enough star power, Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Rudy Gay, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Brandon Roy, Kobe Bryant, Zach Randolph and Andrew Bogut could also be free agents in 2014 (at the earliest, again depending on options).
Sitting here in 2011 that sounds like an awesome class, doesn’t it? Keep in mind, though, that many of those names – Bryant, Nowitzki, Gasol, and Randolph – already have long careers today. How good will they really be in 2014? Chances are they will still be good, but they will no longer be superstars worthy of targeting for a possible maximum contract.
This will also be the year of restricted free agency for the draft class of 2010, should all their team options of their rookie scale contracts be exercised. That means names like DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Greg Monroe, Evan Turner and Jordan Crawford could potentially be in the mix as well.
Class of 2015
With the class of 2015 one could put together a decent team. Rajon Rondo, Wesley Matthews, Jared Dudley, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kendrick Perkins would be a solid lineup. Without including the draft class of 2011 – who have yet to sign a contract – outside of power forward there isn’t more than two players who will be free agents here (ignoring options from 2014 that could push a player’s free agency out another year). In addition to Aldridge, Carlos Boozer and Luis Scola will be free agents also, but will likely be well past their prime.
One 2011 rookie who actually did sign his contract already could be in this mix as well, should both of his team options for his third and fourth seasons of his rookie scale contract be exercised: Ricky Rubio.
Class of 2016
As of today there are only seven players who have guaranteed contracts for the next five years with no options: Mike Conley, Joe Johnson, Kevin Durant, David Lee, Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Brendan Haywood. Haywood’s deal is not fully guaranteed, so he might not even stay in this group.
With each passing free agency period the members of the classes of 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 will grow, but it might take a bit of time. One of the biggest likely changes in the next CBA will be a reduction in the maximum length of contracts, as well as guarantees in those deals. Given that, the seven names currently in the free agency class of 2016 may not have anyone join them until the summer of 2012, and even then that group may be only a select few who choose to re-sign with their current team (if max length deals are shortened to three years, four with the current team).
So what’s the takeaway here? If a new CBA is hammered out in time to save some or all of the 2011-12 season, teams with money to spend would be well served to save that money and roll it over to the next year, either by not spending more than they have to or by signing players to one-year deals, effectively rolling it over and possibly staying competitive.
And whether we have a 2011-12 season or not, whether we get 2011 free agency frenzy or not, the summer of 2012 is going to be every bit as big and crazy as 2010. Let’s just hope we don’t anymore Decisions.
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