NBA AM: The Top 15 NBA Free Agents
The Free Agents Worth Fighting Over:
With the NBA and its Players continuing to make progress on a labor deal and an eventual end to the now 150-day-old NBA Lockout, NBA teams are starting to ramp up for a condensed season that will start with a very hectic free agency window.
The NBA has established December 9th as not only the opening date for training camps, but also the first day of free agency.
Sources close to the process say that very much like July 1st in a typical year, teams may begin having contact with agents and would-be free agents possibly as early as December 5th, which is when many are projecting the NBA and its players will have ratified a new labor deal allowing the NBA to lift the lockout.
Like the early July window in typical years, teams would be allowed to talk to free agents and get verbal commitments, but deals would not be permitted until December 9th.
The NBA is being careful about establishing firm dates, as everything still revolves around the Players dropping their anti-trust lawsuit, which could happen as early as today, and then re-forming as a Union to allow for a Player vote on the labor deal.
Sources say once those items start falling off the board a firmer set of dates can be established.
As things stand, barring Amnesty Cuts, there are roughly 136 NBA Players in the 2011 NBA Free Agent class (the full list is here). This list includes both unrestricted and restricted free agents that were on rosters last season.
Of those 136 players, there are roughly 15 that will drive free agency and here is how things look for each at this point:
Aaron Brooks, Phoenix Suns – $2.0 million – Restricted ($3.0 million Qualifying Offer)
Brooks signed a deal with the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association almost two weeks ago. The deal did not include an NBA out-clause; however his team in China could opt to cut him at any time.
If Brooks can gain his release; he is arguably the top point guard free agent on the board. The Phoenix Suns do hold the right to match whatever offer Aaron gets on the open market. With Steve Nash’s age and pending free agency next season, there is a better than average chance the Suns would match whatever offer is made to Brooks, within reason.
If a team were to offer a hefty front-loaded deal that might cause the Suns to think twice, and with a shorter window to match would the Suns go all in on Brooks?
The Suns are currently sitting on $65.83 million in Salary Cap Commitments, including the $18.3 million dollar contract of Vince Carter. Carter’s deal is only partial guaranteed to the tune of $4 million. The Suns extended the option window on Carter’s deal hoping to find a team that would trade for his deal, which for $4 million in cash clears $14.3 in space. If the Suns cannot find a taker for Carter, expect them to eat the $4 million and drop their cap number to $51.3 million, leaving plenty of room for Brooks.
It’s safe to assume that unless a team gets silly with an offer, Brooks will be back in Phoenix. The real question is whether or not he gets out of his deal in China to find out.
Rodney Stuckey, Detroit Pistons – $2.8 million – Restricted ($3.9 million Qualifying Offer)
Like Brooks, Stuckey is a restricted free agent. The real question is will the Pistons opt to re-sign Stuckey or play the matching game on offers knowing they have rookie Brandon Knight, Will Bynum and Ben Gordon already on the roster.
Stuckey averaged 15.5 points, 5.2 assist and 3.1 rebounds last season on a dreadfully dysfunctional Pistons team that bordered on munity with outgoing head coach John Kuester.
The smart money say with Pistons will match offers on Stuckey to a certain point. They are looking at roughly $10 million in cap space, and if renouncing Stuckey allows them the room to add a serious free agent you’d have to think Joe Dumars and company would consider it.
Stuckey is not a player you break the bank to obtain, so he could be an interesting option if the Pistons opt to spend their money elsewhere.
Jason Richardson, Orlando Magic – $14.4 million – Unrestricted
J-Rich had conversations with Orlando about a contract extension before the Lockout was imposed. The word was Orlando wanted him back, but at a far cheaper price than his $14.4 million 2010-2011 salary.
It’s not out of the questions Richardson comes back to the Magic, although with so few proven shooting guards and 19 teams sitting on free agent money you can bet Richardson shops his services.
Bulls’ fans mention Richardson a lot as a free agent target, but the problem is the Bulls don’t have any cap money to offer. So unless Richardson is obtained in a sign-and-trade deal with the Magic, J-Rich to the Bulls is something of a long shot.
There is a premium on shooting in the NBA and Richardson has shot over 40% from NBA three-point range three times in his 10-year career and has a career average of 37.3% from deep. Richardson turns 31 in January, so there is still plenty of life left in his career. Don’t expect J-Rich to take much of a discount.
Richardson isn’t going to land the $10 million a year deal, but he is going to have suitors and someone will offer Richardson more than the Mid-Level to gun from three-point range when it’s all said and done.
Jamal Crawford, Atlanta Hawks – $10.1 million – Unrestricted
Crawford is arguably the best scorer in free agency. The problem is Crawford knows it and he expects to be paid like it. The Atlanta Hawks would like to have Crawford back, but they are not going to offer him the kind of money he is seeking.
Crawford has recently been talking up a return to New York or New Jersey, as he’d like to be back in the city. To land in New York he’d need a sign-and-trade deal with the Hawks, and it’s unlikely the Nets spend a huge chunk of their $17.7 million in cap space on Crawford.
Sources close to the process believe if the market dries up on Crawford he could land in Miami with good friend LeBron James, although it seems more likely that the HEAT add a center with their Mid-Level exception, unless the Hawks want to do a Mike Miller for Crawford swap.
Arron Afflalo, Denver Nuggets – $2.0 million – Restricted ($2.9 million Qualifying Offer)
The Denver Nuggets have seven players under contract and have the most free agent dollars to spend of any team in the league – over $28.3 million. As a result, it’s highly unlikely the Nuggets are losing Afflalo unless someone gets really silly with an offer. As good as Arron has become over the last couple of years, there really isn’t a scenario in which he is not back in Denver.
Sources near the situation say the Nuggets want Arron back and as long as the contract dollars are where they need to be Arron has no issues with Denver.
The long shot scenario that could surface is the Nuggets using their cap space to trade for a proven player that is an upgrade over Afflalo, but even in that situation the Nuggets would still likely match any offers simply because of how many needs Arron solves for them.
Caron Butler, Dallas Mavericks – $10.8 million – Unrestricted
Both sides of this are saying the right things – they want a reunion in Dallas. But with the Mavericks sitting on $61.7 million in salary commitments to nine players the Mavericks will have some tough choices to make.
Butler has played it smart in the media saying how much he wants to be back in Dallas, but the truth is Dallas is more likely to let the market determine Caron’s worth and that could lead to him landing elsewhere.
Butler turns 32 in March and is coming off a major knee injury. Unless Butler opts for a Mid-Level Exception type deal, the real market for Butler may be much smaller than his camp thinks and that could bode well for Dallas keeping him, but for Butler and Dallas it really is going to be about price.
The saving grace for Butler’s value is there are a lot of teams with money to spend and Caron has a reputation for being a good locker room guy and a dependable scorer when healthy.
Thaddeus Young, Philadelphia 76ers – $2.9 million – Restricted ($4.0 million Qualifying Offer)
The smart money says Thad is back in Philadelphia, regardless of the price. New ownership wants to build a strong young team and Thad is a solid player.
The 76ers are under the cap even with Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand on the roster, so matching offers for Thad won’t be a major issue, unless the offer is just silly. With 19 teams playing in the market, crazy things can and likely will happen.
Why would a team get silly with Thaddeus Young? He shoots 54.1% from the field, 70.7% from the foul line, and grabs about 5 boards a game on roughly 26 minutes of playing time. Said another way, Thad has a PER of 18.46, making his peer group players like Joakim Noah (18.83), Monta Ellis (18.69), Eric Gordon (18.56) and Luis Scola (18.43)
Smart teams are going realize quickly how effective Thad could be with extended minutes and if someone really opens the bank for Thad, Philly may have to pass unless they trigger a deal to offload salary.
Because Philadelphia can match, expect Thaddeus back in a Sixers uniform, but also expect a few teams to make things interesting on the price the 76ers will pay to keep him.
Tayshaun Prince, Detroit Pistons – $11.1 million – Unrestricted
Prince turns 32 in February and is a year removed for a disc injury in his back. He logged 78 games for the Pistons last year and put up the same kind of numbers he put up in 2005 and 2006, meaning back surgery or not, Prince hasn’t lost a step.
It is not out of the questions that Prince re-signs in Detroit, it’s just somewhat unlikely. Sources close to the process say Prince wants to be with a winner and while he has affections for Joe Dumars in Detroit it’s more likely Prince looks for a more solidified playoff team than returning to the Pistons at a discount.
Prince is commonly mentioned in connection with the L.A. Clippers as they have a need for a proven small forward, but sources say the Clippers are not as high on Prince as maybe the fan base is.
Prince is an obtainable free agent. He is not likely taking a Mid-Level deal unless the market evaporates for him and it’s also not out of the question that the Pistons do a sign and trade deal if Tayshaun’s camp can find the right situation.
Prince may end up costing more than some teams want to pay, but the odds that he is in another uniform next year are pretty high.
Shane Battier, Memphis Grizzlies – $7.4 million – Unrestricted
Battier is a highly coveted player. He is smart, he plays solid defense and he is a very coachable guy.
Battier has said his first choice would to be back with the Memphis Grizzlies mainly because they hold his Bird Rights and can pay him more than anyone else.
The Grizz are not closed to doing another deal with Shane, but considering the Grizzlies have nine players under contract and $55 million in salary commitments and restricted free Marc Gasol to deal with doing a big dollar deal for Shane doesn’t seem likely.
Battier is coming off the final year of a contract that paid him $7.4 million and if all things are equal he wants to be in that kind of range which may price him out of some teams plans.
The Grizz do hold his Bird Rights so doing a sign-and-trade deal for Shane is likely, mainly because the franchise does value and respect Shane a lot.
Flip a coin on this one. He could very easily be back in Memphis or he could land elsewhere, there are a number of teams that would welcome him with a significant deal, starting with the Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder.
David West, New Orleans Hornets – $8.3 million – Unrestricted
David West still has not been medically cleared for full contact basketball work and that may impact his free agent value a little, but that still is not going to stop a number of teams from throwing very hefty offers his way.
The Hornets are clearly in the driver’s seat because they can offer a much larger deal than anyone else and with just five players on their roster and $44.48 million in salary commitments, they have the room to be as silly as they need to be.
West is said to be the primary target for the Indiana Pacers and the New Jersey Nets, and both have more than $17 million in cap dollars to spend, so West is likely looking at a deal in the $11 to $12 million per year range, assuming no one flags his surgically repaired knee.
Sources close to the situation say West’s knee is ahead of schedule and that passing a medical review won’t be an issue.
It’s possible the NBA’s insurance carrier declines insurance coverage on West’s knee so that might scare some teams away, but consider what David West is as a player. He is going to be well paid in just a few short weeks.
Jeff Green, Boston Celtics – $4.5 million – Restricted ($5.9 million Qualifying Offer)
Boston fans (and players) were not happy when the Celtics traded away Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green at the trade deadline. It had little to do with Green and more to do with losing Perkins.
The mentality behind the trade was that the life span of the “Big Three” of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett was limited and it was time to reload, as a result there is almost no scenario in which Boston doesn’t match an offer sheet on Jeff Green. Unless some gets really silly about stealing Green from Boston, the Celtics will match offer sheets and keep Jeff in the fold.
The one wrinkle for the Celtics is that they do have $64.3 million in salary commits to just six players, so a team with real interest in Jeff could try to frontload a hefty offer and see if Boston blinks.
The net result would be Green getting radically overpaid, but that’s what it would take to steal Jeff Green from Boston.
Carl Landry, New Orleans Hornets – $3.0 million – Unrestricted
Carl might be the most underrated free agent of the class. When David West went down to knee injury last season, Landry posted respectable numbers, shooting better than 50% from the floor and notching a double-digit scoring more nights than not.
Landry isn’t going to contend for a max salary deal, but he is likely going to land something north of the Mid-Level exception.
If the Hornets lose David West to free agency you can almost bet they set the price for Landry. If West stays in New Orleans it’s very likely Landry explores situations where he can start, and if the Pacers swing and miss on West don’t be surprised if Landry is the next name on their list.
Nene, Denver Nuggets – $11.4 million – Unrestricted
There is almost no scenario in which Nene is not back with the Denver Nuggets. As the Nuggets’ season started to wind down last year Nene made it extremely clear that he wants to remain in Denver. Assuming they pay him, he’ll be back for the Nuggets.
If the Nuggets try and jockey Nene’s loyalty into a discount, that might open the door for him to listen to offers, but given where Denver sits cap wise there is absolutely no reason for them not to do a new deal and re-sign arguable the second-best free agent on the board.
Tyson Chandler, Dallas Mavericks – $12.6 million – Unrestricted
Tyson wants to be back with Dallas and its seems the feeling is mutual, the problem is there is just no way the Mavs can ink Chandler to a deal in the $12 to $13 million range unless it’s a short-term deal. The Mavs caught a break in the new proposed Collective Bargaining Agreement in which the new punitive Luxury Tax won’t kick in until Year 3 of the deal, giving the Mavericks a two-year window to re-load for another Championship run.
That could play in Chandler’s favor if he’ll do a shorter-term deal. If Tyson is looking for a max year or near-max-dollar offer, he may price himself out of Dallas and in all honesty this free agent market. If Tyson will do a deal in the $10 to $11 million per year range, he might find a deal in Dallas.
Most competing teams don’t view Tyson as obtainable because of Dallas, assuming he will re-sign, so don’t expect a lot of teams to clamor after him unless things go south with the Mavericks. Expect Tyson back with the Mavericks and expect it to be on a deal slightly less than the $12.6 million he made last year.
Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies – $3.6 million – Restricted ($4.5 million Qualifying Offer)
Gasol is arguably the best free agent prospect in the 2011 Free Agent class.
The problem is the Memphis Grizzlies hold the right to match Gasol’s offers and Grizz owner Michael Heisley has been clear that matching offers on Gasol won’t be a problem for his club financially. Heisley has on more than one occasion questioned if Gasol wants to be in Memphis long-term and more than a few people who know Marc say there is validity to that concern.
The general belief is that Marc would like to be in a major market and that opened the door for some teams to feel they could obtain Marc in free agency if they can convince him that their situation is better.
Expect Houston’s Daryl Morey to be at Marc’s doorstep the minute he is allowed to talk to teams. The Knicks and the HEAT will likely come calling too, as both are a center away from title contention.
Expect a lot of talk about Gasol from a number of teams, mainly because there is a belief that he is obtainable.
Memphis still holds the cards and Memphis could still control Marc’s future, but if Marc genuinely wants out of Memphis it seems Heisley is at least open to that idea.
Remember under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement teams under the Luxury Tax can take back 150% of what they send so Mike Miller’s $5.4 million deal in Miami can return $8.1 million in trade for the HEAT. While Chauncey Billups’ $14.2 million ending deal with the Knicks could return up to $21.3 million in traded salaries assuming the acquired salaries don’t push the Knicks into luxury tax.
If Gasol is gone from Memphis, expect it to be via sign-and-trade so that Memphis gets some value back for him rather than Memphis letting the top free agent walk with no compensation.
A Sneaky Play: Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported yesterday that the pending Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NBA and its players will not only contain an Amnesty Provision which would allow for a team to cut one contract from their roster, it will also contain a waiver process designed to insure the cut players from this provision are reasonably dispersed to other teams.
“In an outline of the proposed collective-bargaining agreement obtained by the Sun Sentinel, the NBA instead has instituted “a modified waiver process” that would allow teams operating below the salary cap to “submit competing offers to assume some but not all of the player’s remaining contract.”
For example, Rashard Lewis has two years at $44 million total remaining on his contract, a team currently operating below the salary cap could bid to pay Lewis $3 million in each of those years.
To further explain… only teams under the salary cap can submit a bid. So think of this as an Ebay auction.
The 19 teams under the cap could place a bid on any player cut using the Amnesty provision. They can offer any amount they have available under the cap.
So say Rashard Lewis is an Amnesty Cut, all 19 teams can bid on him using any value the team chooses.
The Thunder who have $4.7 million in cap room, could bid $2 million a year… If they are the highest bidder, they get the remaining two years of Rashard Lewis’ deal for $2 million per year. The Wizards in turn get to deduct $2 million from what they owe Lewis.
The other thing to note is that the Player would have no say in where he lands, so the action would be very much like a trade.
So very much like Ebay; every team with cap space is likely to put in some level of offer on usable productive players. The team with the highest offer gets the player.
It’s doubtful a team could or would bid $1… but the idea is that you could.
The acquiring team carries a cap hit on what they bid for the player.
Players who receive no “bids” during the waiver period would clear and become unrestricted free agents and be free to choose their next team.
It’s a sneaky wrinkle and it will be interesting to see how this plays out with teams making Amnesty cuts.
Also keep in mind that the Amnesty provision can be saved and used at any point in this ten year labor deal, so it’s possible that this is an annual circus of what players can you get out of the dented can bin.
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