Top 10 NBA Free Agents
In less than a week, NBA teams will be able to start pursuing this year’s free agent crop. Often times the best players are coming off their rookie deals and the likelihood of securing top restricted free agent (RFA) talent is remote, but this summer the list of unrestricted free agents (UFA) is impressive. The UFA list may not be up to the summer of LeBron James free agency and some of the big names may be a little long in the tooth, but there is more than enough superior talent available to make owners and general managers drool just a little.
1. Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets – UFA (player option), Age 28
Williams averaged 21 points and 8.7 assists on a dreadful Nets team after seemingly forcing his way out of Utah a season ago and he has made it clear that he intends to obtain his freedom in order to get a new long-term contract.
The best young veteran point guard available this summer, Williams has been top five in assists for the past six seasons and is a virtual certain 20-point, 10-assist player on a good team.
The battle for Williams’ services appears to be set between Dallas and Brooklyn, but anyone in need of a franchise point guard should be looking here first. In a social-media conscious world, does the Nets’ “Happy Birthday Deron!” message on Facebook carry any weight?
2. Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns – UFA, Age 38
As Nash inches his way towards 40-years-old, one might expect this eight-time All-Star and two-time MVP to be slowing down, but this ageless wonder has led the NBA in assists for the last three seasons in a row.
Even as Nash watched the talent from his former 60-win Suns dissipate and his team slide out of the playoff picture, he continued to average a double-double in points and assists. Nash has proven he makes his teammates better and he will do the same at his next stop.
Nash wants a new deal and has left his personal criteria open enough that virtually any team with the resources should feel comfortable putting in an offer. The Raptors would like the best player from Canada to finish his career in Toronto, but Phoenix will put in a solid offer and there will be other suitors for this floor general.
3. Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics – UFA, age 36
Garnett hasn’t been a 22-point 12-rebound big man since his days in Minnesota, but this 17-year veteran was the heart and soul of a Celtics team that unexpectedly took the HEAT to seven games in this year’s Eastern Conference Finals. Just when observers were ready to throw in the towel on the aging Celtics, Garnett led them back and almost took them to their third NBA Finals in five years.
At 15.8 points and 8.2 rebounds, Garnett isn’t going to blow you away with numbers, but he shifted from power forward to center and anchored a league-best defense that only surrendered 98.2 points per 100 possessions and held opponents to under 90 points per game.
Garnett likes playing for Coach Rivers and will be hard to pry out of Boston, but there are few players with the court presence and leadership qualities that Garnett possesses. Even at 36-years-old, Garnett is a free agent worth pursuing.
4. Gerald Wallace, Brooklyn Nets – UFA, Age 29
Wallace was acquired by the Nets mid-season from the Trailblazers and decided to opt out of his contract for next season. Nicknamed Crash, Wallace is known for his aggressive and often risky style of play and for his 2.5 steal 2.1 block season for Charlotte back in 2005-2006.
After 11 NBA seasons, Wallace can still put up statistics that are better than his career averages of 13.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals. The Nets have a lot to lose if Wallace gets away. He will be well compensated again next season.
5. Ersan Ilyasova, Milwaukee Bucks –UFA, Age 25
After three more productive seasons in Milwaukee earning a little more than $2 million a year, Ilyasova should be forgiven for his show-me-the-money attitude heading into free agency.
While some observers may caution about young players having a breakout season in a contract year, Ilyasova was producing 10 points and six rebounds in just 24 minutes a game in the prior two seasons. This past year, he led the Bucks in rebounding and in his 41 starts he averaged 14.2 points and 8.9 rebounds while playing a stretch four and hitting on 47.1 percent of his three-point attempts.
Young skilled big men who can rebound the ball are always in demand; Ilyasova could help a lot of teams next season.
6. Goran Dragic, Houston Rockets –UFA, Age 26
A second round pick of the Spurs in 2008, Dragic has backed up Steve Nash in Phoenix and Kyle Lowry in Houston over the past four seasons. With good size for a point guard, Dragic showed potential coming off the bench and arrived in the NBA with a good three-point shot, but it was in his limited starts that glimpses of what he might be able to do really came through.
Last season, with Lowry sidelined due to illness, Dragic started 28 games and averaged 18 points, 8.4 assists and 1.8 steals. This started a point guard controversy that is likely to result in one of Dragic or Lowry leaving Houston.
A small sample size for a young player in a contract year should raise some concerns, but there are few elite point guards available in free agency and this is not a deep point guard draft. Dragic may be the best point guard available with upside for many teams.
7. Jeff Green, Boston Celtics –UFA, Age 25
Green’s agent David Falk thinks his client is the best free agent available after Williams. It’s possible he’s right.
Green signed a big free agent contract with the Celtics last year, but a heart condition led Boston to rescind the deal. It appears Green has since fully recovered and worked his way back into NBA shape in time for this summer’s free agent period.
A combo-forward, Green was an important player with the Thunder before he was traded for Kendrick Perkins in February 2011 and his production and upside were considerable. Health issues aside, the fifth pick of the 2007 draft will draw some attention this summer.
8. Ray Allen, Boston Celtics – UFA, Age 36
Allen had bone spurs in his ankle and while they impacted on his playoff performance and limited his mobility, the smooth-shooting Allen still hit over 100 three-point shots last season.
At 36, having surgery to remove bone spurs for a second time is a concern, but Allen bounced back from this last time and there is every reason to believe that a healthy Allen will continue to add to his NBA record 2,718 three-point field goals for a few seasons yet.
9. Kris Humphries, Brooklyn Nets – UFA, Age 27
All Humphries has been able to do for the Nets over the past two seasons is average a double-double, but the former Jazz, Raptor and Maverick power forward is better known as an ex-Kardashian and can’t seem to get any respect.
Humphries turned an opportunity in New Jersey into production at both ends of the floor and should be getting a harder look in this free agent class than his current level of coverage would suggest.
10. Chris Kaman, New Orleans Hornets – UFA, Age 30
A common theme in the NBA is that there are not enough true centers to go around. The 7’ Kaman was an All-Star in 2010 with the Clippers, and is a big body who can still produce from the center position.
Kaman was the unwanted salary cap ballast in the Chris Paul trade and the Hornets treated him as such as they tanked their way to the first overall pick in the draft. As a result, Kaman had a sub-par year, but when adjusted to a per 36 minute basis, his adjusted 16.2 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.0 blocks suggest Kaman has lost nothing off his prior form and is ready to contribute for his next employer.
These pending free agents are not the only players who will attract attention on July 1. Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Chauncey Billups, Andre Miller, Raymond Felton, Carl Landry, and Spenser Hawes are among the many UFA who are expected to be in demand.
Tim Duncan is one of this year’s best free agents, but no one believes he is really available. After spending his entire 14-year career with the Spurs, this is one free agent who isn’t expected to test the waters.
As usual there are a number of anticipated RFAs and some of them are considered more desirable than many UFAs. Eric Gordon, Roy Hibbert, Nicolas Batum, George Hill, Aaron Brooks and Ryan Anderson could be top 10 free agent targets if their own teams were not expected to match offers. In the ever-evolving situation in Brooklyn, Brook Lopez may or may not be a good RFA target, similarly with O.J. Mayo in Memphis.
This will be a competitive free agent period as a number of teams deliberately cleared salary cap space and many players with options are expected to test the demand for their services. A free-for-all rush to acquire talent is about to start.