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Top 15 Unrestricted Free Agents

Mon, 06/30/2008 - 4:13pm

Ka-ching!

NBA free agency opens up on July 1, which means it’s time for those owners with cash to burn to scan the lists of available free agents and lock them into absurdly wealthy contracts.

Dozens of players and agents circle July 1 in red on their calendars. It’s time to get paid. As minority owner of the New Jersey Nets Shawn Carter once knowingly said, “Open the market up. One million, two million, three million, four. Eighteen months, $80 million more.” Sounds like the rookie contract scale, doesn’t it?

However, the late Christopher Wallace was quick to point out that mo’ money does, indeed, lead to mo’ problems. So the players on this list need to be careful after Tuesday. A tip to this year’s free agents to be: Negotiate carefully and secure the best situation.

The Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers are the teams currently in possession of the most cap space. That can change, depending on what happens with this year’s crop of free agents, but much like last year, there won’t be many places able to offer those coveted monster long-term deals. While there will likely be a handful of major moves this off-season, look for most teams to stand pat in order to position themselves for the free agency bonanza of 2010.

The big fish

[img_assist|nid=1335|title=Gilbert Arenas|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=301] 1A. Gilbert Arenas: Despite sitting out most of 2007-08 with a bum knee, Agent Zero is still the crown jewel of this year’s class. He’s a lights-out scorer with a rare sense of “the moment.” In addition, he also happens to be the NBA’s most refreshingly honest personality with a dedicated legion of fans. Since he opted out of his contract last summer, he has maintained that he wants to remain a Washington Wizard, but only if the team took care of teammate Antawn Jamison first. In his blog, Arenas mentioned that this might be the 32-year-old Jamison’s last opportunity for a lucrative, long-term deal (see No. 2 below). He also recognizes how vital Jamison’s versatility is to opening up the floor. Rumors of a 6-year, $100-million deal with Washington have started to surface, so look for Hibachi to continue heating up the nation’s capital through 2014.

1B. Elton Brand: The All-Star power forward is walking away from $16.4 million, but is on the record as saying the Clippers will be given the first crack at making a long-term deal happen. The 29-year-old Brand missed all but eight games of last season after blowing out his knee, but when healthy, he's one of the league's elite post men. When the Clips made their surprising 2005-06 playoff push, Brand averaged 24.7 points and 10 rebounds per outing. He even received a handful of "MVP!" chants from the L.A. faithful. If the Clips can't agree to terms, Miami will certainly make another all-out push in attempting to land 1999's No. 1 overall draft pick. Brand is an absolute workhorse in the paint, and could turn out to be the real difference-maker in this year's free-agent crop.

1C. Baron Davis: After a storybook 2006-07 season, last year didn't end on a high note for the former All-Star. Despite winning 48 games, the Warriors were the odd team out in the deep Western Conference playoff picture, and Davis surprisingly ended the season on the bench. Davis, 29, leaves a whopping $17.8 million on the table in hopes of locking up another long-term deal. The Warriors hoped Davis would play out his contract, giving the franchise either veteran stability or a valuable expiring contract at the trading deadline. Instead, the team is left in the unenviable position of an awkward negotiation with the roster's heart and soul while setting aside cash for restricted free agents Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins. It's no secret that Davis -- an aspiring movie producer with L.A. roots -- would be interested in signing with the Clippers. Would the penny-pinching Donald Sterling be willing to ink both Brand and Davis -- two 29-year-olds with injury issues -- to long-term deals? When healthy, Davis is one of the league's premier crunch-time performers, and would add much-needed stability to a weak Clippers' backcourt.

Star power

2. Antawn Jamison: Marc Stein at ESPN.com says the Wizards have inked Jamison to a 4-year, $50-million deal. GM Ernie Grunfeld apparently heard Arenas’ comments and made sure to lock up Jamison to avoid any potentially acrimonious negotiations. Last season was Jamison’s finest year as a pro, averaging 21.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, earning an All-Star berth and guiding the Arenas-less Wizards to a surprise berth in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

3. Corey Maggette: Clippers’ coach Mike Dunleavy was apparently never ready for Maggette, who spent most of 2007-08 on the trading block. He had another year left on his deal, but decided to opt out, either because he was tired of being jerked around by Clippers’ management or because he didn’t want to see his James Gandolfini-esque coach hire Paulie Walnuts and Sylvio as assistants. Whatever the case, Maggette is the best small forward on the market, averaging 22.1 points per game last year. The Orlando Sentinel reports that Maggette is urging the Orlando Magic to make an offer -- something in the 5-year, $40-million range.

Useful pieces

4. DaSagana Diop: Yeah, Diop might be a tad limited offensively -- and by “limited,” I mean he has no range outside of five feet. But Diop, 25, is still one of the league’s more effective shot-blockers. Guys like Diop will always be useful, and there’s a better-than-decent chance his best basketball is still in front of him. Since it’s so difficult to find useful, motivated, energetic, defensive-oriented 7-footers, Diop will likely get paid way too much this summer. It’s too bad Isiah Thomas isn’t around anymore. If he gave a total stiff like Jerome James 5 years and $30 million, he might’ve made Diop a billionaire.

5. Beno Udrih: Shh, don’t tell anyone, but Udrih quietly turned himself into a solid, efficient point guard for Sacramento after the Kings dealt Mike Bibby. Udrih averaged 12.8 points per game last season, and with many teams in need of steady point-guard play, look for Udrih to become one of the hotter names this summer. He’s never going to be a superstar in this league, but at 25, he’s a price-conscious option for any team with a hole at point guard and a mid-level exception at its disposal.

6. James Posey: Is Posey the new Robert Horry? After establishing himself as a vital role player on two of the last three NBA champions, Posey could be set for a surprising late-career payday. After spending his prime slumming it with those awful Denver Nuggets teams, the hard-working Posey has earned this good fortune. Anyone looking for a versatile swingman who can play lock-down defense and drill clutch threes will likely put in a call to Posey’s agent, but I expect the 31-year-old to re-up with the Celtics. Ubuntu!

7. Kurt Thomas: After the Suns and SuperSonics essentially gave away Thomas on Craigstlist (“For sale: Strong, but foul-prone power forward/center with championship experience. Any offer will be considered; second-round picks, ball-boys, a firm handshake, anything!”), Thomas landed in San Antonio -- again -- and became a vital part of their success. At 35, there isn’t much spring left in Thomas’ step, but he’s still a very effective bruiser down low and could boost any roster in need of interior defense at the right price.

8. (tie) Mickael Pietrus, Quinton Ross: They’re young (Pietrus is 26, Ross, 27), athletic and terrific defenders, but neither guy could find his way off the bench. While it would be foolish to expect either Pietrus or Ross to shoulder the scoring burden, both men could develop into lock-down perimeter defenders in the right situation. Both men have heard the Bruce Bowen comparisons, so teams with weak perimeter defenders (Denver, Phoenix, etc.) might hold parts of their mid-level exceptions for Pietrus or Ross.

Risky business

10. Shaun Livingston: Prior to shredding his left knee, Livingston was starting to develop into a mid-90s Penny Hardaway. A healthy Livingston brings a wide array of skills to the table, but it’s uncertain whether he’ll ever be healthy to play at that level again. Teams willing to take a calculated risk on Livingston could be getting the biggest steal in the 2008 free agent class, but he may never see the floor again.

11. Ricky Davis: He can score in bunches, but he might be way more trouble than he’s worth. Do guys who throw the ball of their own backboard in search of a triple-double usually end up with championship rings? I say no. But if Davis matures into his late 20s, he could be the ideal sixth man for a team that struggles getting points from the perimeter. It would be foolish to ink Davis to a long-term deal, but he has enough talent to justify a one-year deal.

12. Gerald Green: When he blew out the candle during his infamous “birthday cake” dunk, what do you think Green wished for? “I hope the rest of my game catches up to my dunking ability.” Green is a tantalizing talent with otherworldly athletic ability, but far too often, he looks completely lost during the course of a game. It’s almost as if the coach showed him the playbook five minutes prior to tip-off. He’s only 22, so he has more than enough time to put it all together. Patience is the key word to the Gerald Green experience.

Only on the cheap

13. Sebastian Telfair: Was it really only five years ago when Bassy was mentioned as the “next great New York point guard?” He’s flashy, but one can’t help but wonder if his game is more suited to the blacktop than the hardwood. He can’t shoot (39 percent for his career, including a ghastly 30 percent from three), which is a major problem when you’re barely 6-feet tall. If he can harness his considerable gifts, he has the talent to succeed at the NBA level. He had some nice games for a dreadful Minnesota team last year, after all. But no team should spend too much money to see if he puts it all together.

Where’s the jewelry at?

14. Robert Horry: There are only three possibilities for Horry this off-season: 1) He retires and becomes this generation’s most divisive Hall-of-Fame candidate, 2) he rejoins the Lakers, helps Kobe fire back at Shaq and adds another couple monster threes to his highlight reel, or 3) he convinces the Celtics that he’d be perfect for Ubuntu. Can you imagine? Robert Horry with eight rings?

Only if he played for free

15. Kwame Brown: Did you know he made more than $9 million last season? It’s true! His salary was vital in making the Pau Gasol deal happen, but it doesn’t change the fact that Brown will likely never evolve past a cautionary tale. What a shame.

NaturesFreshMKT
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Elton Brand to the Chicago Bulls

Doesn't it make sense? He's exactly what we have needed the past 4 years....a low post scorer who rebounds, plays hard, and is a good character guy. I say sign Brand, re-sign Deng, let Gordon walk, and try to package Larry Hughes aweful contract with maybe Drew Gooden (1 year left) and a couple 1st round draft picks. In addition to that, Chicago should keep Hinrich at the point to begin the year. With Rose learning the pro game, I only assume Hinrich will play up to his abilities with Rose pushing him for playing time. We will then be able to receive much better value for him close to the trading deadline than we will if we trade him before the season.

L.Shap
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Wow I'm impressed

That is a very smart offseason plan. I think you should be the Bulls Gm. Just who would they get for Hughes and Gooden and who would play the shooting guard then. Also don't they need a center. Noah is more of a PF.

aldclark
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NEW ROBERT HORRY

James Posey the new Robert Horry??? Stop it....Now don't get me wrong, he is an excellent role player who has had a significant impact on his championship teams. But his shot is not nearly has strong has Horry's nor is his athleticism (If you don't believe Horry was athletic, go back to the 1994 and 1995 seasons and you will see he put some boys on a few posters).

Lock down defense is not one of Posey's assets. I did not see him guard Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Lebron or Kobe for a long period of time throughout the playoffs. If he was truly a lockdown defender, Doc Rivers (If he had his medication that day) would have put him on the best player on the other team for the entire series.

Alton D. Clark
Basketball Genius

jdubsram-13
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Few deals are good but the rest not so much

If the bulls would have never gotten rid of him in the first place we would not be discussing this right now. I agree with the re-signing of Deng and the signing of Elton Brand, but letting Gordon go would be like committing suicide with the offense. Without him all of the scoring would fall upon Deng. Even if they package away Hughes and Gooden for an all-star like Redd, Gordon could still come off of the bench like he does anyway and the Bulls could be one of the best bench scoring teams again. I also think that they should get rid of Hinrich and let the No. 1 pick do his job at the point. There are many teams interested in Hinrich like the Magic and Warriors. If they get rid of Hinrich to either team with his 11.5 million dollars and 11.6 ppg and 6 apg averages for a big like Lewis(Magic) or Harrington(Warriors) who both play inside and outside which is what the Bulls need and fits into their system. Although they both would probably come off the bench if the Bulls got Brand.

A potential starting lineup could look like this:
PG: Derrick Rose
SG: Hughes, Redd, Gordon, Hinrich(Depending on move)
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Brand, Noah, Harrington,Gooden, Lewis(Again depending on move)
C: Noah, Gray, possible Brand

And a solid bench:
G/F: Thabo Sefolosha
G: Ben Gordon
G: Kirk Hinrich or Derrick Rose
F: Tyrus Thomas
F: Andres Nocioni
C: Aaron Gray
G: JamesOn Curry
F: Cedric Simmons

With a line-up like any of these the Bulls should be back on top where they won 49 games just two years ago.

P.S. If I could be the GM of the Bulls for even a week starting the 9th(when free agency begins) I would try to make a big deal happen. Also, it is my goal to one day be the GM of an NBA team or even a coach, although I know the chances are very slim, so I am always trying to think this way and what could be the best for the team.

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NBA

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