Wednesday, July 1, 2009

NBA Free Agency

Today is the first day that NBA Free Agents can negotiate with teams. However no one can officially sign until July 8th after the NBA releases it's salary cap and luxury tax information. Last year the cap was at $56.68 million with the luxury tax threshold at $71.15 million. Many have predicted that the salary cap will decrease this year due to the economy. If it does indeed decrease, it should only be by a couple of million. Regardless if it increases or decreases, there are only a few teams with ample cap room to sign another team's free agents. Those teams are Memphis, Detroit, Oklahoma City, Atlanta, Toronto, and Portland who currently all have payrolls under $50 million on the books for next year.

The NBA has a "soft" cap, meaning teams can go over the salary cap using one of many exceptions to sign/re-sign their players. Most of the exceptions are designed to help teams keep their current players. Teams can go over the cap, but if their payroll exceeds the NBA luxury tax threshold, the owner must pay the difference. For instance if the Lakers' end up with a payroll of $90 million next year and the luxury tax threshold is set at $69 million, the Lakers' must pay the $21 million dollar difference to the NBA.

Here is some Salary Cap terminology and my abbreviations:
Restricted Free Agent (RFA)- They are a player that can sign with any team, but their current team can chose to match any offer within 7 days. If their current team does not match the offer, then they are officially signed the other team.
Unrestricted Free Agent-They can sign with any team
Mid-Level Exception (MLE)-A team without any cap space can sign another team's free agent using the mid level exception which is basically the average players salary throughout the NBA. It will not count against a team's cap figure but does count on their total payroll for luxury tax purposes. It is one of the most common ways for a team to sign a free agent(s) while they are over the cap.
Other Free Agent terms include Early Termination Option (ETO), Player Option (PO), Team Option (TO) and a Qualifying Offer (QO).

For more information on the NBA salary cap/luxury tax go to these websites.

This summer's Free Agent crop is very weak compared to most years. However many teams are doing everything they can to save money for next summer, where many superstars including LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, and Dirk Nowitzki could all become Free Agents. 2010 is being deemed the "Summer of LeBron" by many people. Also, Carlos Boozer of the Jazz who many was expecting to become the top Free Agent this summer decided not to exercise his player option and become a Free Agent. Neither did his teammate Mehmet Okur. This was very good for the Jazz. In fact there are no FA's who made the NBA all-star game last year. This years crop includes a lot of good forwards and is also very deep at PG. Many players including Trevor Ariza, Hedo Turkoglu, Ben Gordon, Ron Artest, and Lamar Odom helped themselves earn a lot more money this summer by play in the postseason this past year.

With that here are my top 25 Free Agents for this summer, they are divided into 5 groups

Group 1-The Big 8-These are the top 8 FA's, this is a good year for forwards as 7 of my top 8 FA's are forwards.

1. Ben Gordon-SG-CHI-(6-3/200)-26 years old-Targets-Re-sign, DET, he has already reportedly agreed to sign with the Pistons,
This will be very interesting as now the Pistons would have two SG's in Gordon and Rip Hamilton, meaning GM Joe Dumars will try to trade Rip most likely to get a big man. Hamilton is set to make $11.625 million next year and has a deal set through 2012. The two most likely trade destinations for Rip would be New Orleans in a package for Tyson Chandler ($11.85 million next year) or Philly for Samuel Dalembert ($11.36 million next year). Gordon is a great scorer (20.7 ppg last year), who can help a team trying to get over the hump. He has a some good playoff experience and proved last year in the incredible Boston series how clutch of a player he can be. He is however NOT a PG. So if Gordon is in, Hamilton will likely be out or the Pistons will have another situation like they had with Allen Iverson last year.

2. Hedo Turkoglu-SF-ORL-(6-10/220)-30 years old-Targets-TOR, POR, Re-sign.
It is really a two horse race between Toronto and Portland. Toronto might be able to offer him a little bit more cash but if he wants to win Portland may be the better place to go. Portland however might need a PG more than a SF (they already have Travis Outlaw, Rudy Fernandez, and Nicolas Batum). Hedo has great play making and guard skills for a 6-10 player. He showed the world the types of mismatches he can create against smaller and less athletic players in the Cleveland series. He will be seeking a deal around 5yrs-$50 million.

3. Ron Artest-SF-HOU-(6-7/260)-29 years old-Targets-Re-sign, TOR, MLE-for a contender like CLV, LAL or SA.
With Yao Ming's career in jeopardy, the Rockets must now decide whether to re-sign Artest and stay competitive in the West or start to re-build. Artest can be crazy, funny, a nuisance, and probably has a couple of screws loose. But he also can defend as well as anyone in the NBA, scores and has the versatility to play the 2 through the 4. In other words, he's worth the problems. He could be very dangerous with a star like Kobe, LeBron or Tim Duncan by his side.
It has been reported today that the Lakers have agreed in principle to a deal with Ron Artest. If the Lakers can re-sign Mr. Odom and reunite him with his AAU teammate from Queens they would easily be my pick to repeat as NBA Champions enen with all of the moves made by the Magic, Mavs, Celtics or Spurs.

4. Lamar Odom-SF-LAL-(6-10/230)-29 years old-Targets-Re-sign, TOR.
Odom is a week older than Artest and the two used to be AAU teammates. They also were drafted the same year. However the similarities stop there. As Odom is a polished finese offensive player while Artest is well, Ron Artest. Odom is the perfect role player on the Lakers and compliments Kobe and Pau very well. Unless Toronto woos him with an overabundance in money, I doubt he'll leave LA. Let's see LA has sun, movie stars, and a winning tradition. Toronto has the Maple Leafs and Blue Jays, what a tough choice.

5. David Lee-F/C-NY(RFA)-(6-9/240)-26 years old-Targets-Sign and Trade, MEM, OKC
Lee led the league in double-doubles and thrived in Coach D'Antoni's uptempo offense. The Knicks cannot afford to keep him so they will try to orchestrate a sign and trade to get something for him. The ideal target would be the Toronto Raptors in a package to get Chris Bosh. That type of package might need to include Lee, Wilson Chandler, and a future 1st Round pick. But the Knicks will do anything to have a star play in the Garden again and Lee is their leverage.

6. Paul Millsap-PF-Utah(RFA)-(6-8/250)-24 years old-Targets-MEM, DET
Millsap is a young big beast PF who was very good as a starter in Utah when Carlos Boozer was injured. Many have speculated that he could get a contract around 5 years $45 million+. However, with the Pistons likely signing Villanueva and the Grizzlies close to a deal that will get them Zach Randolph from the Clippers, where is Millsap's market? I've heard rumors about him to the Thunder. But the Thunder already have an undersized PF in Jeff Green and Millsap is not a center. The only other teams with cap space are Toronto and Portland. But both of them have stars starting at PF. The Cavs and the Nets are both talented teams in dire need of a PF, but he would have to sign for the MLE. He could stay in Utah and backup Boozer, but it seems like he wants to be a starter somewhere. So the question for Millsap will be, does he take less money to be a starter in a place like Cleveland or New Jersey? This will become a very interesting situation.

7. Charlie Villanueva-PF-MIL-(6-11/232)-24 years old-Targets-DET, MEM, Re-sign, sign and trade
It has been reported that Detroit will sign Villanueva along with Gordon.
This is great for Villanueva. Villanueva has talent but has not always been consistent. I've got Lee and Millsap rated higher, but Villanueva is the one the Pistons apparently desire.

8. Shawn Marion-CF-TOR-(6-7/228)-31 years old-Targets-Re-sign, MLE for a contender
If this was two years ago Marion would be at the top of the FA list. However his numbers have slid since then. He is still Mr. Versatility and the Raptors will need to give him a contract at around $8 million per year to keep him. If he leaves, he will likely need to sign for the MLE on a contender. Marion is getting older and still wants a ring and with his versatility almost any team could use him.

Group 2-Stud Veteran Guards-These guys are not stars, at least not anymore, but can still help any team win. The PG is the Quarterback of the team and is the most important position on the court. For many teams, landing a solid PG or CG can take them from good to a contender or from average to good. So these guys are an important commodity this summer.

Mike Bibby-PG-ATL-(6-2/195)-31 years old-Targets-POR, TOR,
With the trade to get Jamal Crawford and the drafting of Jeff Teague, the Hawks basically kissed Bibby goodbye. Bibby is a great shooter for a PG and has a lot of playoff experience with Atlanta and Sacramento. He has won almost everywhere he has been including a National Title in college at Arizona. Portland would be the perfect fit as they have a star SG in Brandon Roy who can create offense almost as well as any player in the league. The knock on Bibby has always been that he is a better shooter than a creator. If he is with Roy that will not be a problem. Plus, Bibby is younger than other FA Guards like Andre Miller and Jason Kidd and would be better in the long run for a young team like Portland.

Andre Miller-PG-PHL-(6-2/200)-33 years old-Targets-Re-sign, MLE, sign and trade
Miller has always been underrated throughout his career. He is a great leader and a perfect pass first creative PG. Someone should use their full MLE to get him if the 76ers don't re-sign him.

Ray Felton-PG-CHR-(6-1/198)-25 years old-Targets-Re-sign, MEM, POR
Felton is an RFA so the Bobcats can match any offer. He is an up and coming PG who is only getting better. If he doesn't re-sign, Memphis might be an ideal spot as he would be an upgrade over Mike Conley.

Allen Iverson-CG-DET-(6-0/170)-34 years old-Targets-MLE-CHR, anywhere else?
AI is no longer the superstar he was in the early part of the decade. He still can play, still score a lot of points and will still sell tickets. But can he win? Does he even want to win? Many have speculated he would rejoin former Coach Larry Brown and sign with Charlotte. He could sign with a young small market team like Memphis or Oklahoma City and help them sell tickets. Who knows where AI will land in 09-10.

Jason Kidd-PG-DAL-(6-4/210)-36 years old-Targets-Re-sign, MLE for a contender or NY?
Kidd is a first ballot Hall of Famer, but he is getting a little up there in age. I think he stays with the Mavs for 2 more years. There's been talk about him going to the Knicks. But why would he go to a young rebuilding team. They don't have LeBron or Chris Bosh as of right now, so basically Kidd would be counted on to be their best player. Kidd wants to win a ring and he will not win one in New York. New York might try to lure him but I'd be surprised if Mavs owner Mark Cuban lets him get away.

Nate Robinson-CG-NY(RFA)-(5-9/180)-25 years old-Targets-SAC-by sign and trade, MLE-LAC maybe
Robinson is fun to watch and is as freak of an athlete as one can find on planet Earth. He's 5-9 and can leap small buildings. He is more than just an athlete though as he has also developed his shot and scoring ability in the league. Like AI he can help sell tickets but would be best used as a combo guard off the bench.

Ramon Sessions-PG-MIL-(6-3/190)-23 years old-Targets-Re-sign, POR, MEM
Unless you follow basketball in depth like I do, you might not know who Sessions is. He played well for the Bucks as their starting PG and really stepped up his scoring and playmaking skills when star SG Michael Redd got hurt. He was a 2nd Round pick in 2007 out of Nevada. He is still very young and will get many looks due to his age and potential to become a very good starting PG. If the Bucks do indeed lose Villanueva, they will not likely let Sessions go too. However, the Bucks did draft a PG in last week's draft, so it will be interesting. He played college at Nevada and I think he might be heading back west to play in Portland especially if they sign Hedo instead of a big name PG. They then could use their MLE to get Sessions.

Jarrett Jack-PG-IND(RFA)-(6-3/197)-25 years old-Targets-Re-sign, get part of some team's MLE
Jack did a good job splitting time with T.J Ford at PG last year and did well when Ford was hurt (which was quite a bit). Jack is pretty much a poor man's Andre Miller, a big PG who is a great passer, teammate and leader while not being the flashiest or most athletic player. Odds are he stays put, but he could go to a place where he might have a better chance to start like Memphis or even Milwaukee if Sessions leaves.

Group 3-Rasheed Wallace, love him or hate him he gets his own group.

Rasheed Wallace-F/C-DET-(6-11/230)-34 years old-Targets- A contender's full MLE-CLV, BOS, SA
At this point in his career Wallace is a lot like Robert Horry, a PF who can play some D, get some boards and most importanly hit the big shot from the outside. I feel that whichever contender that Wallace signs with will have the inside track to the title and will be my favorite along with the Lakers. Wallace can help get any of those 3 condenders over the hump.

Group 4-Young/Underrated Wings-These guys will not get the big deals like some of the FA's above, but they have great value (won't cost an arm and a leg, probably just the arm). They can help a lot and could be exacly what a team is looking for as far as a specialty player. Teams wanting a young talented player who is only getting better will like Trevor Ariza or Marvin Williams. Those wanting a wing to come off the bench and score points would like Linas Kleiza, Marquis Daniels or Anthony Parker. A team wanting a lock down defender will be interested in Dahntay Jones or Trevor Ariza.

Trevor Ariza-SF-LAL-(6-8/210)-24 years old-Targets-TOR, MIN, MLE-HOU, CLV, MIA
Ariza's post-season play earned him a ring and will earn him a lot of cash flow., (I'm sorry I had to shout out Ace Hood). Now he will leave LA for greener pastures, and by greener I mean a lot of green money. The Raptors and TWolves are the only two teams that can pay him more than mid-level money and have a need at SF. Some speculate he will sign for the MLE with a contender like Cleveland. Houston is also very interested and he could be a good replacement for Artest. Miami is a young up and coming team that needs help at SF. Ariza can play alongside and compliment DWade the same way he complimented Kobe.

Marvin Williams-SF-ATL(RFA)-(6-9/230)-23 years old-Targets-Re-sign, TOR
Many people including my self feel that Marvin Williams will accept his qualifying offer at $7.35 million and become an unrestricted Free Agent next summer. That would be a good move for him as he can upgrade his value with a good year in Atlanta next year. He still will only be 24 next summer, so age is not a factor. He is a very good role player who has got a bad rep not really because of his play. but beace he was drafted over Chris Paul and Deron Williams. It is not his fault they are stars. Williams has a lot of talent and is only going to get better. The fact that he is comfortable being a role player is not a bad thing. You NEED Lamar Odom's and James Posey's to win titles. Not everyone is Kobe or a superstar.

Linas Kleiza-SF-DEN(RFA)-(6-8/245)-24 years old-Targets-Re-sign, or get part of a team's MLE
The Nuggets need to do what it takes to re-sign Kleiza, Jones, and the Birdmad Chris Anderson of they want to make it back to the Western Conference Finals. Kleiza is young and can provide a lot of offensive skill off the bench but since he's a RFA the Nuggets can match any offer made to him. So he'll likely stay in Denver.

Marquis Daniels-G/F-IND-(6-6/200)-28 years old-Targets-
Get part of a team's MLE
I feel that Daniels has always been underrated throughout his career with the Mavs and the Pacers. Some team will get a steal and a cheap value that can provide scoring and great versatility at SF and both guard spots. He could go to his hometown of Orlando and give them a spark off the bench. The Magic have some star power but will lack a lot of depth if both Hedo and Marcin Gortat leave.

Dahntay Jones-SG-DEN-(6-6/210)-28 years old-Targets-
Re-sign, or get part of a team's MLE
The Nuggets need to Re-sign Jones. He is a very good defender who can hit the open J at times (very similar to Doug Christie with Kings in the early 2000's). He's a great role player and teammate. The Pacers are interested but Jones would be wise to stay in Denver and compete for a title.

Anthony Parker-SG-TOR-(6-6/215)-34 years old-Targets-
Re-sign, or get part of a team's MLE, preferably a contender. At 34 Parker is no spring chicken but he can still provide some good offense to a playoff team looking for a role player and consumate pro.

Group 5-Young Big Men who could become starting centers and get paid very nicely too.

Zaza Pachulia-C-ATL(RFA)-(6-11/265)-25 years old-Targets-Re-sign, OKC, HOU, DAL, SA
I put Zaza her above Gortat because I think he's better and I don't see why everyone is talking about how Gortat will step in a become some good starting center while Zaza is just some scrub. Pachulia is actually bigger and plays more aggressive. The fact is when you look at both of their production per the time they pay, it is pretty much even. Zaza averages about 6ppg and 6rpg in about 19mpg, while Gortat averages 4ppg and 4.5rpg in about 12mpg. They also are both from Europe and are only 7 days apart in age. Having said all of this, the Hawks seem pretty adament about re-signing Zaza but they could face some competition from some teams where Zaza could get their full MLE and become a starting center.

Marcin Gortat-C-ORL(RFA)-(6-11/240)-25 years old-Targets-DAL, HOU, Re-sign, OKC, SA
Gortat is gaining a lot of interest from the Mavs and the Rockets (who need a center with Yao out for a very very long time). He is said to have a verbal agreement with the Mavs, but I'm not basing anything on a "verbal" agreement. I know too much about college football and basketball recruiting to believe a "verbal" agreement. However it does seem as though Gortat is intent on leave Orlando and becoming the starting center of likely the Mavs or the Rockets. If he leaves the Magic must use their cap exceptions to sign some players to give them frontcourt depth.

My Honorable Mention Free Agent List: Antonio McDyess-C/F-DET-(6-9/245)-Age 34, Drew Gooden-F/C-SA-(6-10/250)-Age 27,
Hakim Warrick-F/C-MEM(RFA)-(6-9/219)-Age 26, Glenn "Big Baby' Davis-PF-BOS(RFA)-(6-9/289)-Age23, Chris Anderson-C/F-DEN-(6-10/228)-Age 31, Grant Hill-SF-PHO-(6-8/225)-Age 36, Anderson Varejao-F/C-CLV-(6-10/260)-Age 26,
Rashad McCants-SG-SAC(RFA)-(6-4/215)-Age 24, Brandon Bass-PF-DAL-(6-8/250)-Age 24, Jamario Moon-SF-MIA(RFA)-(6-8/200)-Age 29.

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