NBA Free Agency 2012: With Dwight Howard off the Market, Who Are the Big Names?

Peter OwenCorrespondent IIMarch 20, 2012

NBA Free Agency 2012: With Dwight Howard off the Market, Who Are the Big Names?

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    The trade deadline is behind us.

    Thank goodness that's over.

    Dwight was leaving, then he was staying. Then he was leaving again and then he finally decided to waive his Early Termination Option and stay for another full season, ending the speculation surrounding the Orlando Magic center's immediate future.

    With Dwight off the market, only a handful of other players moved around.

    The Milwaukee Bucks-Golden State Warriors trade was the real standout trade, with the Denver Nuggets, Washington Wizards and Los Angeles Clippers surprising the NBA with a swap of players that put JaVale McGee in Denver and Nick Young in L.A.

    The focus now switches to summer and the free agency class of 2012. It's certainly not going to live up to the 2010 class that included LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Carlos Boozer, but it boasts plenty of names who can turn a playoff team into an NBA title contender.

Ray Allen: Unrestricted Free Agent

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    Ray Allen is one of the more instantly-recognizable names who will be available this summer.

    The Boston Celtics are battling mediocrity this season as their aging core struggles in an Eastern Conference dominated by young teams such as Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia and Indiana.

    The Celtics will look to let both Allen and teammate and fellow veteran Kevin Garnett's expiring contracts come off the books this season, giving the team plenty of cap space to make a run at signing some younger stars to retool towards another playoff appearance.

    Allen, though old, is currently posting a career-high shooting percentage from three-point territory. He would make a valuable addition to a team looking to add a knock-down perimeter shooter to a contending team.

    If the Chicago Bulls hadn't signed up Richard Hamilton last summer and still needed to address their shooting guard issue, they would likely lead the chase for Allen's signature.

    As it stands, Allen may end up in a Los Angeles Clippers uniform, another team short on scoring from the shooting guard position.

Omer Asik: Restricted Free Agent

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    Omer Asik is one of the most underrated defenders in the NBA.

    Last season, the second-year Turkish center made up one-fifth of the NBA's most effective defensive unit, alongside C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson. The Chicago Bulls second unit was famed for it's ability to completely shutdown opposing offenses.

    One of the most fearsome at-the-basket defenders, Asik sometimes resembles a brick wall around the hoop. He is the only player who can really harass and distract Dwight Howard, a tough job at the best of times.

    Asik becomes a restricted free agent at the end of the current season and you can bet that the Bulls will do anything they can to keep the young center on the roster for at least another season.

O.J. Mayo: Restricted Free Agent

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    O.J. Mayo is one of the top offensive free agents on the market this summer.

    A restricted free agent after this season, the Memphis Grizzlies shooting guard could be on the move to a new city.

    Mayo is not the most efficient scorer, hitting just 40 percent of his shots this season, but he is good for 12.2 points-per-game, not a bad clip for a player currently coming off the bench.

    Ray Allen is expected to be on his way out of Boston, could Mayo joining forces with Rajon Rondo to create a dynamic backcourt for the Celtics?

Steve Nash: Unrestricted Free Agent

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    Steve Nash deserves an NBA championship ring. He's a sure-fire Hall of Famer currently playing on a team that defines mediocrity—trapped in the doldrums between the playoffs and the high-end lottery picks year after year after year.

    Nash has averaged double-figure assists in seven of his last eight seasons (the exception being 9.7 per game in an injury-interrupted 2008-09 season).

    He's currently scoring 54 percent of his shots, an incredible feat especially as he is in the twilight years of his career.

    Nash has remained loyal to the Phoenix Suns despite the failure of the team's front office to surround him with a championship-caliber supporting cast.

    If Nash does decide to leave in search of the elusive championship, any team with even the slightest question around it's starting point guard will be on the phone.

    Leading the pack will be the Miami Heat. Adding Nash to run the Heat offense would easily get them over the hump and make them truly unstoppable, given that their current point guards Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole struggle to run the Heat's unique offense.

    If the Oklahoma City Thunder perhaps realize that Russell Westbrook is better as a two-guard, then Nash could find himself in OKC leading Durant and Westbrook to their first titles.

Ersan Ilyasova: Unrestricted Free Agent

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    Ersan Ilyasova is going to be a very wealthy man come seasons' end.

    An unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, Ilyasova is in the middle of a breakthrough season that will land him with a big-money contract as a reward.

    Currently averaging 16.5 points-per-36 minutes on 55 percent shooting alongside 11.6 rebounds-per-36 minutes, Ilyasova has won over the Milwaukee Bucks faithful. Ilyasova is becoming a key part of what is about to become a very dynamic young team in Milwaukee after Monta Ellis was traded there from the Golden State Warriors to create a high-energy backcourt tandem with Brandon Jennings.

    I don't see Ilyasova going anywhere but back to Milwaukee after the summer, he's such a large part of the Bucks' future plans.

Kevin Garnett: Unrestricted Free Agent

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    Kevin Garnett, like Ray Allen, will likely be on his way out of Boston this summer as the Celtics look to the future and secure more cap space to lure younger, more energetic stars.

    Many thought that Garnett was finished as an effective NBA player earlier this season. Although he's not going to be lighting anyone up anytime soon, he's still a worthy piece to have on the roster if you're a team looking for much-needed toughness inside, playoff experience and a jump shot that is still money from mid-range.

Deron Williams: Unrestricted Free Agent

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    Deron Williams is the top free agent available this summer.

    And now that Dwight Howard has signed up for another season in Orlando, Williams' future in with the New Jersey (soon to be Brooklyn) Nets is up in the air.

    Deron has the Nets in somewhat of a quandary.

    Do they try and surround him with talent, either via trades, free agency or the draft and risk him walking away for nothing anyway? Or do they trade him and cash in on his value by getting a package of young players and future picks to rebuild (again) as they head to Brooklyn starting next season?

    It's a tough call for the Nets, although it was speculated that Williams would leave without Howard joining the team. There's always the chance that the Nets can do enough to change Deron's mind. They've already begun that by trading for Gerald Wallace, a player Williams talked-up to management.

    The signs, however, are not good for the Nets. 

    In an interview with the New York Daily News, Deron had this to say:

    “I’m not going to opt-in. It’s not monkey-see, monkey-do. Wherever I go is hopefully where I’m going to retire.”

    So D-Will could be on the move.

    The Dallas Mavericks, his hometown team, are the leading candidates should he want a change of scenery. If the Mavs can move some contracts off their books over the summer, they can make a run at pairing Williams with Dirk Nowitzki and target a second NBA championship for the German.

Tim Duncan: Unrestricted Free Agent

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    Tim Duncan  is one of the best players at his position in the NBA.

    The San Antonio Spurs are a team that should be rebuilding. Their core is aging to the point of no return, yet they keep winning so they can't blow it all up yet.

    Duncan may not be the high-scoring menace he was during his prime, but he is still a fantastic player to have providing 20-25 minutes a night on a contending team.

    Whether he decides to ride off into the sunset after this season remains to be seen, The question on everyone's lips is whether the 'Big Fundamental' will return with the Spurs or test the free-agency waters.

Chauncey Billups: Unrestricted Free Agent

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    Chauncey Billups won't play again this season, which makes his free agency value a little difficult as no team really wants to take a risk on an aging player coming off a serious injury.

    The Los Angeles Clippers really suffered when Billups went down. They lost a key piece of their offense, a player capable of coming in and running the offense and providing much-needed leadership and experience on a vastly inexperienced roster.

    I fully expect the Clippers to keep Billups this summer as they never really got to make a real run at the playoffs with him in the team.

Michael Beasley: Restricted Free Agent

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    This summer will tell us all we need to know about Michael Beasley.

    Long talked about as a draft bust and a bit of a goofball, Beasley becomes a restricted free agent this summer.

    It'll be interesting if the Minnesota Timberwolves want to take him back, But if Beasley does want to go back, he'll be starting to prove that maybe his head is screwed on properly after all.

    The T-Wolves are at the start of something special. With young, talented power forward and double-double machine Kevin Love paired with sensational Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio, they are on the  brink of finally returning to the playoffs.

    Beasley is a part of that. Although far from an efficient scorer, Beasley will definitely score points when needed. He has the size and length to be a good defender when he can be bothered.

    Beasley would make a good addition to a team looking to add scoring to their team. However, there are still risks attached to Beasley concerning his work ethic and attitude on- and off-the-court.

Kris Humphries: Unrestricted Free Agent

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    Kris Humphries, the most hated man in the NBA it seems, becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.

    His future is likely tied to that of New Jersey Nets' teammate Deron Williams. If Williams jumps ship, the Nets will be back to rebuilding and Humphries, a fantastic talent, will have to choose whether to stick with a team rebuilding again and losing games all year or try and find a space on a better team challenging for the playoffs.

    His stock is certainly rising slightly this season as he has remained focused after a turbulent offseason that included a much publicized 72-day marriage to reality TV's Kim Kardashian.

    The Nets also have Brook Lopez (more on him next) as a restricted free agent this season, so they have to figure out a way of somehow paying him and Humphries the amounts they want.

Brook Lopez: Restricted Free Agent

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    Brook Lopez is another injured free agent.

    The New Jersey Nets need him healthy so they can at least win a handful of games. More than that, if they want to trade Lopez, health is paramount. Nobody can take a risk on a big man with a foot injury, especially post-Yao Ming.

    If Deron Williams decides to stay for some reason, the Nets have to do some salary magic to pay Lopez and Kris Humphries what they deserve and still have enough money to build something around them.

    A Williams-MarShon Brooks-Gerald Wallace-Kris Humphries-Brook Lopez starting five is nothing to be frowned at. It's whether the Nets can fill in the bench and create a winning atmosphere that would determine if that group could crack the bottom seeds of the Eastern Conference.

    Lopez will get offer sheets this summer—it's in the Nets hands to either match those or risk officially entering rebuilding when he leaves (which would have to trigger Williams' already likely exit).

Ryan Anderson: Restricted Free Agent

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    Ryan Anderson is a rarity in the NBA—a big guy who is money from outside the three-point line.

    The Orlando Magic will match Anderson to any offer sheet they receive as he is becoming a key part of the Magic's future plans with and without Dwight Howard.

    When Anderson's shot is falling, the Magic are a very tough team to beat. His size means he needs to be defended by an opposing power forward, which draws a tall body out of the painted area allowing either Dwight Howard plenty of room to work or opening the lane for players slashing to the basket.

    Anderson is another of the group of available players this summer who could put a contending team over the top.

Kirk Hinrich: Unrestricted Free Agent

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    Since going down injured before the start of the playoffs last season, Kirk Hinrich has failed to regain his starting spot with the Atlanta Hawks after Jeff Teague's breakout postseason performances against the Orlando Magic and Chicago Bulls.

    Hinrich would be a valuable addition for any team and I really hoped to see him back on the Chicago Bulls' roster this season to fill their shooting guard needs (Hinrich's game is better suited to the two-guard role).

    That did not transpire, but a player like Hinrich could be a great addition to a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder. They need some backcourt depth after Eric Maynor's season-ending injury and could pair Hinrich with Russell Westbrook or James Harden, creating a dynamic and very good backcourt pair.

    Alongside Westbrook, the Thunder would be effectively playing with two combo guards, a very interesting prospect. However if the Thunder land Derek Fisher off the waiver wire, they likely don't bother looking elsewhere.