Who needs Deron Williams when you can have a player from this list?
The 2012 NBA free agency is guaranteed to be interesting. This year’s potential free-agent class is not as heralded as the previous ones because it is void of many big-named players.
Looking at the class in its entirety, you might be able to find roughly seven or eight true difference-makers. I identify them as blue-chip free agents. They are Deron Williams, Roy Hibbert, Steve Nash, Kevin Garnett, Eric Gordon, Tim Duncan, Gerald Wallace and O.J. Mayo.
Of that list, only Williams and Wallace are unrestricted free agents who are under the age of 30.
Barring any trades between now and July 1, there will be 17 teams with at least $5 million to spend on roster upgrades. For the other 13 teams, a more frugal approach must be adhered to.
While many teams with cap space will jockey for the NBA’s top free agents, there will be many other available players that can prove vital to a team’s success. Some of these players you are very familiar with, but others have a smaller profile. Each of them fits a certain criteria: They are a relative bargain and value at their positions.
They will not break the bank, but they can fill your team’s biggest needs.
The 2003 NBA draft class arguably goes down as the greatest draft class in the last 20 years. It featured LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, David West, Josh Howard and others. Two players who make this list were also from that vaunted draft class—beginning with Kirk Hinrich.
If it was not for his streaky three-point shot—.378 from behind the arc—the tough-as-nails Hinrich may have made at least one NBA all-star appearance by now. Despite being buried on the Hawks, Hinrich is a better-than-average defender and capable scorer. He is also a good floor leader who may not command a king’s ransom like an Andre Miller.
Any team looking for stability at the point guard position should take a good look in Kirk Hinrich’s direction. Do not be misled by his 6.6 scoring average last season because Hinrich has averaged 12.5 points in his career.
If Kirk Hinrich is not your cup of tea or you prefer to go younger, Goran Dragic is a perfect fit. The up-and-coming combo-guard from the Rockets seems destined to break out. A lot of the time, how successful a player can be all depends on the team he plays for.
Dragic, if you remember, was abused by the Bulls’ Derrick Rose on a dunk a couple of seasons ago. It was a devastating slam that would have made many a player quit the game of basketball. Not Dragic. He has quickly become one the NBA’s most solid young players.
Dragic’s other defining moment came at the expense of an injury to starting point guard Kyle Lowry. After taking over the starting role, Dragic averaged 15 points and 7.4 assists per game in March. Those numbers improved in April to 18.9 and 7.7.
Nicolas Batum of the Trail Blazers makes the list as a can’t-miss player who has tantalizing talent. I was hesitant to list him because he is a restricted free agent, but when you mention the top free agents, you must mention Batum.
Batum is a deadly shooter from three, and he is a more than willing defender. He is also only 23 years old with a ceiling that he is more than a few years from reaching.
While I do not believe the Trail Blazers would let Batum walk away, an interested team with cap room and good trade chips should be intrigued. Teams such as the Pacers or Magic should be fawning over the prospect of bringing in a talent the level of Batum.
In my opinion, he is the hidden gem of this free-agent class.
Chris Kaman is another member of that historic 2003 NBA draft class. He, unlike Kirk Hinrich, has made an NBA all-star team.
When healthy, Kaman is the fourth best center in the NBA, behind only Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum and Roy Hibbert. The problem with Kaman is that he cannot stay healthy long enough to stay on the basketball court.
At this stage, Kaman is probably best coming off the bench as a sixth man for a team that has a need for solid low-post scoring. He can also give a team some tough defense, strong rebounding and good passing for a seven-footer.
Kaman fits the needs of so many teams that I can picture a bidding war for his services. He provides value for any team that acquires him this offseason.
He’s back! No, it is not the return of Michael Jordan, not in the slightest. I am speaking of the return of Gerald Green.
The 2012 NBA D-League all-star reemerged as a viable NBA player when the Nets brought him in on a 10-day contract. Shortly after signing Green, the Nets realized they may have found a serviceable guard who is not only athletic but can also shoot.
With the Nets being Green’s fifth team in five NBA seasons, it is the plan for him to finally find a more permanent NBA home. While I do not envision a team investing more than a two-year deal, Green would be an upgrade offensively for any team that is seeking scoring.
If you do not believe the value that Green could provide for a team, consider this: Green scored a total of 400 points last season and made $418,418.00 in 31 games played. That is slightly over $1,000 per point. What difference does it make? The Bulls’ Richard Hamilton made $5 million last season and scored a total of 326 points in 28 games.
John Lucas III is the total package. Lucas can become the second-coming of Earl Boykins. While some of you smirk, Earl Boykins has an 8.9 point scoring average for his 12 seasons in the NBA. At 5’3”, that is a good life.
John Lucas III has taken a similar path with the amount of teams he has played on, but his coming out party was this past season when he helped the Bulls make the playoffs. He is a spark plug who can find his shot just about anywhere on the court.
Besides his diminutive size, Lucas can only give a team 20-25 minutes a game at best. He is also a defensive liability going against teams with bigger guards. I wish more players had Lucas’ heart.
Nick Young makes the list here as a player with a ton of talent, but he has not been able to completely rein it in.
Young drained three three-point buckets during the biggest fourth quarter comeback of the playoffs for the Clippers. He has size at 6’7” and is a nightmare for defenders. If anyone doubts his scoring prowess, they should keep in mind that he scored a career-high 43 points against the Kings 18 months ago. The talent is there.
The biggest knock on Young is the fact that he played for a miserable Wizards team for much of his career. He was rescued by the Clippers in an NBA trade deadline deal. I am not sure what the trade did for his reputation as a player because some consider him a player with a low basketball IQ.
That aside, Young is a player who may turn the corner and become a late bloomer the same way that fellow Clippers’ teammate Chauncey Billups was.
If you are a team in desperate need of offense, Young can be that scorer for your team.
Ersan Ilyasova from the Bucks is another player who should have more than his share of takers. Ilyasova averaged career highs in every single statistic except for steals. That suggests to me that the arrow is pointing way up for the unheralded player from Turkey.
While teams with hopes of contending for a NBA title wait to decide what Kevin Garnett is going to do, Ersan Ilyasova is a name to keep your eye on.
In comparison to Garnett, Ilyasova is 11 years younger and is a better rebounder at this stage of their careers. Like Garnett, Ilyasova is not afraid to mix it up in the post, and they are similar in stature. Garnett is 6’11” 235 while Ilyasova is 6’10” 235.
Offensively Garnett is far and beyond better, but for a team that is looking at a potential playoff run, if you lose out on Kevin Garnett, Ersan Ilyasova is a hell of a backup option.
Kris Humphries should be known for more than his 72-day marriage to Kim Kardashian. He should be known for his penchant for hauling in double-doubles.
Averaging nearly 14 points and 11 rebounds a game, Humphries quietly put together a really good season. His knack for homing in on rebounds is almost as impressive as his improving 15- to 18-foot jumper that he connected on with relative ease.
Some players will always make you leery about how well their numbers would look while playing on winning teams. If anyone is uncertain about the play of Humphries must be reminded that rebounding takes effort.
Also, please keep in mind that some of Humphries better games came against some of the better teams in the NBA. This includes 25 points and 12 rebounds against the Heat, 24 and 18 against the Bulls and 18 and 15 versus the Lakers.
Other hidden gems in the 2012 NBA free agency class include Raymond Felton from the Trail Blazers, the Knicks’ Landry Fields and Jeremy Lin, Jameer Nelson and Daniel Orton of the Magic, Ivan Johnson of the Hawks and the 76ers’ Spencer Hawes.
These are players who, with the right team, would pay great dividends without having the teams that sign them break the bank. Teams such as the Bulls, Heat, Lakers, Mavericks and Spurs will be looking to fill up their respective rosters with some of the players on this list. Other teams like the Rockets, Suns and Wizards may seek out the bigger fish but would do well grabbing an up-and-comer at the right price.
This free agency may be lacking big names, but it's full of quality players.