NBA Free Agents 2012: Top Free Agents and Where They're Headed

Grant RindnerContributor IIIJuly 9, 2012

NBA Free Agents 2012: Top Free Agents and Where They're Headed

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    Free agency may technically not begin until July 11, but many of the top players who come off contract this summer have already began the process of finding what jersey they will be wearing and house they'll be protecting when next season tips off.

    In fact, many of the top players in this year's class already have deals in place and are just waiting for the opportunity to make it official. Though the crop of players available wasn't as star-studded as free agency periods have been in the past, there were more than a few very solid players who will be making waves on the court this fall.

    While some have chosen to remain with familiar faces and stay put, there have been plenty of surprising twists with players opting for unexpected locations or even long-time rivals (you know who you are).

    Since there has been plenty of action and movement over the past week I have compiled a list of the bigger moves and decisions made this offseason as well as what each player's role may look like once they finally suit up.

Ray Allen: Miami Heat

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    In a move that seemed unthinkable when the two teams were slugging it out in the Eastern Conference Finals, 36-year-old sharpshooter Ray Allen has elected to leave behind the Boston Celtics and ship off to Miami.

    According to Brian Windhorst of ESPN, Allen will receive the team's mid-level exception for $3.09 million over the next three seasons. Boston could have offered him a two-year, $12 million deal, but after extending the contracts of Jeff Green and Brandon Bass, as well as signing Jason Terry, the team seemed a little more hesitant.

    The Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers also showed interest, but ultimately the allure of playing alongside LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, as well as the general appeal of South Beach, won out.

    Last season, he averaged 14.2 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists while connecting on a blistering 45.3 percent of his three-point attempts.

    In Miami, Allen will likely be playing a sixth man role off the bench behind Wade. The Heat's offense thrives on having three-point shooters that can benefit off the open looks that Wade and James create, and who better than the league's best shooter to fill that role.

    The move certainly lost him some fans in Beantown, but Allen has positioned himself well by joining forces with the defending champions.

Deron Williams: Brooklyn Nets

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    Easily this summer's most coveted free agent prize, the choice for Deron Williams came down to his hometown Dallas Mavericks or the Brooklyn Nets, who broke the bank to trade for the All-Star point guard in 2011.

    Ultimately Williams opted for Brooklyn, especially after the team completed a blockbuster trade for shooting guard Joe Johnson. The Nets were able to offer him the largest contract of any ball club, tendering Williams a deal worth $98.5 million over the next five seasons.

    Williams is one of the league's elite point guards, capable of both scoring and facilitating depending what the situation calls for. He averaged 21 points, 3.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists while hitting on 33.6 percent of his attempts from distance.

    Knowing that they needed a franchise-caliber player to market their team post-relocation, he Nets were all in on Williams, showering him with support and proving that they could build a contender around him.

    The Nets have surrounded Williams with talent including defensive-minded small forward Gerald Wallace and the aforementioned Johnson, a perennial All-Star with solid range who can attack off the dribble and is capable of exploding for 25-plus on any given night.

    The team is going to take some time to come together, but with Deron Williams locked up, Brooklyn is in position to contend for years to come.

Nicolas Batum (RFA): Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Batum is a restricted free agent, so the Portland Trail Blazers have the opportunity to match any contract offer he signs.

    After three very solid seasons with the Blazers, Batum finally broke out last season, averaging 13.9 points, 4.6 boards and 1.4 assists, along with a block and steal per contest. He was one of the few bright spots in a disappointing season for Portland and his stellar play earned him a hefty payday in free agency.

    Batum has agreed to a deal with Minnesota according to Sports Illustrated that is worth $45 million over the next four years, with incentives that could net him an additional $5 million. The Timberwolves are looking to build a contender and are hoping to address their glaring hole at small forward by bringing in the 23-year-old Frenchman.

    Batum would give Minnesota a lethal three-point shooter—he shot 39.1 percent last seeason—who can space the floor for Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love, while also providing them with an elite perimeter defender, something the team has sorely lacked over the last few seasons.

    The lanky, athletic Batum will be excellent at running fast breaks with Rubio and either spotting up for threes or attacking the basket.

    Batum would be an excellent piece for the Timberwolves to add, and would give them one of the more fearsome starting lineups in the league.

Brandon Bass: Boston Celtics

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    Brandon Bass was brought to Boston to replace Glen Davis in a sign-and-trade deal with the Orlando Magic, and immediately made Celtics fans forget about Big Baby. He had a career year for the C's and was instrumental in their postseason success.

    Bass averaged, 12.5 points and 6.2 rebounds for Boston, along with nearly a block per game, but when he opted out of his contract's final year his future with the organization was cloudy to say the least. However, according to Steve Bulppett of the Boston Herald, Bass is set to return to Boston on a three-year deal.

    Far from the most athletic big man in the league, Bass is a valuable piece because of the effort he puts in on the court and his gritty style of play. Undersized slightly at 6'8" Bass makes up for it with his hustle and thrived last season alongside Kevin Garnett.

    Offensively, he may not be a stretch four like Ryan Anderson, but he is deadly from 15-18 feet with his jumper and has the strength to absorb physical contact and finish at the rim. The Celtics' offense needs big men that can hit outside shots to open up lanes for Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley, making Bass an excellent fit for the team's system.

    He is not a great defender, but he made strides last season and is strong enough to hold his own while guarding the post. Most importantly, he bought into Doc Rivers' defensive system and understood his role from a team defense perspective.

    Bass is far from a flashy player, but he is efficient and effective. Expect him to be a key piece as the Celtics make yet another title run.

Roy Hibbert (RFA): Portland Trail Blazers

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    Hibbert is a restricted free agent, so the Indiana Pacers have the opportunity to match any contract offer he signs.

    The Portland Trail Blazers' search for a dominant center over the past few seasons has been well documented, and should everything go the team's way they have found their man in restricted free agent Roy Hibbert.

    Joe Freeman of Oregon Live reports that the Blazers and Hibbert have come to a handshake agreement on a four-year $58 million max contract. The 7'2" All-Star center would make an excellent frontcourt teammate with power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and give Portland one of the league's most ferocious frontlines.

    Last season, Hibbert showed significant growth, avoiding foul trouble and averaging 12.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists and two blocks per game. He has trimmed down and improved his ability to play at a faster pace and run the floor.

    His tremendous frame and excellent timing make him a great shot-blocker, and he is a nightmare to try and box out in the paint. His post game has continued to improve during his NBA career and Hibbert has still not peaked as an offensive player.

    Though the Blazers drafted Meyers Leonard in the late lottery, it is hard to ignore Hibbert's size and skill set. Though some have questioned whether he deserves the max contract, it could look like a brilliant move if he keeps developing his game.

Jamal Crawford: Los Angeles Clippers

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    An unsuccessful tenure in Rip City led Jamal Crawford to opt out of his contract's final year and enter the free agent market. Per Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated, Crawford is headed to Los Angeles on a four-year deal worth up to $25 million.

    The Clippers have been searching the past two seasons for a quality shooting guard to pair with Chris Paul, and the team believes Crawford, who averaged 14 points, two rebounds and 3.2 assists off the Blazers' bench, can be that player for the future.

    The 32-year-old Crawford had a very down year percentage-wise last season, connecting on just 38.4 percent of his field-goal attempts, but he is still a versatile scorer capable of pulling up or attacking the basket off the dribble.

    Los Angeles could use another shooter with Randy Foye in free agency and Nick "Swaggy P" Young heading for Philadelphia. But Crawford is also an excellent passer capable of spending time at point guard and creating mismatches with his size.

    He'll likely be the team's starter and needs to find a way to subjugate himself a bit more than usual for the good of the team; he can't just jack up shots or break plays for the sake of his own numbers. Still, he is an excellent third option offensively and makes L.A.'s offense even more explosive and difficult to stop.

    The Clippers are serious about contending for a championship, and though it will take some adjustment, signing Crawford is absolutely a step in the right direction.

Jeff Green: Boston Celtics

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    At this time last year, the Boston Celtics were looking at Jeff Green as a key piece for the 2011-12 season and potentially even a starter, but the discovery of an aortic aneurism that required surgery kept Green out of the NBA for the entire season.

    Once he was healthy and fully recovered, Green immediately leapt to the top of Boston's free agent wish list. After a round of talks, Chris Forsberg at ESPN Boston reports that a deal is in place to keep Green in green for years to come.

    For the 2010-11 season Green averaged 13.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game. He struggled initially to adjust to the Celtics' system once he was traded there by Oklahoma City, but Green's athleticism and ability to play both forward spots means he is still a good fit for Boston.

    Green can run the floor with Rondo and Bradley to help push the pace and give the Celtics some young legs, but is also capable of scoring in the post and stepping out to hit the three.

    Defensively he can cover the 3 and 4 positions well and even some smaller 2-guards. He is long and light on his feet, allowing him to cover ground easily and stay with his man.

    He will need to be more aggressive and take on a larger role with Boston this season than he did in 2011, but Green is a great piece to have around as the Celtics begin to retool their roster. He will be able to give Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett more of a rest than they had in games last season and is another solid piece for the team's young nucleus.

    Though they are still very thin at center, Doc Rivers now has a slew of talented forwards at his disposal that will present a tough match-up for any team in the league.

Goran Dragic: Phoenix Suns

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    Not long after it was crystal clear that Steve Nash had played his last game in Phoenix, the Suns made a move to shore up their point guard situation of the future by signing former-Sun Goran Dragic to a four-year deal worth $34 million, according to ESPN's Marc Stein.

    Dragic proved that he could be a quality starting point guard last season with the Houston Rockets while subbing for the injured Kyle Lowry. In the starting lineup for 28 games, Dragic averaged an outstanding 18 points, 3.5 rebounds, 8.4 assists and 1.8 steals while shooting 49 percent from the floor.

    He shot the ball extremely efficiently, making good decisions about when to penetrate and when to look for his own shot or try and set up a teammate. He showed the ability to read and break down a defense off the dribble and be the primary playmaker for his team.

    Dragic was not great defensively, although he could read passing lanes and force turnovers, but his versatility on offense is what earned him the kind of lucrative contract Phoenix was willing to toss his way.

    The point guard position was clearly the Suns' biggest area of concern and though they drafted Kendall Marshall from North Carolina, they understandably wanted someone with NBA experience as their lead guard on the floor. The 26-year-old Dragic spent the bulk of his career with the team and understands what it takes to succeed at the professional level, having played under Nash for so long.

    Phoenix is undoubtedly in a rebuilding period and if Dragic can exceed or at least replicate the kind of production he did starting for the Rockets this will look like one of this summer's more shrewd free agency moves.

Omer Asik (RFA): Houston Rockets

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    Asik is a restricted free agent, so the Chicago Bulls have the opportunity match any contract offer that he signs.

    As a defensive-minded big man in an era where teams are desperate for size, Omer Asik was destined for some solid free agency offers, but no one expected the three-year, $25.1 million deal that Houston threw his way, according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowksi.

    Last season, Asik averaged 3.1 points, 5.3 boards and a block in less than 15 minutes of playing time per game. He was great as an interior defender off the bench for Chicago, but his lack of polish offensively made it difficult to keep him on the floor for long stretches of time.

    The Rockets traded away Samuel Dalembert and with Marcus Camby's return no guarantee, they desperately needed to add some size in free agency. So if any team was going to overwhelm someone like Asik with an offer it would be Houston. However, the team needs a big man who can not only rebound and protect the basket but also score in the post, which Asik has shown difficulty doing consistently.

    He has great size and is a true seven-footer who can run the floor and guard the post well, but he does not have a particularly diverse skill set. I believe he won't be as effective of a player over 36 minutes on the court as numbers may suggest.

    Houston may still be planning on making a blockbuster trade this offseason, but if not they will be left with a limited player in Asik on an absolute albatross of a contract.

Gerald Wallace: Brooklyn Nets

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    The Brooklyn Nets took a serious gamble by trading their first-round draft selection, which turned out to be sixth overall, to Portland at the trade deadline for former All-Star Gerald Wallace. The team had no guarantee Wallace would stay with the club as they switched locations, but according to Tim Bontemps of the New York Post, Wallace will be wearing Brooklyn black for the next four years on a shiny new $40 million deal.

    Though he played just 16 games in New Jersey, Wallace made his presence felt immediately by averaging 15.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists along with 1.4 steals and playing his usual airtight defense. Wallace seemed to fit in as a veteran leader for the Nets and should continue to excel in that role now that the team has a playoff caliber roster to work with.

    Defensively, he is among the best in the league, capable of handling the opposing team's best scorer, whether they play the 2, 3 or 4. He is tough and gritty while also always being willing to sacrifice his body to help his team win. They don't call him "Crash" for nothing.

    For Brooklyn, Wallace will again be charged with the task of shutting down scorers like Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce and LeBron James on a nightly basis. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson are stars on the offensive end, but Wallace will remain the heart and soul of the team's defensive schemes.

    He will also need to contribute in the scoring department. With the Nets he hit on a career high 38.5 percent of his three-point attempts and if he can continue to stroke it at that kind of clip it would force defenses to play him tight and open up driving lanes for his teammates.

    Gerald Wallace won't be asked to carry a team like he did with the Charlotte Bobcats, but he is a key cog in the team's plan going forward.

Kevin Garnett: Boston Celtics

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    The first major piece to fall into place in Boston's frenzied free agency period, Garnett revealed that he would be returning to the team he helped to two finals and an NBA title the day before the offseason officially began. According to ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg, the deal is for three years and worth $34 million.

    In 2011-12 Garnett churned out another solid statistical season—15.8 points, 8.2 boards and 2.9 dimes on 50.3 percent shooting—but his contributions are far greater than any box score can indicate. Garnett has been the embodiment of Celtic pride for the last half-decade and his passion and intensity have defined this era of Boston basketball.

    Even with Bass and Green back in the fold with Pierce and Rondo, the Celts just aren't the same ball club without the Big Ticket.

    Next season, he should continue to see time at center, where he experienced an unexpected renaissance. Logging most of his time at the 5 during the playoffs, a rejuvenated KG averaged 19.2 points and 10.4 rebounds a game while leading his team to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

    His ability to play both in the low post and out on the perimeter opens up crucial floor space for Rondo and Bradley, and he is still playing first-rate defense on every big man from LaMarcus Aldridge to Dwight Howard. Garnett is still a capable shot blocker, but he excels at keeping opponents out of the post and preventing them from getting off a quality look with his length.

    No matter how the rest of the chips fell in free agency, Danny Ainge and the Boston front office knew what their first priority was: making sure that when Garnett headbutts the stanchion and talks to himself in warm-ups he would be doing it in Celtic green.

Steve Nash: Los Angeles Lakers

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    Easily one of the most jaw-dropping moments of free agency thus far was seeing Steve Nash sent to Los Angeles in a sign-and-trade deal with Phoenix. At age 38 and with a Suns roster going nowhere fast, no one expected to see him back in Arizona, but joining a team he battled so fiercely for the past decade was something few fans saw coming.

    Still, Nash will make an excellent addition to a Lakers team in need of an elite playmaker. Last season Nash averaged 12.5 points, three rebounds and 10.7 assists per game, good for second in the league. He also shot an absurd 53.2 percent from the field, a staggering number for a point guard.

    Though the Lakers proved to be an elite defensive team thanks to Mike Brown's tutelage and the emergence of Andrew Bynum, they frequently struggled to put points on the board. With Nash in toe, that should never be a problem, he has unparalleled court vision and is tremendously unselfish, always willing to feed his teammates and create quality looks at the basket.

    Nash played on plenty of very good Suns teams, but never did one have the caliber of talent he will be playing with over the next three seasons in L.A. The attention paid to Bynum, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol will give Nash more room to work while on the court. A guard tandem of Nash and Kobe will have opposing defenses quaking in their boots.

    In addition, the thought of Nash running pick-and-rolls with Bynum and Gasol is simply terrifying. The Lakers haven't had a dominant point guard in eons and Nash will be able to hit the team's star bigs in the spots where they can be most effective.

    His age and anemic defense mean that Nash is obviously not the point guard of the future, but his presence instantly restores the team to title contention.

Eric Gordon (RFA): Phoenix Suns*

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    Gordon is a restricted free agent, so the New Orleans Hornets have the opportunity to match any contract offer he signs.

    For as intent as Eric Gordon seems on joining the Phoenix Suns, the asterisk had to be added because I just cannot foresee a situation where New Orelans does not match his offer sheet. As Eric Freeman of Yahoo! Sports reports, Gordon has tried to show New Orleans that he truly wants to be a Sun, but as the key piece they received for Chris Paul, the team simply cannot let him walk.

    Gordon battled knee troubles last season and appeared in just nine contests, but he did average 20.6 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists while showing flashes of being the franchise player New Orleans hopes he can become.

    Though they drafted Austin Rivers, it is clear that the Hornets want to build around a young nucleus of Rivers, Gordon and Anthony Davis. Gordon still has All-Star potential and would be a top five shooting guard if he could just stay on the court.

    His ability to barrel through contact and finish at the rim is rare for someone at his position, but he is willing to play physically and be aggressive. He had a horrendous year from three last season, but is typically a very solid outside shooter who can help open up the court consistently.

    Defensively his strength and lateral quickness allow him to play both point guards and two-guards well and he has improved on that end of the court with his discipline and active hands, he averaged a career-high 1.4 steals last year.

    Phoenix has offered Gordon a max deal and he will likely sign an offer sheet, but barring an outright refusal to play for the Hornets expect Gordon back in the bayou.

Kirk Hinrich: Chicago Bulls

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    That's right, folks, Captain Kirk is headed back to the Windy City. ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell reported that an agreement for a two-year deal worth roughly $3 million per season has been reached by Hinrich's camp and the Bulls' front office.

    The team obviously needs a quality point guard with Derrick Rose likely missing significant time recuperating from his torn ACL, and although Hinrich has had a rough stretch since leaving Chicago he is still capable of providing the team with some solid minutes.

    Hinrich averaged 6.6 points, 2.1 boards and 2.8 assists per game last season backing up Jeff Teague in Atlanta, a far cry from the 12.5 points and 5.4 dimes he averages for his career.

    The 31-year-old is not the all-around player he once was but is still a solid, pesky defensive guard who can be a very tough on-ball defender. He should fit in well with the defensive-oriented culture that Tom Thibodeau has installed since joining the Bulls.

    Offensively he can still hit the long-ball—he is Chicago's all-time leader in made threes—and penetrate the lane with his off-the-dribble game. Hinrich was never an elite passer but he can read a defense well and knows how to deliver the ball to his teammates.

    Obviously his signing is a contingency plan because the team does not want to leave point guard duties to C.J. Watson and Marquis Teague, but Hinrich's experience and ability to play the 1 and 2 will serve Chicago well next season.

    The Bulls were not looking to make flashy moves this summer, but they added a low-cost player who should have a big impact for them next season.

Jeremy Lin (RFA): Houston Rockets*

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    Lin is a restricted free agent, so the New York Knicks have the opportunity to match any contract offer he signs.

    Just a few short months ago, the concept of Jeremy Lin receiving a four-year, $28.8 million contract offer would have seemed beyond ludicrous, but that is what Houston has offered the promising point guard according to the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen. Though the Knicks are expected to match any offers within reason for the fledgling superstar, his play as a starter earned him some serious looks this offseason.

    Coming out of nowhere to absolutely take over national media, Lin averaged 18.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and 7.7 assists last season as a starter, along with two steals. He particularly excelled in Mike D'Antoni's frenzied, run-and-gun offense, but also played well in the more methodical style of Mike Woodson.

    Lin captivated audiences with his ability to penetrate and either look for his own shot or make kick-out passes to open shooters. He ran the pick-and-roll beautifully with both Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire and was essential in righting a Knicks team that was floundering early in the year.

    He is not an explosive athlete, but Lin has a deceptively quick first step and is strong for his position. He is not a great defender but has excellent hands and can come up with loose balls. He showed a flare for the moment, hitting a handful of huge shots and having some very big nights before seeing his season end due to a nagging knee injury.

    Houston is offering a back-loaded deal in the hopes that New York won't match, but ultimately Lin means too much to the franchise both for his play and his marketing value for the Knickerbockers to simply let him walk.