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NBA Free Agents 2014: Best Players Still on the Market

D.J. FosterContributor IJuly 11, 2014

NBA Free Agents 2014: Best Players Still on the Market

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    USA TODAY Sports

    You don't typically see free-agency classes feature this much top talent, and it's even rarer for so many of those players to still be available this late in the game. That might not last for long though, as LeBron James returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers could set off a chain reaction.

    Here's Sean Deveney of the Sporting News with more:

    Now, everything has changed. After two weeks rife with speculation and supposition, LeBron James has sent an earthquake through the NBA landscape, spurning a return to the Miami Heat and instead going back to the city where his basketball career began: Cleveland.

    [...]

    But James’ Cavs return has a wide-ranging impact — obviously, that impact is most acute in Miami and Cleveland, but it will reverberate all over the NBA and could set into action a series of landscape-altering transactions.

    Even with the biggest fish off the market, the 2014 free-agent class has a little bit of something for every team.

    There are valuable veterans like Pau Gasol, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. There are up-and-coming young studs like Greg Monroe, Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe. There are even players somewhere in the middle of both groups like Luol Deng.

    Of course, you can't forget about the established stars either. Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are still out there, and teams are still salivating over the chance to acquire them.

    There's still plenty of intriguing talent out there for teams lucky enough to have the cap space or the flexibility to easily create it. Let's rank the best players still available on the 2014 free-agent market based on current skill and the ability to produce down the line.  

     

10. Trevor Ariza

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    After the Washington Wizards re-signed Marcin Gortat on a five-year deal worth $60 million, you'd assume that the next priority would be to bring back Trevor Ariza.

    That might not be as easy as it sounds, though, as Ariza should have plenty of suitors elsewhere. David Aldridge of NBA.com weighed in earlier this season what Ariza may want in free agency:

    "But they can't pay Ariza, who also pines to return to the West coast, what he'll likely ask for as a free agent. Ariza recently hired Rob Pelinka as his agent, a man not known for taking 70 cents on the dollar."

    If Ariza truly wants to return to the West Coast, a team with cap space like the Los Angeles Lakers could potentially welcome him back. 

    There aren't many teams that would turn down the prospect of landing a strong three-and-D forward with size, especially once the small forward market thins out a bit.

    If the Houston Rockets match the offer sheet given to Chandler Parsons and the Utah Jazz match the offer sheet given to Gordon Hayward, the Dallas Mavericks and Charlotte Hornets could join the fray and drive up the bidding for Ariza's services. 

    Ariza isn't a star who should use a lot of possessions like most of the other names on this list, but he's a deadly three-point shooter from the corners and a playmaking defender both on and off the ball. He'll get paid this offseason. 

9. Lance Stephenson

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    It's not often that a young player with this kind of potential enters unrestricted free agency at this stage of their career. Lance Stephenson is aided by being a former second-round pick, which will help him choose his next team without any restrictions.

    Whether that ends up being the Indiana Pacers or not is tough to say. The signing of C.J. Miles for four years and $18 million could either be seen as a bench addition or a possible replacement for Stephenson, but it's insurance that will cut into the room below the luxury-tax line either way.

    If Stephenson is focused more on the money, there may be a few teams out there like the Charlotte Hornets that might be willing to pay him more than Indiana is comfortable with.

    Stephenson has one of the highest ceilings of any free agent on the market, as there isn't a whole lot on the court that he can't do. Stephenson can rebound, distribute, score and defend when he's engaged, and so long as he stays focused and is part of a system, he could develop into a top option down the line.

    He's an investment with some risk, but it's hard to ignore this kind of talent in free agency.  

8. Pau Gasol

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    There aren't many places where Pau Gasol can't fit in. Because he's a proficient player out of both posts and a great passer, Gasol can play the 4 or the 5, even if he's lost some defensive ability and mobility over the years.

    Gasol's skill level and intelligence should make him attractive to contending teams everywhere, as there aren't many offensive post players better than him out there.

    While Gasol may want to see where all the pieces fall, if he wants a big offer, he might need to move soon unless he's willing to take something closer to the mid-level exception. Gasol is almost certainly worth more than that, even with his health issues being factored in.

    You probably can't rule out a return to the Lakers, either, as Gasol has built a great relationship with Kobe Bryant over the years.

    It will all likely depend on what Gasol values, as he should have plenty of choices, even as other pieces fall in place. 

     

7. Luol Deng

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    Luol Deng hasn't had the best luck lately.

    The Chicago Bulls should have been a title contender while he was there, but injuries to Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and himself put a stop to that. Then Deng was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, just a few months before LeBron James would come back and take the position and cap space he once occupied.

    Things could turn around for Deng this offseason, although there's a good crop of small forwards out there in this year's free agency. Now that Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward are off the board, Deng should get some more serious offers from teams that don't want to be left hanging with cap space.

    Deng has a lot of minutes under his belt, but he's still a very effective perimeter defender. Deng is an intelligent player all the way around who can easily fit in nearly any system, although he'd probably be more attractive if he was a more efficient and prolific three-point shooter.

    Even with that said, Deng could help a team looking to become a realistic contender that has money to spend. Both the Charlotte Hornets and Dallas Mavericks make some sense here, although other teams could certainly talk themselves into a proven producer like Deng pretty easily. 

6. Isaiah Thomas

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    July 11: Signed with Phoenix Suns, four years, $27 million.

    This doesn't happen all that often, but free-agent point guard Isaiah Thomas hasn't kept it a secret which teams he'd most like to play for. Here's what Thomas told Brett Weisband of SLAM magazine:

    I just want to be wanted. I don’t know if [the Kings] really want me like other teams do. Like I said, since day one I just want to be wanted. I know there’s a few teams out there that’s showing a lot of interest. I’m just waiting to see what’s the best fit for me. At the end of the day it’s a business and you’ve got to do what’s best for yourself.

    [...]

    SLAM: Is anyone the favorite so far, or are you just waiting to see how everything shakes out?

    Thomas: The Lakers, Dallas or Phoenix.

    While it's hard to see how Thomas would fit with the Phoenix Suns, both the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks would make some sense, as Thomas would represent an upgrade at point guard for both teams.

    It's hard to understand why the Sacramento Kings would seemingly opt for recently signed point guard Darren Collison over Thomas, but that appears to be what's happening.

    Thomas has been one of the most underrated players in the league over his last three seasons, and he could represent a steal in free agency for a team in need of a starting point guard or a team simply looking to acquire a great asset on a discount.

5. Greg Monroe

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    Greg Monroe seems like a shaky fit with the Detroit Pistons given how the frontcourt played together last year and the hiring of Stan Van Gundy. Given that Monroe might be the only potential franchise big man available behind Chris Bosh in free agency, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him land a max offer from someone.

    It's possible that the Pistons luck out and the demand ends up being less after some of the chips fall, but it seems likely that Monroe will get a sizable deal in free agency.

    Remember, big men typically develop a little later than guards, and Monroe definitely has the size and skills you like to see from a young prospect. He's a great passer and a strong low-post scorer, and although he needs help defensively, he's not a complete mess on that end.

    Monroe may not be easy to fit on any roster due to his lack of stretch and inability to protect the rim, but he's a great talent with potential that won't be easy to find elsewhere.  

4. Dwyane Wade

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    What happens next for Dwyane Wade? He's spent his entire career with the Miami Heat, but it seems like Miami's chances for a championship left town with LeBron James.

    Don't forget that Wade already forfeited two years and $42 million by declining his player option, so coming back for much less than that with Miami might not be viewed as ideal.

    Miami will almost certainly want to keep Wade, at least in the short term, as selling tickets and competing for a playoff spot might be tough without him. The Heat do have cap space, so we probably shouldn't bury them or Wade prematurely.

    It would be interesting if Wade, like James, decided to go back to his hometown of Chicago and play with the Bulls. Chicago could free up cap space by amnestying Carlos Boozer, so it's certainly possible. Here's Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:

    The Chicago Bulls are interested in discussing a deal with free-agent guard Dwyane Wade, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

    The crumbling of the Miami Heat's Big Three on Friday leaves Wade facing a future without LeBron James and Chris Bosh in Miami, and a Heat franchise facing a rebuilding situation again.

    It may sound crazy, but perhaps playing together for four years and then returning home was part of the Big Three's plan all along. LeBron is back in Cleveland, and perhaps Wade (Chicago) and Chris Bosh (Texas) will follow suit.

    It's hard to imagine Wade anywhere but Miami, but if he decides to look elsewhere, multiple teams should be interested. Despite the narrative, he was a great player for most of the season last year. 

3. Eric Bledsoe

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    This seems like a pretty low stress situation for the Phoenix Suns, as you'd assume they'll match any offer for the dynamite young guard. 

    For Bledsoe, though, he'll likely still need to find an offer elsewhere if he wants a full max contract. While there are advantages to renegotiating with Phoenix (it can offer an extra year), it seems unlikely it'd pay more than it had to now that Bledsoe is out there as a restricted free agent.

    There's a danger in that, as Bledsoe could sign an offer sheet with player friendly additions like a player option and trade kicker that might not be ideal for Phoenix.

    Either way, it's hard to see Phoenix letting Bledsoe walk for nothing a year after acquiring him. A sign-and-trade is always an option, but it would be a surprise if Bledsoe wasn't in a Suns uniform next year after showing serious star potential last season. 

2. Chris Bosh

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    July 11: Signed with Miami Heat, five years, $118 million.

    With LeBron James back on the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chris Bosh may be heading out of Miami as well. Here's Marc Stein on ESPN.com:

    The Houston Rockets believe they will have commitment "soon" from Chris Bosh to sign with the team after Miami Heat teammate LeBron James announced Friday he is leaving to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, a source close to the situation told ESPN.com's Marc Stein.

    The Rockets have made a maximum offer to Bosh of four years, $88 million, according to sources.

    All things considered, Bosh is making out pretty good here if he joins the Rockets. He'll get the defensive protection Dwight Howard offers that he never had in Miami, and he'll be able to keep a similar role of a spot-up shooter next to James Harden and Howard. 

    Bosh is really a perfect fit as a 4 who can step out and shoot it and use his mobility defensively and in transition. With solid role players like Patrick Beverley and Chandler Parsons around this new "Big Three," Bosh can once again contend for championships as a complementary star.

    If Houston falls through for some reason, Bosh won't have a hard time finding a full max offer elsewhere. He's an elite player who can contribute on both ends, and he fits the style of play most teams are trending to. He'll bounce back from LeBron's departure just fine.

1. Carmelo Anthony

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    Now that LeBron James has gone to Cleveland, will Carmelo Anthony finally make his decision? While at one point it seemed like Anthony was waiting for James, like everyone else, it's hard to say how this impacts his timeline.

    Whether he re-signs with the New York Knicks or goes to a team like the Chicago Bulls or Los Angeles Lakers, Anthony shouldn't find it hard to pull down a max offer.

    Again, as is usually the case for star unrestricted free agents, it just depends on what the priorities are. New York can offer the most money, but Chicago can probably offer the best chance at a title. This is a career-defining decision, so you can't blame Anthony for taking his time with it.

    Wherever he ends up, Anthony can provide elite offensive production that few other players can offer. He's the total package on that end, as he can post-up, isolate, play in the pick-and-roll and knock down spot-up jumpers. He's one of the most complete scorers we've ever seen.

    With LeBron locked up, the chase for Anthony could heat up. He's the biggest name left on the market.   

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