If you’re like me, this LeBronathon (or LeBronomania, or the “Free Agent Flurry of 2010,” or whatever), has gotten old quite fast.
Yes, of course I’m excited to see how these basketball giants will shift the NBA’s tectonic plates, but no, I do not need a minute to minute update of what vehicle the representative parties for the Knicks or Nets took to Maverick Carter's office.
Trying to sort fact from rumor, and even one distinct rumor from some other variation of that same rumor, is nothing but an exercise in futility.
The bottom line is none of us—and indeed none of the reporters inundating their Twitter feeds with updates—have any real clue as to what the Big Three, and the rest of the elite free agent class, are thinking.
And moreover, none of them can actually apply a John Hancock until next week anyhow.
So in light of all that, I think it is prudent to instead use this time to analyze what hasn’t been analyzed: the underclass of this year’s free agents.
They may not come with the hype of LeBron or D-Wade, but they could all show up in very important spots next year and in years to come.
Just like a James Posey or Robert Horry.
This list is not exhaustive, but it does capture the compelling talent available for less than maximum contract money.
Team: New York Knicks
Experience: 13 years
Five years ago, it would be unthinkable that McGrady would be on this list.
Good ol’ T-Mac was part of the last major free agent frenzy back in 2000, along with the likes of Tim Duncan, Grant Hill, and Eddie Jones, among others.
Back then, his partnering with Grant Hill was supposed to sway the power pendulum the way of the Magic—but, of course, Hill’s injuries and McGrady’s playoff ineptitude derailed that pipe dream.
In this year’s free agent bonanza, however, the two-time NBA scoring champ is nothing but an afterthought, and with good reason.
In the past two years (with Houston and then the Knickerbockers), McGrady has played in just 30 total games and averaged just 3.2 and 9.4 points per game, respectively in those two seasons.
He also hasn’t played in more than 70 games since 2006-07.
Yet, this is still a guy who possesses all-world talent when healthy.
No, he isn’t going to give you 35 minutes and 35 points anytime in the near future, but if he can get himself at least relatively healthy, he could be a tremendous boost off the bench for a contending team.
The rumor being bandied about is that T-Mac could sign on with the defending-champion Lakers and bring some scoring punch to the floor when Kobe is taking his scheduled breathers.
Wherever he lands, though, what needs to be noted is that when it comes to the man once notorious for his anywhere, anytime naps, don’t sleep on him.
Team: Washington Wizards
Experience: 10 years
Speaking of 2000, a decade ago Miller was a top five NBA draft pick coming off a championship game appearance with the Florida Gators.
Since then, the only NBA player from South Dakota (surprise!) has been a solid, if unspectacular, contributor on a series of not-so-good teams—Orlando, Memphis, Minnesota, and Washington.
But outside of last season, when he missed nearly 30 games due to a shoulder injury, Miller had played in at least 65 games in six straight years, and Teddy Dupuy’s former running mate has shot better than 40 percent from deep in five of the last six years.
Right now, the rumor wheel has Miller landing in the Big Apple to join any combination of LeBron, D-Wade, and Amare (likely just Amare).
If that’s the case, I’d bet Mike D’Antoni’s system would be one in which Miller could flourish, but wherever he goes, you can bet he will put up, at minimum, a line of 12, 5, and 4, and fit in seamlessly.
Team: Charlotte Bobcats
Experience: 4 years
Tyrus Thomas is one of those guys that we must simply accept for what he is.
Unfortunately, the uber-talented 6’10’’ forward may not ever live up to the billing he inherited when he was selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2006 draft.
But despite the fact that Thomas probably won’t become Shawn Kemp anytime soon, it is also important that we remember he is just 23.
Which is the primary reason a whole host of teams—including the Timberwolves, the Nuggets, the Knicks, and the Nets among them—are seeking Thomas’s services.
If only Thomas could demonstrate some consistency and develop some semblance of a jump shot, he could instantly become a solid 15-and-8 type player.
Even without those skills, however, Thomas has still managed career numbers of eight points, five rebounds, and one-and-a-half blocks per contest.
Not bad for a raw athlete who left LSU after his redshirt freshman year.
The word is that Thomas would like to stay in Charlotte, and, personally, I agree that the young, athletic Bobcats are the perfect fit for a long leaper like him.
Team: Olympiacos (Greece)
Experience: 6 years
Childress is essentially the anti- (or inverse) Brandon Jennings.
Jennings did the Europe thing before entering the NBA, whereas the former Stanford standout served four years with the Hawks before being lured to Greece with a luxurious three-year, $20 million deal that also would pay his taxes and provide him with a house and a car (no wonder they’re in financial ruin, huh?).
Since arriving in the Euroleague, though, Childress has been underwhelming—at least considering he was supposed to dominate upon arrival.
After a rough first season, he did manage a respectable line of 15 points and five rebounds, but he still shot poorly from range.
Nevertheless, Childress is still a relatively young swingman with top-of-the-line athleticism, and a cheaper solution on the wing for those teams that don’t secure a “max” guy.
Technically Childress’s rights still belong to the Hawks, and they can match any offer made to him, which wouldn’t be the worst situation for either party.
But other teams (namely the Johnwallards—er, Wizards), have reportedly expressed an interest in acquiring Childress’s services.
Whether it’s Atlanta or D.C., or somewhere else, though, it will definitely be interesting watching what kind of impact Childress can make on his return from Europe.
Team: Washington Wizards
Experience: 4 years
Like Thomas, Foye is a member of the mostly unimpressive 2006 draft hitting the market for the first time, and in fact, he is one of the better prospects from it.
Taken seventh overall after a stellar career at Villanova, Foye has shown glimpses in spurts of being the type of scoring playmaker people thought he could be four years ago.
Although he took a step backward last year with the woeful Wizards, Foye could still benefit a team in need of backcourt scoring.
Cut in something of a Joe Johnson mold, I’ve heard the Magic have showninterest.
If J.J. Redick departs from O-town, Foye would immediately step in and play a key role for one of the league’s best teams.
Team: Milwaukee Bucks
Experience: 7 years
Ridnour heads a small contingent of serviceable point guards available in this year’s free agency class.
Never too flashy, Ridnour is an ideal backup point guard who will take care of the ball, give his best effort on defense, and knock down the open jumper.
Although Ridnour fell out of favor with Seattle, the team that drafted him, he seemed rejuvenated last year playing in a complementary role to stud rookie Brandon Jennings.
Without the pressure of starting, Ridnour was a steadying force for the Bucks, posting career-highs in field goal percentage, three-point shooting, and free throw percentage.
I heard Ridnour was being targeted by the Lake-show, but that won’t happen now that they’ve reportedly locked up Steve Blake.
Perhaps the Knicks are now a solid possibility with Chris Duhon on his way out.
But whether he winds up in LA or NY or back in the Midwest, Ridnour will almost definitely make some team happy with their backup point guard situation.
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
Experience: 7 years
According to recent reports, Blake is the rare player who gets to ink a new deal with a new team and not even have to go apartment shopping.
I mean, does it get much better than playing at the same building as you had been, except with a defending champion instead of a punchline?
I don’t think so, and that’s what awaits the former Maryland leader as he signs a deal to replace Jordan Farmar as Derek Fisher’s substitute.
While it’s true that Fisher could leave town as well, I’d put money on it that the two sides will ultimately work something out, leaving Blake to come off the bench.
A heady, controlled facilitator, though, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Blake ends up stealing a significant amount of minutes from the aging Fisher.
But either way, I think Blake is the type of player Phil Jackson will like and respect, and, like I said, it isn’t a bad deal to assure yourself of $16 million without even changing your address.
Team: Boston Celtics
Experience: 5 years
Or should I call him donkey?
For the first time in his career, Robinson began developing a reputation as something other than the modern Spud Webb in the 2010 Playoffs.
Providing a scoring spark off the bench, not to mention endless reserves of energy and enthusiasm, Robinson gave the Celtics a nice contrast to the attacking, creative style of Rajon Rondo.
Now, let’s not oversell this. Robinson is still a scorer first, and a point guard second.
But after Bostons run to the Finals, we can at least rest assured that he isn’t just a scorer.
While I don’t ever envision Robinson being a starting point guard in the league, he would fit in quite nicely with a team that needs instant offense and a guy that can bring the ball up and play solid “D” on starting point guards.
I haven’t heard much outside of wild speculation about Robinson’s potential destinations, but I think he’s already found a nice home—in Boston with Shrek.
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
Experience: 8 years
Isn’t it funny that the two biggest departing free agents from the Clippers are two of the first players to find new homes?
Can’t you just picture both of them telling their agents, “I don’t care. Just not here!”
All jokes aside, Gooden has reportedly inked a five-year, $32 million deal with Milwaukee, adding much-needed frontcourt depth and experience to the Bucks.
Gooden is your prototypical “glue guy,” willing to do all the little things necessary to help a team win.
And that will fit perfectly under Scott Skiles in the Brew City.
In fact, Skiles would probably be perfectly content with 12 Gooden-types over superior talents with more drama.
But as it stands, Gooden should blend supremely well with rising stars Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings, and team with Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Ersan Ilyasova, and rookies Larry Sanders and Tiny Gallon to give Skiles plenty of options, and plenty of defense at the four next season.
Team: Los Angeles Lakers
Experience: 4 years
Not long ago, Brown was perceived as nothing but an extraordinary athlete, and that was fine.
He could enter a game, offer stellar defense, and blow the roof off of the building with a highlight-reel jam, like the Grant Hill-imitation he showed off in this year’s Finals.
Except that in the past two years, Brown has really diversified his game, demonstrating ballhandling and playmaking capabilities to enhance his freakish athleticism (44.5-inch vertical?!).
Which is why there is a long list of teams that are rumored to be interested in the former Michigan State star.
Ideally, for both him and the Lakers, Brown should stay put.
With Blake already locked up, Brown could continue providing backcourt versatility and depth, allowing Kobe to get more rest in opportune situations in the regular season—something that is crucial to another championship run.
Moreover, Brown is familiar with the triangle which can be tricky for anyone to jump right into.
But at just 24, and with the aforementioned skills he exhibited this season, it wouldn’t surprise me to see someone bid high for his services.
Team: Houston Rockets
Experience: 3 years
Considering Scola has just three NBA seasons under his Argentinean belt, his age could be a concern for anyone thinking about doling out $40 or $50 million to this talented power forward.
Yet what Scola lacks in youth, he makes up in skill and durability: In his three seasons in Houston, Scola has played in every game—starting in all 82 in each of the past two years—and has increased his scoring, assists, minutes, and blocks every season.
Earlier in the week, it was rumored that Scola could be a potential replacement for Amare in Phoenix, since Houston would be reluctant to ante up too much for the savvy South American.
But with Hakim Warrick now filling that role, Scola’s future is up for grabs.
He could be an unsung piece for a team on the precipice of success in need of a versatile four.
Ultimately, though, the most likely scenario is a trade.
Houston has not been mentioned much in this free agency whirlwind because they don’t have inordinate amounts of cap room.
What they do have, however, is enticing pieces for a sign-and-trade—something I wouldn’t discount yet for a guy like Chris Bosh, who would love to come home and play for the Rockets.
Team: Utah Jazz
Experience: 7 years
If you don’t hold his likeness to Ashton Kutcher against him, Korver is an incredibly desirable free agent chip.
And though we can’t be sure where the Creighton product will end up, it appears there’s writing on the wall that it won’t be in Utah.
Or at least that’s what the selection of Gordon Hayward—a younger Korver with more upside—indicates.
So while Korver may want to remain in Salt Lake City, it doesn’t look good.
Which may not be the worst thing for him.
One of the more reliable skills in the NBA is shooting, and it also happens to be one of the hardest to find at an elite level—Korver provides it.
Last year, the mop-topped gunner hit nearly 54 percent of his three-point attempts, and he has surpassed 90 percent from the charity stripe three times in his seven-year career.
The rumor press says that San Antonio, New York, and New Jersey are among the possible suitors for the “That ‘70’s Show” star (oh wait, that’s Kutcher), and any one of those organizations would greatly benefit from his addition.
Team: Chicago Bulls
Experience: 12 years
Obviously, Miller’s age is a red-flag for anyone contemplating his signing.
But we’re not talking about a renewal of his $10 million-plus deal here.
For more than a decade, though, Miller has been banging bodies with the brutes of the post, pulling down boards, and consistently hitting about half of his 15-footers.
Last season, Miller registered perhaps his most disappointing season yet playing behind a younger, more spry Joakim Noah.
Yet look at the career of Kurt Thomas, who just keeps popping up with different contenders and giving them a solid contribution off the bench.
My guess is that Miller will do the same.
So far, I’ve heard that the Celtics are hot on Miller’s trail, which makes sense.
Rasheed Wallace (who has a player option), Glen Davis, and Kendrick Perkins are all set to possibly become free agents after this upcoming season.
And we all know Kevin Garnett can’t devote the minutes in the regular season that he used to.
I’ve also heard that the Rockets could be interested, perhaps to blunt the impact of losing a Luis Scola and/or Chuck Hayes in a sign-and-trade.
The point here is that Miller is a valuable commodity: a veteran post player who can score facing the basket and supply expert defense on younger more skilled posts.
Thus, wherever he goes, you will likely be hearing from him sometime next May, if not June.
Team: Dallas Mavericks
Experience: 9 years
One of the talents harder to find in the NBA than pure shooting is size with athletic ability: a true center.
And Haywood is one of the few legitimate centers in this free agent class.
Right now, Haywood is reportedly asking for upward of $10 million, and we’ll see how that works out for him.
What I can tell you for sure, though, is that there is no shortage of teams seeking a 7’1’’ big body who pulled down 10.3 boards per last season.
Haywood’s career has been sort of odd insofar as he started rather slow, before seemingly figuring it out and steadily improving.
No, he’s not going to be a 20-and-10 player, but his steady progress over the years bodes well for the next few seasons—especially for a team in the East lacking a true five.
Which is why Miami, Detroit, and others have lined up to present their spiel.
According to reports, Dallas sorely wants Haywood back, however, and it isn’t hard to grasp why.
Team: Orlando Magic
Experience: 4 years
As with any restricted player on this list, everything isn’t as clear-cut as picking a team, negotiating a deal, and signing the dotted line.
The Magic can match any offer Redick finds.
But the thing is, I am willing to bet there is some team out there looking to take the next step willing to outbid the Magic, who could find a cheaper replacement.
Although Redick has not been the lights out scorer he was at Duke, he has started to figure out the game at the next level, developing a dribble-drive component to his game and beginning to play defense.
I mean, at least he’s been markedly better than his college foil, Adam Morrison, right?
And the thing here is that reportedly teams like the Celtics (who could lose Ray Allen) are looking at Redick.
If he ends up with the Celtics, or perhaps the Cavaliers to give a resigned LeBron a true shooter (yes, that is a swipe at Mo Williams, Sasha Pavlovic, Daniel Gibson, Anthony Parker, etc. ad nauseum), he will once again be playing a critical role in a critical game come next May.
Just like the rest of the guys on this list—and this is just a sampling.
So, while the media finds ways to fill 24 hours of coverage with LeBron-D-Wade-Chris Bosh storylines, keep in mind that they are not the only moving parts that will change the shape of the 2010-2011 NBA season.
Plus, free agency can’t be all about LeBron…can it?