NBA Free Agency 2011: Jamal Crawford and 10 Impact Players on the Market
With the 2010-11 NBA regular season nearing its end, some teams are looking forward to the postseason. All of the teams, however, have their eyes set for July 8, which is the beginning of free agency.
On that day, players at the end of their contracts will be allowed to sign with whomever they should choose. This year's group is not as star-studded as last season's, but there are still some valuable players to be had.
Although this class lacks a building block of a dynasty, it is full of athletes that can push a team into the playoffs—or to a championship. Many NBA teams will spend the latter part of spring and early summer trying to woo a piece to their team's puzzle.
Adding one or two of these players could mean all the difference in 2011-12. Here's a list of the 10 best unrestricted free agents available this offseason.
Jamal Crawford is currently one of the top candidates for Sixth Man of the Year in the NBA. In barely over 30 minutes a contest, Crawford is averaging 14.2 points per game.
He can score from anywhere on the court, but can turn into a one-man team pretty quickly. Crawford is a streaky shooter, and is at his best when he's taking the ball to the rim. He's not going to win any awards on the defensive end, but he can be an offensive spark for any squad.
Crawford could see a starting role on a team that's not as guard-heavy as the Atlanta Hawks.
Caron Butler was quickly becoming a gigantic part of the Dallas Mavericks this season.
Unfortunately for the Mavericks, Butler went down with a torn patellar tendon in his right knee. It was New Year's Day when Butler suffered the injury that put him out for the season. The Mavericks lost to the Milwaukee Bucks that night and went on to lose eight games in January. They had only lost seven before the loss of Butler.
Butler has an explosive first step that forces defenders to play off him a little. When someone gives Butler too much space, he steps back and shoots a jump shot. In Dallas, Butler has become a better spot-up shooter, and a better teammate.
Butler's moved around the NBA a lot in his career, and he might be on the move again.
Nene is the first of three Denver Nuggets on this list.
Nene is exactly the type of player a team wants on their roster. He doesn't force the issue on offense, and is fully capable of causing turnovers on defense. The Brazilian is powerful in the post, but has quickness to go with it.
Nene's best quality is his intensity and energy on the floor. He plays each game like it's his last. The last three seasons have been relatively injury-free for Nene, after four injury-plagued seasons leading up to 2008. Now, Nene has established himself as a great big in the league.
Nene's athleticism adds to his value, making him a target for many teams in the NBA.
J.R. Smith is only 25 years old. He's been in the league for seven years now, and one can say he's underachieved.
Smith came right out of high school and instantly impacted the New Orleans Hornets. His unbelievable athleticism and shooting touch were on display early in his career. Smith was sent to Denver to play with the Nuggets in 2006 and continued to improve.
However, Smith has yet to become a night in, night out starter for the Nuggets. He's shown his amazing scoring potential, twice hitting more than 10 threes and scoring more than 40 points in one night. He's also made many highlight reels with dazzling dunks and exquisite finishes around the rim.
If Smith is offered a starting role somewhere, he'd probably jump at the opportunity.
Kenyon Martin is the final Nugget on this list, but his impact on a new team could be potentially the greatest.
J.R. Smith may be an underachiever at this point, but Martin has him beat in that category by a country mile. Martin was a No. 1 pick out of the University of Cincinnati. He was the last American-born college senior taken first in the NBA draft. Martin has yet to average 20 points per contest during any season in his 11-year NBA career.
Martin is a high-flying power forward with a knack for blocking shots. He's got an attitude that shows in his play on the court. Martin, however, has had some serious problems with his right knee that have kept his career at bay.
At 33 years old, Martin can still make an impact right now, but his long-term effect on a team is very limited due to his age.
Don't expect any multi-year deals for this league veteran.
Tayshaun Prince is best known to the average NBA fan for his stellar defense and above-average wingspan.
Prince is in the ninth year of his career, and his all-around game has been on display for the better part of his time in the business. Prince is a quick small forward that can slow down anyone on defense and be a role player on offense.
When the Detroit Pistons won the NBA Championship in 2004, Prince was considered by many as the most valuable player to the team. Although he was the only Pistons player not to make the All-Star game in 2006, Prince's teammates understood the value of Prince to the team.
Prince has spent his whole career in Detroit, and could be looking for a change of scenery this offseason.
Will Yao Ming ever stay healthy?
When Yao entered the league in 2002, he was supposed to be the next big thing. Since 2005, he has only completed one full season in the league. Yao has experienced a variety of debilitating injuries, that leave some doubting whether or not he can still be a factor in the NBA.
Yao's been plagued with lower-body injuries for the last five years. This summer will basically define the rest of his career. He was only getting 18 minutes a game in 2010-11 before he got hurt, so there's some doubt to if he'll ever be the same.
When healthy, Yao was honing his offensive moves and shedding the "soft" label. We'll have to wait and see if he can return to the form he showed from 2005 to 2008.
David West also ended this season with an injury.
When he went down, West was leading the New Orleans Hornets in scoring with just under 20 points per game. West had a breakout season in 2005, and he hasn't looked back since.
West's favorite shot is the fade-away from the blocks, but he's not limited to it. He can also face up and beat slower defenders with the dribble. He has flashes of being a great rebounder, but is too inconsistent to be considered in the top tier of the league.
West's injury will cause some to think his value has dropped, but West should be ready to go next October.
Jason Richardson may have reached 30 years of age, but don't let that fool you. He can still play.
Since being traded from the Phoenix Suns to the Orlando Magic this season, Richardson has seen his role as a go-to scorer fade. With Dwight Howard in the lineup, Richardson is the second option on the team.
This season, Richardson has shot more three-balls than usual. He used to be a player that would attack the rim, but has relied more on his outside shooting because of the teams he's been on. He can still get to the rim and finish, but doesn't take the ball to the bucket as much as he used to.
Richardson is still one of the best athletes in the league. He can fly through the air and ignite entire stadiums. At 30, he will not be making over $14 million again, but Richardson could still make eight digits.
Teams looking for a veteran scorer that can score in bunches should look no further than J-Rich.
Grant Hill got off to a spectacular start as a professional basketball player, but injuries sent his career spiraling in the wrong direction.
From 2000-04, Hill only participated in 47 games for the Orlando Magic. In what would have been the prime of his career, Hill was hampered by various ankle injuries. Now with the Suns, Hill has proved that—even at 38 years old—he can still play the game.
Hill has stayed healthy all season, and has been shooting the ball tremendously from the field. Unfortunately for Hill, the Suns have been eliminated from playoff contention. Hill has become more of a role player and lock-down defender late in his career.
If his goal is to win a championship, he should join a team like Miami or Oklahoma City that is on the rise. If he wants to continue playing significant minutes, staying in Phoenix would be a good decision.