The NBA is in a precarious labor situation as the end of the season approaches. The potential stoppage of games resulting from a lockout is a serious concern for all parties, as is the annual period of free agency, beginning in July.
The give and take of collective bargaining negotiations will affect the course of free agency for years to come. Whether the owners get their desired limit on contract length and a hard salary cap will drastically change the kind of deals we see happening in free agency.
This is especially relevant to several reliable role players with expiring contracts. No one knows exactly what they will be able to command on the open market. One thing is for sure, however: the lavish and overpaid contracts of free agencies past will be much less prevalent under a new CBA.
Regardless of their market value, here are a handful of notable free agents that many teams will heavily pursue this summer.
(For a breakdown of impact scorers who will be on the market this summer, check out another discussion of free agency)
14.2 PPG, 3.2 APG, 42 percent FG
As a perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate, the 10-year veteran is one expensive bench player. He's also one of the best scorers in the league—starter or sub. He doesn't play a lot of defense or do any one thing that well outside of scoring, but his ability to provide punch while starters rest is rare in today's league.
Teams That Should Pursue Crawford
New York Knicks
A return to the Garden for Crawford would add to Mike D'Antoni's fast-paced game, and would give the Knicks that third dependable scorer behind Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony that they don't currently have.
If Paul Silas stays to coach his team to an uptempo beat, Crawford would provide a lot of help for a team that ranks 29th in scoring. D.J. Augustin is still young, but he just doesn't get it done.
This is a young team that could be on the rise. Their scorers, Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay, are prone to high-volume drains on the team's shooting some nights, and having one more explosive scorer would help stem the tide of slow scoring nights. Crawford could split minutes with Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo and not have to worry about doing more than one thing well.
1.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 0.4 BPG, 57 percent FG
The 10-year center from Minnesota has succumbed to injury and will miss the rest of this season. He played in only 34 games this year for Portland and Charlotte at 14.4 minutes per game.
His primary benefit is the size he brings to protect the basket at 7'1". He isn't a fantastic rebounder or shot-blocker, but his career averages of 6.0 and 1.5 per game, respectively, are pretty strong for a sub who plays just 20 minutes per night.
He will be a risky sign coming off knee surgery, and will need to get used to not making his current salary, but Przybilla can be a valuable backup center in the size-starved NBA.
Teams That Should Pursue Przybilla
The Wiz employ a troop of hacks to back up JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche, and Przybilla could bring a lot to a team that ranks 26th in rebound margin.
Przybilla is the kind of role player that thrives in Houston. With Yao and Chuck Hayes set for free agency and with the trade of Carl Landry, the Rockets are a little thin up front. For a middle-of-the-road rebounding team that ranks 25th in offensive rebounds allowed, Przybilla could fill a big need that is about to surface for Coach Adelman.
The departure of Kendrick Perkins was more than just the loss of a big man. The Celtics lost their swagger and identity when Perk tearfully walked out the door. They used to be about toughness and defending each other. Perkins was the epitome of what the Celtics prided themselves on, and his teammates knew it. Przybilla could bring some of that back with his physicality in the paint, which they are missing with new center Nenad Krstic and Jermaine O'Neal.
7.5 PPG, 4.6 REB, 2.3 AST, 0.9 STL
Battier's contribution defies and supersedes statistical explanation. His defensive impact and efficiency on the offensive end are quietly coveted by every NBA GM. He brings unparalleled leadership and a staying influence in a culture of instability and impulsiveness.
Since smartly acquiring Battier from Houston, Memphis, missing best player Rudy Gay, has shot into the Western Conference playoff picture with a 15-7 run. Now Memphis brings an imposing defensive challenge every night with Battier as the playoffs begin. Battier is the unheralded glue, the behind-the-scenes maestro of every team he plays on.
Teams That Should Pursue Battier
New York Knicks
Battier is a perfect fit here. He's a leader that loves to play defense, hit threes and doesn't need many touches. The Knicks are starved for defense and consistency, and Battier would be a fantastic addition to that rotation.
This is a team without any identity, except that they like to push the ball. They are already an imposing bunch on defense, but Battier would make them very hard to score on.
The Magic will need a small forward with the expiring Jason Richardson likely to leave, and Battier would be a good filler at that spot. There's enough scoring to go around, and the middle is owned by Dwight Howard. If Orlando wants to compete with Miami and Boston, it is essential that they find a lockdown defender to guard LeBron James and Paul Pierce.
11.7 PPG, 3.0 AST, 5.1 REB, 1.2 BPG, 1.3 SPG
Kirilenko has been Utah's jack-of-all-trades—a versatile forward who offers a unique blend of statistical goodness. In many ways, he's a shell of his former self—the 2004-2006 version that averaged nearly 3.5 blocks and two steals per game.
The 6'9", 235-pounder won't be your primary scorer, but does well in a tertiary role. His long reach allows him to defend at power forward and even center, while still maintaining the necessary quickness to guard on the perimeter. He isn't a shutdown defender, but his ability to play almost every position makes him exceedingly attractive.
His salary is less than palatable in a cap-strapped league. He will be one of the most dramatically affected players by new free agency rules, because he will have to take a serious pay cut to join a contender.
Teams That Should Pursue Kirilenko
There is a major hole at Toronto's small forward, and serious problems on the defensive end. The Raptors, never bothered with stopping their opponent, rank 27th in points allowed and 23rd in rebounding. Kirilenko could get the change of scenery that could boost his production, as he's always thrived with plenty of minutes. He is a legitimate NBA player that could shore up a gap on a roster that doesn't have many.
New Jersey Nets
A reunion with former Jazz teammate Deron Williams could help continue the Nets' slow trod toward contention. There is a glaring lack of production at small forward with Stephen Graham, Damion James and Travis Outlaw. This team has struggled to find a third scorer, which is a role that Kirilenko could fill capably.
A team with six free agents, Denver could have needs at SF and PF depending on how free agency shakes out. Kirilenko is athletic enough to keep up with Ty Lawson and Raymond Felton, and is the kind of player that could have a career year behind the three-point line as a background scorer. His biggest contributions would come on defense for a team in the bottom third in defense. The Nuggets appear to be in a lot better shape than everyone thought they'd be after the Carmelo Anthony/Chauncey Billups trade, and could be just one piece away from landing in the West's top five.
10.0 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 1.1 BPG
In the fracas of the failed Derrick Favors pick, Humphries truly emerged as the best at his power forward position on the Nets. Avery Johnson tried his best to give the Minnesota product's minutes to lesser players, but it got to a point where Johnson couldn't deny Humphries' stellar play any longer.
Humphries is an undersized PF with limited scoring skills, but that's not what he's best at anyway. He is a hyper-athletic and energetic rebounder and shot-blocker that I'd characterize as a poor man's Joakim Noah.
His consistency will earn him a major raise and possibly a starting spot on a rebound-starved squad. His 43 double-digit rebound games and 10 consecutive double-doubles in January and February show that, with minutes, Humphries could play at an All-Star level.
Teams That Should Pursue Humphries
Humphries would love to get out and run with the Nuggets and use his energy to chase down rebounds from Denver's barrage of missed shots. He would team up with Nene and Chris Anderson to form a muscular frontcourt that might actually be able to defend some of the West's better low-post players. His low-maintenance game means that Nene and the guards can take most of the shots without potential for frustration.
The Hawks are unlikely to re-sign any of the unrestricted Josh Powell, Hilton Armstrong, Etan Thomas and Jason Collins. That leaves Josh Smith, Zaza Pachulia and Al Horford as the only post players on the roster. Humphries' addition would eliminate the need for Pachulia and allow Horford to move over to center while not having to over-exert on defense. Atlanta is also one of the worst teams in the NBA in rebounding, which is Humphries' area of expertise.
With Josh McRoberts and Jeff Foster coming off the books this summer, the Pacers, who do well on the glass, will need to replenish their stable of basket protectors. Humphries would blend into the background of scorers in Roy Hibbert, Danny Granger and Darren Collison while still offering a lot of production on the glass and in blocks.
This is the type of guy that Miami should go after to get better at defending bigs, because Chris Bosh, Erick Dampier, Juwan Howard and Joel Anthony won't be able to stop the Dwight Howards, Pau Gasols and Tim Duncans late in the playoffs. Humphries could defend centers, even though he's a bit undersized, which would free up Chris Bosh to just play offense. He is a low-cost, high-impact type of player, which is the only kind that the cap-strapped Heat can afford.
8.4 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 3.0 APG
When making a list of his team's five best players, the 35-year-old Parker has never made the cut, yet he is universally considered to be a valuable rotation player. His stats are unimpressive, which makes him a little like Shane Battier in style.
His main contributions come in his three-point shooting and balance. He shoots over 40 percent from three in his career and averages a healthy three boards and three assists per game while being durable and never hurting the team. His size dictates that he can play both wing spots, but he can also handle the ball when needed. By no means is he a defensive stopper, but knows how to slow down volume scorers to help his team.
He would love to get out of the toilet bowl that Cleveland has become, and, at under $3 million, many teams would love to provide him an opportunity to do that.
Teams That Should Pursue Parker
An exciting young team needs a veteran presence, especially at small forward. Vinny Del Negro could count on Parker for spot-up three-point shooting, solid defense and consistency. He'd be a marked upgrade over the departed Rasual Butler, Ryan Gomes and Jamario Moon while Al-Farouq Aminu figures out how to play in the NBA.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs sort of play without a small forward at times if Richard Jefferson is playing poorly. Parker, not flashy by any stretch, would fit right in with the identity of the Spurs, and a winning culture of hard work could really give him a second wind at 35 years old. He is the kind of player that the Spurs target and then turn into gold after signing.
5.5 PPG, 3.5 APG, 2.0 RPG
Indiana couldn't be happier to see Ford come off its books. After three horribly disappointing and injury-plagued seasons, Ford is a different guy than he used to be. The tiny PG, still just 28 years old, used to play with a fearless, breakneck furor that had everyone thinking he'd be one of his generation's better distributors.
Ford was able to recapture his status as an impact player after losing a full season to a devastating spinal cord injury in 2004. But in 2007, he suffered a similar injury on a hard foul by Al Horford. After the second injury, which caused him to miss 31 games, Ford was never the same; this is the injury that would open the floodgates for 83 missed games over the last three seasons and a fear of attacking that stifled his gifts.
He has worn out his welcome in the fickle Pacers rotation, and the presence of Darren Collison and A.J. Price mean the writing is on the wall for Ford. He has hit statistical rock bottom, which means that his signature will likely be a bargain.
If he can recapture even a fraction of his former game, he'll be a valuable addition, especially in light of the dearth of available guards this summer.
Teams That Should Pursue Ford
Derek Fisher won't play forever, and this in fact could be his last go-round. The Lakers have always lacked at PG, so what better way to get better than by taking a chance on Ford, who will actually be affordable? His size and style don't fit in at all, but what the heck?
Golden State Warriors
The uptempo, low-pressure culture of losing would be a great atmosphere for Ford to make his comeback. The pace that the Warriors play at would play right into his strength—speed—and give him every opportunity to grab the backup PG spot and thrive as a passer and penetrator. He wouldn't have to worry about playing defense, either.
Could Ford return to the team that gave him his start and facilitated the ascent of his career? Without adequate point guard depth, the Bucks will need someone to spell Brandon Jennings to keep him from being less efficient than he already is. Maybe all Ford needs is a familiar setting to return to his former level.
11.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.4 BPG
"Big Baby" has turned himself from a tweener with no distinct strength into a dependable, tough rotation player. You can certainly credit some of that transition to the favorable environment he started his career in. His 11.6 scoring average and 29.4 minutes are significant career highs that point to a player who has found himself and will continue to improve into his prime.
Teams That Should Pursue Davis
He'll cost Danny Ainge more than his current $3 million, but it's worth it to retain him. Doc Rivers made Davis what he is; why let him get away? Though if the Celtics think that he is simply a product of their system, they might be tempted to let him go to be overpaid by another team.
The Magic lack a glue guy, a la Hedo Turkoglu in 2008-2009. Hedo isn't the same guy in his second stint with the Magic, and nobody has filled that role since he left for Toronto, then Phoenix. Davis is the kind of player who, even from the bench, can set the tone for a team and be a vocal leader on a team that seems happy to just blow in whatever direction Dwight Howard's whims take them. If they ever want to win, they need guys who actually care about winning, like Baby does.
Davis has developed his midrange jumper significantly, and gets a lot of his points from the perimeter. On a team that takes so many shots like the Nuggets and has several options ahead of Davis, he might be freed up to score 15 PPG in wide open jumpers. The energy of the Nuggets locker room equals Davis, which could really bring out the best in him.