The NBA offseason and its roster moves certainly keep our interest, even when the game isn't actually being played.
Many teams already committed their payroll flexibility during last year's mega-star hunt, and with the potential lockout looming, money might not be thrown around with such freedom.
Still, bidding wars will always develop around a coveted prize. There are certainly enough interesting prospects and near-stars to justify such competition this summer.
Yet, while attractive names might be pursued from the outside, they're usually just as desired by their current teams. In alphabetical order, these are the guys who must be retained by their Western Conference franchises if they're to improve at all.
Note: We looked at the Eastern Conference earlier last week...
Losing Caron Butler would certainly hurt, but it's now obvious that the Dallas Mavericks have added enough depth around Shawn Marion by bringing in Peja Stojakovic and Corey Brewer at the small forward.
Tyson Chandler is already a nine-year vet, has been injury-prone, doesn't score a lot of points, and doesn't always possess the basic stats to justify his $12.6 million per year deal.
In fact, he's been considered overpaid every season of his current contract.
Until this year.
Chandler's mobility, ferocity at both rims and take-no-prisoners attitude has been an absolute revelation for Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks this season.
His length and ability to play above the basket pair perfectly with Dirk, while his toughness has also lit a fire under this team.
Mark Cuban has never had a problem with overpaying big men, and Chandler has definitely played himself into another big contract.
On the other hand, Nene Hilario has become the closest thing to a cornerstone now that Carmelo Anthony is gone.
Nene is a well-rounded player who has never reached his full potential yet.
However, his ability to play either the 4 or 5, inside or out, while also being just as competent defensively as he is on the offensive end, make him an attractive candidate indeed.
Big men usually cost more than any other NBA commodity. Nene's increased role and the fact that he's only 28 years old suggest that he'll be offered even more than his current $11.4 million contract.
Seriously, where do the Golden State Warriors keep finding these guys?
Much like they did with Corey Maggette or Anthony Morrow, they seem to be able to take any half-way athletic swingman and turn him into a bona fide NBA spark plug.
Reggie Williams is just the latest incarnation of the Warriors' way. He's a quantity shooter who was the perfect bench scorer for this run-and-gun squad.
Williams can attack the basket, is a better than advertised shooter, has a coveted 6'6" frame and played for less than $1 million last year.
He's a restricted free agent, so the Warriors have a good chance at retaining him. At the same time, the Warriors have a lot of money tied up in their young core and might not be willing to match a big offer from the outside.
After all, they always seem to be able to just find another one.
This could have been a very big year for the Houston Rockets and Yao Ming. Instead, we're at four injury-marred seasons out of the last five, and the former star center has become an NBA afterthought.
Yet, the Rockets have another center whose re-signing will be a key to their future. You'd never have expected that it would be a 6'6" "big man" whose stats look like this.
However, if you've ever seen Chuck Hayes play, then you know exactly what I'm talking about. His endless energy and uncanny ability to disrupt opponents fuels everything that Houston does defensively.
What's more, he keeps plays alive on the glass, sets great screens and never has to have a play run for him.
He's never going to land a huge contract, but he's certainly due a raise on his current $1.9 million deal. There are a lot of teams out there who could use a "glue" guy like Chuck Hayes, but the Rockets need him just as badly as anyone.
Yet another mobile big man out West, DeAndre Jordan may quickly end up being one of the more hotly pursued prizes of the offseason.
With Nene and Tyson Chandler likely to be re-signed, DeAndre Jordan is possibly the most athletic big man on the free-agent list this year.
He is restricted, is an inconsistent defender and does have a lot of polishing left to do with his offensive game.
However, he's only 22 years old, is already a block and dunk staple on the highlight reels and he played for less than $1 million last year. It's not going to be hard for potential buyers to offer this guy a big raise.
With Chris Kaman already gobbling up a lot of cap space at the center position, the tight-pocketed Los Angeles Clippers may not have the gumption to retain DeAndre Jordan for a lucrative, long-term deal.
This scenario is highly conditional, as it entirely depends on whether Shannon Brown exercises his player option or not.
He opted to pursue another championship, instead of getting a lucrative offer elsewhere. Now, he's without that additional ring on a team in flux.
Staying in L.A. only looks attractive if Brown is going to supplant Derek Fisher as the starting point guard.
However, he may be out a lot of money when the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is signed, whether he opts out this year or hits the market in the next.
Brown's explosive athleticism and improved shooting are valuable to the Lakers, but he seemed to lose his role a little bit last year. It's also still unclear whether he's cut out to be a starter at one specific role, rather than just spotting time at both backcourt positions.
Even though retaining Shane Battier will be important, with Zach Randolph already back on board, Marc Gasol easily becomes the most crucial re-signing for the Memphis Grizzlies this offseason.
The 26-year-old center formed a mammoth and immovable front line with Zach Randolph. Both players' speed deficiencies were covered by the Grizzlies' host of fleet-footed wings.
Gasol only made $3.5 million this past year, while actually declining statistically from last season.
However, he and Randolph were such a playoff revelation that he's become a hot commodity nonetheless.
Gasol is a restricted free agent, but legit seven-footers with such strength, touch, size, back-to-the-basket competency, expanding range, and well-rounded, two-way games are rare.
Gasol's outside offers will be many and expensive.
As Sebastian Telfair is somehow the only free agent from the Minnesota Timberwolves this year, he makes this list by default.
Once regarded as the next great New York point guard, Telfair hasn't been a relevant player in years. His immaturity and inability to translate from the playground to the pros quickly tarnished his initial aura.
It's too bad that, just as he matured and figured things out, he then became something of a nagging injury risk. He's actually a solid enough backup today, even though he still can't shoot.
With Luke Ridnour and Jonny Flynn still on the roster, regardless of whether Minnesota drafts Kyrie Irving and/or bring over Ricky Rubio, Telfair may be moving on to the third point guard spot on someone else's roster.
On a side note though, Michael Beasley, Kevin Love and Anthony Randolph are all restricted free agents next year.
This should have been David West, until his season-ending knee injury made opting out highly unlikely.
Landry was a credible replacement when West went down. In fact, he's always seemed starter-worthy. That is, until he's actually been handed a long-term starting job.
Carl Landry is undersized, but he's mobile, creates energy plays and is a surprisingly able scorer. He doesn't block a lot of shots, though, and his rebounding rates always seem lower than they should be.
If West's injuries remain, Landry will be a nice spot starter until he returns. He's one of the best insurance policies in the league right now.
However, if he's already caught someone else's eye, Landry may become quite pricey for being just a backup. But, he also might not actually be worth the dollars as an 82-game starter either.
The cash-strapped Hornets will have some tough decisions to make when determining his value and whether he and West can fit together on the same roster.
Daequan Cook is the Oklahoma City Thunder's only free agent this offseason, and he's already restricted.
He's struggled to carve out a role and defined backcourt position with two franchises (Miami and Oklahoma City). He's got a reputation as a shooter, but has actually only shot above 40 percent from downtown once in his career.
It's unclear if the 24-year-old is just a Danny Gibson doppelganger or whether he could be a poor-man's Jamal Crawford.
Thus, Cook is unlikely to field many big offers and is therefore likely to stay in OKC.
Still, a few shooting-starved teams, like the Minnesota Timberwolves, might try to throw some cash at Daequan Cook. Especially since the Thunder have a similar option in Nate Robinson already on the roster.
Aaron Brooks could certainly be on this list, as he's very likely intended to be Steve Nash's replacement in the next year or two.
Yet, Grant Hill's re-signing is crucial to the Phoenix Suns: He is one of the few defensive stalwarts on an otherwise porous team.
More importantly, though, Grant Hill's close relationship with Steve Nash has helped to keep both in Phoenix.
If Grant Hill decides to pursue a ring with a legitimate contender, then Steve Nash might suddenly have one fewer reason to actually stay with the Suns.
It seems far-fetched for Nash to "about face" from his long-standing loyalty, but if Hill becomes a key addition to a championship hopeful, then it might be pretty hard for the Suns' future Hall of Fame point guard not to do the same.
Plenty has been written about Greg Oden's NBA travails, but the fact remains that he could still be one of the most highly coveted restricted free-agent signings of the summer.
His youth, size, shot-blocking, rebounding ability and college exploits have already proven tantalizing enough to overcome his past and present injuries, along with the likelihood for future issues.
The Portland Trail Blazers were clearly missing front line size last year after Oden and Joel Przybilla were lost to long-term injury.
Even though Marcus Camby filled in admirably, it's unlikely that he has much more to give, especially as a starting center.
The Portland Trail Blazers have already set Oden's asking price at over $8 million per season. That's a lot of money, especially for a guy who's only played 82 games across THREE seasons.
At the same time, don't be surprised to see someone bid even slightly higher for the 23-year-old.
Everyone knew Marcus Thornton could score. He proved that much as a bench spark for a season and a half with the New Orleans Hornets.
Thornton is definitely a streak shooter, but he showed promising ability as a slasher and ball handler. It's possible that he and Tyreke Evans could form one of the most dynamic backcourts in the league next year.
That is, if Sacramento can afford to keep him.
Scoring guards are one of the easiest NBA commodities to come by, but 23-year-olds who make 20-point games look routine are another animal altogether.
The potentially vagabond Kings need to put a good product on the floor this year. A foundation of Thornton, Evans and DeMarcus Cousins is a step in the right direction, especially if some defensive help can be found.
No sane person honestly thinks that Tim Duncan is even a remote threat to leave the San Antonio Spurs.
I think it's pretty crazy to suggest that he'd retire at this point, even if there is a long-term lockout.
However, this is a pretty big re-signing for the Spurs nonetheless (and that's not because Chris Quinn and Steve Novak are their only other free agents).
Tim Duncan is obviously no longer a superstar, but with controlled minutes and enough depth around him, he can still be one of the best rotation forwards in the league.
The problem is that Duncan's $18.8 million per year contract will hog nearly one-third of San Antonio's cap space next season.
The Spurs have to be hoping that Tim Duncan continues to play the "good soldier" role, using his early termination option to restructure a more proportional deal.
San Antonio's going to need that money if they hope to contend during this era again.
Andrei Kirilenko has been and still is the more crucial player for the Utah Jazz than C.J. Miles. His shot blocking and multi-position versatility will be sorely missing from their roster, should he move on.
However, the Jazz roster is one of great redundancy on the front line with obvious gaps in their backcourt.
Utah has too many bodies at the big forward position. As they're unwilling to trade Derrick Favors and Paul Millsap, and are probably unable to move Al Jefferson, Kirilenko's free agency comes as a low stress decision.
Miles isn't worth being a top-three salary guy on any roster, but he's definitely due a raise on his current $3.7 million per year contract.
However, the Jazz are so deficient when it comes to scoring and athletic wings, that they not only need to retain Miles but also need to add an additional scorer or two through the draft and free agency.