10 NBA Free Agents That 2011-12 Playoff Contenders Need

Eitan Katz@@EitanKatzAnalyst IIJuly 27, 2011

10 NBA Free Agents That 2011-12 Playoff Contenders Need

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    NBA free agency might not happen for a while, but when it does, contenders like the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat are going to be looking for help.

    Luckily for them, this is a pretty deep free-agent class. Players like Tyson Chandler, Samuel Dalembert and Kris Humphries are there for teams looking to add size and inside presence. Meanwhile, players like Jamal Crawford, J.R. Smith and Jason Richardson are going to be available for teams looking to add a scoring punch.

    Needless to say, whenever the lockout ends, there will be a flurry of moves.

    The question contenders need to ask is this: Should we go for a big name, or should we fill a need? The answer should be obvious—fill the need. But sometimes contenders get too fancy in free agency.

    As an example, the Chicago Bulls signed Carlos Boozer before last season. I think, after watching how this year played out, we can all agree that the $80 million the Bulls used on Boozer would have been better used on a guard and a power forward.

    Let's take a look at the 10 players contenders need to sign.


    *I'm labeling "contenders" as any team that made it past the first round of the playoffs this past season (Mavericks, Thunder, Lakers, Grizzlies—West. Celtics, Bulls, Heat, Hawks—East.)

    **This list is only unrestricted free agents. Also, this isn't a free-agent top 10; it is just a list of the top 10 players that are needed on contenders.

10. Al Thornton, SF, 6'8", 235 Lbs.

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    Al Thornton bounced around last season, playing for the Washington Wizards and Golden State Warriors. While his numbers may not pop, his athleticism sure does.

    Thornton is an athletic freak.

    He came out of the NBA pre-draft camp with the highest vertical, 42", while measuring out a ridiculous 7'1" wingspan (he is only 6'8"). And in his first year with the Clippers, he performed well. His second year (2008-09) was even better, when he averaged 16.8 PPG, but since then he has been extremely quiet for some reason.

    His shooting percentages have gotten better, he's stopped shooting threes (which he couldn't hit for his life) and he has become a better free-throw shooter.

    When you watch Thornton play, you can see why he has the ability to be a consistent threat to attack the basket, and a ferocious defender. He just hasn't put it together for some reason. Stick him on a contender, and I think he would thrive.


    Which Contenders Need Him?

    East: Boston Celtics

    West: Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies

9. Shawne Williams, SF, 6'9", 230 Lbs.

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    Shawne Williams had a pretty rough year with the New York Knicks last season. He started off the year hot, cooled off when Carmelo Anthony joined the team and then got back into a groove as the season came to a close.

    I am not suggesting that Williams can be a starter for a contender—that is pretty obvious with a quick glance at his starter/sub split stats.

    Rather, I am suggesting that—with his size, three-point shooting and defense—he could be a Trevor Ariza-type player. He's only 25 years old, and most of the contenders are older teams. His athleticism and toughness would be welcomed by any potential suitor.


    Which Contenders Need Him?

    East: Chicago Bulls

    West: Memphis Grizzlies

8. Shane Battier, SF, 6'8", 220 Lbs.

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    Don't be fooled, Shane Battier is not showboating in this picture. He is calling out the defensive play. As usual, Battier is focused on the task at hand, and he blocks out all of the other nonsense.

    Battier has been described as crafty, wily, experienced, smart and any other similar word you can think of. The fact of the matter is he is a guy who plays the game the way it is supposed to be played.

    He plays a team game.

    Battier never gets caught up in the statistics, never over-shoots and is willing to guard anyone you put in front of him (especially Kobe). He's what we like to call a "glue" guy. That player on every contender who always seems to put the team first.

    That is not to say that Battier can't ball. The dude has been a lethal three-point shooter for a decade, and he is clutch too. He hit a huge three in Memphis' Game 1 win over the San Antonio Spurs. He has no trouble hitting that dagger.


    Which Contenders Need Him?

    East: Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks

    West: Dallas Mavericks, Oklahoma City Thunder

7. Grant Hill, SF, 6'8", 225 Lbs.

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    A consummate professional, Grant Hill is one of the league's greatest spokesmen. He has recently been one of the leaders in the "Think Before You Speak" campaign against homosexual slurs.

    On the court, he's a role model too.

    After suffering through some horrific ankle operations in the early parts of the 2000s, Hill has come back strong, acting as a model of consistency the past four years. Even now at 38, Hill is hot commodity for teams looking at strong, high percentage shooters.

    He has been playing with Steve Nash in the Phoenix Suns' explosive offense the last few years, which may pad his stats, but shooting numbers don't generally lie.

    Hill should find his place on a contender and chase the one thing he's missing: a championship ring.


    Which Contenders Need Him?

    East: Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat

    West: Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies

6. Kris Humphries, PF, 6'9", 235 Lbs.

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    Make no mistake; despite the gorgeous Kim Kardashian under his arm, Kris Humphries has made his presence felt on the court, not off it.

    His 10.0 PPG and 10.4 RPG in 2010-11 were certainly a surprise, but it was his 52.7 field-goal percentage that makes him so attractive. We always knew he could bang the boards and score a couple buckets, but he was always so inefficient. Not anymore.

    Now, he could be a tremendous low-cost (compared to the market) option for contending teams that are strapped for cash.

    I expect him to be one of the least talked-about free agents (unless you include Kardashian chatter), but one of the most important come next season. I don't think he will have a Tyson Chandler-like effect on the team he plays for, but he could definitely come close.


    Which Contenders Need Him?

    East: Boston Celtics, Miami Heat

    West: Los Angeles Lakers

5. Jason Richardson, SG, 6'6", 225 Lbs.

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    Consider Jason Richardson another victim of the "leaving Phoenix" syndrome.

    J-Rich had a down year for the Orlando Magic, but then again, the entire Magic team had a down year. So what does that mean for our man Richardson?

    Mostly nothing, only because he is an established veteran. People in this league know what he can do. He is capable of dropping 30 points any given night, while hitting five of the most ridiculous shots you'll ever see.

    That's his game.

    He's a scorer, and he's great at it.

    I expect a huge uptick in his efficiency numbers this year (field-goal percentage), and I also expect him to remain with a top contending team like Orlando. If his price doesn't get too high, he could be the biggest steal of this whole free-agent class.


    Which Contenders Need Him?

    East: Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls

    West: Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies

4. J.R. Smith, SG, 6'6", 220 Lbs.

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    J.R. Smith is one of the streakiest shooters in the game. But when he's hot?

    Look out.

    I guess that would be the best way to describe J.R.—he's a "look out" shooter. As long as you keep him away from the ball, and out of game rhythm, he's not going to contribute in any meaningful way.

    But once he gets into a rhythm, he can do stuff like this and this.

    It's really not fair, those two clips. The guy can soar through the air like a hawk, and shoot the lights out like Ray Allen. How do you guard him?

    He will be an awesome addition for any contender, although I'm not sure if any of the contenders can realistically afford him.


    Which Contenders Need Him?

    East: Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks

    West: Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers

3. Samuel Dalembert, C, 6'11", 250 Lbs.

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    Is Samuel Dalembert a better player than the four guys that are behind him on this list?

    No. Absolutely not. So why is he ranked No. 3?

    Just take a look at the slide title and you'll see why. It's that big, beautiful, impossible-to-attain "C." It doesn't stand for captain; it stands for center. Right now in the NBA, centers are a dying breed, and a breed that teams are dying to find.

    Despite his 8.1 PPG and 8.2 RPG from last season, Dalembert will be very tough to sign in such a weak big-man class in free agency.

    The Los Angeles Lakers won the 2009 and 2010 titles with three huge guys and Kobe Bryant. The Dallas Mavericks won the 2011 title with Tyson Chandler and Dirk Nowitzki. Teams are finally starting to figure out that you do need size to win in this league, and that the Mike D'Antoni offense is the exception, not the rule.

    Having established the importance of centers, it would be wise for me to note that Dalembert's price tag is going to get driven up to an insanely high number. And he most certainly won't be worth it.

    But don't forget the first rule of economics—supply and demand.


    Which Contenders Need Him?

    East: Boston Celtics, Miami Heat

    West: Dallas Mavericks

2. Jamal Crawford, G, 6'5", 200 Lbs.

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    One of the most explosive scorers in the league, Jamal Crawford can light it up in a plethora of different ways. He has a great shot, is a terrific ball-handler/driver and is deadly in transition.

    I can't possibly mention Crawford's scoring abilities without mentioning his penchant for turning three-point plays into four-point plays like no one else in NBA history.

    While Crawford's scoring was down last season with the Atlanta Hawks, there is no reason to think that he is a player on the decline.

    In fact, I would say just the opposite.

    Even though it doesn't feel like it, Crawford is a 12-year veteran. Everyone in this league knows what he can do. He had a bad year, but the Hawks had a bad year as a whole. I assume the lack of a point guard affected his ability to score.

    Regardless, Crawford is going to be one of the biggest splashes of this free-agent class. Most likely a team with tons of cap room will sign him to play as a starter, and he will take the money and run. But as we know by now, Crawford is by far a more effective player coming off the bench.

    If he cares at all about getting a ring, this should be the year he takes a pay cut to contend for a championship.


    Which Contenders Need Him?

    East: Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks

    West: Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies

1. Tyson Chandler, C, 7'1", 235 Lbs.

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    This picture displays the reasons why Tyson Chandler single-handedly swung the 2011 NBA Finals in Dallas' favor.

    Perfect defense.

    They should show this picture to every kid going through high school. Jumping straight up, with your hands straight above your head to contest the shot.

    Knowing Derrick Rose, this shot probably somehow went in, but you get the picture (pun intended). Chandler shot 65.4 percent from the field, and averaged 10.1 PPG and 9.4 RPG. Solid, but unspectacular numbers.

    Think of what Kevin Garnett did for the 2008 Boston Celtics. From Minnesota, Kevin brought with him an intense, defense-first attitude that launched the Celtics to the 2008 NBA title.

    Chandler did the same thing with Dallas.

    He preached defense first, and he practiced what he preached. He was always in the paint to contest shots near the rim, and his lightning-quick rotations helped conceal Dirk Nowitzki's defensive inadequacies.

    Tyson Chandler deserves the titanic amount of money that is about to come his way. When you single-handedly swing an NBA championship, that's what happens.


    Which Contenders Need Him

    East: Boston Celtics, Miami Heat

    West: Dallas Mavericks


    What do you guys think? Any chance for these guys to end up on contenders?

    Let me know in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!