NBA Free Agents 2011: Who Will Make the Biggest Impact on a New Team?
Is the lockout over yet? No? WHY NOT?
Even with the lockout still looming, a buzzkill for anyone involved with the NBA, I can't wait for free agency to take off.
It's supposed to be one of the most exciting parts of the offseason, but because the lockout remains intact, some free agents have decided not to wait around.
Top free agents Wilson Chandler and J.R. Smith have already signed deals to play in the CBA. They have dismissed the idea of playing in the NBA until at least March due to their new contracts.
Some players are remaining patient and faithful, though, and with the lockout hopefully coming to an end soon, that means that free agency could be just around the corner.
Which free agents will have the biggest impact on a new team next season?
I can tell you one thing: It's not going to be Greg Oden.
Marcus Thornton: Shooting Guard
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2010-11 Stats: 12.8 points per game, 3.5 rebounds per game, 1.8 assists per game; 16.52 PER
Possible Destinations: Sacramento Kings, Denver Nuggets, Cleveland Cavaliers, New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets
Marcus Thornton has all the tools to be a starting shooting guard in the NBA. Upon his arrival in Sacramento last season, Thornton proved his worth.
In 27 games (23 starts), Thornton averaged 21.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. This was a huge upgrade from his performance in New Orleans, and that's because he was finally getting a chance to showcase his abilities.
His minutes per game went up from 16.2 in New Orleans to 38.1 in Sacramento. His late-season performance will surely draw many teams' attention, but Thornton has already said that he wouldn't mind staying in Sacramento.
Doesn't every free agent have to say something like that, though?
Would staying in Sacramento really be what's best for Thornton? After the Kings drafted combo guard Jimmer Fredette, I'm not sure Thornton is going to be thrilled with his minutes.
The Kings could easily start Evans and Thornton and rotate Jimmer in accordingly, but Evans will get the nod over Thornton more times than not. And if Jimmer is hitting, Jimmer is staying on the court.
The best scenario for Thornton would be to stay put or sign with a team like the New Jersey Nets. In New Jersey, Thornton would create a dynamic backcourt tandem with point guard Deron Williams.
If Kris Humphries were to stick around and Brook Lopez were to keep developing, the Nets could have a pretty scary starting lineup.
Tyson Chandler: Center
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2010-11 Stats: 10.1 points per game, 9.4 rebounds per game, 1.1 blocks per game; 18.45 PER
Possible Destinations: Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Portland Trail Blazers
Tyson Chandler will be the most coveted big man on the market once the lockout is over and free agency commences.
After making a name for himself in Dallas as a defensive-minded, emotional leader, Chandler should have his fair share of options to choose from.
Chandler is in line to make the most money of his career, and while the Miami Heat would be the best fit for the big man, it wouldn't be the most financially rewarding.
Had the Mavericks not just won a championship, I would say Chandler would be more inclined to take less money to play for a team like the Heat. However, because he does have a championship under his belt, Chandler could choose money over more rings.
The Mavericks will be doing whatever they can to keep their starting center in town, but other teams may be able to make more lucrative offers, such as the New York Knicks.
Chandler is definitely a step in the right direction for the Knicks, who are in desperate need of rebounding help and low-post depth. He is a major step up from current starting center Ronny Turiaf.
Look for Chandler to either remain in Dallas or go to a team like the Knicks or the Trail Blazers.
Carl Landry: Power Forward
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2010-11 Stats: 11.9 points per game, 4.6 rebounds per game, 0.8 assists per game; 14.90 PER
Possible Destinations: New Orleans Hornets, Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, Dallas Mavericks
Carl Landry was moved to the New Orleans Hornets last season in a swap deal for the aforementioned Marcus Thornton. Like Thornton, Landry was given the chance to shine in his new city.
Between his two teams last season, Landry's statistics remained about the same, but he really turned it on late in the season and took that momentum into the Western Conference playoffs.
Landry is a bit undersized at the power forward position, but his ability to create with the ball makes him a tough cover for most traditional power forwards.
Because of this versatility, Landry could see offers from a number of teams once free agency rolls around. Landry has the talent to be a starter in the NBA, but he might be best served as a sixth man who gets around 25 minutes per game.
If Landry stays in New Orleans, that's likely his destined role.
The Hornets will be more concerned with signing their other free agent power forward, David West. West will remain the Hornets' starting power forward for as long as he can remain healthy.
This leaves Landry in a bind. Should he stay in New Orleans and prosper from a bench role, or should he listen to offers from teams like Indiana and Milwaukee, who are likely to offer him more money?
Sorry, Hornets fans. Landry is likely out the door.
If I had to guess, I'd say Milwaukee is the safest assumption. He was born there, after all.
Jamal Crawford: Shooting Guard
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2010-11 Stats: 14.2 points per game, 3.2 assists per game, 1.7 rebounds per game; 14.29 PER
Possible Destinations: Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, New Jersey Nets, New Orleans Hornets
While Marcus Thornton may have the most potential among all free-agent shooting guards, Jamal Crawford certainly has a better track record.
Crawford, who won Sixth Man of the Year in the 2009-10 season, will be looking for a big contract once free agency opens, and there are certainly a few teams that would like to have him around.
Two of these teams, the Chicago Bulls and his current team the Atlanta Hawks, might not have the money that Crawford will be looking for. The Bulls are definitely in need of a shooting guard, but they will want to spend their money to keep their roster intact.
The Hawks, on the other hand, saw combo guard Jeff Teague emerge in the playoffs, so they may just go the cheaper route and stay with Teague.
This leaves the New Jersey Nets as a great contender to sign the crafty veteran. Like Thornton, Crawford would be able to bring a dynamic offensive presence to the Nets' backcourt.
Crawford would be a great mentor for Marshon Brooks, the Nets' first-round draft pick from last season.
Brooks plays a similar style to Crawford, and he would likely develop better playing as a backup to Crawford rather than Anthony Morrow, the Nets' current starting shooting guard.
Caron Butler: Small Forward
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2010-11 Stats (29 games): 15 points per game, 4.1 rebounds per game, 1.6 assists per game; 14.25 PER
Possible Destinations: Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Charlotte Bobcats
The Dallas Mavericks will likely do everything they can to re-sign SF Caron Butler. He is coming into free agency as a risky play for many teams.
Butler missed 53 games last season after having surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right knee. The once-explosive Butler may have lost a few steps, but that's not going to stop the Mavericks from throwing everything they've got at him.
The Mavs are in desperate need of small forward depth.
Shawn Marion stepped in for the injured Butler and played remarkably well last season, but there's no telling how much longer Marion will be able to play 30-35 minutes per game.
So, while Butler may not be making an impact on a "new" team, he will be making a big impact nonetheless.
After playing in only 29 games, and with Dallas possibly losing Chandler and PG J.J. Barea to free agency, this will be pretty close to a "new" team once the season begins.
The only other team I could see Butler signing with is the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets will be without SG/SF Wilson Chandler and SG J.R. Smith until at least March. Both players signed deals with teams in the CBA that have a no-opt-out clause when it comes to the NBA lockout.
The Nuggets will need depth at those two positions, and that's just what Butler could provide. He would be able to play behind SG Aaron Afflalo and SF Danilo Gallinari until he is ready to make the leap back into a starting lineup.
However, Dallas is still the most likely option for Butler.
Tayshaun Prince: Small Forward
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2010-11 Stats: 14.1 points per game, 4.2 rebounds per game, 2.8 assists per game; 15.13 PER
Possible Destinations: Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Clippers, Toronto Raptors, Miami Heat, Detroit Pistons
Good ol' reliable Tayshaun Prince.
Prince has been a Piston his entire nine-year career. He is the epitome of a solid, valuable player who makes his team better just by being on the court.
With his ridiculous wingspan, Prince has always been a trusted defender. However, Prince really showcased his offensive abilities last season, as he was usually the only Piston that could be counted on every game.
While coming back to Detroit is still a definite possibility, chances are that Prince has played his last game as a Piston. Prince certainly still has all the skills and ability to be a starter in the league, but at this point in his career, will he choose to play for a contender over money?
If not, the best case scenario for Prince would be the Clippers or the Raptors. Prince would be able to start for either team and would likely make more money while playing on non-contenders.
However, if Prince takes a cut in pay and minutes, the Heat would be a great fit for the veteran. As a backup to LeBron James, Prince would be able to spot "The King" while still finding a way to play around 20 minutes per game.
I happen to like the idea of Prince going to the Jazz. He would have to take a slight pay cut, but with AK-47 likely out of town, Prince would fit in with the Jazz's style of play and would be an immediate starter.
J.J. Barea: Point Guard
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2010-11 Stats: 9.5 points per game, 3.9 assists per game, 2.0 rebounds per game; 14.82 PER
Possible Destinations: Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Toronto Raptors, Dallas Mavericks
J.J. Barea may have the most opportunities going into free agency. That is, if he doesn't choose to play overseas.
Barea will be the most coveted point guard on the market, and his performance in the playoffs is likely to earn him a hefty paycheck.
Ultimately, Dallas may be the best place for Barea to play, just because I don't think he's ready to be a full-time starter. Barea's energy off the bench was a huge asset to the Mavericks, and with Jason Kidd only getting older, Barea would surely be the future starter.
However, the "hefty paycheck" I mentioned could be more than enough to get Barea out of Dallas and onto a new team. Dallas already has two other free agents, Chandler and Butler, that they would want to sign long-term before Barea.
The best destinations for Barea, that aren't Dallas, include both Miami and Los Angeles. In Miami, Barea would likely take over starting duties, giving both Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers more competition.
However, he probably wouldn't be getting paid as much as he might want.
In Los Angeles, Barea could technically either start or play off the bench. As long as Derek Fisher is with the Lakers, though, I really can't see anybody starting over him. Unless, of course, the Lakers were to acquire somebody like Russell Westbrook or Chris Paul.
Where will the spark plug end up? I'm really not sure.
Wherever he does end up, Barea is going to step in and be a huge contributor from day one, just like he has been in Dallas.
Tracy McGrady: Shooting Guard
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2010-11 Stats: 8.0 points per game, 3.5 assists per game, 3.5 rebounds per game; 14.91 PER
Possible Destinations: Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks, Detroit Pistons, Denver Nuggets
Many would have given up on Tracy McGrady by now.
At age 32, McGrady has played 14 seasons in the NBA. However, he has yet to play a full season.
The seemingly always injured shooting guard actually played in 72 games last season. This was the most games McGrady has played in one season since the 2006-07 season.
In Detroit, the 6'8" McGrady played a combination of his natural shooting guard position and point guard. That's right, a 6'8" point guard.
Now, I'm not saying that McGrady has found his calling, or that on the right team he could be the next Magic Johnson, but McGrady played really solid basketball at point guard.
Will McGrady ever get back to playing the way he was during his prime?
After so many injuries, it's not likely. However, if McGrady could get a sixth man gig on a contender, I'm certain he would thrive.
That's why his best destinations are in Miami and Dallas. He would have to take a pay cut to play in either city, but he wouldn't have to start. He could play a variety of positions, and he would have a great chance at finally winning a championship.
I've always been a McGrady fan, so I hope he makes the best decision when free agency finally rolls around.