NBA Free Agents 2011: 10 Best Restricted Free Agents
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The 2011 NBA free-agency period is set to begin in earnest on December 9. Restricted free agents (RFAs) like Marc Gasol and Jeff Green will be looking to score big paydays either through signing an offer sheet from a new club or staying with their current squad if an offer is matched or an agreement is made upon a qualifying offer.
It will be fascinating to see how the NBA's newly negotiated collective bargaining agreement will impact the pursuit of RFAs. If the league's salary cap is reduced or if owners force their general managers to adhere to stricter budgets due to a more punitive luxury tax, RFAs may not get the lucrative contracts they are hoping for. Their current employers may be able to find bargains in re-signing them to modest extensions. Here are the 10 best RFAs who find themselves in that delicate position.
Honorable Mention: Greg Oden (Portland Trailblazers)
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The next chapter in the tragic tale of Greg Oden will be written before the calendar flips to 2012. After having played in only one quarter of his team's games in his first four seasons, what approach will teams take in going after the former No. 1 overall pick?
Let's not forget that Oden has shown flashes in his brief playing stints. He has averaged 15 points and 12 rebounds per 36 minutes over his career. His career PER is 19.5, higher than the PERs posted by Chris Bosh, Josh Smith and Monta Ellis last season.
Despite the obvious talent, Oden's track record of injuries is a scary downside to any potential suitor. If no one else decides to make him an offer, the Blazers can try to extend him at a reduced rate or fulfill his one-year qualifying offer at $8.8 million to give the big man a shot at playing for a contract this upcoming season (assuming he can finally get on the court, that is).
10. Aaron Brooks (Phoenix Suns)
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After busting out in a big way with the Houston Rockets in 2010, when he averaged nearly 20 points a game to go along with five assists, Brooks had a nightmarish 2011 campaign. He played poorly, got injured, lost his starting job in Houston and was subsequently traded to Phoenix to back up Steve Nash.
It will be interesting to see if any team offers Brooks a contract that shows they still believe that he is good enough to be a starting point guard in the NBA. With point guards crawling out of the woodwork everywhere around the league, I don't see a big offer (along the lines of what Mike Conley received before last season) coming.
Brooks' best hope may be that Phoenix signs him to his manageable $3 million qualifying offer and he plays well enough for the Suns to believe that he is their point guard of the future. The only hitch in that plan is that Brooks is stuck playing in China for the next few months, limiting his exposure in the NBA.
9. Rodney Stuckey (Detroit Pistons)
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Stuckey's value is hard to gauge. There is no question he is a talented player, but he is stuck (forgive the pun) between positions, not being either a true point guard or a true shooting guard. On the plus side, Stuckey is coming off of his best all-around year as a pro, despite starting just 54 games and being mired in possibly the worst situation in the NBA in Detroit.
Stuckey would excel as a combo guard coming off the bench to score in the Jason Terry/Jamal Crawford mold, only without the shooting prowess, meaning I do not think he deserves a big bump in salary over the $3.9 million he can get by accepting his qualifying offer.
However, I believe there is some team out there who sees Stuckey as a young player still learning the point guard position and will offer him a deal reflecting his expected growth as a starting point guard. If that is indeed the case, I do not see Detroit matching any such offer after they just selected point guard Brandon Knight in the first round of the 2011 draft.
8. Nick Young (Washington Wizards)
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Nick Young, like most of his teammates on the Wizards, loves to shoot the ball. It doesn't matter where he is on the court, how tightly he is being guarded or how many teammates are wide open under the basket, Young believes he's got the green light to launch it.
And he's not half bad at it.
Young can absolutely fill it up. He averaged nearly 20 points a game as a starter last season, including a 43-point outburst against Sacramento, and for his career scores about 18 points per 36 minutes played. He has a decent field-goal percentage for a guy who takes mostly difficult perimeter jumpers, he can knock down the three-ball and he converts free-throw attempts at a good rate.
The only issue is that, for Young, getting buckets is the only thing he thinks about doing on the basketball court. That's a turn-off for most teams, especially those looking for someone to count on in the playoffs. He's best-suited as a sixth man who can come in and light it up for spurts, but he'll be looking for starter money and a starting job.
If Washington is looking to really rebuild, they should let Young walk if an offer comes along. A running team who can use a wing scorer, like the Suns, may be able to swoop in and nab Young at a decent number.
7. Jeff Green (Boston Celtics)
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After a promising start to his career, Green was expected to be a breakout star alongside Kevin Durant on the Thunder, Instead, Green seemed to, if anything, regress over the last couple seasons. He watched Russell Westbrook claim the place next to Durant thought to be reserved for himself, and wound up being traded to the Celtics in 2011.
Green has shown a wide array of skills as a player. However, just as he doesn't excel at either forward position, he doesn't excel in any particular trait on the basketball court. So far neither the Thunder nor the Celtics have been able to find the right role for Green to fill.
It will be interesting to see if the aging Celtics show that they think Green is a building block for the future by signing him to a big extension. If I were them, I would sign him to his $5.9 million qualifying offer and make him earn an extension, and if another team comes along and scoops him up with a big contract, then so be it.
6. Arron Afflalo (Denver Nuggets)
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Afflalo may not be a big name, but he should be one of the most in-demand RFAs on the market. He's a perfect fit for many teams looking for a wing who can space the floor on offense and match up with opposing scorers on defense.
Afflalo is coming off his best year in the NBA. He shot the ball at a ridiculous clip from the perimeter and actually had the highest True Shooting percentage of any non big man in the NBA (among qualified players who played at least 20 minutes per game).
Afflalo is a great complement to any high-volume scorer on the wing. With Denver seemingly overloaded at the wing spots, a team who is in need of a player of his ilk, like the Chicago Bulls, should try to pry him away from the Nuggets.
5. DeAndre Jordan (Los Angeles Clippers)
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If I was running the LA Clippers, I would do all I could to lock up Jordan long term to pair with Blake Griffin in the frontcourt.
Jordan is the perfect prototype for the modern NBA center. He's massive and an incredible athlete for his size. He rebounds at a high rate, blocks shots and protects the rim on defense. He doesn't demand the ball on offense, finishes lobs with a flourish and is a great chemistry guy. To me, that sounds like Tyson Chandler 2.0 and Chandler just swung the 2011 NBA title for the Mavs.
An offer is sure to come along that will blow Jordan's $1.1 million qualifying offer out of the water. If the Clippers are smart, they will sign him to a fairly valued long-term deal before the market drives his price up.
4. Marcus Thornton (Sacramento Kings)
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Marcus Thornton is the player we wish Nick Young was. He's got a similar skill set to Young, but you'd much rather have Thornton on your team.
Thornton is another pure scorer, but his efficiency makes him more valuable than other volume shooters. Thornton attacks the rim often and turns it over at a very low rate, which is impressive given his high usage rate when in the game. He is a capable shooter from the outside, but his game excels as a slasher.
While his most effective role may be as a bench scorer, he can fill a hole in the starting lineup, especially for a team lacking scoring on the wings. With high-possession guys like Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins and now Jimmer Fredette on the roster, it's tough to envision Thornton being used to his full potential in Sacramento. Teams like the Suns and the Bulls should come calling for this scorer's services.
3. Wilson Chandler (Denver Nuggets)
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Chandler is a versatile athlete who has played the 2, 3 and 4 positions over the course of his career. His most natural position is at small forward, and while he's not a great shooter, he can get to the basket and finish around the rim.
Chandler also has the physical tools to be a capable defender. We've yet to see what he can really do on the defensive side of the floor after his stints with the defensively averse Knicks and Nuggets, but he has length and athleticism, and he blocked a lot of shots last year for a guy his size.
As I mentioned before, Denver is overloaded with wings, but they also have seven potential free agents to sort out. Long-term, I think they must choose to go with either Chandler or Danilo Gallinari as their small forward, but Chandler is a valuable asset and if the Nuggets can get him to agree to his $3.1 million qualifying offer, they should try and get something back for him in a trade this season. The tricky part for any team trying to sign him though is his obligatory contract in China, which will keep him out of the NBA for the next few months.
2. Thaddeus Young (Philadelphia 76ers)
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Young is one of the more promising young swingmen in the league. Despite playing reduced minutes last season, Young improved in just about every facet of his game.
Although he's a bit undersized for his position at 6'8" 220 pounds, Young plays best as a power forward. He's an improving rebounder, and his quickness and athleticism make him a matchup problem for opposing 4's.
He does most of his damage on offense near the basket, and last season shot a robust 54 percent from the field on a variety of cuts, slashes and short jumpers. He's one of those "glue guys" who has a big effect on a game without putting up huge box score numbers. His 18.4 PER placed him in the top 50 in the NBA last season and the Sixers were nearly seven points better per 100 possessions with Young on the court.
I think Young will be a bit undervalued in the free-agent market. If I were a contender who needed a forward to shore up my front line, I wouldn't hesitate to give Young (who's still improving and just 23 years old) a lucrative contract.
1. Marc Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies)
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This is a no-brainer. Little Gasol is the only All-Star caliber player on this list. In fact, he is one of the five best centers in the game right now and he may be the only RFA to get a monster offer.
With Memphis riding the momentum of their most successful season in franchise history, the pressure will be on for them to hold onto Gasol, especially after Zach Randolph basically told everyone who would listen that a big part of why he signed an extension to stay in Memphis was because the Grizzlies promised him they would retain Gasol.
Memphis will have a lot of competition for Gasol (Who doesn't need a highly skilled big man these days?), but they at least have the luxury of guaranteeing his services by matching any offer that comes his way.