With the NBA lockout finally reaching its much-awaited ending, NBA organizations can finally begin speculating, picking and choosing which free agents or trade chips they want on their side for the 2011-12 season.
The season kicks off on December 25th, which means there will be a brief period when free agents can be signed, so expect a series of significant moves to be made over the next month.
The 2011 free-agency class may not even be the top story of the 2011 offseason. The amnesty clause will allow a number of key players to roam the landscape in search of a new team and the looming 2012 offseason, which features free agents Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Chris Kaman all possibly being on the move.
The 2012 free-agent class easily trumps that of the 2011 class, but it doesn't mean that teams should already be looking ahead to possibly sign Howard, Paul or another All-Star, since they now have the chance to build up their team by utilizing the amnesty clause to free up salary space and possibly sign a key role-player that could attract the likes of a superstar.
A few names have begun to dominate the NBA world as teams will begin looking to make moves, with these five players being the most significant names, as soon as they are given the word.
Two years ago, Brandon Roy averaged 22 points, five assists and four boards per game while leading his Portland Trail Blazers to a 50-32 record and their second consecutive postseason appearance after the team missed the postseason for five consecutive years.
It's no coincidence that the two years the Blazers made the postseason also happened to be the two best years of Roy's young career.
Roy earned a contract that granted him nearly $15 million per year over the next five seasons, and the Blazers are now regretting it. After serious knee surgery on a torn meniscus, Roy is coming off of a dismal season where he played in 47 games and averaged 12 points per game on 40 percent shooting.
The agility and lift that he possessed in years prior was gone, and the injury could possibly affect the rest of his career.
So why is Roy at the top of the headlines today? Because he just might be the NBA's first victim of the amnesty clause, which gives teams the option of dropping a player and their contract from their overall salary.
A league executive is claiming that the Blazers will be using their amnesty clause on Roy, which will make him free to be picked up by any team willing to take a chance on the three-time All-Star.
It really is a shame that the Atlanta Hawks didn't get all that they asked for out of Josh Smith.
The 17th pick in the 2004 NBA draft has done well over his first seven years in the league since being drafted out of high school as a 19-year-old, but the Hawks have yet to see a drastic improvement out of Smith. They continue to see the same player that's a terrific defender and shot-blocker but limited on offense to driving.
He's so limited on offense that the Hawks fanbase actually began to jeer whenever Smith attempted a jump shot in the postseason last year.
Times have gotten tough for the Hawks, as it appears that they've reached their peak as an above-average team that can't compete with the elite. That could potentially mean Smith being moved as a means to bring in a player or two who could put this team over the top.
Smith's greatly limited on offense, but his defensive prowess and athleticism is going to warrant him a lot of attention from teams that are interested in signing the multi-dimensional forward.
A number of teams, including the Magic, Nets and Rockets, could make a serious push to bring Smith in.
Officially, Dwight Howard won't be a free agent until July of 2012, but that doesn't mean we can't still make up ridiculous trade rumors before then.
Howard's name has been brought up in trade talks for the past year among circles involving the Los Angeles Lakers and New Jersey Nets. The Lakers have the pieces to give up as well as luring Howard in by playing alongside Kobe Bryant, but the Nets have just as good an offer with Deron Williams leading the way.
It's no secret that Howard knows about the free-agency talk, and he has even made it sound as if a separation from the Magic is imminent. Howard has been disappointed with the progression of the Magic over the past two seasons.
It was no more apparent than last postseason, when he averaged 27 points and 16 boards per game but still managed to see his team fall in six games to the division rival Atlanta Hawks.
If the Magic were to trade Howard, they would at least be getting pieces in return rather than waiting until free agency and hoping that they can convince the former No. 1 pick to stick around for a few more seasons.
With the team loaded up on awful contracts and underachieving players, Howard's departure could come a lot sooner than we actually expect.
Jamal Crawford is the most coveted free agent of the 2011 free-agent class.
The Atlanta Hawks better be careful when deciding on how they handle the situation involving their sharpshooter. He has come off the Hawks' bench for the past two seasons and has played a huge role on the team, with a 2010 Sixth Man of the Year award to show for it after averaging 18 points per game while also converting on two three-pointers per contest.
Crawford is coming off of a disappointing campaign last year, when he averaged 14 points per game while only converting on 34 percent of his three-point attempts. But that doesn't mean the Hawks won't be looking to retain one of the NBA's most dangerous perimeter threats.
Jamal is a notorious shooter and has the tendency to get hot, which explains the 50-point games that he has had with three different teams.
Even at 31 years old, Crawford is going to be highly coveted by a number of teams due to the fact that he's the best unrestricted free agent this offseason.
With the Hawks set to possibly amnesty-clause Marvin Williams and free up some room, they'll have the best chance of re-signing Crawford—but it doesn't mean that many other teams will be looking to overspend on Jamal, either.
Despite suffering a serious head injury that resulted in a broken nose and a hurt shoulder that will keep him out for a month, Andrei Kirilenko will still be one of the most coveted free agents of the 2011 offseason.
He has been grossly overpaid since earning a lucrative deal at the end of the 2005 regular season and has not had a season that matches the performance he had in 2005-06, when he averaged 15 points, eight boards, four assists and three blocks per game.
Kirilenko is as athletic as ever and is still a top-tier defender, but his underwhelming production has hurt the Jazz in regards to their salary cap, as they have yet to see the player that earned himself the contract that made him nearly $18 million last season.
The chances are low that AK-47 will be earning himself another deal that gives him over $10 million a year, so expect a few teams to make a strong push toward the Russian.
With the Jazz stacked in the front court with players like Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors looking to crack the rotation, Kirilenko may just be the odd one out in the equation of where the Utah franchise goes from here.
The team is looking to rebuild after losing out on coach Jerry Sloan, point guard Deron Williams and power forward Carlos Boozer in the span of a few months, and Kirilenko may be the first one to go.
Reports are coming in that Kirilenko is expected to sign with either the New Jersey Nets, Los Angeles Clippers or with the Jazz once again.
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