NBA Free Agency: 25 Stories to Follow Post-Lockout
The NBA Lockout ended in glory and relief last week, and with that comes the end of a long period of no player movement or stories coming from the NBA.
Owners and players are in the process of ratifying the new deal, and as long as it goes through (and it will, can you imagine the backlash if one of the parties decided the deal wasn't good enough for them and the league re-locked out?), training camps will open on Dec. 9, with the season starting 16 days later on Christmas Day.
That means there will be just over two weeks for teams to sign rookies, extend offers to restricted free agents and sign other free agents, which will make for a wild two weeks.
Teams will have to game plan on the fly, as they're just learning the new details of the CBA, which has a different mid-level exception for tax-paying teams and a small wrinkle that teams using the full MLE can't go more than $4 million over the tax threshold during the same season.
This will cause teams to strategize who they sign, who they re-sign and who they use their amnesty clause on, perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of the new CBA.
So here's a quick guide of what to watch for over the next few weeks of player movement and actual basketball news.
Fast and Furious Start
This abbreviated offseason is going to end up being even faster and more exciting than the one the NFL had over the summer.
The NBA "offseason" is going last 16 days, and with training camp starting on Dec. 9, teams are going to be trying to sign free agents as soon as possible so they don't end up adding guys late during training camp.
That, on top of the fact that free agents usually move around more freely in the NBA when compared to the NFL (or at least notable free agents), will add up to a wild ride over the next few weeks.
Denver's Free-Agency Conundrum
Denver has the unfortunate situation where they have three of their players stuck overseas in China, one of them likely on the way out and another sitting as a highly coveted free agent.
The Nuggets are going to have to balance trying to convince Nene to stay (fat chance) with not overpaying for Arron Afflalo (which they'll probably end up being forced to do) while deciding how to handle attempting to re-sign Kenyon Martin (if they want to), J.R. Smith and Wilson Chandler, who won't be back from China until mid-February at the earliest, all while attempting to fill out their roster with the free-agent market they have at hand.
Masia Ujiri definitely has his hands full.
Who's Dumb Enough to Overpay JJ Barea?
During the NBA Finals, the one non-superstar player who really shined more than any other was JJ Barea, probably because of the fact that he was shorter than every other player on the floor, but was able to score down low.
Still, that doesn't mean he's got the chops to run the point on a good NBA team.
If he doesn't end up staying in Dallas, it probably means some team has offered him something around $5 million to $7 million a year to see if he can start for them, but he's at best a change-of-pace guard.
The Restricted Free Agents
There are quite a few restricted free agents around the league right now who are going to be getting tons of interest from other teams.
The list of restricted free agents is probably more enticing than the list of unrestricted guys, with names like Arron Afflalo, DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol, Greg Oden, Mario Chalmers, Marco Belinelli, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Nick Young populating the restricted free-agent list.
It seems like these guys will end up getting paid quite a bit, as they all are important to their respective teams, and many of them will do whatever they can to keep their guys.
The Scramble for Big Men
As it is every year in the NBA, the most desirable thing to get is a good big man. Height is valuable capital in a game of giants.
That means that teams are going to be scrambling for big men, and with very few legitimate bigs out there, the competition for the best of them will be tough, and the number of mediocre bigs getting overpaid is going to be astronomical.
Nene is going to get a pretty big contract (and I'll eat my hat if he ends up on Miami), Samuel Dalembert is going to be the best bargain (he'll probably be in Miami next season), and Marc Gasol and even (gulp) Greg Oden are great options as restricted free agents.
Who's Houston's Center?
One of my favorite sub-plots about last season was that the Rockets nearly made the playoffs with a 6'6" dude playing center for them. Not only did they have a 6'6" guy playing center, they had him playing center better than half of the other centers in the league.
With Yao Ming retired (who knows if that lasts) and Chuck Hayes a free agent, I'm very interested to see who they try to put at the 5-spot, because Hasheem Thabeet is a lost cause.
What Do the Celtics Do?
Boston has two players to figure out what to do with in free agency right now with Glen Davis and Jeff Green.
As it stands right now, it doesn't make sense to let Green walk, and Big Baby is probably going to get overpaid by some dumb general manager out there (David Kahn has one good chubby power forward, he could sign another for stupid money).
If Big Baby goes elsewhere, they'll have a serious need for big men, especially if they end up using their amnesty on Jermaine O'Neal. I'm curious to see what Danny Ainge can do with the little bit of wiggle room they have.
Who Gets Wildly Overpaid?
Over the past few months, the biggest argument for the owners forcing the players to make so many concessions on the CBA was that player contracts were getting out of hand. They were offering the contracts, yes, but they needed to be "saved" from themselves.
So, that means nobody will get a ridiculous contract over the next few weeks...right? Absolutely, and Led Zeppelin is going to announce a reunion tour with the living members of Pink Floyd opening for them.
Kris Humphries will get overpaid, New Orleans should do whatever it takes to keep David West and David Kahn is still a general manager.
Would Miami Possibly Sign Delonte West?
This is a creation of my own mind, and nobody has really talked about this as a possibility, but in reality, what bargain point guard out there is anywhere near as good as Delonte West?
West is a ferocious player who is able to run an offense and is feisty on defense. The only cheap point guard options remaining out there are specialists like Mike Bibby (offense) and Anthony Carter (defense).
Sure there's the fact that Delonte West could be a ticking time bomb, but wouldn't West fit into a backup role in Miami nicely if you take those two things away?
Washed Up Veterans Making a Difference?
Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter and Jason Richardson. If this were 2002, that sounds like just about the best dunk contest possible, right?
The only problem is that this is 2011 and the three of them are on the downslope of their career arcs, with McGrady leaving the pack.
I find it totally conceivable that one of these guys could take on a lesser role on a good team, perhaps Jason Richardson reducing his offensive role and taking the starting shooting guard spot on Chicago or McGrady signing a veteran minimum contract with Los Angeles, Miami or New York and contributing big.
Only time will tell with these guys.
The Veteran Free-Agent Defensive Specialists
On the other end of the spectrum, there are a few guys who have been in the league for a long time and have been incredibly valuable to their teams.
Grant Hill is in a no-win situation in Phoenix, as he has two or three years left of being productive and Phoenix is about to enter a rebuilding phase.
He should end up getting at least a portion of the MLE from a non-taxpaying team, or perhaps the whole MLE from a taxpaying team to beef up the defense of a good team.
Meanwhile, Shane Battier is in a great situation in Memphis, with them playing Cinderella last season and looking to go farther this year. He should stay in Memphis.
Golden State Gets Defensive?
If there's one thing that Mark Jackson joining Golden State signals, it's that the team is about to get serious about defense.
Besides the fact that he was able to run the point with his incredibly high basketball IQ, Mark Jackson stuck around the league for what seemed like 25 years because he could play defense.
I think Golden State is finally going to get serious about defense, possibly trying to sign Nene and a defensive presence from a smaller spot. Guys like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Grant Hill, Tayshaun Prince and Andrei Kirilenko pop out as options for the small-forward spot.
Imagine them trading Monta Ellis for Andre Iguodala and then trotting out a starting lineup of Nene, David Lee, Mbah a Moute, Iggy and Steph Curry. That's a playoff team right there.
Indiana's Immense Cap Space
As it stands right now, Indiana has a payroll of just $36 million with no rookies to give contracts to and no real immediate need to re-sign any of their free agents except maybe Josh McRoberts.
If they get McRoberts a reasonable salary, which shouldn't be more than $2 million or $3 million, they'll have about $20 million to spend.
They can stand pat and try to sway a big free agent to come next year (which doesn't seem too likely), or splurge on guys like Nene, Arron Afflalo or throw some money at a big-name restricted free agent center like Marc Gasol or DeAndre Jordan.
Things are looking good for Indiana.
Will Minnesota Be a Big Player?
After drafting Derrick Williams, Minnesota has a few options.
They can hang onto their roster how it is right now and hold out until next year, trying to sign some free agents when they have more cap space, or they can use the room they'll have now to grab a decent free agent.
As of right now, they'll have to use some space to sign Williams and Ricky Rubio, which could take up a good amount of space, giving them enough to use on a decent shooting guard.
Can New Orleans Muster Any Hope?
The people of New Orleans have done their part to keep the team in the city, absolutely buying the crap out of season tickets, but the team is going to have to do its part to stay good.
They'll obviously try to re-sign David West, but they'll also need to retain their best players and try to add someone worthwhile with their MLE, which could be tough.
It seems like Chris Paul is going to be leaving New Orleans as a free agent, so they should look for trade options now.
What Will the Nets Do?
New Jersey has tons of room to add free agents, and should have even more after they use their amnesty on Travis Outlaw (who gave him $7 million a year in the first place?).
However, can they convince Deron Williams to stay on good faith that they'll lure Dwight Howard to New Jersey (Brooklyn) if the Magic don't trade him first? It doesn't seem like the Magic will let it get that far, and he'll be traded, leaving the Nets in the lurch.
So, what are they going to do this year to convince Williams to stay? Because Brook Lopez isn't enough to convince him to be positive about the future of this team.
What Happens When the Chinese League Guys Come Back?
The best-case scenario for the four players marooned in China is that the CBA decides to let them out of their contracts. However, after being so adamant that they wouldn't let that happen a few months ago, that seems unlikely.
The CBA playoffs start in mid-February, and if their teams miss the playoffs, they'll be free to go, but if they do, they could be stuck all the way into March, when the season ends.
This could create an interesting caveat come March, as Wilson Chandler and Aaron Brooks are restricted free agents, but Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith are free to go wherever. Martin and Smith could make for great additions to teams looking to add a player before the playoffs.
Can the Grizzlies Stay Together?
After adding Zach Randolph's salary, Memphis will have a team salary of around $40 million, then they'll have to add Marc Gasol and Shane Battier on top of that.
Gasol should earn somewhere around $10 million a year, but if some team offers him more than that, will they match it no matter what? I think they will, but it could kill their salary cap.
Shane Battier will get around $5 million, which puts them right around the salary cap.
Memphis could be a very good team this year, so long as another team out there doesn't offer Gasol a ridiculous contract.
Which Shooting Guard Do the Bulls Chase?
The biggest weakness of the Chicago Bulls last season was obviously at the shooting guard spot, and they'll have their MLE to use, as the $5 million won't put them over the tax threshold.
The best option they have would be Arron Afflalo, but he'll probably end up getting more than $5 million.
Other than that, they can see if Jason Richardson would fit in with their team, give Marcus Thornton a shot, or go for a lesser guard like Sasha Vujacic, Shannon Brown or DeShawn Stevenson, which will give them room to use the full MLE next season.
Will Jamal Crawford Be Worth It?
Of all the free agents out there, Jamal Crawford probably has the widest range of positive and negative possibilities.
If some team wants to give him a shot at being their starting shooting guard, he could end up being more mature than he was with the Knicks in the middle of last decade, if he doesn't then it could be a disaster.
Crawford is a great scorer, and was the Sixth Man of the Year in 2010, but he is also a volatile player.
Which Teams Are Waiting for Next Year; Which Are Gambling Now?
As it sits right now, the free agent class of 2012 has much more star power than this year's, but that doesn't mean this year's is completely barren.
Mid-level teams can save their cap space until next season and try to lure one of the big names to somewhere like Indiana or Cleveland, but if that doesn't happen, they're stuck picking up the scraps of the 2012 class.
That means teams are going to have to decide whether to go ahead and use their money now or gamble, waiting for next year.
Who Gets Nene?
The most attractive free agent right now is Nene, who is a good offensive center who is quick enough to run with a fast-paced team and still give them defense.
Nene has expressed his desire to leave Denver, a much different team that it was a year ago, and already Golden State, New Jersey, Indiana, Miami, Dallas and Houston have expressed interest.
Personally, I think New Jersey or Golden State would be great options that could build teams around Nene, while Indiana and Houston are also good options.
I don't see Miami having enough to offer Denver in a sign-and-trade and Dallas is probably more keen to keep their team together than to add a new player.
What Moves Will Miami Make?
Recently, Nene has come out to say that Miami is one place that he would like to end up. That's nice and all, but really it's a pipe dream. Good ol' Brian Windhorst outlines it all here.
If you're too lazy to click on the link, basically it says that they'll have to use their amnesty on Mike Miller if they want to use the full mid-level exception under the new CBA.
There's an option where they can get Nene in a sign-and-trade, but that would likely force them to give up the full MLE, and the only thing that Miami has to offer is Udonis Haslem, which I don't see as being enough.
Odds are that Miami ends up signing Samuel Dalembert for the $5 million under the MLE and are better off for it, along with their slew of veteran minimum deals.
How Well Does Dallas Keep Their Team Together?
The Mavericks have said that they are interested in grabbing Nene, but my guess is that they are only going to seriously go after him if they can get a deal on a sign-and-trade.
If that falls through, they have six unrestricted free agents to re-sign, five of which were integral to their championship run last year.
Tyson Chandler, DeShawn Stevenson and Caron Butler should be their top priorities, followed by JJ Barea, who they should avoid if someone is offering him a huge contract, and finally Brian Cardinal, who they should be able to get back with few problems.
They can go ahead and let Peja Stojakovic walk; he's not long for this league.
By far the most interesting thing that's going to come of this lockout is the slew of players that will be waived via the amnesty clause in the new CBA.
Sure, some teams will save it and use it when they really need it, but most teams should end up using it as soon as they can.
This will mean that guys like Brandon Roy, Baron Davis, Richard Jefferson, Corey Maggette, Rip Hamilton and Mike Miller should be joining the free agent ranks, among others.
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