Join Date: Apr 2008
Now the fun begins.
The NBA and the players shook hands on a tentative agreement early Saturday morning, which means that players will be putting on their NBA uniforms soon -- and some will be wearing new ones. Although there's still some fine print to be ironed out in the new labor deal, we can already see where the best fits will be. The combination of an amnesty clause and a harsher luxury tax will undoubtedly produce some more free agents, but they won't have the kind of impact as the players below.
(Note: "R" denotes restricted free agent.)
1. David West -- Indiana Pacers
On one hand, West couldn't have picked a worse time to hit the market, having just undergone surgery to repair an ACL. On the other hand, he's probably the biggest fish on the free-agent menu and also clearly the best available player at his position.
The Pacers are the rare organization with the ability to open up their wallet, and they could use an upgrade at the 4. Tyler Hansbrough has starter-level effort but not contender-level talent. West can be that guy for the Pacers, a team expected to make a big splash next season.
2. Tyson Chandler -- Toronto Raptors
Chandler could decide to return to the Mavericks, but he could also choose to follow Dwane Casey from the Dallas Mavericks' bench to Toronto. Casey, the newly hired Raptors head coach, was the defensive guru behind the Mavericks' wall that stifled the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat en route to a title.
Chandler flourished as the anchor to Casey's system, and the Raptors have the cash to offer the center big money. Of course, Dallas owner Mark Cuban notoriously breaks the bank for his centers, so there's a good chance Chandler will defend the title. However, a Casey and Chandler connection would be ideal for Toronto.
3. Nene -- Denver Nuggets
China absolutely raided the Nuggets' roster during the lockout, leaving the front office with no choice but to give Nene a blank check. As far as centers go, Nene may not be the defender or quite the rebounder that Chandler is, but the Brazilian big man makes up for it with an array of moves to score the rock.
It's hard to imagine a scenario in which the Nuggets decide to let the most efficient big man in the game walk away. With Kenyon Martin and Wilson Chandler heading to China, the Nuggets may have to think about slotting Nene at the 4 and putting Chris Andersen at center. The 6-foot-11 Nene has slid over before, but it's not his natural position. No matter what position they have in mind for him, the Nuggets would be foolish not to lock him up long-term.
4. Jason Richardson -- Chicago Bulls
The Bulls should point their horns toward a strong shooting guard, and Richardson will warrant a strong look. The 30-year-old looked much older in Orlando than he did in Phoenix as his points-per-minute numbers fell off a cliff after he was traded at the deadline. Most of that was due to a plummeting usage rate, but he also didn't help matters by shooting just 43 percent in blue and white.
Still, there's plenty of value here. The Bulls struggled mightily to find middle ground between offensive specialist Kyle Korver and defensive specialist Ronnie Brewer, but Richardson can bring it on both ends. As a career 37.3 percent shooter from downtown, he and Derrick Rose would form one of the strongest backcourts in the sport. The question remains whether Richardson's stock has dipped far enough to the point where Chicago could afford him.
5. Samuel Dalembert -- Miami Heat
With South Beach around the corner and a perennial championship-caliber roster, the Heat will be an extremely tempting destination for veterans looking for a shot at the Larry O'Brien Trophy. Add in the fact that Dalembert's roots are in nearby Haiti; the veteran center has spent much of his time involved with Haiti earthquake recovery programs.
Dalembert made more than $13 million last season but should be due for a massive pay cut after taking a big step backward with the Sacramento Kings. He's no longer one of the league's best shot-blockers or rebounders, but he would fit in perfectly with the Heat's system. He probably could command more money elsewhere, but that didn't stop LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem, Chris Bosh, Mike Bibby and … you get the idea.
Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images
Crawford could provide the Bucks some much-needed scoring punch.
6. Jamal Crawford -- Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks' offense was so pathetic last season that they treaded in least-efficient-offense-in-NBA-history territory for a while. They finished last in the NBA in efficiency, scoring just 99.0 points every 100 possessions. You know it's rough when you depend on a 5-foot-5 35-year-old (Earl Boykins) for scoring punch.
Enter Crawford. Sure, Crawford's me-first mentality might not jive well with Milwaukee head coach and disciplinarian Scott Skiles, but the Bucks are desperate for a go-to scorer on the wing. With J.R. Smith in China and a shallow pool of alternatives, Crawford could take some pressure off Brandon Jennings and provide the Bucks with a much-needed injection of points.
7. Rodney Stuckey (R) -- Toronto Raptors
If you go strictly by points per game, Stuckey endured a down season in 2010-11, but a closer look at his campaign actually reveals a dramatic step forward. By trimming the fat in his shot selection, he posted easily the best true shooting percentage of his career and became a better distributor as a floor general.
If the Pistons decide to hand over the keys to draftee Brandon Knight, they could cut ties with Stuckey and let him walk. It would save the bloated franchise some cash, but it's not a good bet that Knight will ever match Stuckey's 18.4 player efficiency rating in 2010-11. If Tyson Chandler returns to Dallas, the Raptors should focus their energy on nabbing a point guard for the long haul. Remember, at 25, Stuckey is just entering his prime.
8. Arron Afflalo (R) -- Denver Nuggets
There might not be a more underrated player in the game, and he's overdue for a big payday. It's not easy to find a top perimeter defender who can also shoot the ball lights-out, but the 25-year-old UCLA product fits both criteria. And luckily for Afflalo, the Nuggets will have plenty of dough to send his way once he hits the market.
Sure, Denver's mass exodus to China will put a dent in the team's contention status, but it also means Afflalo's time to shine is now. A starting lineup of Ty Lawson, Afflalo, Danilo Gallinari, Nene and Andersen might not win a title, but it's better than what most teams can put on the floor on a nightly basis.
9. Caron Butler -- Los Angeles Clippers
The market for Butler's services might have dried up some since he underwent serious knee surgery in January, but he could become a great bargain opportunity for a team willing to risk it. The Clippers are a natural fit with a hole at small forward (Al-Farouq Aminu is still a year or two away), and if the Mavericks decide to cut bait, Butler could be a good flier candidate.
No, it's not encouraging that the 31-year-old was limited to no more than a couple of minutes in the South Florida All-Star Classic, especially when you consider he had been hoping to participate in the Mavs' playoff run. Nonetheless, Butler still has the talent to be an average small forward, and at his expected price, that's all the Clippers could ask for.
10. J.J. Barea -- Dallas Mavericks
As an undersized point guard, Barea's stature requires a safety net behind him on defense. Without a dominant big man to absorb blow-bys, Barea loses much of his value on the floor. This is why the Mavericks, with Tyson Chandler patrolling the paint, leveraged Barea's talents better than most teams can. As a result, the Mavericks will likely be Barea's top suitor in free agency.
As is the case with Chandler and Butler, Barea's return is contingent on how much money Mavs owner Mark Cuban is willing to eat. With a stricter penalty on exceeding the salary cap looking very possible, Cuban has to recalibrate his cost/benefit analysis. If the Mavericks find Barea expendable, the line for his services will not be short.
Tom Haberstroh covers the NBA for ESPN Insider and ESPN The Magazine. He is a member of ESPN.com's Heat Index and contributes to Insider's college basketball, college football and baseball coverage. He contributes to ESPN The Magazine and ESPNNewYork.com and previously worked as a consultant for ESPN Stats & Information and as an analyst for HoopData.com. You can find his ESPN archives here and follow him on Twitter here.
You know that sinking feeling of buyer's remorse?
Well, NBA general managers know it, too. With win-now fanbases and demanding owners, some NBA decision-makers have no choice but to swing for the fences during free agency. Inevitably, they end up striking out from time to time.
It's not easy to stay rational under the gun, and with an accelerated free-agency period, every front office will feel like a pressure cooker. If history serves as a guide, there's bound to be some regretful deals handed out in the coming weeks.
Here are 10 free agent "bad fits" that make little sense from a personnel standpoint and/or a salary cap perspective:
(Note: "R" denotes restricted free agent)
1. Jamal Crawford -- Chicago Bulls
It might seem like a "duh" statement, but the Bulls need a shooter at shooting guard. Chicago fans might view Crawford as a snug fit because he provides the dynamic scoring punch at the 2 that Keith Bogans, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer could not last season. Although Crawford sports a satisfactory 35 percent from downtown in his career, the Bulls would be unwise to ink a player who needs to dominate the ball in order to score.
If we look at this pragmatically, the Bulls should target an athletic guy who can complement Derrick Rose, not impersonate him. The Bulls probably can't afford the perennial candidate for Sixth Man Award anyway, so it might be better to focus their attention on finding creative ways to bring a younger wing like Arron Afflalo or Marcus Thornton on board.
2. Tyson Chandler -- Sacramento Kings
The Kings can open up the checkbook during free agency -- and they will have no choice, now that the new CBA calls for a minimum payroll at 85 percent of the salary cap. But throwing big-time money at Chandler, arguably the most valuable big man on the market, would be a questionable move for a team in its embryonic stages.
Instead, the Kings should focus their efforts on building around DeMarcus Cousins, who has the talent and size to be a cornerstone player at the center position. Sinking near-max money in Chandler, who is 29 years old and a liability from a health standpoint, would be superfluous and equally risky.
3. Rodney Stuckey -- Detroit Pistons
It certainly raised some eyebrows when the Pistons drafted point guard Brandon Knight when they already had a fine floor general in Stuckey. However, the Pistons could use the glut at the 1 to their advantage. How? Sign Stuckey, package him with one of their deadweight contracts and trade for a legitimate talent that fits better on the roster.
First and foremost, the Pistons' top priority should be freeing up some long-term cap space. Flaunting Stuckey, a productive young point guard who posted a 18.4 PER last season, could be their only option to fill the massive hole at the 4. Might be a good time to call Atlanta about Josh Smith.
4. Nene -- Miami Heat
Yes, the Heat will be on the prowl for a center, but this is not happening. The Heat would love to have Nene sign for the mid-level exception, but the only way they could afford the Brazilian center is if they use the amnesty rule on one of the Big Three (not happening) or send Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem to Denver in a sign-and-trade (good luck). Again, not happening.
In a seller's market, a guy like Nene will command max or near-max money, even though there are plenty of solid free agent centers. Nene remains on the top of every Heat fan's wish list, but his lofty price tag makes it nothing more than wishful thinking. Nene is valuable but there's simply no reasonable avenue he takes his talents to the Heat.
5. Marc Gasol -- New jersey Nets
What's interesting about this free-agent market is that the buyers aren't looking for what's selling. Teams like the Kings, Nets and Pacers could make a real run at Gasol, who is a restricted free agent, but Pau's younger brother wouldn't necessarily be an upgrade from the status quo.
No one has been a harsher critic on Brook Lopez and his pathetic rebounding numbers, but the Nets should steer clear of Gasol if they want to build a contender. Lopez is cheaper, far younger and has a higher ceiling than Gasol.
6. David West -- Toronto Raptors
Inking West could be tempting for the Raptors. This offseason has the makings of a Toronto makeover with some money to burn, a new head coach in Dwane Casey and a desperate need for a franchise player (sorry, it's not Andrea Bargnani).
But West isn't a franchise player. Is his knee OK? Can he thrive without Chris Paul in the pick-and-roll? Can he help anchor defensive-guru Casey's frontcourt? Too many question marks surround West, making it unwise to amnesty Leandro Barbosa to free up the necessary cap room.
7. Shane Battier -- Memphis Grizzlies
As a small-market franchise on the brink of contention, the Grizzlies have a number of tough decisions to make this offseason, but one of them isn't re-signing unrestricted free agent Shane Battier. The veteran small forward was essential to their surprising playoff surge, but that was mostly due to the fact that Rudy Gay didn't have two working arms. That has since changed.
Letting Battier walk will be easier to swallow with 20-year-old Xavier Henry in the fold to back up Gay. The Grizzlies would be better off allocating their future dollars to an extension for Marc Gasol and handing the backup role to Henry, who is poised for a breakout sophomore season after battling injuries in his pro debut.
P.A. Molumby/NBAE/Getty Images
The rebuilding Bobcats are one team that should pass on a veteran like Grant Hill.
8. Grant Hill -- Charlotte Bobcats
Michael Jordan has an uncontrollable fetish for two things: winning and players who went to college in North Carolina. If the Bobcats were contenders, His Airness could satisfy both cravings by signing a guy like Hill, who won a national title with the Blue Devils of Duke. But alas, the only thing the Bobcats are contending for in 2011-12 is the No. 1 spot in the 2012 draft.
Hill will be a smart pickup for a winning team looking for a temporary solution on the wing, but Hill makes little sense for a rebuilding team like Charlotte beyond his ability to inspire and help mold a young roster. All of this also goes for the guy who precedes Hill on this list.
9. Andrei Kirilenko -- Indiana Pacers
The Pacers will have more cap space than anyone in this year's free agency, but unless they deal Danny Granger, there's not much room for Kirilenko, who will be one of the top free agents at small forward. Sure, the versatile Russian could slide over to the 4-spot, but the Pacers already have Tyler Hansbrough to fill that need, either off the bench or in the starting lineup.
The Pacers could find themselves left out in the cold when it comes to luring big-name free agents, but there's no sense in overspending for a 31-year-old. He will have some suitors, but Indiana shouldn't be counted among them.
10. J.J. Barea -- New jersey Nets
The 2011 playoffs served as Barea's coming out party, but buyers should be wary if the Mavs don't bring him back. He's best suited for the supersub job he had in Dallas, but now that he wears a championship glow, he might draw a starter's contract.
The title premium on Barea would be especially costly for those not in the title hunt. The Nets, for example, will have an itchy trigger finger with Brooklyn in their sights and loads of cap space. They could see Barea as a safety net in case Deron Williams jets, but Barea is too much of a liability defensively to warrant a substantial contract. Someone will pay up for him, but the Nets shouldn't be throwing money at redundant players.