Philadelphia, PA – For the first time in five months, it's time to shelve all the accounting talk in favor of basketball, a welcome respite believe me. I'll take PER over BRI anytime
The owners and players will likely rubber stamp the tentative collective bargaining agreement on the table this week and a free agent frenzy will begin in just about 12 days.
The NFL lockout earlier this year served as a bit of a primer for what will be a microwave version of a normal offseason.
Clearly, organizations that have a sound veteran group manning the front office will have a leg up as teams jockey in what will essentially be a two- tier free agent shopping zone, with conventional restricted and unrestricted players available as well as a second group that will hit the market as part of the new amnesty clause.
Free agents will obviously have a very small window to sign with their new teams and are not as likely to visit as many suitors as they may like, meaning the pick of the litter will likely head to strong organizations with a sound and lucid plan coming out of the box.
Teams will also have just three days instead of seven to match offer sheets for any restricted free agents adding to the chaos.
With that in mind here are the best players about to hit the market:
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS:
David West, forward - New Orleans Hornets - West still has not been medically cleared after suffering a serious knee injury last season but he is reportedly ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation and this is an All-Star level player on the open market. New Orleans currently has just six players under contract and more cap room than anyone else. The Hornets also have to find some way to convince Chris Paul to stick around next year, so they should be willing to look at a nice deal that comfortably puts West over $10 million a year. If not, you can bet Indiana and New Jersey will be lurking.
Nene, center - Denver Nuggets - It's rare when a big man with the skills of Nene hits the open market, but it's also clear that the Nuggets will likely pull out all the stops to get him back. Denver, however, should expect some serious competition from Houston, which desperately wants to find a replacement for the retired Yao Ming. The Rockets already have over $48 million locked up for 13 players so Houston would have to get very creative to make it happen.
Jamal Crawford, shooting guard - Atlanta Hawks - The best pure scorer on the market would like to make a return to Gotham with either the Knicks or Nets. Problem is, Crawford doesn't look like a fit for New York and the Nets would like to spend their ample salary cap space on a frontcourt player. Crawford shed the loser label in the ATL but it looks like he may be pricing himself out of the market if he thinks he's getting "star" money. If that happens, Atlanta could get back in the mix as well as Miami.
Andrei Kirilenko, forward - Utah Jazz - AK-47 isn't the stat-stuffer he once was but he's still a solid defender with a plus jumper and the veteran leadership skills to help a team that thinks it can be a contender.
Tyson Chandler, center - Dallas Mavericks - The defensive specialist is aging and injury-prone but his presence in the middle is one of the big reasons Dallas stands on top of the mountain today. It's unlikely the free-spending Mark Cuban wants Chandler to leave but it's also unlikely that the Mavs will shell out $10-plus million to a player on the downside. That should open up some competition for the veteran's services.
Carl Landry, power forward - New Orleans Hornets - Landry may be the best bargain scheduled to hit the market, filling in admirably when West went down with his knee injury last season. Landry will likely be looking for a starting job so sticking in the Big Easy if West moves on is a strong possibility.
Samuel Dalembert, center - Sacramento Kings - Dalembert will always frustrate you offensively but there will always be a market for shot blockers and rebounders in this league. A natural swatter, Dalembert offers the kind of weak-side defense that would be pretty imposing on the same floor as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. In fact, Dalembert already gushed about possibly playing in South Beach in a recent interview. "That would be fantastic," Dalembert told FOXSports Florida about the possibility of joining the Heat. Of course, Sammy would have to take a massive pay cut to make it happen. The big man made over $13 million last season and would need to take the mid-level exception to make it work in Miami.
Jason Richardson, swingman - Orlando Magic - The Magic would like JRich back but also would like his $14.4 million 2010-2011 salary to disappear. The three-point threat still has plenty of gas left in the tank and should be able to get a big number from someone with plenty of space or go the mid-level route with a true contender.
Caron Butler, forward - Dallas Mavericks - Butler is the type of hard-nosed player any coach would love but he's 32, coming off a major knee injury and his team won the title without him. Expect a return to Big D at a much-reduced price.
Tayshaun Prince, forward - Detroit Pistons - Another 32-year-old player with injury concerns. In Prince's case, it's a balky back that will likely cost him some cash. Once the most underrated player in the NBA, Prince still has the freakish length to cause matchup nightmares at both ends. He would like to play for a contender again so moving on from the Motor City is virtually assured.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS:
Marc Gasol, center - Memphis Grizzlies - Arguably the best free agent available, it's hard to imagine Beale Street without Gasol in 2011-12. The Grizz can match any offer and owner Michael Heisley has made it abundantly clear he will. The only fly in that ointment is Gasol's mindset. Conventional wisdom says he would like to play in a major market, opening up the theory that Houston or the Knicks could enter the conversation at some point, especially if Gasol forces things with a sour attitude.
Rodney Stuckey, point guard Detroit Pistons - Remember the Pistons drafted Brandon Knight and also have Will Bynum and Ben Gordon in the backcourt, meaning a player with nice size that averaged 15.5 points and 5.2 assists could be attainable.
Thaddeus Young, forward - Philadelphia 76ers - Doug Collins figured out that the lengthy Young was best used in short bursts last year. Dumber teams, however, will look at Thad's numbers and figure he could be as effective getting 40 minutes a night. Problem is, Young is a tweener and exposed badly on the boards and the defensive end if you leave him on the floor for extended minutes. The best bet is Philly matches any offer for their sixth man unless someone falls in love with his projected PER and goes overboard.
Aaron Brooks, point guard - Phoenix Suns - Yeah, Brooks signed a deal with Guangdong of the Chinese Basketball Association and technically doesn't have an opt-out but foreign teams rarely live up to deals if things go south so why should we expect the players? The NBA is not beholden to FIBA so Brooks, like other CBAers (think the Nuggets trio of J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler and Kenyon Martin) could just bolt. Brooks was a solid starter in Houston and the Suns would like to hang on to him as the heir-apparent to the aging Steve Nash, who will be a free agent next summer.
Arron Afflalo, swingman - Denver Nuggets - The Nuggets have just seven players under contract and a ton of salary cap space. Re-signing Afflalo, an emerging player, looks like a fait accompli.
Jeff Green, forward - Boston Celtics - The trade that sent Kendrick Perkins to OKC and brought Green back to Beantown didn't exactly work out for the C's in the short run but remember that deal was all about the future. The "Boston Three Party" isn't getting any younger and Green is expected to aid in the transition to the next era.