Start your planning early, the top 25 free agents of 2011

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Today, we’re not thinking about lockouts and franchise tags. Today, just for today, we’re going to pretend that the owners and players are not so stupid as have a protracted lockout during a recession killing the momentum the league is building this season. A man can dream, can’t he?

Along those lines, right about now is when some fans start thinking of next season, of free agents and draft picks that can have them dreaming of playoffs next season.

What follows is a list of 25 potential free agents of all classes (unrestricted, ones where the player can opt out, and restricted ones where their team can match). For a more complete list, check out some great work by Chad Ford at ESPN.

1. Carmelo Anthony (early termination option). Not sure we need to go into detail on a story you have heard plenty of — ‘Melo has said he is going to opt out (probably) and if he does you can bet the Knicks are the almost certainly the destination.

2. Marc Gasol, (restricted). Grizzlies’ owner Michael Heisley has said he wants to keep the entire core together, but what happens when he has to pay both Gasol and Zach Randolph this summer? The Knicks have already talked about coming after Gasol, and if not them another team with money will offer a big deal for the center. Will the Grizzlies match it?

3. Nene Hilario (early termination option). Gasol, Nene and you’ll notice this trend following — big men get paid. There is a shortage of quality centers in the league so if you are one your accountant is happy. Expect Nene to opt out of his $11.6 he is owed next year to get a five-year deal (or whatever the maximum length is allowed under a new CBA).

4. David West (early termination option). The Hornets have to keep him if they have any shot at keeping Chris Paul. But with no owner in place and plenty of questions about the future, West may well opt out and see if there is interest in a power forward who is a great pick-and-pop partner and can rebound. There will be. Plenty.

5. Tyson Chandler (unrestricted). He has changed Dallas defensively, and he’s good enough on offense not to keep other bigs honest. Sure, there’s that whole “history of injuries” thing but after this season he will get paid. And Mark Cuban rarely lets quality guys like that get away. (Except for Steve Nash.)

6. Zach Randolph (unrestricted). A couple of very productive, trouble-free seasons have done wonders for his reputation. And every team could use 20 and 13 a night. He just needs to be paired with another big who will defend.

7. Tayshaun Prince (unrestricted). Injuries have slowed him in recent years, but he is still a plus wing defender who can shoot the three. There are some good teams that will pay for him even at age 30 (if he’s not traded before the deadline and decides to extend wherever he lands).

8. Kendrick Perkins (unrestricted). Boston wants to keep him and he wants to stay. But if you are going to win in today’s NBA you need a big body who can protect the paint defensively and board and so Perkins will draw interest. Starting the the Heat (which will have to be tempting).

9. Jeff Green (restricted). He’s the third guy in Oklahoma City right now, behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. He’s good (except from three), solid, and is loved in the clubhouse. But the Thunder need to make some personnel upgrades if they are going to contend (they need a real presence in the paint at both ends) and that costs. Do they spend on Green and some free agents? If a big offer comes in does he get to walk?

10. DeAndre Jordan (restricted). He’s always been tremendous athlete but playing along side Blake Griffin he has matured quickly. He is a big body in the paint that is hard to shoot over. The Clippers should match any offer, but they are the Clippers so….

11. Carl Landry (unrestricted). Solid power forward at both ends of the floor. Ignore his numbers in Sacramento this year, he can play.

12. Jamal Crawford (unrestricted). The reigning Sixth Man of the Year can fill it up. With the Hawks committing big money to Joe Johnson and Al Horford and still more key parts to pay, Crawford may slide out the door.

13. Wilson Chandler (restricted). The Knicks didn’t extend him before the start of this season and now they are going to have to pay to keep him. If they do.

14. Shane Battier (unrestricted). Good wing defender, can knock down the three, plays smart. A contending team should pay this man, he’s the kind of role player you need in the playoffs.

15. Rodney Stuckey (restricted). With the Pistons ownership in limbo who knows if they match. He’d be better served as a two guard than a point, but the man can score.

16. Thaddeus Young (restricted). He has shown potential and a lot of guys have been overpaid on potential. He could be a great fit somewhere on a quality team. You’d think the Sixers would match but who knows?

17. Jason Richardson (unrestricted). He’ll be 31 next season but he can knock it down from three with the best of them. Needs to be in the right system but he should get paid.

18. Mo Williams (early termination option). You get the feeling he wants to go back to being on a contender.

19. Caron Butler (unrestricted). Coming off major surgery, but he was playing very well before he went down. It’s a good risk for some team to take.

20. Aaron Brooks (restricted). Everyone wants and needs a speedy point guard. Expect the Rockets to match any offer, unless it is just ridiculous.

21. Nick Young (restricted). He has looked like a quality NBA starter since the shadow of Gilbert Arenas left town and he got to start. I would expect the Wizards to match.

22. Arron Afflalo (restricted). He can defend on the wings and can shoot the rock. Great role player. I’d say the Nuggets will never let him go and would match, but it’s not clear what the post-Carmelo plan is in Denver.

23. Boris Diaw (player option). Not sure he will actually opt out of the $9 million he’s owed, but we put it out there as a possibility.

24. Samuel Dalembert (unrestricted). Guys who can defend the paint and rebound get paid.

25. Andrei Kirilenko (unrestricted). AK-47 is always a tempting talent. If you’re willing to risk injuries.

Bucks’ Jabari Parker “frustrated,” wants more playing time

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In the first two games against Boston, Jabari Parker is 1-of-7 shooting, has grabbed 15 percent of the available rebounds while on the court (low for a big expected to board), has more turnovers than assists, has been exploited on defense by Boston, and is -29. All in just 25 minutes.

Parker is also frustrated he isn’t getting more minutes and more of a chance to prove himself. From Stephen Watson of WISN News 12 in Milwaukee:

While there are questions about how Joe Prunty has handled the Bucks and their rotations in this series, more Jabari Parker is nobody’s answer. Except Parker’s. And Celtics’ fans. Parker can be as frustrated as he wants, he hasn’t played his way into more minutes.

Parker returned to the Bucks in January after rehab on his second ACL surgery and averaged 12.6 points per game. He showed some value, with an ability to score efficiently inside and shooting 38 percent from three, averaging 12.6 points per game. But he remains a below-the-rim player who struggles to defend, and in the playoffs that gets a guy a seat.

It’s going to be an interesting summer. Parker is a restricted free agent this summer and the Bucks do not see him as a core part of their future next to Giannis Antetokounmpo anymore, they are not going to come in with a big offer to keep him. However, his play (especially in the postseason) and injury history, combined with a tight free agent market, means he may not have many suitors at all. Is it possible a rebuilding team willing to take a chance — Phoenix, Atlanta, etc. — would come in with an offer higher than the Bucks would match? Yes, it’s possible. But it won’t be for a lot of years, just one or two as teams want to see if he can get right and become the player he once projected to be.

Sixers’ Joel Embiid upgraded to “probable,” will start in Game 3 Thursday

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Everything you saw in the first two games of this Miami/Philadelphia playoff series you can throw out in the trash.

Joel Embiid is back and is now “probable” for Game 3, the Sixers announced, upgrading his status from “doubtful” earlier in the day. Embiid had been out with a concussion and orbital bone fracture.

Embiid will go through warmups — trying out both a mask and goggles — then will make a formal decision. However, he is expected to go. He certainly wants to play. And he is expected to start. How many minutes he can go remains to be seen.

This changes the Sixers and the series. Yes, Philly has likely Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons and high quality role players such as J.J. Redick and Robert Covington, however, is Embiid that makes it all work. Put simply, when Embiid is on the court the Sixers are 15.2 points per 100 possessions better — their defense is elite and their offense is outstanding.

The Sixers will be better with their best player back in the fold, but don’t think this makes the series a cakewalk for Philly. It changes everything about matchups, but things are not all positives. When Embiid is on the court, the up-tempo, ball-movement style that the Sixers built around Simmons slows down and stops at points. The Sixers have played Hassan Whiteside and his rim protection off the court with floor spacing shooting bigs, now he has a place to be in the matchups. There are things the Heat can do now that may work for them.

It just may not matter — Philadelphia just got a lot better.

PBT Podcast: NBA first round playoff series breakdowns

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LeBron James‘ Cavaliers looks to be in a battle royal in the first round — and they could lose to Victor Oladipo‘s Pacers.

Miami’s defense and versatility is challenging the Sixers and shaking the faith of all those that just jumped on the bandwagon.

Utah stole a game in Oklahoma City showing great grit and resolve, not to mention a lot of Donovan Mitchell.

Anthony Davis has done everything but walk on water for the Pelicans.

The first round of the NBA playoffs has been filled with fascinating storylines — and we are just two games into each series. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all eight first-round series in this podcast, starting in the East and the tight races there, then move into the West. There’s even some “who wants to pay Jabari Parker this summer?” talk thrown in.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

James Dolan says Knicks must build around ‘great’ Kristaps Porzingis, offers fair rebuke of meddling charges

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Phil Jackson received a standing ovation in his first game at Madison Square Garden as Knicks president. Don’t forget how excited New York was for Jackson, who coached the Bulls and Lakers to 11 championships and played for the Knicks’ last title team. He was welcomed as a potential savior.

The common refrain: Jackson would have a chance to succeed if Knicks owner James Dolan didn’t meddle.

Immediately, Dolan said he would cede control to Jackson “willingly and gratefully.” Dolan later pledged to honor Jackson’s full five-year contract.

But fans turned on Jackson as he did an awful job and the Knicks struggled. Dolan opted into the final two years of Jackson’s contract, anyway, as he said he would all along. Fans got angrier. When Jackson publicly flaunted Kristaps Porzingis trade talks, outrage reached a fever pitch. Finally, Dolan stepped in to fire Jackson.

Dolan, via Larry Brooks of the New York Post:

“A great player in hockey is the difference, but a great player in basketball is the team.

“And I think we have a great player in Porzingis. We just have to build around him.”

“Everybody who wants to talk about the Knicks wants to ask me about Phil Jackson,” Dolan said, smiling and shaking his head. “The entire market wanted to me to hire him and when I did, the entire market said it was a great move. The only thing was, everyone said that I shouldn’t interfere with him.

“Three years later, everyone wanted to know when I was going to do something about Phil. The same people who told me not to interfere wanted me to interfere. But that’s OK. I just think that Phil underestimated the job.”

Dolan makes a salient point about how people perceive his involvement. The problem isn’t that Dolan meddles. It’s that he makes poor decisions.

Hiring Jackson – an out-of-touch former coach with no front-office experience – was a poor decision. I’m not enthused about Steve Mills as Jackson’s replacement, either, though we’ll see how that plays out.

Building around Porzingis is a better decision. He’s an extremely talented 22-year-old.

But it’s hardly a foolproof plan. Porzingis is recovering from a torn ACL. Dolan said Porzingis could return in December – or miss next season entirely.

Either way, the Knicks must surround Porzingis with better teammates. Dolan will and should be a part of that process. Whether he’ll positively affect it is another matter.