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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.

Pizza and soccer on agenda for Celtics on trip to Italy

Perry Jones III, Malcolm Miller, James Young, Jordan Mickey
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MILAN (AP) — After a couple of days in Milan, Isaiah Thomas‘ Italian experience is still lacking a certain something.

“I’m waiting on some pizza,” said a laughing Thomas, who used to do commercials for a regional pizza franchise when he played for the Sacramento Kings. “The place we went to last night didn’t have no pizza so hopefully tonight we go somewhere I can order some pizza for real.”

This trip isn’t just about culinary experiences, though. The Celtics are in Milan to play an exhibition game against Olimpia Milano on Tuesday before traveling to Spain to play Real Madrid as part of the NBA Global Games.

Ahead of the team’s practice session on Sunday, Thomas was also looking forward to his first soccer match, as the Celtics headed to San Siro later for AC Milan’s home match against Napoli in the Italian league – after an afternoon trip to nearby Lake Como.

“That’s going to be fun,” Thomas told The Associated Press at the Celtics’ first practice in Italy. “I’m excited about that. I’ve never been to a soccer match, to have my first soccer match be in Italy is going to be nice.”

Teammate Marcus Smart said the trip was also an important bonding experience for a young roster with plenty of new pieces. They went for a players-only meal in Milan on Saturday night.

“We had a good time with each other,” Smart said. “No phones, so everyone was talking to one other. It was good overall fun.

“We understand the severity of this trip, it is a business trip but at the same time not many people get this chance to travel like we do so we understand its business but we’re here to have fun at the same time.”

Coach Brad Stevens has overseen plenty of rebuilding since taking over the Celtics in 2013 but still led the team to the playoffs last season after trading point guard Rajon Rondo – the only remaining player from the 2008 championship team. After being swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team is aiming higher this season. For Stevens, it all starts here in Italy.

“These sessions are really important to get something accomplished in practice and to make sure that we’re continuing to progress,” Stevens said. “It’s still very much a part of our training camp, and so you’ve got all of the great things about being a tourist – getting a chance to see new things and experience new things – and at the same time we’re 24 or 25 days away from our season opener.”

And after spending so many hours in the gym during the offseason, Thomas is ready to start playing actual games again – even if its just preseason.

“We’re ready to beat up on somebody else, we’re tired of beating up on each other,” Smith said.

Kings’ Karl admits mistakes in DeMarcus Cousins trade controversey

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In the NBA, elite players have the leverage. It is just simple supply and demand.

DeMarcus Cousins is an elite player — and a favorite of owner Vivek Ranadive. He is not going anywhere.

Which made this summer’s “George Karl wants trade Cousins” a battle the coach couldn’t ultimately win — the owner wasn’t going to sign off on it, and the fans are going to side with Boogie. Remember Karl said he never had a player that was untradable, and that spiraled into reports Karl probed trade options with other teams, much to the frustration of management and Cousins himself.

Karl owned up to some of his mistakes in an interview on Comcast Bay Area, as reported by James Ham at

“To be honest with you, I apologized to DeMarcus for making the trade comment that I’ve never coached a player that’s untradeable,” Karl told Christensen. “That was wrong for me to say, because you all (the media) took it and blew it up into crazy.”

“But it’s my responsibility to be smart enough to not say things like that,” Karl continued. “So I did apologize because I thought that was the only thing, maybe some other things, but really the only thing that got us separated was that comment that then everybody wrote the we’re going to trade [Cousins].”

The relationship between Cousins and Karl — not to mention Rajon Rondo and other veterans — is the biggest key to the Kings’ season. Karl and Cousins say their relationship is solid now, but what happens when that is put under stress at some point during the season?

In talking to people around the team, the Kings players seemed to have formed a tight bond — even if part of the glue of that bond is a distrust of Karl that can work for them. This is a team that has the talent to compete for the bottom couple playoff seeds in the Western Conference, but everybody needs to be pulling on the rope in the same direction. We will see pretty quickly if the Kings can do that.