Top five unrestricted free agents… where will they go?

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Free agency is not going to be as much fun this time around. Whenever the owners and players get around to settling the lockout the free agency period will be condensed and hectic.

Not that I really miss the drama of Lebron dragging out his decision, but it’s fun to watch things break over a course of weeks, to hear the rumors and the “what ifs” in a normal free agency period.

That said, there will be a free agency period, and there will be some name players available. Guys who can change teams.

What follows are my top five unrestricted free agents, followed by some guessing on a landing spot. Sure, it’s a bit of a moot exercise and it’s impossible to say how the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will impact what players can be paid and therefore where they land, still, on a nice July day this is a fun game to play.

Nene (last of the Denver Nuggets)

Teams saw the Mavericks win it all after years of flailing in the playoffs, and it drove home the point of what a big center who can defend the paint and rebound can do for a team. Plus, Nene has a nice offensive game (he shoots the midrange well enough you have to respect it, hitting 47 percent beyond 16 feet last season.

Denver still has the home team advantage, even if he opted out and expressed frustration that the team did not come through with an extension. Whatever the new CBA looks like, you can bet there will be some kind of advantage for players who sign with their current team. He’s going to be a max guy. Don’t be shocked if a team like Indiana makes a big move for him.

Tyson Chandler (last of the Dallas Mavericks)

For teams that need a defensive presence in the paint, why get someone else to try and be like Tyson Chandler when you can get the actual Tyson Chandler?

I’d be surprised if he lands anywhere but Dallas, Mark Cuban knows what he did for the Mavs last season and he has been reported to be the teams No. 1 offseason priority. As for other suitors, again the Pacers could use a big man like him, and if Denver loses Nene they might make a run. Also, hard to see how the Knicks afford him but he would be a great fit.

Jamal Crawford (last of the Atlanta Hawks)

He was the sixth man of the year one year ago, and we know he can come in off the bench and provide a scoring punch. His shooting numbers took a dip last year and teams need to seriously ask themselves if that was just the Larry Drew offense in Atlanta or is Crawford showing some age at 32? A long-term deal might be a mistake.

After the Hawks paid big money for Al Horford (worth it) and Joe Johnson (going to regret that deal in a couple years) they likely are not going to have the cash to keep him around. If Crawford wants a ring badly enough teams like the Lakers, Mavericks and Celtics would have interest, but he’d have to take a serious cut in salary. If he wants a good payday, there are a number of teams that may well step forward with a bigger deal (New Jersey, Washington and others may think about it).

David West (last of the New Orleans Hornets)

If you are looking for a quality power forward who is a great pick-and-pop option next to a quality point guard, West would be the choice. He took five shots a game between 16 and 23 feet last season and hit 47 percent of them, plus he can score inside and is a solid rebounder.

If New Orleans is going to keep Chris Paul after next season, they have to find a way to keep West. (That or replace him with someone better, which would be hard to pull off.) Look for the Nets to make a run at him — he’d pair nicely with Deron Williams and the Nets have their own problems trying to keep D-Will from walking away.

Shane Battier (last with the Memphis Grizzlies)

Maybe the best of the glue guys out there. He can defend, has a solid offensive game both inside and out. Teams saw what he did with Memphis to help them knock off the Spurs and push the Oklahoma City Thunder, and coaches will find a way to use this guy.

Memphis has made bringing him back a priority and that would be the logical landing spot. But don’t be shocked if veteran teams try to get him to take a little less to be a key part of a title run for them — the Miami Heat would love him, even if they have a pretty good small forward. The Clippers have cap room and also need a three and what he can bring defensively.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.