Top 10 free agents when the lockout ends

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On December 9th, assuming the deal is approved by both sides, players will re-enter training facilities for the first time since last spring to being working towards the NBA season. At the same time, NBA free agency for the 2011-2012 season will open, and all hell will break loose as teams scramble to sign their guys and whatever players are available. With that in mind, here are the top 10 free agents this season.

1. Nene, C, Nuggets, UFA: Nene is a veteran without being too old, a dynamic defender while having scoring ability, a tough competitor without an injury history, and a locker room leader who can also produce. The Pacers, Heat, and Nuggets are expected to vie for his services.

2. Marc Gasol, C, Grizzlies, RFA: Gasol is restricted, and every indication is that the Grizzlies plan to re-sign him. If he hits the open market he’ll attract a swath of offers. He’s the most versatile center available, with great perimeter defense, passing, low-post scoring, and basketball IQ. He’s coachable and liked by teammates, and tougher than his more gifted brother. Memphis losing him would be devastating, but OKC and New York are both expected to express interest.

3. David West, PF, Hornets, UFA: An aging former All-Star coming off knee surgery. Yikes. But West is consistent, reliable, and provides a scoring punch to any team. Indiana is expected to make a strong push for West, to pair him with Darren Collison. His strongest attribute is the mid-range jumper off the pick and pop, which shouldn’t be affected by age, but if anyone needed that decrease in contract years, it’s whoever signs West.

4. Tyson Chandler,  PF, Mavericks, UFA: World Champion defender and elite center in a league weak on them. Chandler was the difference for the Mavericks last season and his impact was what lead them to the title, in part. If the Mavericks let him get away, expect half a dozen teams to pull for him, including offers which don’t make sense given his age and injury history. But he’s still one of the biggest impact players in the class.

5. Thaddeus Young, SF, Sixers, RFA: The Sixers are unlikely to let Young out of their sights, but given their cap space, if they for some reason don’t clear Andres Nocioni off their cap via amnesty, they could be tight on funds for him. Young has become a versatile combo forward who is able to play more power forward the older he gets. He would be a premium free agent if he leaked to the market, given that he’s only 23.

6. J.R. Smith, SG, Nuggets, UFA: Assuming Smith returns from China via some shady “release” arrangement, he’s going to be the best shooting guard on the market. A sixth-man-of-the-year candidate with range and athleticism, the Bulls would very much like a crack at Smith but he may be too expensive. The Nuggets will be in a bind to re-sign him given their need to also re-sign restricted free agent Aaron Afflalo. The Knicks may also be in the market for Smith.

7. Jason Richardson, SG, Magic, UFA: This year’s likely ring-chaser. Richardson is 31 with declining athleticism and coming off a poor showing in the playoffs. But he’s a veteran who can hit from range, defend decently and contribute to a veteran squad. The mid-level playoff teams should be very interested in his services, but if he decides to take less to get the ring, he could be a game changer in this market.

8. DeAndre Jordan, C, Clippers, RFA: Jordan is the perfect partner to Griffin, able to rebound and clean up after the attention paid to the ROY. The Clippers shouldn’t let him out of the stable, but if they do there will be a fleet of suitors. He’s still raw, still young, and has added a huge amount of bulk and strength to go along with his length and athleticism. Jordan could be the steal of this class.

9. Glen Davis, PF, Celtics, UFA: Big Baby is expected to be sacrificed to the market by the Celtics in an effort to clear room both for Jeff Green and 2012. He’s a great defender who has learned a ton in Boston, but too often gets his head screwed on wrong on offense, thinking he’s a mid-range shooter like KG when he’s a pure mash-and-dash guy. He could wind up with a head-scratcher deal.

10. Jeff Green, PF, Celtics, RFA: As opposed to Green, who undoubtedly will end up with a head-scratcher deal. Green doesn’t excel in any particular area, isn’t a great shooter, rebounder, defender, scorer, passer, or glue guy. He’s athletic and young, and has the potential to do a lot of things well, and that will drive his value up and the Celtics seem intent on paying the inflated market value for him.

Blazers beat Lakers 97-81, tie Denver for final spot in West

Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Damian Lillard scored 22 points and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Los Angeles Lakers 97-81 on Sunday night to pull even with Denver in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Both the Blazers and Nuggets are 35-38 with nine games left in the regular season. They play each other Tuesday in Portland.

Denver lost at home to the New Orleans Pelicans earlier Sunday night.

Portland took control by outscoring the Lakers 37-24 in the third quarter and led by as many as 26 points. Los Angeles shot 39 percent from the field and was outrebounded 61-42.

Allen Crabbe added 18 points off the bench for the Blazers, and Noah Vonleh grabbed 14 rebounds.

D'Angelo Russell led the Lakers with 22 points, and reserve Tyler Ennis scored 14.

Portland led 40-32 at the break after an unsightly half in which the teams took turns struggling from the field. At halftime, both were shooting exactly 32.6 percent.

The Lakers won their previous game against the Timberwolves but have won consecutive games only once since mid-November.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Shot 62.4 percent against Minnesota on Saturday, their best mark since hitting 64.1 percent on March 12, 2003. Coming into Sunday, they had shot 50.6 percent over their last five games.

Lakers: Rookie forward Brandon Ingram, who started the previous 19 games and averaged 12.1 points on 48.4 percent shooting, did not play because of right patellar tendinitis. Said coach Luke Walton: “He was out there warming up and it’s not right.” Corey Brewer got his first start for the Lakers.

 

Watch Russell Westbrook drop a triple-double in epic battle with James Harden (VIDEO)

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HOUSTON (AP) Lou Williams scored 31 points off the bench, James Harden finished with 22 points and 12 assists, and the Houston Rockets never trailed while cruising to a 137-125 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.

Russell Westbrook had 39 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists for his second straight triple-double and his 36th this season, but Harden led the Rockets to a 25-point lead through three quarters in the matchup between top MVP candidates.

Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon added 24 points apiece for the Rockets, whose lead was trimmed to eight on a 3-pointer by Westbrook with about 90 seconds left. The Rockets scored four quick points after that to secure the victory.

Harden left late in the game after crashing into the court and appearing to injure his left wrist but said in a TV interview he expected to be OK.

Houston jumped out to a 9-0 lead and was up by at least 20 for most of the game. It was a stark change from the first three games between these teams this season, which were decided by a combined seven points.

Williams made 11 of 15 shots, going 7 of 8 on 3-pointers. He didn’t miss a shot until his layup was blocked by Jerami Grant early in the fourth quarter.

Houston won its fourth straight overall and has won nine of their past 12 games against the Thunder.

The Rockets shot 71 percent in the first half, and Harden made a layup before grabbing a rebound and hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer to extend Houston’s lead to 113-88 entering the fourth quarter.

The Thunder chipped away with a 12-4 run midway through the fourth quarter to get within 126-114 with 4 minutes left. Williams hit a 3-pointer after that to slow down the Thunder the team’s late run.

The Rockets had a 16-point lead in the third quarter before they used a 13-4 run to make it 108-83 with about 90 seconds left in the quarter. Williams had two 3-pointers in that stretch and a highlight came when Houston stripped the ball from Westbrook and Harden dished to Ariza, who finished with another 3. The run wrapped up with an alley-oop dunk from Harden to Clint Capela, but Capela received a technical on the play for hanging on the rim.

Mike D’Antoni received a technical seconds later for arguing that call.

Houston had built a 79-59 lead by halftime thanks in part to nearly perfect 3-point shooting by Trevor Ariza and Williams. Ariza made four of five attempts and had 16 points at the break, and Williams was a perfect 6 for 6 overall, with four 3-pointers to pile up 18 points in the first two quarters.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Victor Oladipo finished with 15 points. … Steven Adams and Alex Abrines scored 11 points apiece.

Rockets: Houston’s 79 points were the most the team has scored in a half this season. … Sunday was the 12th time this season where the Rockets had 100 points before the fourth quarter. … Williams had at least 20 points off the bench for the 29th time this season.

ANDERSON’S HEALTH

Houston’s Ryan Anderson will miss about two weeks after spraining his right ankle on Friday night against the Pelicans. D’Antoni hopes Anderson will recover in time to play the last couple of regular-season games and be at full strength for the start of the playoffs.

UP NEXT

Thunder: Visit Dallas on Monday.

Rockets: Host Golden State on Tuesday.

Watch every one of Jimmy Butler’s career-high 14 assists in win over Bucks (VIDEO)

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Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler seems to be thriving without backcourt teammate Dwyane Wade. On Sunday in a win against the Milwaukee Bucks, Butler dished out a career-high 14 assists to go along with 20 points, six rebounds, and three steals.

Butler, 27, helped Chicago to a 109-94 win over the Bucks. He looked good doing it, dropping dimes off of both the pick-and-roll and while coming off screens.

The NBA put together a handy little video to be able to check out all of Butler’s assists.

Clippers blow 18-point lead, lose in final 2 seconds on putback to Kings (VIDEO)

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The Los Angeles Clippers had a rough go of things against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday. Up by 18 with more than five minutes to go, LA blew their lead and were left to watch as the Kings sealed the game late.

The final possession for Sacramento came on a missed corner 3-pointer by Clippers guard Jamal Crawford. The Kings got the outlet pass out on the rebound, but Ben McLemore took it to the rack and missed. That’s when Willie Cauley-Stein stepped in, cleaned up the board, and put the game-winning shot home with less than two seconds left.

Los Angeles lost in spectacular fashion, and became the only team this season to lose given their game situation.

Here’s a compilation the NBA put together of Sacramento’s epic comeback:

Meanwhile, Chris Paul called it the worst regular season loss of his career.

The Clippers peaked too soon. Like, the first 20 games of the season too soon.