Top 10 most interesting NBA free agents to watch

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Lockout? You mean those months last year we didn’t have basketball as owners fought to put constraints on themselves because when it comes time to bid for free agents they don’t trust themselves to be rational?

What lockout? Less than 48 hours into the 2012 summer free agent frenzy owner rationality has gone the way of the Dodo. They are once again throwing money around like they are buying hotels to put on Broadway and Park Place. Unless you thought Omer Asik is totally worth $25 million.

Here are the top 10 most interesting free agents to watch this summer. These are not just the 10 best players on the market, but rather the guys who will make owners forget everything they said during the lockout. The guys it will be fun to watch. There is no Tim Duncan on here — he’s a free agent but he will re-sign with the Spurs. Smart, but not interesting. Below are the guys who make free agency fun.

1) Deron Williams. Part of the fun of following free agents is the “anything can happen” factor. Not here. It’s Brooklyn or Dallas. But he is on top of the list because he is the best player available this year — there are maybe 10 true franchise players in the NBA and he is one. You can build a contender around him. He will radically alter the situation of the team that gets him and the team that doesn’t.

2) Eric Gordon. He is a restricted free agent — the Hornets can, and if they are smart will, match any offer for him. But he is meeting with everyone — Pacers, Rockets, Suns, Blazers — trying to get someone to offer him a max deal (four years, $84 million). We’ll see. He’s the best young two guard in the league and if a team is looking to steal Gordon a max offer is what it may take.

3) Steve Nash. Yes he is 36 years old and has had long-term back issues. But he remains one of the best pure point guards in the game, a master of the pick-and-roll. On the right team he can take them from good to great. A guy who sells tickets, who brings in sponsors. The bar has been set — Toronto offered $12 million a year for three years. The Knicks and other teams are trying to find sign-and-trade deals that will get near that number and lure Nash to a better team.

4) O.J. Mayo. He’s interesting to watch because he’s a two guard who can score but is a guy who wants a bigger role than the one he had in Memphis as option number three, or four, at times five. While a lot of guys on this list want to go to contenders, if Mayo does that he will be in the same spot. The Celtics are interested, as are the Nets and Suns. Wherever he lands the new start should do him good.

5) Roy Hibbert. How valuable is an All-Star center? The Trail Blazers have reportedly already offered the young All-Star center a max deal. True quality centers are hard to come by and come at a price. The only question is will the Pacers match it? My question is how do they not? They are average without him.

6) Ray Allen. He will turn 37 next month, but one of the best pure shooters the game has ever seen can still do what he does best — he shot 45 percent from three last year. Boston has reportedly offered him $6 million a year to come back. The Miami Heat have made him a priority but can offer only half that — but they are much closer to a ring than the Celtics. Especially if they have Allen (you saw in Game 5 of the finals what the Heat look like when guys knock down threes around LeBron and Wade). So, what matters most to Ray Allen?

7) Jason Terry. The veteran two guard can light it up as a starter or coming off the bench. Pretty much every team that needs a shooting guard has come calling — the Clippers, the Celtics (although they have one in Avery Bradley), Grizzlies and Suns that we know of. Terry’s people reportedly told the Mavericks they would be given the option to match any offer and keep him, but how much does a retooling Mavericks team want to spend on him? Look for him to get about $5 million a year for three years (he is 34).

8) Jamal Crawford. If Jamal Crawford can find his stroke from a couple years ago when he was Sixth Man of the Year he brings another very valuable two guard to the market. The 76ers, Suns, Clippers, Celtics and Pacers have all reached out in the opening day of free agency. Crawford opted out of a $5 million deal for next season with the Blazers, he’s going to want more than that and more years.

9) Jameer Nelson. Orlando is focused on trading their best player away and trying to jump-start the rebuilding process there. But they are also about to lose their second best player to free agency in Nelson, a quality point guard. Nelson walked away from $8 million next season to hit the market, he likely will not make that much per year but can get a multi-year deal and some security. The Lakers have expressed interest, but they can’t offer much ($3 million a year for three years). Nelson is the guy a lot of teams will turn to second or third, after they lose out on guys like Nash and Williams. If Nelson is patient, the market will come to him.

10) Ersan Ilysova. Not a household NBA name but the best stretch four on the market — he shot 45.5 percent from three last season and grabbed 8.8 boards per game. In the right system he has real value. The Bucks may want to keep him if they are smart, but the Spurs, Cavaliers, Raptors and Nets reportedly all have some interest. The Spurs are a very interesting fit for him. But we’ll have to see about the money.

Malik Monk: I thought Knicks would draft me

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Malik Monk to the Knicks was predicted and reported as a possibility. And when the No. 8 pick came up, the Kentucky guard was still on the board.

But New York – then still run by Phil Jackson – passed on Monk to draft Frank Ntilikina.

Monk, who wound up being drafted No. 11 by the Hornets, via Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

“Me, my agent, everybody in my agency, my family — we thought we were going to New York,” Monk told the Daily News last week after a posing for his Panini trading card. “It was here, my agent is here (based in New York), a great agent, everybody thought it was going to be here. Went to dinner with (Jackson), had a great workout, everything was positive.”

Naiveté and/or wishful thinking by someone who had never been through the draft process before? Perhaps.

But Monk’s agent, Jeff Schwartz, is quite experienced.

What did the Knicks do to make the Monk camp believe they’d draft him? Misleading in those situations can grate agents, though if Jackson did that, at least New York eradicated the problem.

Report: Kyrie Irving and LeBron James didn’t meet in Miami

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Another day, another disputed rumor involving LeBron James.

This time it’s one about him meeting with Kyrie Irving in Miami.

Stephen A. Smith on ESPN:

I just got off the phone with folks about an hour ago. They said LeBron James and Kyrie Irving never met at all. They were both in the city of Miami. But, I was told, it is quite possible to be in the same city and not see each other. They never met. They never talked.

Whether or not they’ve already met, Irving and LeBron might need to address their problems soon

The Cavaliers might not have their high asking price for Irving met before the season, and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert already discussed the possibility of Irving returning. LeBron and Irving might have to reconcile a future as teammates.

Malcolm Brogdon: Charlottesville was white supremacism and terrorism

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Rookie of the Year and Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon – who played four years at the University of Virginia, which became the epicenter of white-nationalist protests – was asked about the events in Charlottesville and his thoughts on the statue of Robert E. Lee.

Brogdon, via Sports Illustrated:

It was pretty shocking. To see this happen at a place that I call home is sort of jarring for me.

But, if I were to be honest, the level of hate and blatant racism that still dominates the minds of so many Americans today, it’s not shocking to me. I think at the end of the day, you have to call it what it is. I think this is white supremacy, and I think it’s domestic terrorism. I think we live in a country where we go overseas, and we fight other people’s wars, and we fight terrorism overseas internationally. But we don’t want to fully acknowledge the terrorism that goes home domestically.

So, I think it’s a shocking event. But it’s not surprising sort of the hate that is still around.

My thoughts about it have never changed. I’m a person that thinks things should not be glorified that did not do the country any justice. For example, these statues stand still, but all they do is divide people. At this point in time, I think that America needs to be unified. And the statues are clearly something that’s not unifying people. It’s going to continue to create a divide within our communities. And I think they have no place in our society right now.

Kudos to Brogdon for calling spades spades.

Racism is still a problem – not one we’re comfortable discussing, which only exacerbates the problem. It must be acknowledged to be solved.

“Terrorism” is too often a term we reserve for only crimes committed by Muslims. A white supremacist driving his car into a group of counter-protestors – killing one – is almost certainly designed to terrorize them.

But I disagree with Brogdon that the statue should be removed because it’s divisive. It should be removed because it glorifies someone who led a war against the United States to protect the racist institution of slavery.

Unity is nice, but unifying around what? Brogdon might find that the people who agree with his call for unity have a different vision than he does.

Jazz mitigate loss of Gordon Hayward well, but that’s still a devastating departure

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Jazz traded up to draft a player who is already exceeding expectations.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

The Jazz made a savvy trade to land a starter before free agency even began.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

The Jazz executed several nice value signings.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

In what was otherwise a smart offseason, there’s just no way around Utah losing Hayward – a 27-year-old star at the critical wing position. Hayward’s importance to the Jazz is self-evident in the effort to re-sign him – a max offer, a billboard, multiple players flying to San Diego for a final meeting. His departure to the Celtics derails what had been a promising ascension.

Two years ago, the Jazz were the only team with four 25-and-under players – Hayward, Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood – who posted at least six win shares.

Last year, the Jazz were the only team a pair of 26-and-under players – Hayward and Gobert – who posted at least 10 win shares.

Though Favors’ and Hood’s progress was sidetracked by injury, Utah still made another step forward with Hayward and Gobert becoming All-Star caliber. If Favors and Hood got healthy, they could have joined Hayward and Gobert – and Donovan Mitchel (who was drafted No. 13 this year then impressed in summer league) and Ricky Rubio (who was acquired for just a likely low first-round pick thanks to the Jazz’s excess cap space to close the 2016-17 fiscal year) – in a core that was growing into a legitimate Western Conference power.

Alas, Hayward bolted for Boston, which threatens even more in the Eastern Conference.

The Jazz rebounded as well as can be expected. They preemptively got Rubio for just a lottery-protected Thunder pick, allowing them not to re-sign George Hill and deal with the 31-year-olds frequent injury troubles. Mitchell has quickly drawn rave reviews. Thabo Sefolosha ($5.25 million), Jonas Jerebko ($4 million) and Ekpe Udoh ($3.2 million) are all on favorable salaries – and each have unguaranteed seasons tacked on for next year, making their deals even more team-friendly.

Those players could join a deep rotation that already includes Gobert, Favors, Hood, Joe Ingles, Joe Johnson and Dante Exum. And here’s a little secret: Gobert – not Hayward, the team’s lone All-Star – was Utah’s best player last year. The Jazz aren’t falling off the map just yet.

Their defense might be even better. They could win even more than the 51 games they won last year if healthier.

But their offense will suffer without Hayward’s creation (which could hurt their defensive rating, if they’re defending after makes less often), and their ceiling is far lower. Guaranteeing Ingles $50 million during his 30s is probably an overpay that will also limit flexibility, though at least his salary declines annually.

The Jazz did a good job of handling losing a star. But losing a star isn’t good, and I’m grading results.

Offseason grade: D+