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.

Pistons present themselves as Eastern Conference heavyweights with Dwane Casey

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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DETROIT – Pistons spokesman Mark Barnhill, introducing new coach Dwane Casey, said he tucked his notes for today’s press conference into his jacket pocket. Then, as he pulled them out, he discovered an old Pistons playoff ticket in the same pocket.

“It’s a bit of an omen and a bit of a challenge,” Barnhill said.

The ticket was for the Pistons’ best playoff performance in a decade.

“No pressure,” Casey said.

Actually, really, no pressure.

Detroit lost by only two points in Game 4 of the 2016 first round, getting swept by the Cavaliers in the game Barnhill referred to. The Pistons haven’t won a playoff game in the last 10 years and reached the postseason only twice in that span. A two-point loss was their best result.

They’re starving for only moderate success. The 59 wins and second-round loss that got Casey fired by the Raptors? That’d be a dream season in Detroit. Even just making the playoffs next year would be welcomed.

“Our time is now,” Casey said. “…The talent level on the roster is there.”

It better be.

The Pistons are too close to the luxury-tax line to use most of the mid-level exception. They surrendered their first-round pick in the Blake Griffin trade. They’re left with only the No. 42 pick in the second round.

“Whatever player we get, that would be great. But we don’t need another one,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said. “Like, we’re good. That’s why Dwane is here.”

That and $35 million.

The Pistons presented Casey with a favorable contract, a front-office head he knows (more on that later) and a solid roster. Detroit is probably better off trying to win now, because the alternative would be even trickier to pull off. With so many highly paid players stained by losing, the Pistons can’t easily switch paths and rebuild. Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are close enough to their primes that the present should be the priority, even if this team maxes at pretty good.

Yet, Detroit’s brass couldn’t help but raise expectations even further.

“We have three very – we have a great roster – but very special players,” Gores said of Griffin, Drummond and Jackson.

That’s an overstatement. Besides, how much noise can Detroit make with the Celtics and 76ers rising the Raptors still hanging around?

“I feel very comfortable that we’ll have a product that will compete with the teams that you just said,” Gores’ advisor, Ed Stefanski, said. “We have to win games, as Tom said. But you don’t usually get to an organization and have three core guys like we have.”

Again, they’re talking about Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

Griffin hasn’t made an All-Star team in three years, a drought players rarely escape. Drummond is a borderline All-Star in the East (and a tough fit with Griffin). Jackson has only once even sniffed the All-Star discussion.

Casey also praised those three – and Detroit’s last three first-round picks: Stanley Johnson, Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard. Johnson particularly drew attention from Casey, whose Raptors got swept by LeBron James‘ Cavaliers the last two years and lost the most lopsided six-game series in NBA history to Cleveland the previous year.

“Somebody said, ‘Well, what happened to Toronto in the playoffs? ‘Well, I said, ‘It’s about matchups,'” Casey said. “And Stanley Johnson is the best match up for 23 in Cleveland that there is, physically.”

Maybe Casey, with his strong record of player development, will help Johnson eventually compete at those high levels.

“We’re not developing,” Casey said. “We’re not two or three years away. We want to win right now.”

The Pistons are so confident in their current roster, they haven’t even hired a general manager or equivalent. For now, Stefanski – advisor to the owner with the title of “senior executive” – is running the show. It sounds as if that could continue for a while.

“We could make Ed GM tomorrow,” Gores said. “That’s easy. If you guys want a title, that’s kind of easy.

“That’s not the point. The point is we’re building an organization, not around one person, but around what our vision is.”

Stefanski said, no matter how the front office is assembled, Casey will report to him. And Stefanski will report to Gores.

After giving Stan Van Gundy massive control, the Pistons are dispersing power.

Casey is a good coach, and he’ll help. Stefanski has plenty to prove as a front-office head. Gores is still learning as an owner, a failed experiment (keeping Joe Dumars) and unfulfilling tenure (Van Gundy’s) behind him. The roster is solid, though unexciting, when healthy.

They’re now all in it together, awaiting a chance to deliver. Considering how modest external expectations are, maybe they will.

But as the Pistons overstate their standing, it gets harder to take them seriously.

PBT Extra: Dwight Howard traded to Brooklyn, does anybody win?

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Dwight Howard is on the move. Again. Leaving a wake of unhappy teammates behind him. Again.

The trade can’t be consummated until the NBA free agent moratorium ends on July 6, but a deal has been struck where Charlotte sends Howard to Brooklyn for Timofey Mozgov, two second-round picks, and cash.

I don’t love this trade for the Nets — it’s going to get awkward with Howard being asked to come off the bench behind Jarrett Allen (and he should come off the bench). But it frees up an extra $17 million for the Nets in the summer of 2019 as they start to reshape their roster.

The Hornets get away from the luxury tax with this move but tie up their cap space next year with Mozgov still getting paid off the contract former-Laker-now-Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak gave him years ago. It was a short-term move that isn’t great for the long term. Unless Kemba Walker wanted Howard gone and the Hornets want to re-sign their point guard. A lot of unanswered questions still about this team.

Rumor: Kawhi Leonard directly told Gregg Popovich he wanted to leave Spurs

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Kawhi Leonard and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich met in San Diego yesterday.

How did the discussion go? Reports have been mixed about even the nature of the meeting, let alone a resolution from either side.

But here’s an update with a reportedly direct conclusion.

Stephen A. Smith on ESPN:

From what my sources told me, Kawhi Leonard met with Gregg Popovich face-to-face, looked him dead in his face and told him “I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be in San Antonio any longer.”

Leonard put out word he wanted to leave San Antonio, ideally for the Lakers, last week. There was some hope Popovich could mend the relationship, but that seems to running thin. There is so much bitterness between both sides.

The next question: What do the Spurs do about it?

Do they keep trying to ease tension with the 26-year-old superstar? Do they trade him? If so, when? Before or during the draft?

No matter what Leonard told Popovich yesterday, San Antonio has big decisions to make and soon. Leonard firmly stating a desire to leave would be clarifying, but it’d hardly make this situation easy to handle.

Brendan Haywood: Former Hornets teammates ‘sick and tired’ of Dwight Howard’s act

AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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It has become an annual tradition – Dwight Howard getting traded then his former teammates celebrating his exit.

It happened with the Hawks last year. Now, it’s happening with the Hornets, who sent Howard to the Nets.

Brendan Haywood, via Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

Now retired, Haywood played with current Hornets Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist his final season. He also knows many other players throughout the league.

Howard went to Charlotte and declared himself team leader – despite the presence of Walker, the franchise player. Howard’s immaturity and ego have rubbed teammates and coaches the wrong way for years.

But at least this is progress. Howard’s time with the Magic, Lakers and Rockets devolved into interpersonal strife well before he left those teams.