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.