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.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

Gordon Hayward return
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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

Ty Lawson China
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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.

Mike Brown reportedly on list of Indiana coach interviews

Warriors assistant coach Mike Brown
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The buzz for a while has been the Indiana coaching job is Mike D’Antoni’s to lose — the Pacers want to update their offense, and no one is more qualified to do it.

But other names are circulating and people being interviewed: Dave Joerger, the Spurs’ Becky Hammon, Miami’s Dan Craig, Dallas’ Stephen Silas, Milwaukee’s Darvin Ham, Minnesota’s David Vanterpool, Philadelphia’s Ime Udoka, Brooklyn’s Jacque Vaughn, Portland’s Nate Tibbetts, and don’t forget Chauncey Billups.

Now add veteran coach Mike Brown to the list, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Brown was the head coach of both the Cavaliers and Lakers, leading the Cavaliers to the Finals in 2007 and being named Coach of the Year two years later. Brown has been the lead assistant under Steve Kerr for a few years now and has undoubtedly soaked up knowledge on setting up a modern NBA offense.

Whoever fills Nate McMillan’s shoes in Indiana has a tough job. Expectations may be high from ownership, but McMillan’s Pacers’ teams played hard and defended, making them difficult to play against. Their offense also was old school, which is why McMillan was fired after the Heat swept the Pacers in the first round, but it wasn’t terrible. How big a leap this team makes may rely less on the style of play and more on if Victor Oladipo has returned to his All-NBA form.

Don’t write of Boston off yet despite 0-2 deficit to Miami

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — If there was a sliver of consolation for the Boston Celtics on Friday, it probably could have been found within the understanding that a 2-0 lead for the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals doesn’t guarantee anything.

The Celtics learned that two years ago against Cleveland.

And Milwaukee learned the same last season against Toronto.

Dropping the first two games of the East finals to the Heat, obviously, isn’t the ideal scenario for the Celtics. But they’ve had chances to win both games – and might be getting Gordon Hayward back Saturday night for Game 3, when they’ll have the opportunity to get right back into this series.

“I think this series is far from over,” Celtics forward Jaylen Brown said.

Those aren’t fighting words. The Heat agree with him.

“We haven’t done anything. We haven’t,” All-NBA pick and Heat forward Jimmy Butler said. “We can’t get excited that we’re up 2-0 because as good as it is to be 2-0, it could easily be 4-2 Boston. So, we’re going to come into the same way knowing that we’ve got to be better and stay humble about it.”

The Celtics were up by 14 in the fourth quarter of Game 1, then were up by 17 in the first half of Game 2 and lost both games. Seeing a 17-point first-half lead get erased in the NBA is no big deal anymore; the wasted lead that truly bothered Boston was the five-point edge they had with 4:25 remaining. They got outscored 17-7 the rest of the way, and tempers flared in the Boston locker room after the game.

“We feel like we could have won,” Brown said. “Should have won, and we didn’t. So just a lot of emotions flying around. That’s it.”

The Heat got some great breaks in Game 2, plays like Kelly Olynyk banking in a 3-pointer late in the third quarter to help finish off a 37-17 Miami run – and Butler getting a steal and then whipping the ball behind his back as he saved it from going out of bounds in the fourth, a play where not only did the Heat maintain possession of his heave but where he wound up getting a layup.

But the comeback had important tactical elements as well, such as Miami going to zone defense and stifling the Celtics with that scheme. If Boston gets Hayward – who hasn’t played in a month because of a bad ankle – back on Saturday, his shooting and passing ability will help when Miami tries the zone. Hayward was listed as questionable for Game 3 on the injury report that Boston submitted Friday to the league.

“This isn’t about zones or defenses and offenses and stuff like that,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “This is, we just got to be better.”

Boston led Cleveland 2-0 in the 2018 East finals before losing in seven games; Milwaukee led Toronto 2-0 in the 2019 East finals before losing in six games. Momentum can change just that quickly in a series, and the Heat know that to be the case.

“You get to this level, in the conference finals, it’s not going to be easy for either team – and it wasn’t,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who got his 81st postseason win Thursday to tie K.C. Jones for eighth on the all-time list. “Both teams are laying it all on the line. That’s the way it should be.”

Some of what else to know going into Saturday:

THE DRAGON

Goran Dragic, Miami’s 34-year-old point guard, has led the Heat in scoring in each of the first two games, 29 points in Game 1 and 25 in Game 2. “He’s a winner, man. That’s my guy,” Butler said. The only other player this season, age 34 or older, to have multiple 25-point games against Boston was Toronto’s Kyle Lowry – in the East semifinals.

FROM 3

Brown and Marcus Smart are a combined 13 for 27 from 3-point range in the two games for Boston; Celtics teammates Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum are a combined 9 for 34. Tatum knows he has to be more aggressive, after not taking any shots in the final 4:56 of Game 2. “Not looking at we got to win four out of five … just win the next one,” Tatum said.

CELTICS DEFENSE

Even after giving up 223 points in the first two games of the East finals, Boston still leads these NBA playoffs in points allowed per game (101.8; Miami is second at 104.4), opponent field-goal percentage (.413) and opponent 3-point percentage (.317). But after a 6-0 start to the postseason, the Celtics are only 2-5 since. That matches Boston’s worst seven-game stretch from any point this season.