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.

Paul George says he knew James Harden/Russell Westbrook pairing would work

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When James Harden and Russell Westbrook share the court this season, the Rockets are +8.9 points per 100 possessions. That is fueled by a surprisingly good defensive rating that has them giving almost exactly a point per possession.

All of that is much better than many pundits predicted, as they questioned how to isolation players with questionable defensive chops would fit together.

Not Paul George. He thought this would work from the start, as he told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“I knew it was going to work,” George said at the morning shootaround before the Clippers face the Rockets on Friday night. “Russ is a winner. Russ wants to win, Russ does whatever it takes to win. My time playing with him, Russ doesn’t really have an ego. He puts his ego to the side.

“He allowed me to be myself, he allowed me to be comfortable. And I had one of the best career [years] I had while playing alongside him. Russ is a heckuva teammate.”

James Harden — averaging 38.4 points, 7.5 assists, and 5.8 rebounds a game — would likely agree with George.

George, however, surveyed the situation with Westbrook and OKC — after Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers knocked them out in the first round — and decided to move on and team up with Kawhi Leonard with the Lakers. He may have liked Westbrook as a teammate, but the two of them (with that talent around them and few ways to make real upgrades) had limits on how far they could go.

That remains the question about these Rockets, one that is not going to be answered until next April at the earliest.

Report: Hornets interested in Pistons center Andre Drummond

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Andre Drummond is thriving.

The Pistons are not.

With Drummond headed toward free agency, that leaves major questions for Detroit. Should the 4-10 Pistons hope better health – especially for Blake Griffin – allows them to get back on track this season? Should they keep Drummond and attempt to re-sign him as a key player future seasons? Should they trade him to get value now?

Drummond’s market – both for a trade or in free agency – is somewhat limited. The NBA is overstocked with capable centers. His game, built mostly on rebounding, trends toward old-school. Drummond is better than most players of his ilk. The question is about cost.

But at least one team outside Detroit is apparently interested – Charlotte.

Sean Deveney of Heavy:

The target, according to league sources: Pistons big man Andre Drummond, a player in whom the Hornets have had an interest for at least a year.

Charlotte projects to have about $27 million in cap space next summer. That might be enough to lure Drummond with a multi-year deal.

But Drummond’s player option for next season he said he plans to decline is worth $28,751,774.

So, it might make sense to trade for Drummond now to secure his Bird Rights. That way, the Hornets could exceed the cap to re-sign him.

They’d also get an upgrade at center over Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo this season. Charlotte (6-9) is in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Even with Drummond, I wouldn’t pick the Hornets as likely to make the postseason, but that’s the type of low-level goal they often prioritize.

Charlotte has expiring contracts to facilitate a trade – Biyombo, Marvin Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The Hornets would also have to surrender assets that tempt Detroit (draft picks and/or young players).

There’s a path to a satisfactory trade… if the Pistons are open to dealing Drummond.

Harassment charges against Lakers’ DeMarcus Cousins reportedly dropped

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DeMarcus Cousins got married this past summer, but his 7-year-old son didn’t attend the wedding due to a dispute with the boy’s mother and Cousin’s ex-girlfriend, Christy West. That blew up into an ugly situation where Cousins was ultimately charged in Alabama with a third-degree harassing communications misdemeanor, tied to the domestic situation.

Now, those charges have been dismissed, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Cousins remains out for the Lakers after tearing his ACL this past summer, and he is not expected to return. Because of the surprisingly good play of Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee — particularly as mobile defenders who can show out on the perimeter and recover — the Lakers have not missed Cousins’ presence.

I have no specific knowledge of this case or the truth of what happened between Cousins and his ex. As far as I know, there was nothing to this and should have been dismissed.

However, as someone who spent a chunk of years on a police/courts beat as a young reporter, I feel the need to add this: Domestic violence/harassment cases are exceedingly difficult to prosecute. It can be a he said/she said situation, and unfortunately, often the abused women recant their testimony (whether it was true or not). The situations are a complex mix of emotions and fear, ones that make getting justice difficult. Talk to any prosecutor (or long-time police beat officer) about domestic violence cases and they will tell you horrifying stories. It is a situation that, as a nation, we need to address.

High schoolers Bronny James, Zaire Wade have more national TV games than many NBA teams

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The Wizards are entertaining in their own special way.

Washington games have averaged 241 points this season (120 for the Wizards, 121 for their opponents). That’s the highest mark in nearly two decades. The 1990-91 Nuggets scored 120 while allowing 131 points per game.

But Washington rarely gets nationally televised games.

On the other hand, Sierra Canyon School – which features Bronny James (son of LeBron James) and Zaire Wade (son of Dwyane Wade) – will have plenty of nationally televised games. That drew the attention of at least one Wizard.

Isaiah Thomas:

Of course, the Wizards aren’t alone in getting less national exposure than Bronny and Zaire. On the latest, “Off the Dribble,” Jacques Slade gets into all the NBA teams and stars on national television less often than Sierra Canyon. (For more, watch the video above where Slade also gets into Carmelo Anthony’s Blazers debut.)

The good news: Wizards games can still be found on NBC Sports Washington.