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.