Bernucca column: Top 20 free agents

By Chris Bernucca

We all remember last year’s free agency extravapalooza - LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh heating up South Beach, Amar’e Stoudemire making the Knicks relevant, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce making career commitments to their teams and Joe Johnson landing the biggest contract of them all.

Next year could be a quality sequel, with a star-studded cast that includes Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Ray Allen, Jason Terry, possibly Jameer Nelson and Gerald Wallace, and oldies but goodies Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Steve Nash.

This year? Meh.

There is not one unrestricted free agent whose exclamation point isn’t shadowed by a question mark. Tyson Chandler? Back trouble. David West? Coming off an ACL tear. Jamal Crawford? Might want the max. J.J. Barea? Productive as a starter. Even Nene is named after a goose if you speak Hawaiian rather than Portuguese.

And don’t ever say NBA GMs aren’t smart. Most of them saw this coming and didn’t turn their payrolls inside out to be active this offseason, when a new collective bargaining agreement will install an entire new set of rules.

The teams with low payrolls – not counting dreaded cap holds or potential amnesty releases - are Denver ($29 million), Sacramento ($30 million), Indiana ($37 million) New Jersey ($40 million), Washington ($41 million), New Orleans ($44 million) and the Los Angeles Clippers ($45 million). Not exactly dream destinations, although Phoenix would get in the picture at $47 million if it waives Vince Carter via amnesty.

The landscape is more like a seascape right now because it is so fluid. No one knows what the salary cap will be – it was $58 million a year ago – and the longer there is no CBA in place, the more the number will be impacted. Given that, here’s our look at the top 20 free agents, with available cheaper models. (An ‘R’ denotes a restricted free agent).

NENE: Spent the previous three seasons proving his injuries and ailments are behind him and was worth his last contract. With a premium on skilled big men, he should warrant a max deal. BEST FIT: Nuggets, who have enough room to re-sign Nene and add another big piece. DOLLAR STORE ALTERNATIVE: Chris Wilcox, Francisco Elson.

DAVID WEST: Despite coming off the injury, he will draw plenty of attention and likely get a max deal, even though he is a notch below that level. The Hornets have to come at him hard if they want to keep Chris Paul. BEST FIT: The Pacers and Nuggets both have plenty of minutes and money. DOLLAR STORE ALTERNATIVE: Kurt Thomas.

TYSON CHANDLER: Rebounds, blocks shots, fixes mistakes by teammates and doesn’t require loads of touches. In other words, an ideal center in a league driven by offensive-minded points and wings. Someone may max him out. BEST FIT: Mavericks, who aren’t going to give away one of their championship backbones. DOLLAR STORE ALTERNATIVE: Dan Gadzuric.

MARC GASOL (R): The best available all-around big man on the market. When the Grizzlies re-signed Zach Randolph, they assured him Gasol would be retained. If another team offers Gasol the max, we’ll see. BEST FIT: Rockets, who could make it happen with some creative accounting. The Suns, Kings and Bobcats could make big plays as well. DOLLAR STORE ALTERNATIVE: Joel Przybilla.

JEFF GREEN (R): You have to wonder why the Celtics traded Kendrick Perkins because he wanted starting center money, while Green would be paid as a sub behind Garnett and Paul Pierce. But if a team offers Green a starting spot and eight figures, Danny Ainge will be self-pressured to match. BEST FIT: Celtics, although a team like the Nets or Suns can offer him more. DOLLAR STORE ALTERNATIVE: Troy Murphy, Leon Powe.

JASON RICHARDSON: Probably will never be the scorer he was in Golden State and Charlotte, but it shouldn’t be about that for him anymore now that he’s 30. BEST FIT: Orlando, because the Magic have to go through the motions of trying to keep Dwight Howard. DOLLAR STORE ALTERNATIVE: Shannon Brown.

JAMAL CRAWFORD: Legitimate scorer who can play both backcourt positions in a pinch. It remains to be seen whether he is willing to continue coming off the bench. BEST FIT: The Hornets, Nets, Bobcats or Pacers, all of whom have cap room and a big hole at shooting guard. DOLLAR STORE ALTERNATIVE: Delonte West.

NICK YOUNG (R): A top-30 scorer last season who is just 26. Could get a lot better if he develops smarts to match his skills. BEST FIT: Wizards, who need stability and continuity around John Wall and have the cap room to match any offer. One might come from the Hornets. DOLLAR STORE ALTERNATIVE: Anthony Parker.

TAYSHAUN PRINCE: He has a lot of postseason mileage on him but has remained durable despite his frail frame. Probably needs a change of scenery to recharge his batteries. BEST FIT: Clippers, where his veteran presence would be welcome. DOLLAR STORE ALTERNATIVE: Rasual Butler.

SHANE BATTIER: His defense and professionalism will always be welcome ahead of his offensive limitations. A future coach or executive. BEST FIT: Perhaps a homecoming to Detroit, where Lawrence Frank needs veteran leadership, not just veterans. DOLLAR STORE ALTERNATIVE: Grant Hill.

CARON BUTLER: A big question mark coming off a ruptured patellar tendon at 31 years old. If healthy, he can score and rebound better than most at his position. Might have to sign an incentive-laden deal. BEST FIT: He could find worse places than a homecoming with the Bucks. DOLLAR STORE ALTERNATIVE: Al Thornton.

KRIS HUMPHRIES: Only Kevin Love averaged more rebounds per minute than Humphries, who may get the most absurd contract once free agency begins – and still make less money than his wife. BEST FIT: The Suns need a ball-eater, but the Nets really can’t chance letting him walk unless they bag a bigger prize. DOLLAR STORE ALTERNATIVE: Chuck Hayes.

J.J. BAREA: Has range, runs the pick-and-roll to perfection and doesn’t back down from anyone. But if you think he can be a starting point guard, I respectfully disagree. BEST FIT: Mavericks, where he can bridge the transition from Jason Kidd to Roddy Beaubois – and probably get the most money. DOLLAR STORE ALTERNATIVE: Earl Watson, Mike Bibby.

AARON AFFLALO (R): Restricted free agent who plays both ends and has developed a knack for taking – and making – big shots. Could end up dramatically overpaid if a team with cap room offers him a big deal trying to scare off the Nuggets. BEST FIT: Denver, because half its team is playing in China. DOLLAR STORE ALTERNATIVE: DeShawn Stevenson.

DEANDRE JORDAN (R): His offensive repertoire is limited to dunking, and don’t ask about free throws. But he’s 23 years old, has a chance to be a game-changing defensive player and could come at a bargain as a former second-round pick. BEST FIT: The Clippers have to hope the Timberwolves or Rockets don’t make him a ridiculous offer they cannot justify matching. DOLLAR STORE ALTERNATIVE: Earl Barron.

MARCUS THORNTON (R): Has averaged 13.6 points through two seasons despite being benched, beaten out for his starting job and traded, which is what happens when you’re not a first-round pick. Only 24 and could be a steal. BEST FIT: Kings, but they have to free up more minutes for him to reach his ceiling. DOLLAR STORE ALTERNATIVE: Willie Green.

LUC RICHARD MBAH A MOUTE: Every team needs a defensive stopper. We all saw that last season with what Tony Allen brought to the Memphis Grizzlies, and he rebounds, too. BEST FIT: After last summer’s spending fiasco with Drew Gooden and Corey Maggette, the Bucks need to keep this consummate glue guy. DOLLAR STORE ALTERNATIVE: Shelden Williams.

SAMUEL DALEMBERT: A defensive presence without much skill or smarts. Anyone who gives him eight figures is a moron. But someone will. BEST FIT: The Suns might like his paint presence and willingness to run. DOLLAR STORE ALTERNATIVE: Theo Ratliff.

ANDREI KIRILENKO: Yes, he signed a three-year deal with CSKA Moscow. But it has more outs in it than the Red Sox in September, so you know where he really wants to play. BEST FIT: Nets, if they can find a scoring shooting guard. DOLLAR STORE ALTERNATIVE: Mike Dunleavy.

YI JIANLIAN: OK, so he’s not the next Yao Ming, and Dan Fegan won’t be able to dupe anybody this time around. But he’s not the next Wang Zhizhi, either. He’s about to turn 24 and needs to ignore 1.3 billion people and just play. BEST FIT: Yi probably would feel most at home with the Warriors, but the Knicks and Clippers could both use a stretch-4. DOLLAR STORE ALTERNATIVE: Jared Jeffries

FIVE MORE TO CONSIDER: Glen Davis, Carl Landry, Michael Redd, Aaron Brooks (R), Rodney Stuckey (R).

Chris Bernucca is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear every Thursday.

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  1. Radio Rah says

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  2. Pat says

    Hypothetically if the Nets secure Kirilenko, Humphries, and Crawford they could be a sneaky good team that can make a serious push.
    Deron running point as one of the best in the game, 1st round pick Marshon Brooks just so happens to have the single season Big East scoring record under his belt, and rumors galore have been flying around about Dwight’s upcoming FA.
    Don’t look now Knicks fans, NY has a strong talented team with a lot more cap space coming its way…

  3. Karl says

    CHris,

    I’ll take a 7 ft moron who can shoot, rebound, block shots and avg close to a double double. Heck I’ll even take him over Okafor. Yea I said it. Okafor is regarded as one of the smartest players in the league who actually graduated from college with a degree in finance. But when it comes to making a free-throw? Forget it, 8 years in the league and hes worse than when he got in. He’s probably better physically endowed but thats about it. Not much better in anything than Sammy.

    A very good coach can teach Sammy D to tweak any dumb tendencies. Sammy D has a unique skillset in the NBA for his size. Not every raw 7-footer has Kareem mentor them from day one. Bynum was no better than Sammy D. Bynum just has the size to contend in the NBA which he was blessed with. Other than that hes one of the dirtiest players ive ever seen but I digress.

    In the end I’ll take Sammy D over 20 starting NBA centers. Calling him one of the dumbest players in NBA history is pretty dumb in itself. DO ME A FAVOR. Go to this site and check out this “one of the dumbest players in NBA history’s” stats since March 12th.

    http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/players/3534/gamelog;_ylt=ArSSXPeGsfQaF7L6bygTWlCePKB4

    I’ll take an idiot who can do this anyday. Seriously man stop being such a hater. I thought Chris SHeridan was capable of picking better writers. Not just his friends who watched a couple NBA games and think they can write.

    • Chris says

      Karl,

      You know what? You’re right. Silly me. Why should I dismiss a track record of seven-plus years when I can rely on one month of stat-stuffing while on a team playing for nothing? Let’s back up the breadtruck.

      You know what else? Name calling and tossing around insults is pretty childish.

      Have a good weekend.

      CB

      • Karl says

        Yo Chris,

        I didnt mention the years in Philly and his double double season. I didn’t mention that he never took more than 8 shots a game in a season. i NEVER MENTIONED THAT HE NEVER PLAYED CONSISTENT MINUTES LAST SEASON. Why dont you go stat stuff on a bad team. Cuz its SOOO easy for any scrub to stat stuff. And a team playing for nothing means jack. SO you’re basically saying a team playing for nothing automatically produces players who can fill up stat sheets right? FALSE.

        The Lakers had nothing to play for in that last game of the season against the kings right? Kobe played his ass off in a tight western conference race and dropped 36 and they still lost. How did Sammy D do in that game? Just a cool 16 and 18. You know a typical line for “ONE OF THE DUMBEST PLAYERS IN NBA HISTORY WITHOUT MUCH SKILL OR SMARTS.”

        DONT EXAGGERATE TO MAKE YOUR STUPID POINT. JUST ANOTHER TYPICAL JOURNALIST HATER THAT YOU ARE WHO HAS NO CLUE.

        • tupark says

          haha my guess is karl plays fantasy basketball and has not likely seen dalembert play much. i on the other hand, have seen dalembert consistently play like an utter bonehead too many times to count, too many eye rolls to count, too many stupid turnovers to count. if you want to take 20 starting nba centers over dalembert, that is reason enough to believe you have no idea what you’re talking about.

    • Chris says

      Santy,

      Would love to see him back in the league but it took him three years to swallow his pride and realize that he could have played til he was 40 as another version of Leandro Barbosa if he had just accepted a reserve role. As a sub, his lack of D and lost explosiveness not as important against less skilled players. Think about him off the bench in Miami instead of Eddie House or in Boston instead of Nate Robinson. Both those teams also have veterans to keep him focused on the prize.

      Thanks for reading.

      CB

  4. mikey says

    Clippers off-season plan: Resign DeAndre Jordan and sign Tayshaun Prince …

    Jordan
    Griffin
    Prince
    Gordon
    Williams

    Package Chris Kaman’s expiring contract, the 2012 unprotected Minnesota pick, add perhaps a young player or two and trade for CP3….

    CP3/Gordon/Prince/Griffin/Jordan…

    That team could win a title….

    • Chris says

      Mikey,

      Love Part A and certainly think it can and should be done. Part B is more difficult because 1. I see the Hornets trying to be as active as possible to placate Paul; 2. Would think the Hornets would want Gordon back if they shipped Paul to LAC.

      How about letting Kaman’s contract expire to be a player in the 2012 market and keep the unprotected pick? Thanks for reading.

      CB

  5. Travis says

    If the Pacers sign David friggin West to a max deal I’ll be demanding Larry Bird’s head, and I’ve been a fan of his rebuild for the most part.

  6. Bill says

    Sorry Chris, but I disagree with some of your picks. Delonte West is the dollar store alternative to Jamal Crawford? Isn’t West heralded as being a good defender and spot-up shooter? Jamal is an awful defender and while he is actually a terrifice spot-up shooter, he needs the ball in his hands too much to utilize that skill.

    Also, you mention the Suns as being an option for free agent big men, but they already have Marcin Gortat, who played wonderfully once he got a starting slot in Phoenix. They also have Robin Lopez who is fine as backup big man.

    Another thing is don’t you think the Nets would be a good fit for David West? He was an All-Star when he was healthy and had CP3 spoon-feeding him. He’s one of the biggest names in this free agent class and signing him would help the Nets try and convince D-Will that they’re working on finding him help.

    • Troy says

      Net should amnesty Outlaw, sign and trade humphries/wright/picks for Gay, sign West for 3/36, have j williams back up west, have marSHON back up Gay. theyd win 35-40 games maybe?

      • Chris says

        Troy,

        Great plan, but really don’t see Grizz taking Humphries (they already have two monster rebounders) and spare parts for their best trade chip. Grizz’s offseason goal is to re-sign Gasol and they may have to move Gay to do that. But they can get more than your proposal. Thanks for reading.

        CB

    • Chris says

      Bill,

      I do think West is a good fit for NJ, especially since he’s from Teaneck! But I think they have that position partially filled (with Humphries) while the 2 and 3 spots are in disarray and need more attention. Thanks for reading. CB

    • Chris says

      Jason,

      I think Jason Richardson is ideal for them but they have to get very creative with their cap and dump a couple salaries (Korver Brewer or Watson) on teams under the cap for second-round picks to clear the room. Plus they have to look at maxing out Rose in two years as well. How about Michael Redd to spread the defense? He would be cheaper. Thanks for reading.

  7. Karl says

    Dude, Chris I have 20 bones to pick with you. But I’ll only elaborate on a few since you’re so incompetent.

    1. Marcus Thornton is a bigger free agent than Stuckey, Brooks, and Landry? Cmon dude were you high when you wrote this.

    2. Sammy D is much more than a serviceable center in the NBA. You really dont know how to evaluate talent. He’s an above avg. rebounder, a great shot blocker, a terrific free-throw shooter, and he can obviously stretch the floor and knock down mid-range jumpers to stretch the floor for guards to drive to the basket. He’s not amazing at any one thing but hes an above avg NBA center. A team would be very justified in giving him a 4-year 30 million dollar deal. I’m counting and thats 8 figures.

    3. Your dollar store alternatives are so wack. These are not alternatives. Many are practice squad additions that won’t ever be able to remove the large splinters out of their ass until April or maybe even June. Francisco Elson, Gadzuric, Ratliff, Shelden WIlliams and even Bibby cant get on the court anymore and be effective.

    4. Yi is not better and will probably will never be as good as Stuckey, Brooks, or Landry who are on your “5 more to CONSIDER” list. Are you kidding me? Those guys need to be snagged ASAP and can make a team really good. The only reason Yi makes the list is because of his potential to sell more seats in markets with larger Asian populations but thats not related to his skill.

    5. There is no way in hell Chandler’s alternative can be Gadzuric even for a penny. Any team hoping to land Chandler that doesn’t would be better off getting a Darko-esque player straight out of Eastern Europe. I also guarantee you that no one will give Chandler a max contract. I know you said ‘may’ but even mentioning that is absurd.

    These are such blatant errors in your article that I had to bring them to your attention. I’m not a hater, just have to point out shiet like this. Good luck on your next article.

    • Let the season start says

      some odd picks indeed, I cant even worry about free agency until we get this lockout squared away though. One problem at a time LOL… could be an interesting 5 or 6 day free agency period, especially if amnesty clauses are used at that time too… could be a lot of news in little time…. not a lot of time for BS like with the whole lebron stuff last summer

    • Chris says

      Karl,

      Thanks for reading. I don’t see Stuckey and Brooks getting multi-year offers above their qualifying offer but I do see Thornton getting that because he was a second-round pick. I did also say that Stuckey, Brooks and Landry should be considered. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I like Landry but I wonder how he didn’t play ahead of Jason Thompson.

      I have watched virtually every Sixers game since AI showed up and I am convinced Dalembert is one of the dumbest players in NBA history. He has been a starter for seven years and avgs 24 min per game. Fouls, turnovers, goaltends on both ends, stupid shots, awful passer, poor body control. A 10-year veteran without a semblance of a go-to move. Eight figures means 10 mill per year.

      I believe a clean slate will help Yi. He wouldn’t be the first player I have been wrong on.

      The Dollar Store Alternatives were supposed to be just that. Think Wal-Mart vs. Brooks Bros.

      Keep coming to the site. Thanks for your input.

      CB

      • Gregel says

        Dumbest players in NBA history? You obviously have not watched much of Chris Wilcox.

        I will say that I’d take Grant Hill over Shane Battier right now hands down. Hill may be much older, but at least he has an offensive game and can play D.

    • says

      Karl – I think you’re wrong.

      1. Brooks and Stuckey aren’t as important as Thornton because of their restricted status. While I agree that they’re probably better players (although that’s definitely debatable), no one is going to get silly for either one of them. Thornton, however, who works for the financially challenged Kings franchise, and who is a bit duplicated on the roster, can be had. Ergo, I see why someone would rate Thornton higher.

      I agree however that Landry goes ahead of all of them.

      2. Dalember is a good talent, but let’s not forget he’s a head case too. Guy demands touches, refuses to give it his all unless he’s a big part of the offense. For that reason, he’s hard to play…and therefore not that important.

      3&5. I think the author used confusing language on the ‘dollar store alternative’ – I know what he meant, but it’s definitely not clear.

      4. Again, Yi is listed ahead of Brooks and Stuckey cause’ he’s gettable…and cause he’s a big body.

      I think you should remember that the authors on this site are personally OK’d by Mr. Sheridan. None of them are idiots who write “sheit”

  8. Jersey66 says

    I think lists like this are useless until we know the Cap figures and whether there will be amnesties. With players like Vince Carter, Rip Hamilton, Baron Davis and Gilbert Arenas likely to also be on the market at a very cheap price the above mentioned free agents will have a lot less options and a lot less money available to them.

  9. Jared says

    Players like Nene getting “max” deals is exactly what’s wrong with NBA owners/GMs right now. The only guys that should be getting max deals are absolute superstars like LeBron, Wade, Kobe, KD, Carmelo, CP3, Dwight, etc. etc. The fact that a max deal has become a starting point for negotiations for any All-Star or close-to-all-star caliber player (or simply an above average big man) is preposterous.

    • says

      Agreed. If Nene gets more than $12 million a year — or more than 4 years — under the new CBA, we’re going to have problems.

      David Falk wrote about this in his recent book and his opinion is that max contracts are stupid because players all evaluate their contract based on what someone else gets. Nene wants the max b/c he wants more than Haywood got last year, even though Haywood is overpaid. (Haywood is just an example here, name the player).

      • Troy says

        Totally agree! There should be like 12 max guys in the league. Nene, West, Chandler are NOT MAX GUYS. Though having a skilled/mobile big man is a must to be a championship contender, the league cannot survive if every team pays the 2nd best player $15 million/yr. (ok except for Miami and New York). Being an “All-Star” does not make you worth a max (I mean, come on, Yao Ming was voted as a starter last season)

        A MAX player is a transcendent player who is the Franchise guy, who sells tickets, and is recognized by fans and non-fans alike. And the fact that Jamal Crawford THINKS he’s worth the max is the height of insanity.

    • Chris says

      Cap,

      You’re right. Somehow subtracted his number twice. Bet the Suns wish they could do that. Thanks for reading.

      CB

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