That is what most sports fans are thinking about at the beginning of April.
While the great majority of you guys and gals have been distraught over not correctly picking Wichita State to reach the NCAA’s Final Four, many have overlooked the fact that some of the NBA’s playoff races are getting more and more interesting with each passing week. And a bunch of our pending free agents have something to do with that.
Josh Smith and his Atlanta Hawks have overachieved this season and still have a shot at catching the Brooklyn Nets for the fourth seed in the East. But J-Smoove was not this week’s highest riser. That distinction belongs to a small of very small stature.
Dwight Howard and the Los Angeles Lakers came into the season thinking about winning 70 games, but now cannot even say they have clinched a playoff spot out West. And amazingly, they may not, as they currently trail the eighth seed Utah Jazz for the final playoff spot and must find a way to win without Metta World Peace and with a limited Steve Nash.
The Milwaukee Bucks still have a chance to move up to the East’s seventh seed and avoid the Miami Heat in the first round. That, of course, would likely give us the Boston Celtics – whom the Bucks would have to overtake – and the Heat in a first-round matchup.
Who said that the NBA in late March and early April was devoid of meaningful games?
And who said that the Heat had a shot at winning 33 straight games?
Certainly not the Chicago Bulls or Nate Robinson.
Oh, and who said that Al Jefferson needed to get his act together and help pull his team back into the playoff race? That was yours truly. So an immense amount of respect is due to him for the week he has put together, above all, leading his Jazz to five straight wins and a renewed tenure as the last playoff team out West.
Jefferson is the reigning NBA Western Conference Player of the Week, so you can only imagine what that has done to his stock here. It is also worth sending a shout-out to the Eastern Conference Player of the Week, J.R. Smith. He is someone I have touted as the Sixth Man of the Year but has been conspicuously absent from these free agent rankings.
Here’s why: These rankings are only for players that are certain to be free agents. Players who hold an early termination option – Smith, Monta Ellis, O.J. Mayo and Andre Iguodala are all examples – are not considered pending free agents for our purposes. That designation (and these rankings) are for players who will either be unrestricted (Dwight Howard, Chris Paul) or restricted (Brandon Jennings, Tyreke Evans).
On to the rankings.