What’s Left of the NBA Free Agent Crop
Summer league is over, the 2009-2010 NBA schedule is published, but there’s still a bit of chaos with free agents lingering around. Who’s left that’s any good? Mostly, it seems to be restricted free agents. On the whole, teams have been a little gun shy about signing offer sheets too soon, not wanting to lock up their money for a week before finding out whether they get their player. Well, that and general salary cap concerns between the shrinking cap and next year’s vaunted free agent crop. You also have a few notable head cases and “untapped potential.” At this point, your team’s needs are probably based around a position, so I’ve taken the liberty of breaking down the best of what’s left by position.
*= Restricted Free Agent
C – And I mean true center in this case, not a tough power forward who gets stuck out of position because he can box out and defend bigger players, frequently sacrificing their offense. (I’m looking at you, Kurt Thomas.)
*Aaron Gray: He’s a legit 7′ center. 250+ lbs, depending on his off-season program. He can rebound. He can score in the post. He’s only 24, so there’s upside. Unfortunately, he’s pretty slow and he needs help with his footwork. Worse, he’s with the Bulls and they have a terrible record for developing big men (Gray could score when he got there.) Not good for a running team, but you could do a lot worse in a half-court system.
You have a better true center? The Collins brothers? No, I don’t think so. Brezec came back from Europe, but he’s already signed. This is just a thin position. There’s a reason Gortat had money thrown at him: he was the best free agent center available by a mile.
C/PF – And here I’m talking about natural power forwards that will get pressed into center duty, especially on a running team.
*David Lee: Possibly the best player left on the board. Good rebounding. Superior hustle. Hasn’t really developed a refined offensive game, but has thus far done alright on garbage points. Prior to playing center under D’Antoni, he started some games at small forward. It’s the Knicks, these things happen. Popular theory is he signs a one-year contract with the Knicks and his future will depend partially on whether someone like Bosh signs next year. A great pick-up who’s getting squeezed by the shrinking cap and the Knicks max contract ambitions for next year.
Leon Powe: Undersized for a center, but is a very good scorer on the low block. Powe had very inconsistent minutes, but did well when he got them. He also cost himself a lot of money when he got injured in the playoffs, just as his golden opportunity to showcase himself arrived. This is a risk and reward player, ’cause he’s definitely had injury problems, but he’s pretty good when healthy. Recent rumors put the Cavs as having interest.
Joe Smith: He’s only 34, but it seems like Smith is more like 38, the way he bounces around as a “play-off” veteran. And at 34, we may be starting to see the downside. Still, he can rebound a little, give you some post scoring, step out to 15 feet and generally knows where to be on defense. Figure he’ll be talking with contenders, possibly staying in Cleveland.
Melvin Ely: A Clipper draftee who never found his potential, Ely’s a wide load that will probably find a bench. Only one trip to the play-offs.
Brian Skinner: Another guy who’s always bouncing around, but always has a job. Only 4 trips to the playoffs.
Mikki Moore: Moore has always had fans, but pretty much got exposed in the playoffs last year when Boston’s front court was decimated and he still couldn’t get off the bench. A skinny 6’11”, he’s going to be 34 and the downside is upon him.
*Big Baby Davis: No, I don’t think he’s a center. Big Baby made himself some money in the playoffs. While the jury’s out on whether he can put up 18-20/10 over a full season, he’d have made himself some money in any other off-season. Nobody’s sure what Boston will or won’t match, and nobody’s felt like pressing their luck. Ainge seems content to wait it out, so Davis may end up being a bargain.
*Linas Kleiza: A quality player behind a superstar, Kleiza can also give you a few minutes at power forward in a pinch, particularly if you’re running. He also has an adequate 3-point shot. Another restricted free agent who’d have gotten more offers in different years. Seems like he’s staying.
*Marvin Williams: Williams might be a bit of a ‘tweener as a forward. He’s extended his range past the 3-point line though and is a pretty good rebounder at the 3. He might make sense for the Cav’s if they wanted a 4 who could stretch the floor away from Shaq, but most likely the Hawks won’t want to lose another free agent.
Allen Iverson: Discussed here.
Von Wafer: Wafer missed the day in class where you learn not to get in a shouting match with coach during the playoffs when your contract is expiring. Whoops. That said, when McGrady went down, Wafer did a good job making up for lost points. Definitely a shooter, not a defender, he works better as a second scoring option.
Jerry Stackhouse: The question here is what Stackhouse’s health is like. If he’s in once piece, that’s bench scoring. Age could be a factor, though.
Luther Head: A bit of a lost player, the last couple years, he’s of the solid defender/spot up 3-point shooter variety.
Flip Murray: Seems to be getting more comfortable with his bench scoring role.
Desmond Mason: Injured most of last season, Mason looks to be the odd man out in the OKC youth movement. The offensive opposite of Luther Head, Mason plays the power game at the 2. He used to have a pretty good reputation, but injuries and age raise questions without having seen him post-injury.
Kareem Rush: While he did alright as a spot starter in Charlotte, this once promising player had a complete disaster in Philly. If the next stop doesn’t turn out better, he’s looking at Europe.
*Ramon Sessions: Sessions was forced into some shooting guard duty last season, due to team injuries. He’s 23, gets decent assist numbers and occasionally scores in the mid-20s. Meanwhile Coach Skiles has pretty much handed the starting job to rookie Brandon Jennings. The Knicks are circling him and he probably needs an escape plan.
*Nate Robinson: Nobody’s really sure that Robinson isn’t really a shooting guard, except he’s far too small to guard the position. We know he can score. We know he’s very fast. We also know the Knicks have been meeting with other point guards right and left. With the Knicks looking for that cap space next year, Robinson’s really in limbo.
*Raymond Felton: Narrowly avoiding a mid-season trade, Felton survived a season with Larry Brown, which is a merit badge for point guards. Possibly the least buzz of any free agent. Do other GMs just think Charlotte will match?
Jason Williams: Can you blame a guy for signing a contract with the Clippers and deciding to retire? Yeah, you can. But he’s back after a year off. Williams is a solid enough veteran, but you wonder about a year of rust. It’s looking like the Knicks passed on him. Miami had expressed initial interest (he was there for the title), but may be backing off. He should find a spot.
Jamal Tinsley: A solid playmaker, but not a great scorer, Tinsley ended up in a Marbury-like situation in Indianapolis: paid, but told not to come around. The Knicks are said to be talking to him, but how much rust is there?
Stephon Marbury: Yeah, you’ve seen the video. Nobody knows what Starbury is thinking and it sure doesn’t help his cause to be acting so oddly in such a public way. Couple that with his complete meltdown in the playoffs. (Did you think you’d see the day when Marbury appeared to be afraid to shoot?) This is a player, had he not fallen out quite so dramatically with coaches Larry Brown and Isiah Thomas, ought to be pushing top 10 all time in assists. Look up where he stands all-time. Now consider he essentially pissed away 2 seasons in disputes. He’s 32. There’s no reason Marbury, given a good hard training camp to re-acclimate himself, couldn’t be a quality back-up, at the very least. Unfortunately, there’s the mental part of the game and we just don’t know where his head is. The real questions here are whether somebody is enough of a gambler to give Marbury a redemption offer and if that happens if Marbury would take it.