Let the countdown begin! With the uncertainty surrounding the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, free agency will most definitely take a back seat to the labor discussions between the players and owners. On June 30th (at midnight), the current CBA will expire and prospective free agents (restricted and unrestricted) will be left waiting patiently to find out where they will call home next season. While drastic changes are most likely to happen (there are discussions of a “hard cap” being instituted), I fully expect the league to make something happen fairly quickly. Similar to the NFL, the NBA might be at its highest interest level from a fan standpoint in years (possibly ever). To give you an idea, the Mavericks Game 6 clinching victory of the NBA Finals earned a 15.0 overnight rating on ABC. That was the highest rated Game 6 in 11 years, and up 22 percent from last years Game 6 (Lakers vs. Celtics). The NBA simply can’t afford to allow for any type of work stoppage to occur at this point.
With that being said, once the new CBA is agreed upon teams can start looking to add pieces to their championship puzzle. Here is our list of the Top 15 free agents available this off season:
15. Jose Juan Barea (PG-27 years old) Unrestricted Free Agent
The NBA champs have a lot of decisions to make this coming off season, as they have 6 unrestricted free agents likely to test the open market (3 of which make our Top 15). Barea proved his worth all season long for Coach Carlisle and the Mavericks organization. Barea appeared in 104 games this season (regular & playoffs) and increased in PPG, MPG, FT%, and APG all over last seasons averages. His play during the NBA Finals should give opposing general managers an idea of just how valuable an asset he really is. Look for the Mavericks to make the signing of Barea a top priority once the new CBA is ironed out.
14. Kris Humphries (PF-26 years old) Unrestricted Free Agent
Humphries was one of only six players (Love, Randolph, Griffin, Gasol, and Howard) to average at least 10 points and 10 rebounds this season. Humphries started more games this season with the Nets (44 games) than his previous seven seasons combined (only 8 games). He certainly picked a good season to show the rest of the league that he can produce on a nightly basis, as he is likely to generate a fairly hefty contract with someone. We’re just not convinced it will be with the Nets.
13. Marcus Thornton (SG-24 years old) Restricted Free Agent
Thornton shined during his two month stay with the Sacramento Kings (acquired in the Carl Landry trade). Thornton’s minutes increased drastically once he was acquired by the Kings in late February, as did his production. Thornton averaged 20.8 PPG and 39.8 MPG during the months of March and April for Sactown. It’s yet to be determined whether or not Thornton will retain a starting role in the Kings backcourt, especially with the selection of BYU standout Jimmer Fredette. However, Thornton has proved that he can score with ease in this league. Look for a team who needs help on the offensive side of the ball (Chicago Bulls) to make a play for Thornton’s services this off season.
12. Rodney Stuckey (PG- 25 years old) Restricted Free Agent
Stuckey is really more of a scoring guard who has been expected to fulfill the Pistons point guard duties the last couple of seasons. With the selection of Kentucky point guard Brandon Knight, Stuckey might get a chance to move over to the shooting guard position next season. However, similar to Thornton, Stuckey should be a hot commodity this off season for a team searching for extra fire power in their respective back court. Stuckey is a proven scorer in the league who has averaged double figures the last three seasons (15.2 average 2008-2011) for the Pistons. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if Stuckey finds himself in a new location next season.
11. Glen Davis (PF-25 years old) Unrestricted Free Agent
Big Baby is coming off the most productive season of his young NBA career. Davis produced career highs in PPG, MPG, RPG, FT%, APG, and SPG. Although he did struggle during the playoffs (only averaged 5.0 PPG in NY & MIA series), Davis has now played in countless meaningful games during his four year stint with the Celtics. With the Celtics likely to offer Jeff Green a handsome contract extension during the off season, Davis might not be in the Celtics future plans.
10. Caron Butler (SF-31 years old) Unrestricted Free Agent
Although he is coming off knee surgery in early January, Butler should definitely be ready once the season starts up again in late October (fingers crossed). Butler has always been one of the more under-appreciated players in the league. He works on both ends of the court and has solidified himself as one of the premier small forwards the league has today. Butler is an extremely consistent scorer, as he has averaged 15 or more points a game 9 out of his 10 seasons in the league. With the Mavericks already nearly 2 million dollars over the existing salary cap system, it might be tough for them to retain the services of Butler next season. He would make for an instant upgrade at the small forward position for a number of teams.
9. Greg Oden (C-23 years old) Restricted Free Agent
Oden has battled career-threatening knee injuries for the duration of his abbreviated NBA career. However, the fact of the matter remains that 23 year old seven foot centers with the potential of Oden don’t hit the market every off season. Before going down to injury on December 1st, Oden was averaging a respectable 11.1 PPG, 8.4 RPG, and 2.3 BPG (21 games). It’s high likely that Portland is going to match any opposing offer on the former No. 1 pick, however stranger things have happened. Oden has the chance to be the steal of the free agent season (if he can stay healthy) based off of his potential alone
8. Jeff Green (SF/PF-24 years old) Restricted Free Agent
If you’re the Celtics, you certainly don’t trade a commodity like Kendrick Perkins unless the player you get back is in the long term future of your organization; Jeff Green certainly appears to be that player (don’t forget that the Celtics originally draft Green, but traded him to Seattle in the deal for Ray Allen). With an aging Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, look for Green to be a prevalent part of the Celtics rotation next year (wouldn’t be surprised if he eventually started). He is a young, athletic, and fundamentally sound player who has the potential to elevate his game to All Star type status the next couple of seasons. Celtics will likely match any offer on Green during the off season.
7. Andrei Kirilenko (SF-30 years old) Unrestricted Free Agent
Kirilenko’s lack of durability the last couple of seasons (missed 42 games from 2009-2011) will likely detract certain teams from making a run at him during free agency. Still, Kirilenko is one of the more unique players in the league for the simple fact that he can do a little bit of everything on the basketball court. For the 8th time in his 10 year NBA career, Kirilenko shot over 45% from the floor (46.7%) for Utah. Kirilenko is one of the premier defensive small forwards in the league, and has averaged 2 BPG or more 6 times during his career. My guess is that Utah retains his services next season.
6. Tyson Chandler (C- 28 years old) Unrestricted Free Agent
Chandler resurrected his career this season in Dallas, helping the Mavericks land their first championship in franchise history. Chandler’s importance to the Mavericks goes well beyond his statistics, which by the way were quite productive (10.1 PPG, 9.4 RPG, and 1.1 BPG) this season. Chandler’s biggest asset is his post defense (vital part of the Mavericks success during the playoffs) and his mere presence in the middle. It might have taken Chandler a handful of seasons to find his perfect role within the NBA, however he seems to have done just that with the Mavericks this season. It would be a shame to see such a perfect marriage broken up.
5. Jamal Crawford (PG/SG-31 years old) Unrestricted Free Agent
Simply put, Jamal Crawford is one of the premier offensive players in the league today. He possesses a true scorer’s mentality and has been extremely productive for the Hawks the past two seasons. Crawford has averaged 17 points or better 7 out of his 12 seasons in the league. Following Joe Johnson’s lucrative deal last summer, I am not sure the Hawks can afford to bring Crawford back for another season. Look for someone like the Bulls to make a strong play for Crawford’s services next season.
4. Nene Hilario (C-28 years old) Unrestricted Free Agent-Early Termination Option
When the Nuggets ultimately made the decision to trade Carmelo Anthony, Nene became the cornerstone of the Nuggets franchise for the foreseeable future. Although he has an early termination option this season, we just can’t imagine Nene leaving a Nuggets franchise who hopes to build a championship caliber team around him. Nene has averaged double figures and 7+ rebounds the last 3 seasons for Denver. He is an extremely athletic big man who possesses great touch around the basket. Look for the Nuggets to retain his services.
3. Marc Gasol (C-26 years old) Restricted Free Agent
The development of Gasol and the current success of the Grizzlies organization is no coincidence. However, following the large contract extension for Zach Randolph during the season, the Grizzlies might be hard pressed to keep Gasol on their roster. Under the current CBA, the Grizzlies find themselves about 2 million dollars under the cap, so it certainly isn’t out of the question that Gasol returns. However, teams such as the Nets, Rockets, Thunder, and possibly the Knicks might make a play for Gasol’s services this off season. At this point, it’s probably 50/50 whether he returns to Memphis for another season.
West has decided to opt out of his final year with the hornets and test the free agent market. West is one of the premier power forwards in the league today, and will likely bag a lucrative deal in the off season. Although he is coming off reconstructive knee surgery, West must feel confident that he will be healed in time to start the upcoming season. West is a productive and consistent player in the post. He possesses superior post moves, and can knock down jump shots from 18 feet in on a consistent basis. Since 2005-2006, West has averaged 19.2 PPG and 7.9 RPG with the Hornets. It has been rumored that the Nets and Pacers are both interested in his services. His days in New Orleans appear to be numbered.
1. Tim Duncan (PF-35 year old) Unrestricted Free Agent-Early Termination Option
We’ll make this one short and simple. The greatest power forward in NBA history finishes his brilliant career with the team that draft him back in 1997. Timmy D isn’t going anywhere.