2010 NBA Free Agent Crop: Personal Thoughts (Once And For All — Until July 1, 2010)

2010 NBA Free Agent Crop: Personal Thoughts (Once And For All — Until July 1, 2010)
M.D. Wright

I get asked daily “Mike, where do you think so and so is going after the season???” Hey, I’m not in those guys’ heads. I dunno. People think “going back home” is automatically atop a guy’s list of priorities when considering signing with a different team. It rarely is, in reality — going back to familiar surroundings usually means more trouble than success; as guys like Ken Griffey, Jr. and others have realized. So to propose with authority that I know where someone is going to sign is ludicrous. I can only guess, based off factors such as teams’ salary cap space, existing rosters/teams’ needs, who is truly a “max player” (there are only 7 or 8 in the NBA in 2010 — and that’s being generous) and how championship-ready a team is. Some teams run their franchises as a business. Others are in it SOLELY focused on winning ‘chips — and money comes as a result.

With that said, here is the list:
(Again, note that with the Collective Bargaining Agreement, there is contract-specific language and there are different types of Free Agents)

Unrestricted Free Agents:
Joe Johnson, Atlanta
Ray Allen, Boston
Emanuel Ginobili, San Antonio
Marcus Camby, Portland
Tracy McGracy, New York
Shaquille O’Neal, Cleveland
Brad Miller, Chicago
Jermaine O’Neal, Miami
Mike Miller, Washington
Richard Hamilton, Detroit

There are some intriguing names on this list. None of them are superstars (the one or two who once were are DONE), but they can be effective players on new teams. A few will have to take massive pay-cut (McGrady, Allen, BOTH O’Neals, for instance) just to be able to crack a roster on a good team, because most of the contenders are pressed against the cap, well over the cap, aren’t necessarily looking for another superstar (and obviously unable to afford one), so thus will be using their mid-level exceptions (and any other exception the NBA grants them) to sign players.

Speaking of exceptions, the number of lackwit buffoons on message boards, Facebook, team pages running around with theories about where certain players “definitely won’t be going” astounds me and sometimes makes me chuckle. I see and hear anti-Knick hatred all the time. Fans who hated the Knicks in the 90s took delight in watching the Knicks struggle like a dyslexic reading Latin, but one of my favourite jabs is “the Knicks only have 3 players under contract for next season” (we have 6, and another has a player option — Eddy Curry, who I HOPE doesn’t use it ha), and “how can the Knicks sign LeBron, Wade or Bosh AND the 5 other spots that need to be filled?”

Look, there are a dozen different salary cap exceptions in the NBA. Most hacks only know about the Bird exceptions and the mid-level exceptions. But those are elementary both in intent and usage. Teams also have what is called a MINIMUM SALARY EXCEPTION — which enables a team to sign as many players at the NBA League Minimum salary, guaranteed, for up to two years each — as the team sees fit in order to fill their roster. In all honesty, in a scenario where the Knicks were to land two of the players they’d like and filling their roster, they can easily do this. #shotsfired at people who continue to think “there is no way LeBron is leaving Cleveland”. Don’t be so sure, the Knicks’ stock hit the NYSE (as “MSG”) last fall, and James would have the ability to buy stock in the team if he saw fit. Do we really want to count the number of benefits that playing in New York offers a player of his calibre — a number which far exceeds any other city? INCLUDING Los Angeles?

Back to the column.

LeBron James
Kobe Bryant
Dwyane Wade
Pau Gasol
Carmelo Anthony
Dirk Nowitzki
Chris Paul (when healthy)
* Dwight Howard



I’m going to tackle each one of these players’ attributes and surmise where I believe their options are in terms of a potential new team.

Joe Johnson.
You know me, I’m a blunt, straight-forward and honest guy. This dude is overrated. I heard people say for years “he’s so underrated!” How so? He played for a bum team for years until Mike Woodson brought them to playoff level in 2008. Putting up big (hollow) numbers on bad teams isn’t impressive to me. Especially when you don’t get near the number of rebounds that you should, nor assists, and your defense is virtually non-existent.

Don’t get me wrong, he can score and he shoots a decent percentage. But that just makes him Glenn Robinson Lite, not a MAX PLAYER. And what’s more, his disappearance in the past two seasons’ playoffs should be enough of a warning to teams who still had an idea that Johnson was a max-level player. He doesn’t have the heart, complete skill set, the killer instinct, nor the explosive ability to change a game. Max players MUST have two of those four attributes to warrant a maximum contract, in my opinion. Johnson is a good complimentary piece, or he can dupe the Hawks into an Allan Houston move (getting the team to bid against itself, when no one else was offering near the contract that was eventually awarded). He isn’t a guy you build around, but he’s a good 2nd or 3rd option with the right mix of players.

POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Atlanta, New Jersey, Miami, Washington.

Ray Allen.
Old Man Allen. The ex-Husky from UConn. He gets respect from me (although he lost some of it for a while there due to his verbal jabs/hating lobbed at Kobe a few years back when he was with Seattle), but he will be 35 in two months. And he was making $20M this season. That’s not going to happen again, obviously. Two big questions arise with Allen, ESPECIALLY if the Celtics do not win the 2010 NBA Finals — 1) Does he even want to continue playing? If so, for how long? and 2) How much of a pay cut is he willing to take? He may have to take a 40% cut down to $12M or even about a roughly 2/3 cut to accept the veteran’s minimum and either remain in Boston and squeeze one more year out there, or play nomad and hitch his wagon to the Lakers or wherever LeBron James lands.

His situation is actually more alluring to me than most of the so-called “Top Tier” free agents, because he can still stroke it and is a glue guy who you can depend on every night to give you his best. I just do not see anyone paying him more than $10M-$12M.

POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Any contender — seriously (Boston, Cleveland — should James remain, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas and non-contenders such as Chicago and New York).

Emanuel Ginobili.
I just don’t see the Spurs parting with him under any circumstances. Although Richard Jefferson’s contract was a bad move ($14.2M) by RC Buford and Gregg Popovich, the Spurs do still maintain enough flexibility to retain Ginobili. I honestly cannot see him playing elsewhere and the aforementioned front office tandem always knows how to work the cap and makes smart personnel moves.


Marcus Camby.
Interesting and intriguing. The guy was brittle when he was with the Knicks, but at the same time, his production here is what made him somewhat coveted in the 6 or 7 years since he was moved to Denver. I just have concerns about his age now. He is 36. However, he has been healthy the past 2-3 seasons and contributed mightily. Maybe all that time he sat over the years makes him more like 32, 33 than 36 ha?

We’ll see, but I think Portland may keep him for a year or two, unless he really thinks he is worth more than the $7.6M he received last year — just a shade over the mid-level exception. Could he return to New York? Who knows. The fans still love him here.

POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Portland, Detroit, Toronto, Charlotte.

Tracy McGrady.
The Knicks only traded for him in order to secure his expiring contract of $23M. He was easily the highest paid player in the NBA last season, which is embarrassing. Yes, he’s been injured, but even at 100% health and 5 years ago McGrady wasn’t worth that much money. However, the Knicks are glad he’s coming off THEIR books. That frees up such cap space that the Knicks can sign two maximum level players. Thanks Tracy.

As to where he goes? It’s tough to call. That balky knee of his flared up after just one (very good game, BTW) with the Knicks after the trade. He was hobbled and icing his knees like 1998’s Patrick Ewing after that. Hard to imagine anyone wants him for anything more than the veteran’s minimum or the MLE — and even then, it would have to be a contender. None of the contender really needs someone of McGrady’s ilk unless he is HEALTHY. And there is no guarantee that will be, after 5 straight seasons of various nicks and bumps, and trips on the injured list.

POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: New York (VM), Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio, Oklahoma City.

Shaquille O’Neal.
Hard to say what he will do. He says he still wants to play (and claims he has 3-4 good years left?)


Anyway, his contract expired at the $20M annually he received when he initially went to Miami for 5 years, $100M. Everyone knows he’s not getting that, and he’s finally come back to earth long enough to realize he’s not a #1 guy or even a #2 anymore. But if he is willing to subjugate himself into a proper role with the right team, he might be able to ride another team’s coattails to another ring. But it won’t be at $20M per. Nor $10M (unless Prokhorov decides to get crazy with the spending, and all indications are that he WON’T).

POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: New Jersey (Shaq is originally from Newark and could be a good backup), Orlando (irony on two levels, although it is only a funny possible storyline as the Magic are woefully over the cap due to the horrendous contracts of Rashard Lewis and Vince Carter), San Antonio, Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City.

Brad Miller.
He doesn’t have much left in the tank. When big men hit 33, 34, they really slide QUICKLY when it comes to athleticism. Miller, his age compounded by his past injuries looks the part. He doesn’t give the Bulls much, as they would prefer to run. He’s a better halfcourt player than anything else. Would be a good fit on a younger team such as Philadelphia or maybe Atlanta. And certainly not at $12.2M.

POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Golden State, Philadelphia, Atlanta.

Jermaine O’Neal.
He’s done. I always thought he was slightly overrated even at his apex. He’s nearing the nadir of his career (I’m not entertaining the injury excuses anymore at this point) and with the astronomical contract he had before, there’s no way he’s getting more than the mid-level exception to maybe help the Rockets or Grizzlies. The Heat need his cap space to sign a couple of big name players.


Mike Miller.
Mike Miller is a nice player, shoots well, sometimes plays defense and won’t KILL you, causing you to lose games — but he won’t win them, either. He’s just a nice addition to the right team. Indications are he’s staying put, but it’s hard to see how he’s going to warrant a raise. He’s making $10M at this point and the Bullets Wizards value the near-$30M in cap space they’ll have should the front office decide not to pick up the $12M option on Josh Howard. Very interesting scenario in Washington.

POSSIBLE DESTINATION: Washington, Houston, Miami, Boston.

Richard Hamilton.
Pretty much a one-trick pony at this point in his career — definitely heading toward the downside. He was never strong enough to create his own shot consistently and at 32, obviously has lost a step. But the Pistons have a glut in their backcourt and with Ben Gordon tied up for 4 more years and $11M per, Hamilton is likely the odd man out. There’s not a huge market for him. He’s likely going to be one of those guys whose destination will be determined by what the Top Tier players decide to do, as he’s gone from a Second Tier guy to a Third Tier guy in the past two seasons.

POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Detroit, Milwaukee, Denver, Los Angeles (both teams).

There are guys with Player Options/Early Termination Options for 2010-2011, and can opt out this summer (2010) as well:
Yao Ming, Houston.
Amaré Stoudemire, Phoenix.
LeBron James, Cleveland.
Dwyane Wade, Miami.
Chris Bosh, Toronto.
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas.
Josh Howard, Washington.
Michael Redd, Milwaukee.
Tyson Chandler, Charlotte.

A lot of room for hit-or-miss signings with these guys. James, Wade and Nowitzki are sure things. You know what you are going to get with them. Bosh, depending on the scenario, you do not know. Stoudemire can put up offensive numbers at times, but he doesn’t play defense nor rebound as well as his height and athleticism would suggest. Chandler MUST be paired with a good-to-great point guard to even be effective, Josh Howard can’t stay healthy and poor Michael Redd might just be done with those Patrick Ewing knees of his. Same with Yao and his Bill Walton feet.

Yao Ming.
You’d think Houston would be trying to hang onto him, broken foot and all — injury history as a whole and all. I can’t see them moving him, especially since they did nothing to fill the void (with the hopes he will return in 2010-2011; quite frankly he needed the rest after playing basketball year round on three continents for 8 straight years). I’m going to put this down as a lead-pipe lock pick that he’s not moving. The Rockets even still have the cap space to re-sign him. What will be interesting is how Houston deals with the need to re-sign Luis Scola and Chuck Hayes, both of whom are up (Scola being unrestricted, Hayes with a team-option).


Amaré Stoudemire.
I have seen him drop big numbers. He did so tonight (May 23, 2010). But his defensive deficiencies and lack of consistent rebounding preclude him from becoming a max player in my opinion. Nevertheless, he is 6’10”, 240, still runs like a gazelle and is in the prime of his career, 7 years into the NBA and at age 28. Someone will make a run at him, although he is a 1b. type player. Not QUITE a max player, but just a hair under. Not a guy who would flourish without a Top 5 point guard. Will also be interesting to see how he works outside of a pick and roll system. However, someone will make a huge offer, and Stoudemire has the right of first refusal, as he has a player option to return at $17.7M next year in Phoenix.

POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Phoenix, Chicago, Miami, Wherever LeBron James goes.

LeBron James.
Listen, I’ve written extensively about this — there is a nice summation on my Facebook page (for those who are friends with me on there), so I won’t get into the whole deal again. Let’s just break down the realities and diffuse all the armchair psychiatrist/wannabe GM talk.

1. No one knows what he is thinking, not World Wide Wes, not Jay-Z, not the city of Cleveland nor his most ardent fans, NOR DO YOU.

Now that we have that out of the way.

1. Playing and excelling/winning in New York trumps everything. It trumps anything Chicago can possibly offer, anything Los Angeles can offer, as well as Washington, Miami and any other team whose fans have concocted baseless reasons for believing James is going to sign there. For all we know he has no intention to leave Cleveland whatsoever, but in lieu of recent events, that looks scant at best.

2. The Cavaliers as presently constructed were overrated from the get-go. Throwing Shaq onto the team set them back two steps from the three steps forward they had made last year. 2007 — Finals appearance, 2008 — lose to Boston, 2009 — high expectations, reach conference finals and lose to Orlando, 2010, even HIGHER expectations and lose in the 2nd round to Boston once again. Mo Williams is a 3rd tier player getting 2nd tier player recognition (All-Star???) and top tier player expectation from Cavalier fans. Delonte West is a bona fide headcase, as “recent events” further prove. Shaq was done 3 years ago. Zydrunas Ilgaukas has been a nice story of resiliency, but expecting this much from a 37-year old is absurd. The rest of their players are (BAD) role players or flop artists.

SN: Ever notice that when a writer is trying to inflate a team’s success in a given season, but they lose in the 2nd round of the playoffs, they call it “Conference Semifinals” (which it technically is, but it is amazing the effect words have on their readers), but when piling on a team, it is called “2nd Round” to give an illusion that they did not accomplish much?

3. Despite all the reports, all the rumors, and assessing cap situations of all teams — the only VIABLE (logic, hometown alliances aside) options where 3 other teams do not need to get involved are the New Jersey Nets and the New York Knicks. There have been reports that Chris Bosh of Toronto has a 5-team list that basically patterns itself after the teams that LeBron James is most likely to chose should he leave Cleveland at all. To hitch your future to the uncertainty of another is folly, but understandable in this case.

Dallas is $30M over the cap BEFORE they ship away a player or two in a trade just to be able to RE-SIGN DIRK NOWITZKI — never mind even thinking about LeBron James.

Chicago would need to send Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich and hope Toronto accepts them as they’re both grossly overpaid (but whose salaries would match Bosh’s in a scenario where Bosh signed with Toronto for the maximum 6 years, $125M, or on the average about $21M annually) just to have the CHANCE to attempt to sign James.

Washington has the cap space, but there is uncertainty from the very top (The Pollin Family’s sale of the team to Ted Leonsis will be complete in the next two weeks — no guarantees that Grunfeld and Saunders will be there come November and no one knows whether Gilbert Arenas and his massive contract will be there either), even with the widely-understood idea that the Wizards are going to select John Wall out of Kentucky with their #1 Overall Pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.

Meanwhile, Miami, while maneuvering around to generate the cap space must attempt to persuade Wade to remain, before entertaining the internet-generated rumor that James would join Wade in Miami because they are “best friends” (not because the salary cap precludes this, though, huh? Or more importantly, owner Mickey Arison is loathe to pay the luxury tax?) Throw it out. The Heat are a bigger reach than both NY area teams combined.

New Jersey has the cap space, and a couple of young pieces, but in my opinion on PAPER they are a long shot. I just don’t know what new Russian owner Mike Prokhorov has up his sleeve. He sounds (from listening to him speak about his new toy, the Nets) like he knows how to work the NBA system. Besides, you don’t become worth $14B without knowing how to manage money and make shrewd deals and acquisitions. If you have followed Mike closely, you hear him emphasize his desire to make the Nets a GLOBAL brand — that most NBA owners think locally/Mom & Pop, while he’s looking to break down global barriers. What better way than to have the soon-to-be (sharing the spotlight with The Snake, no homo, until 2014) solo face of the NBA in James, Yi Jianlian and possibly Dirk Nowitzki to cater to three distinct fan bases, here in the US, Germany and parts of Europe and southeast Asia? Bears watching — I really think the Nets will be active in free agency. And they’re right in my backyard, so I have eyes and ears on it daily.

New York has the cap space, the amenities and fringe benefits that no other team’s city can offer. The Knicks’ players are currently no worse without LeBron currently, than the current Cavaliers team will be should James leave. In fact, the Knicks can lure the “other” superstar that the Cavs have never been able to do in Cleveland. They can also sign one of the aforementioned players coming off max deals who would be willing to play for an exception or two just to have the chance to play alongside James and superstar to be named later, as they’d become the best team in the Eastern Conference by default. Again, bears watching. I pass by both MSG and the NBA HQ every day that I am in the city. I will most likely be standing outside one or the other when the signing occurs. If anything breaks, you’ll hear it here ha.

POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: All of the above and throw in both Los Angeles teams should a three-team deal be worked out in either circumstance.

Dwyane Wade.
Simple. Surround him with another star and better complimentary players or wave goodbye. No way he’s going to Chicago (this is where that “he can come home” BS needs to just go away, along with the Nancy Boys who think like this. There’s too much drama there off the court and Rose is a Wade clone. That is not going to work.


Chris Bosh.
He has hitched his wagon to LeBron James without saying as much in so many words. James’ signing will precipitate a domino effect, so the best bet when predicting Bosh’s destination is to just follow James’. He’s not returning to Toronto, and will most likely be accommodated by the team with a sign-and-trade deal (netting Bosh an extra year of making $2M more annually than signing outright with another team for five years).

POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Wherever LeBron James goes.

Dirk Nowitzki.
I have heard questions even before Dirk announced that he will opt out of his contract after all. I predicted he would, but not because of Dallas’ playoff woes or to join James or Wade. The NBA has an obscure rule called the “Over-36” clause. Dirk will be 32 in June. Whereas the other major free agents are younger than 30, or are at least 6 years younger than their 36th birthday, Nowitzki is not. Why is this important, you ask? It isn’t a MAJOR deal unless he were to sign elsewhere. Otherwise, the difference in getting a further extension on his current contract would net him virtually the same monies as if he signed a brand new contract with Dallas — but he does have the option to sign for a 5th year with the team with that maximum annual salary that he will receive. If he were to sign outright with New Jersey, for instance, he could only receive a four-year deal with maximum salary. It is almost certain that he will remain in Dallas unless owner Mark Cuban is made an offer he cannot refuse.

POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Dallas, New Jersey, Miami.

Josh Howard.
So many missteps, so many times putting his foot in his mouth — and on top of that, he hasn’t been fully healthy in two seasons. He’s only 30, but it is hard to imagine he will garner more than $10-$12M on the open market — which is what he’s currently making — and most likely not in Washington, because he is not that type of impact player. I’ve been wrong before, but I just have a feeling he’s heading back to the Western Conference.

POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: New Orleans, Golden State, Sacramento.

Michael Redd.
I wish son the best, but I haven’t seen more than a small handful of guys come back from multiple knee injuries with little to no cartilage and be anything more than a fringe player at best.

POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Decent backup on the Top 4 at the mid-level.

Tyson Chandler.
Tough market for him. He’s a big man, but limited skills. And after 9 seasons, he is what he is. He tries hard, but without even an above average point guard (neither Augustin [yet] nor Felton [will never be] is such) he cannot excel. Chris Paul made him look great, but he’s been average since leaving New Orleans — even when he is healthy. He is still just 27, so the Bobcats may keep him, as their main objective is to land a legitimate scorer on the wing who has a “closer” mentality. Right now, the only player available for the Cats to stand any realistic chance of landing (if he opts out) and meets that role is Jamal Crawford.


More Opt-Out Guys:
Carlos Boozer, Utah
Chris Paul, New Orleans

I separate these two with good reason — their futures have so many caveats tied to them that it is fathomable for them to do anything from remain with their current teams or go to one of a number of different teams. STAY TUNED. Boozer is a semi-impactful player, but Chris Paul is one of the max players who can shift a team’s level of success just by stepping on the court.

And again, they may not even opt out, so it’s not important to address them anymore than noting they are ELIGIBLE to opt out this summer as well as the others above.

Other free agents for 2010:
Ben Wallace, Detroit.
Larry Hughes, Charlotte.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Cleveland.
Anderson Varejao, Cleveland.
Al Harrington, New York.
Darko Milicic, Minnesota.
Udonis Haslem, Miami.
Jamal Crawford, Atlanta.
Eddy Curry, New York.
Derek Fisher, Los Angeles Lakers.

(There are others, just none worth noting).
Wallace isn’t costing the Pistons anything, and no one else wants him at this point in his career. Larry Hughes is on the cheap also. A good backup/3rd player/spot starter. Ilgauskas and Varejao can both opt out of their contracts with Cleveland along with LeBron and that’s potentially huge. Al Harrington definitely will not be back with the Knicks at his cost and disjointed/missing production. Milicic is heading back overseas. Haslem is a decent player. Maybe he returns to Miami? Orlando could use an enforcer next to Howard. Crawford will remain in his division, in my opinion. Curry (if he is smart) will protect himself by using his player option for 2010-2011. However, the Knicks will protect themselves by using his then to-be expiring contract as bait to offer a trade either after the initial free agency period or later in February (Denver, for Anthony?) Fish is a Laker or retiring.


1. The Knicks need someone to patrol the paint on both ends. Curry, even at his best, can only do that offensively. And he may not be back, anyway. There will be some question about who will be signed alongside any max player(s) the Knicks sign, as they will only have minimum cap space (before exceptions) to sign the other 5 players who will not be under contract — in order to reach the NBA requisite minimum roster number of 13.

*** It should be noted that draft picks do not necessarily count towards the cap number for each team.

2. A NEW COACH (but that’s personal).
D’Antoni may not be back, especially if that becomes a bone of contention for James and/or Bosh and determining whether they decide to come to New York or not.

What I’d like to see is Toronto execute a sign-and-trade with Chris Bosh, offer him the max deal he wants (although he is much like Stoudemire as a 1b.) and New York signs David Lee to a $12-$14M deal, sending another player (Rodriguez, who will then become an unrestricted free agent after next season) and cash considerations to Toronto.

Sign Dwyane Wade OR LeBron James.

With remaining cap space offer deals to either Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton or another player at the MLE and draft wisely.


Sign LeBron James, Rudy Gay, trade for Caron Butler and offer one of the aforementioned players at the MLE. Yes, if you’ve put 2+2 together with these names, it APPEARS “that’s” what I’m implying, but I’m not on that hokey “fill a roster with guys from the same school” nonsense — it’s just highly convenient that certain players are in walk years and others are coming up on them next year and would be effective on the same team.

To go with young Toney Douglas, Will The Thrill Chandler and Young Gallo (Danilo Gallinari) that would be a tough core and the best in the Eastern Conference.

Too many ifs, in-turns, and only once so and so does this, that or the third — type scenarios to do more than speculate at this point. However, I will have bi-weekly updates once the NBA Finals conclude and especially (as situations warrant) once the NBA Draft is complete. I am planning to be present at the Draft this year, while failing last year to secure tickets while standing on a line with Jayson Albert in front of Madison Square Garden for over an hour. Live reports from inside if I am able to get in this year.



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