Commentary

Ranking the best available free agents

Originally Published: August 4, 2008
By Chad Ford | ESPN.com

Josh Smith Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty ImagesHawks restricted free agent Josh Smith is now the No. 1 target for many teams. Where will he end up?

Updated: August 4

It's been five weeks since NBA teams could begin negotiating with free agents. The unrestricted free agents went quickly.

Baron Davis stunned us by agreeing to a five-year, $65 million deal with the Clippers. Then, Elton Brand one-upped his buddy by bolting the Clippers for a five-year deal with the Sixers. Then, Corey Maggette bolted the Clippers for the Warriors, agreeing to a five-year deal worth about $50 million.

So much for the sleepy, uneventful free-agency period we predicted. Only a handful of free agents have agreed to re-sign with their teams. Gilbert Arenas agreed to a huge, six-year, $111 million deal with the Wizards. Jose Calderon quickly agreed to re-up with the Raptors. And Beno Udrih agreed to a five-year, $33 million deal to remain with the Kings.

Lately, the restricted free agents are starting to get deals done. Josh Childress was the first significant restricted free agent to get a deal ... by bolting the Hawks for Greece. Several other restricted free agents -- including Nenad Krstic, Bostjan Nachbar, Juan Carlos Navarro and Carlos Delfino -- also decided to take more lucrative offers overseas.

Since Childress left the Hawks, a few more teams have come to terms with their restricted free agents. The Bobcats and Emeka Okafor agreed to a six-year, $72 million deal. The Bulls signed Luol Deng to a six-year, $71 million dollar deal. And the Warriors came to terms with both of their restricted free agents -- Andris Biedrins and Monta Ellis. But many top-tier restricted free agents are still looking for big deals. The chances of their bolting to Europe are slim, leaving their teams with maximum leverage.

Only one team -- the Grizzlies -- has any real cap room. But it appears that the team isn't going to use it to pry away a restricted free agent. So ... restricted free agents have four options:

1. They can take the one-year qualifying offer and become unrestricted free agents next summer.

2. They can sign for a "market value" deal that is probably far less money than they think they're worth.

3. They can push for a sign-and-trade to another team.

4. They can leave for Europe.

All four options are pretty unappealing at this point. Option 1 puts a lot of pressure and risk on the free agent. Option 2 would mean that players like Andre Iguodala and Josh Smith sign for less money than the extensions they turned down last summer. Option 3 is tricky because of league trade rules that make most restricted free agents base-year compensation players (meaning their salaries are very difficult to trade). And option four doesn't really seem to be a real option for top-tier players.

Here's a look at who's left on the market:

Note: * = Restricted free agent

Iguodala
Smith

1. Josh Smith, Hawks*: Smith drew a lot of interest from the Sixers, Clippers and Warriors. However, now that all three teams are out of cap space, he's stuck in the same boat with everyone else. He's a freakish athlete who can score, rebound and block shots. What holds him back is his questionable attitude.

Right now, Smith is pushing for a sign-and-trade out of Atlanta. It sounds like the Hawks might be open to such a move, but sign-and-trades are notoriously difficult to pull off. I keep hearing that Smith is threatening to take the one-year tender and bolt Atlanta next year as an unrestricted free agent. That would be a disaster for the Hawks if it happens.

2. Andre Iguodala, Sixers*: Iguodala's decision to turn down a $57 million deal last summer is tough to justify. At the time, the Sixers appeared to be the only team with significant cap room; I'm not sure where he thought his next paycheck would come from. Now that Elton Brand is on board, you know the Sixers don't want to lose him. But with no viable competing offers, they aren't giving away the farm, either. This one is at a standoff, with both sides continuing to negotiate. Iguodala is looking for a deal richer than the one Okafor and Deng got. The Sixers want to keep him at an $11 to $12 million a year deal.


Gordon

3. Ben Gordon, Bulls*: Of all the players who turned down lucrative contract extensions last summer, Gordon made the most mind-boggling decision. He turned down a five-year, $50 million deal that seemed above market value after a down season.

For him to recoup that money this summer seems almost impossible. Now that the Bulls are paying Luol Deng a starting salary of $9.5 million this year, they can't afford to pay Gordon that much without hitting the luxury tax. And now that the Bulls have added Derrick Rose and Larry Hughes to the mix, it's no longer clear where Gordon fits into the picture.

There isn't a huge market for undersized 2-guards who have streaky jump shots. Gordon might be better off taking the Bulls' one-year tender offer or looking to Europe for a similar deal to Childress'.

4. J.R. Smith, Nuggets*: Smith's sharpshooting skills are in high demand, but he's been labeled a difficult player, which has hurt his stock around the league. Right now he'd settle for a midlevel deal. At this point, I'm not sure the Nuggets, in cost-cutting mode, would match.

5. Shaun Livingston, Clippers: He has amazing talent, but will he ever recover from that horrific knee injury he suffered in 2007? With the Clippers having used all their money on Baron Davis, someone might try to roll the dice.


West
6. Delonte West, Cavaliers*: West overplayed his hand with the Cavs when his camp leaked that he was being hotly pursued by a European team. Turns out the report was bogus, and now the Cavs, notoriously tough negotiators, have the upper hand.

7. Carl Landry, Rockets*: Landry was a big surprise last year. His toughness and rebounding make him a valuable role player ... but given his lack of size, how much is he worth?

8. Dorell Wright, Heat*: Wright finally got significant playing time in Miami last season and played fairly well. His stats won't blow you away, but he shot a high field goal percentage, grabbed a lot of boards for a guard and kept his turnovers down. He's got enough upside that he could get a deal similar to what C.J. Miles got from the Jazz (Utah matched OKC's offer of four years, $15 million).

9. Jason Williams, Heat: White Chocolate isn't a hot flavor anymore, but he is a veteran point guard who can still give a team 15 to 20 minutes a night. It's hard to believe his career might be over.

10. Robert Swift, Oklahoma City*: Swift is big and still has upside. But he has been racked by injuries and inconsistency -- he played in just eight games last season. OKC would match any offer to him, and it appears unlikely that he'll get a big deal at this point.

11. Gordon Giricek, Suns: He's a high-volume scorer and shooter who has always struggled to adapt to being a role player in the NBA. He's another strong candidate to head overseas if he can't get a deal to his liking.

Pargo
Pargo

12. Jannero Pargo, Hornets: He's a credible backup point guard who can put the ball in the basket. His ability to deliver some firepower off the bench should land him a deal somewhere.

13. Juwan Howard, Mavs: The consummate veteran should be able to find a P.J. Brown-type role on a team somewhere in the league. At this point, he's playing for a championship, not money.

14. Michael Finley, Spurs: He's clearly in the twilight of his career, but the Spurs want him back; if they don't sign him, though, another team will step in and pick him up as a valuable veteran role player.

15. Sam Cassell, Celtics: Cassell is getting old ... very old. But he's still a savvy veteran who can add something to a team in the playoff hunt.

Other notables: Francisco Elson, Oklahoma City; Alonzo Mourning, Heat; Robert Horry, Spurs; Damon Stoudamire, Spurs; Jamaal Magloire, Nets; Michael Doleac, Timberwolves; Quinton Ross, Clippers; Fred Jones, Knicks; Juan Dixon, Pistons; Theo Ratliff, Pistons; Kirk Snyder, Timberwolves; David Harrison, Pacers; Salim Stoudamire, Hawks; Mickael Gelabale, Oklahoma City.

Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.

Chad Ford

Senior Writer, NBA Insider