Commentary

Ranking the best available free agents

Originally Published: June 29, 2008
By Chad Ford | ESPN.com

James PoseyAndrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesJames Posey, last seen nailing daggers in the Finals, might be in demand this summer.

The first 24 hours of free agency has been a wild, wild ride. First Antawn Jamison agrees to a five-year, $40 million extension just hours before the July 1 deadline. Then, Elton Brand and Baron Davis stunned us by opting out of their contracts. Both players had indicated that they weren't going to opt out previously. But then, somewhere along the way, one of the two got an idea.

If both of them opted out, then they could be teammates in L.A. Davis grew up in L.A. and has been itching to play with a big man who could carry them deep into the playoffs. Less than a day later, ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported that Davis agreed to a five-year, $65 million deal with the Clippers. Brand is expected to come to terms with the Clippers on Wednesday.

So much for the sleepy, uneventful free agency period we predicted.

With Davis now bolting the Warriors, Golden State now becomes the team flush with cash to spend on free agents. Assuming that the Warriors will keep restricted free agents Andris Biedrins and Monta Ellis, the team has roughly $18-$19 million of cap room to spend, assuming a $59 million cap this summer.

The Warriors now have enough money to make a max offer for Gilbert Arenas, Josh Smith or virtually any free agent they want.

The Warriors join two other teams, the Grizzlies and Sixers, as teams with significant cap room.

The Grizzlies got under the cap by trading away Pau Gasol for expiring contracts at the trade deadline. But Memphis GM Chris Wallace has been sending signals that the team might not spend its estimated $15 million in cap room this summer. The Grizzlies are hinting that they will wait until the summer of 2009, when they have more cap room.

The Sixers could potentially have around $20 million in cap space, if they were willing to waive both Andre Iguodala and Louis Williams to reach that figure. If they decide to keep Iguodala and Williams, both restricted free agents, it looks as though the Sixers will have around $12.4 million in cap space.

The Sixers would make quick work of their cap space if their run at Hawks restricted free agent Josh Smith is successful.

A few other free agents have already made a splash. Restricted free agent Jose Calderon agreed to a deal with the Raptors. Unrestricted free agent Beno Udrih agreed to a five year, $33 million dollar deal with the Kings.

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

Group I: Unrestricted free agents

Arenas
Brand

1. Elton Brand, Clippers: Brand's decision to opt out of his contract with the Clippers took everyone by surprise. However, the more you think about it, the more it starts to make sense. Brand and Baron Davis are friends and from what his agent David Falk indicated, he was willing to take a little less to get Davis on the roster. Now that Davis has agreed to a deal with the Clippers, look for Brand to reach a verbal deal with the Clippers as early as Wednesday.

Arenas
Arenas
2. Gilbert Arenas, Wizards: Media reports suggest that Arenas has two max offers to choose from. The Wizards have offered him a six-year, $127 million offer.

The Warriors have offered him five years, $100 million. The Warriors would love to have Arenas back, but they are prohibited by NBA rules from offering him a lucrative sixth year. That should be enough to swing Arenas back to Washington.


Maggette

3. Corey Maggette, Clippers: Maggette is the big loser in Davis' decision to opt out. The Clippers will have to renounce his rights to clear enough cap room to sign both Davis and Brand. That means Maggette won't be able to work a sign-and-trade.

Instead he's got to hope that the Sixers, Warriors or Grizzlies offer him a deal for bigger than the midlevel exception. If they don't, he may be forced to settle for a deal starting at $5.5 million -- a 1.5 million pay cut from what he was due next year. Ouch.

4. DeSagana Diop, Nets: He's only 25, but five points and five boards are about all you're going to get from him. Still, he's big and he plays good defense & meaning some team will blow its midlevel exception on him. I think Dallas is the front-runner to give him a ridiculous deal. The Bobcats and Magic also have shown strong interest in Diop.

5. Kurt Thomas, Spurs: He's 35 years old, but still tough enough to help just about any title contender. The Spurs got him in a steal of a deal at the trade deadline. Look for them to try to lock him up with a three-year deal this summer.

6. James Posey, Celtics: Posey helped himself with a strong performance against the Lakers in the Finals. He's another player who should get a three- to four-year midlevel deal somewhere.


Pietrus

7. Mickael Pietrus, Warriors: No one is sure why the Warriors didn't play Pietrus more. He's one of the most athletic defenders in the league and he's a solid 3-point shooter. Some team will pick him up and try to use him in a Bruce Bowen-type role.

8. Ricky Davis, Heat: The talented but troubled swingman hasn't helped his cause in his second tour with Miami. Pat Riley thought, after dumping him the first time, that Davis finally had the maturity to play for him. But Riley is clearly reassessing the situation. Davis looks like a midlevel-or-below type of player. I doubt he returns to the Heat.

9. Kwame Brown: The former No. 1 pick has run out of excuses. Yes, he's huge, athletic and only 25 years old. But after seven years in the league he's yet to prove that he's anything more than a backup. Someone will pay him something, but no one is expecting much.

10. Shaun Livingston: He's has amazing talent, but will he ever recover from that horrific knee injury he suffered in 2007? With the Clippers using all of their money on Baron Davis, someone could try to roll the dice.

Other notables: Kwame Brown, Grizzlies, Shaun Livingston, Clippers; Brent Barry, Spurs; Bostjan Nachbar, Nets; Carlos Arroyo, Magic; Chris Duhon, Bulls; Eduardo Najera, Nuggets; Matt Barnes, Warriors; Alonzo Mourning, Heat; Gerald Green, Rockets; Patrick O'Bryant, Warriors; Jason Williams, Heat; Juwan Howard, Mavs; Jarvis Hayes, Pistons; Robert Horry, Spurs; James Jones, Blazers; Michael Finley, Spurs; Jannero Pargo, Hornets; Damon Stoudamire, Spurs; Sam Cassell, Celtics; Jamaal Magloire, Nets; Kareem Rush, Pacers; Gordan Giricek, Suns; Michael Doleac, Timberwolves; Francisco Elson, Sonics; Keyon Dooling, Magic; Quinton Ross, Clippers; Antoine Wright, Mavericks; Fred Jones, Knicks; Juan Dixon, Pistons; Maurice Evans, Magic; Primoz Brezec, Raptors; Anthony Johnson, Kings; Tyronn Lue, Kings; Theo Ratliff, Pistons; Adonal Foyle, Magic; Sebastian Telfair, Timberwolves; Kirk Snyder, Timberwolves.


Group II: Restricted free agents

Only six first-round draft picks from the 2004 draft were signed to extensions last fall. That means there will be some serious young talent available this summer. These players' restricted status still makes it likely they'll stay with their current teams, but at least they'll be in play:

Iguodala
Iguodala
1. 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. He had a great regular season, but a woeful postseason has put his stock back in check. He's coveted by the Grizzlies, but the chances of them prying him away from Philly look very slim.

2. Josh Smith, Hawks: On talent and potential, Smith should be on top of this list. He's a freakish athlete who can score, rebound and block shots. What holds him back is a questionable attitude. Nonetheless it appears the Hawks have to re-sign him.

Given the Hawks' ownership woes, Smith is one of the few restricted free agents a team with cap space may try to pluck away -- the same way the Hawks did with Joe Johnson a few years ago. The Sixers are making a big run at him ... will the Hawks match?


Okafor

3. Emeka Okafor, Bobcats: Okafor turned down $13 million per season to hit free agency this summer. He's not the best player on this list, but he's the best young center on the market. Still, there's no guarantee he'll get more money from another team. I'm sure the Grizzlies will be interested, but they know the Bobcats will match. I don't see him going anywhere, but a sign-and-trade isn't out of the question here if the negotiations go on too long.


Deng

4. Luol Deng, Bulls: Everyone loves Deng's talent, but so do the Bulls. At least they used to. Injuries and a poor season have hurt his value around the league. Still, it's hard to see the Bulls not matching any offer Deng gets next summer.

He declined a $57.5 million extension in October, so if he makes more than that he'll come out ahead. It will be interesting to see if the budget-conscious Bulls will take advantage of the market conditions and offer him much less.

5. Andris Biedrins, Warriors: Biedrins didn't get the lucrative contract offer that several others did. He was looking for something in the five-year, $50 million range and got an offer that was reportedly substantially lower.

Biedrins falls a little bit into the Anderson Varejao category -- energetic big man whose stats don't tell the whole story in terms of on-court contributions. Given that he continues to improve and he's only 21 years old, it's hard to believe the Warriors wouldn't match an offer.


Ellis

6. Monta Ellis, Warriors: He's young and he can score -- and now that the Warriors have lost Baron Davis, re-signing Ellis is a priority. While it's unlikely that Ellis has a ton of suitors, the Warriors will make him happy or risk him taking the mid-level exception.

7. Josh Childress, Hawks: Childress doesn't get nearly the respect or hype of many of his teammates in Atlanta, but he's been a devastatingly effective sixth man and who might still be expendable given all of Atlanta's wing talent. He probably can't get more than a midlevel deal on this market, but he'd be a bargain at that price.


Gordon

8. 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 on a down season.

For him to recoup that money this summer seems almost impossible … and now that the Bulls have added 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 with streaky jump shots. Gordon is most likely to be the top restricted free agent not to have his offer matched, but he's going to struggle to get a huge offer from anyone. Gordon may be better off taking the Bulls' one-year tender offer.

9. Nenad Krstic, Nets: Before his knee injury last season, Krstic looked like he'd be locked up by the Nets. Now the uncertainty over his health could hurt his value.

10. Ronny Turiaf, Lakers: With lots of team looking for energetic bigs, Turiaf will draw some attention. He's not the most talented big guy, but he's got a great motor and toughness.

Philadelphia is one team to watch for. Sixers GM Ed Stefanski was a fan while he was back in New Jersey. A sign-and-trade is another possibility for the Nets.

Other notables: Louis Williams, Sixers; Craig Smith, Timberwolves; Ronny Turiaf, Lakers; Sasha Vujacic, Lakers; Daniel Gibson, Cavaliers; Ryan Gomes, Timberwolves; Robert Swift, Sonics; Carlos Delfino, Raptors; Carl Landry, Rockets; Kelenna Azubuike, Warriors; Delonte West, Cavs; David Harrison, Pacers; Walter Herrmann, Pistons; J.R. Smith, Nuggets; Tony Allen, Celtics; Dorell Wright, Heat; Salim Stoudamire, Hawks; Mickael Gelabale, Sonics; Randolph Morris, Knicks .

Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.

Chad Ford

Senior Writer, NBA Insider

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