Three in the Key: An Early Look at Free Agency
The Celtics only notable free agent will be Michael Olowokandi and no one will shed any tears over his departure.
Three in the Key, our exclusive NBA column, returns with a very early look at players who can become free agents — whether resticted or not — this offseason. Some are without a contract at all, others have player options, team options, or qualifying offers, but they all have the possibility of entering the free agent market this summer.
We’re going to limit the list to players who may possess fantasy value of some kind next season.
Atlanta: The Hawks are in great shape, with all their key players under contract for next season. No one of consequence can become a free agent.
Boston: The same situation exists in Beantown as Michael Olowokandi is the only man who can leave, and who would really miss him if he did?
Charlotte: The Bobcats could lose a couple of key players, most notably Gerald Wallace, who has a player option worth $6.05 million. He will almost certainly opt out and given that Michael Jordan promised Charlotte would spend some serious cash this offseason, the team will get a chance to put their money where their mouth is if they want to keep Crash. The team holds a $4.2 million option on Brevin Knight, but he’s such an injury liability that they may just want to decline it. Jeff McInnis is free to leave and Primoz Brezec holds a player option, one he’d likely exercise considering his value isn’t exactly sky high after a horrible and injury-plagued season. Matt Carroll and Derek Anderson, both of whom have played key roles at times this season, are free agents and the team has an option on Ryan Hollins, one they should use given his size and potential. The team will probably let Anderson walk and look to add a more dependable veteran swingman. Carroll, if he doesn’t command a king’s ransom, might be back.
Chicago: P.J. Brown can walk and he probably will given that Tyrus Thomas is obviously ready to take his job. More interesting is the fact that Andres Nocioni is also a free agent. Returning to strength from his bout of plantar fasciitis and putting a few good games under his belt with a nice playoff run will sure help his value. He’s a key component of the Bulls offense when healthy. Mike Sweetney has a qualifying offer in place, and at over $3,654,000, it’s enough cash to buy plenty of cupcakes to keep him nice and rotund and unable to run up and down the court more than once every three minutes before collapsing. The only other player of interest who can split is Malik Allen.
Cleveland: The Cavs have two key free agents — Sasha Pavlovic (although he has a qualifying offer) and Anderson Varejao. Pavlovic’s value has soared recently as he’s emerged as a good offensive option for Cleveland, while Sideshow Bob is sure to garner a ton of interest. As a starter, he’d be a double-double machine and depending on where he landed, would have serious sleeper potential. Cleveland will probably try to retain Varejao, though.
Dallas: The most intriguing Maverick who will be on the market is Jerry Stackhouse. He’s become a solid sixth man type, and is shooting very well off the Dallas bench this season. Austin Croshere can also walk, and he’s one of those players that barely plays in Dallas who could have a much bigger impact elsewhere. Case in point: look at what Anthony Johnson is doing in Atlanta now.
Denver: Steve Blake is without a contract next season, but he’s hoping to stick around in Denver. Eduardo Najera has a player option that’s worth over $4.95 million, but he may decline it after enjoying perhaps his finest NBA season. DerMarr Johnson is the only other notable Nugget who will be a free agent.
Detroit: The prize of the 2007 free agent crop will come from the Pistons should Chauncey Billups choose to opt out, and he’d be foolish not to, considering his option is for just $6.819 million. On the open market, Billups will command huge bucks as one of the top floor generals in the game. Detroit plans to do whatever it takes to re-sign its point guard, but Billups is open to entertaining outside offers, already suggesting he’d be willing to listen to what Memphis (which has a ton of cap space) has to say. Chris Webber is an outright free agent after the season, and the renassaince he’s experiencing with the Pistons isn’t exactly making his price tag shrink. Two other potential free agents in the Motor City — Antonio McDyess and Ronald “Flip” Murray — each have player options, but they have both said they plan to stick around.
Golden State: The Warriors have qualifying offers in place for both Mickael Pietrus and Zarko Cabarkapa while both Matt Barnes and Kelenna Azubuike are free to leave. Barnes proved he can handle a larger role in the right situation, so I expect him to get some attention.
Houston: The Rockets have most of their key players signed through next season, but have four rotation players who could walk: Jake Tsakalidis, Dikembe Mutombo and Chuck Hayes (all free agents) and Bonzi Wells, who has a player option for $2,284,200. Tsakalidis will garner minor interest from teams seeking a back-up big man while Mutombo, assuming he wants to play until he’s 57, has a nice situation in Houston, so he’d be wise to stick around. Hayes’s recent play will definitely up his value, while Wells should have every reason in the world to want to leave, but between his injuries and spats with Coach Van Gundy, he hasn’t done anything this year to garner a big-money deal.
Indiana: The Pacers are in good shape with just back-up PGs Keith McLeod and Darrell Armstrong eligible to walk. Armstrong has proved he can still play despite his advanced age, but Indy wouldn’t have difficulty replacing either of these players and with Orien Greene aboard, the Pacers may decide to let both of them leave and let Greene back up Jamaal Tinsley next year.
Los Angeles Clippers: The Clippers are another team that doesn’t face many big decisions with their current personnel as just Daniel Ewing and Jason Hart can become free agents. With Sam Cassell looking old and fragile and Shaun Livingston a huge question mark to contribute at all next season, LA will need to keep one of its back-up PGs, but will probably also be seeking a better option. The team has a player option on Quentin Ross, but it’s only for $826,046, so you’d think they would exercise it.
Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers have to deal with several potential free agents this offseason. Luke Walton, who emerged as a valuable player this season (while the loss of Lamar Odom really hurt, the Lakers’ slump also co-incided with Walton’s absence), so he could fetch some nice coin. Smush Parker can also walk, and in a weak year for free agent PGs, someone may overpay him. The jury is still out on whether Smush is a legitimate starting PG in the NBA, but we definitely see that Jordan Farmar is not ready to take over. Shammond Williams, also a pending free agent, isn’t the answer at PG for LA, but his recent play suggests he can still be a rotation player. Chris Mihm, who has missed the entire season, enjoyed a fine year in 2005-06, but with Kwame Brown and Andrew Bynum aboard, there’s no room for Mihm to stick around. Aaron McKie is a free agent, but he’s thinking about retiring. Finally, Ronny Turiaf can also walk, but he’s such a great character player off the bench that he’s sure to generate interest.
Memphis: The Grizz will probably see Chucky Atkins walk, so they better hope Kyle Lowery is ready to take over at PG (unless, of course, they opt for outside help, or…gasp…let Damon Stoudamire run things for another year). Dahntay Jones has a qualifying offer, but he’s fallen out of the rotation so his loss wouldn’t create any shock waves. Lawrence Roberts is a FA, but Memphis should re-sign him as he’s provided a nice boost off the glass. Finally, the team holds a $687,456 option on Tarance Kinsey, and they have to exercise that given what he’s shown lately.
Miami: The Heat has a whack of potential free agents to deal with. James Posey, Gary Payton, Jason Kapono, Eddie Jones and Chris Quinn are all without contracts for 2007-08 while Michael Doleac has a $3.12-million option. Posey has been a valuable role player, so Miami would be wise to keep him, but Payton looks just about ready to hang ’em up. Kapono has emerged from the shadows this year and will be a hot commodity on the FA market. Jones has experienced a shocking revitalization since returning to Miami, so clearly he’s nowhere near done yet. Quinn is a bit player who has occasionally provided some decent back-up minutes. Doleac has stayed healthy this year and supplied some decent minutes off the bench, so he may decide to try his luck on the open market.
Milwaukee: The Bucks also have several players they have to decide on. Outright free agents include Ruben Patterson, Mo Williams, Charlie Bell and Ersan Ilyasova, while the team holds options on Brian Skinner and David Noel and Earl Boykins has a player option. Patterson has proved to be very versatile and will get serious interest around the league. Williams is in line to cash in big-time as the top PG available behind Billups. Bell is another very versatile player who does seemingly everything well, so he can really help a club. Ilyasova is very young, but definitely showed some fantastic potential when injuries forced him into heavy minutes earlier this season. The options on Skinner ($5.85 million) and Noel ($687,456) should both be exercised as they have each pitched in as needed. Boykins would be wise to decline his option, as surely he should be able to land a deal worth more than $3 million.
Minnesota: The T-Wolves don’t have anything to worry about until after next season when KG can opt out. They may choose to deal with that this offseason, however.
New Jersey: The Nets have a big headache to deal with in Vince Carter, who can opt out of his player option (worth more than $16 million). The Nets want to keep him, and Carter, contrary to reports before the season, is now suggesting that he’s open to sticking around. But he’s about as fickle as they come so that could change. Charlotte, planning to make a big splash this offseason, may make a play for him and the Knicks are apparently interested as well. Eddie House and Mikki Moore are outright free agents, and Moore especially has proved valuable, stepping up big time in the absence of Nenad Krstic.
New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets: NOOCH has four rotation players ready to bolt and I’m not sure they will make a move to keep any of them. Desmond Mason is certainly a goner, and Marc Jackson’s value is very limited. Linton Johnson has spent most of the season in Coach Scott’s doghouse and Devin Brown, while he proved a revelation for a while, is likely easily replaceable.
New York: No vital Knicks can become free agents, but the team will need to decide once and for all what it plans to do with Steve Francis.
Orlando: The Magic has plenty to deal with including key decisions on Grant Hill and Darko Milicic. Hill is a free agent, and considering his health, Orlando has to think hard about bringing him back. He had been hinting about retirement, but now it looks like Hill wants to return. Darko, who has a qualifying offer, is ready for the starting job, but the team is still hesitant to install him as its PF. But it sounds as if the Magic plans to try to work something out with him. Pat Garrity, Bo Outlaw and Travis Diener can all leave, and other than Garrity, may very well will do so, while Keyon Dooling has an option he’s expected to decline.
Philadelphia: The Sixers have very little to deal with this offseason. Veteran Joe Smith is a free agent, but I’d look for the team to let him walk assuming Shavlik Randolph can come back healthy next year.
Phoenix: Other than Kurt Thomas, the Suns have only bit players who can walk. Thomas holds an option worth $8,091,187 and I think he’d be making a big mistake if he didn’t exercise it.
Portland: Jamaal Magloire can leave and the Trail Blazers would be nuts to stop him considering all the former all-star is doing now is taking valuable minutes away from LaMarcus Aldridge. Portland has a qualifying offer for Travis Outlaw, so let’s hope he sticks around and Ime Udoka, who was a fantastic story this year, is a free agent, but hopefully the team re-signs him as well.
Sacramento: Mike Bibby was expected to opt out, but now, after a crappy season, it looks like he’ll stick around where he knows he has some nice guaranteed cash. Of course, he may be dealt either way. Corliss Williamson and Maurice Taylor could both leave and probably should as the Kings need to rebuild with younger players like K-Mart and Quincy Douby. Williamson enjoyed a nice comeback this year so he could garner some interest from a team that needs a veteran presence.
San Antonio: The Spurs have several players who could depart, including starting SF Bruce Bowen, plus key backups Michael Finley, Fabricio Oberto, Matt Bonner and Jacque Vaughn. The team has a club option on Bowen worth just over $4.1 million that they would be foolish not to trigger. Finley and Oberto each have player options; Finley would be wacked to not pick his up, but Oberto might think he can do better elsewhere. Reserves Bonner and Vaughn are both free agents, so San Antonio’s bench may have a very different feel next season.
Seattle: The Sonics have a major issue on their hands this summer as Rashard Lewis can opt out and all indications are that he’s going to do so. The team also has lots of dead weight (most notably Danny Fortson) that can become free agents, but that will be addition by subtraction.
Toronto: The Raps are in excellent shape with their entire core signed long-term. Morris Peterson can walk, and he plans to as it’s clear he’s fallen out of favour on this team. The team holds a $2,522,913 option on Kris Humphries, and he’s shown enough that I hope they exercise it and bring him back.
Utah: The Jazz only has support players who can leave, including Rafael Araujo, who’s a major waste of space, and C.J. Miles, who I would be surprised if the team doesn’t bring back.
Washington: The Wizards big three may split up after this year with Antawn Jamison holding a player option worth over $16 million. DeShawn Stevenson wants to opt out, but he’d like to return to Washington. After last season’s contract debacle, you’d think he’d be a bit gun shy about testing free agency. The team has a qualifying offer for Jarvis Hayes, while bit players Calvin Booth, Andray Blatche and Donell Taylor can leave and the first two especially, could be intriguing pickups.