Good values in free agency

NBA free agency starts tomorrow and teams have a two-week span in which to negotiate with players. No formal contracts can be signed until that period is complete. Unrestricted free agents can sign with any team they wish, while restricted free agents can sign an offer sheet with any team they like, but their current team has the right to match the contract and keep the player. This makes signing a restricted free agent a dicey proposition. You want to get the player for as little as possible, but you want the contract to be big enough to scare off their old team.

ESPN’s Chris Sheridan has a list of the top free agents, but here are five guys that I think will be undervalued this summer:

Jared Jeffries, WAS (restricted)
The stock of this 6’10” swingman rose significantly with his defensive play on LeBron James in the playoffs. He’s rangy and can defend without being too physical (and having to foul.) He’s not a big scorer, but wasn’t asked to take many shots with Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler on the team. Still, he shot 45% from the field and 32% from the 3PT line. His FT% (59%) is the only major hole in his game. I envision him signing a contract with a $5 M-$7 M average salary.

Marcus Banks, MIN (unrestricted)
Banks’ play after the All-Star break – 12.2 ppg, 5.2 apg, 47% shooting – earned him many admirers around the league. But there are plenty of point guards available, so his value will be somewhat depressed this summer. He’s young (24) and he’s more of a pass-first point guard, which makes him worth mid-level money ($5-$5.5 M per season). Whoever locks him up should have a good point guard for years to come.

Chris Wilcox, SEA (restricted)
In 29 games with the Sonics, Wilcox averaged 14.1 points and 8.2 rebounds, while shooting 59% from the floor and 79% from the free throw line. He proved that all he needed was consistent minutes to be productive and that the main reason he didn’t play for the Clippers is that he was buried behind Elton Brand and Chris Kaman. My guess is that Wilcox will sign a contract averaging in the $7 M-$9 M range, and he’ll be worth every penny.

Speedy Claxton, NO (unrestricted)
Claxton might end up being the best value on this list. He’s not the best shooter (42% lifetime), but he’s more of a setup man than a scorer. He averaged 12.3 points and 4.8 assists playing alongside Chris Paul for the Hornets. In three games as a starter, he averaged 20.7 points and 9.3 assists on 51% shooting. Speedy is a great guy to bring in if you have a few other stars you want to feature. I wouldn’t be surprised if he, like Banks, signs for mid-level money ($5 M-$5.5 M).

John Salmons, PHI (restricted)
If the Sixers do trade Allen Iverson away, they’d be smart to re-sign Salmons soon. He played very well as a starting guard, averaging 10.6 points and 5.2 assists per contest, and played even better in games that Iverson missed. A team that needs a complimentary, versatile swingman could sign Salmons to a deal in the $5 M-$7 M range and get good value for the duration of the contract as he continues to improve.

There aren’t as many quality big men available this summer, so four of the guys on this list are guards or swingmen. Expect the price of centers to be extremely high, especially considering the contracts that Tyson Chandler and Samuel Dalembert signed last summer.

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Draft winners & losers

It’s impossible to accurately judge a draft until three (or more) years after it happens, but we still have opinions about who had a good night and who didn’t. Here’s a list of a few winners and losers from last night, though as the players develop, all bets are off.


Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers really overhauled their roster, jettisoning Sebastian Telfair (who was the reason they passed on Chris Paul in last year’s draft) getting Brandon Roy in return. Roy is considered the best all-around player in this year’s draft and represents a nice comeback (at this point) from the Paul mistake. LaMarcus Aldridge gives them a player to build around in the middle. They also drafted two international players – point guard Sergio Rodriguez and power forward Joel Freeland. Both have good upside.

Memphis Grizzlies
Jerry West turned the Rockets’ misfortune into his gain, getting Rudy Gay along with Stromile Swift for Shane Battier. I’m not a huge fan of Gay’s competitiveness, but he does have all the physical tools to be a star. West also drafted Kyle Lowry (Villanova) to play the point and got the athletic Alexander Johnson (Florida State) as a power forward prospect. Overall, this is a great draft and really improves the team’s speed.

Utah Jazz
The Jazz needed an athletic shooting guard to compliment Deron Williams in the backcourt and got their man in Arkansas’ Ronnie Brewer. Due to an old arm injury, Brewer’s shot is jacked, but he made 44% from the field, so he’s somewhat effective. His defense and creative skills are just what the Jazz needed. Dee Brown gives them a point guard with good speed and Paul Millsap is a decent inside player.

Charlotte Bobcats
Though I think Brandon Roy would have filled the gaping hole at shooting guard, Adam Morrison has the inside track to be the Rookie of the Year next season. I wonder how they’ll work Morrison and Gerald Wallace – one of the most effective players in the league – into the lineup together. Ryan Hollins has a chance to be a good frontline backup in the league.


Houston Rockets
I like the addition of Shane Battier, but at the cost of the #8 pick and Stromile Swift? Ouch. The Rockets got the short end of the Roy/Foye debacle. In the second round, Steve Novak can shoot, but that’s about it.

Phoenix Suns
With some good picks still on the board, the Suns traded away both of their first round picks for cash considerations and cap relief. Phoenix fans must be scratching their heads, hoping that these moves allow the team to re-sign Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw, while keeping Shawn Marion in a Suns uniform as well.

Sacramento Kings
With shooting guards Kevin Martin and Francisco Garcia already on the roster, why take another shooting guard, Quincy Douby? Isn’t it time to find a suitable backup for Mike Bibby? Rajon Rondo, Marcus Williams, Kyle Lowry, Jordan Farmar and Rodriguez were all still on the board. The Kings’ haven’t had a good backup point guard since Bobby Jackson left in free agency.

Three things overheard at last night’s draft

Blazers: “We didn’t pass on Morrison, honest!”

The Portland Trail Blazers pulled a fast one on their fans, passing on “Draft the ‘Stache” inspiration Adam Morrison without actually passing on him. Portland made a deal with Chicago, exchanging the draft rights to the Bulls’ #2 pick, LaMarcus Aldridge, for the draft rights of the Blazers’ #4 pick, Tyrus Thomas, along with Viktor Khryapa. The Blazers could have easily told the Bulls to draft Morrison #2 and traded Thomas for him, but they wanted Aldridge instead, and they got their man. They avoided some bad press when Charlotte took Morrison #3. That way, the Blazers never actually passed on him.

I don’t know if these details will be lost on Portland fans. Certainly anyone who was passionately hoping that Morrison would land in Portland will be able to see through the trade. The bottom line is that the Portland fans wanted him but the franchise didn’t. Morrison is certainly a capable player, and would have been a good fit in Portland, not to mention immensely popular. If I were part of the “Draft the ‘Stache” movement, I’d feel pretty slighted today.

Timberwolves: “Oops.”

I was a bit perplexed by Minnesota’s drafting Brandon Roy (#6) and trading him to Portland for Randy Foye (#7). If you’re the Wolves and you want Foye, why don’t you just draft Foye at #6? Other than a slightly cheaper rookie contract, there’s no upside at all.

The word is that after the Blazers traded away Sebastian Telfair and Theo Ratliff for the Celtics’ #7 pick, Raef LaFrentz’ bloated contract and Dan Dickau, they got wind that the Timberwolves were going to trade Roy to Houston for Foye, who the Rockets would take at #8, along with Luther Head. So Portland took Foye, forcing the Wolves to trade Roy – a player the Blazers really liked – to them in exchange for Foye. In effect, they got Roy for Telfair (wow!) for taking on an extra year of a fat contract. (LaFrentz’ deal runs through 2008-09 while Ratliff’s runs through 2007-08.)

Rumors continue to fly that the Celtics are still trying to land Allen Iverson, and may be using Telfair in a trade to get the longtime Philadelphia star. Danny Ainge has proven to be a very capable GM, so unless he sees something in Telfair that the rest of us don’t, he’ll probably be used to get AI. Giving up the #7 pick for Telfair doesn’t seem like a good trade on the surface, but if the Sixers are a big fan of the young point guard, and are willing to give up Iverson to get him, it would give the Celtics the other superstar to play alongside Paul Pierce.

Rockets: “Damn.”

After the Blazers stole their guy (Roy), Houston was stuck with the #8 pick. They ended up taking Rudy Gay, a guy they obviously didn’t like all that much, and traded him, along with Stromile Swift, to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for Shane Battier. Battier is a great fit in Houston (or anywhere, really), but the Rockets gave up two players with a ton of upside to get him. I get the feeling that they were stuck between a rock and a hard place and had to take the best deal they could get.

It’s interesting that Swift ends up back in Memphis after leaving the Grizzlies for Houston last summer.

NBA Draft: Second Round, Picks 46-60

Well, this puts a wrap on the 2006 NBA Draft. This was hailed as one of the most unpredictable and weird drafts to date and I really don’t think it disappointed.

J. Paulsen will have a recap as well as his thoughts tomorrow, but here are picks 46-60 and what analyst had to say about the selections:

46) Utah (from Chicago) – Dee Brown, Guard, Illinois
Small, but jet quick with great transitional speed. Brown is a competitor and even though he could have come out last year and been taken higher, he will succeed somewhere in the NBA.

47) Utah – Paul Millsap, F, Louisiana Tech
Is the only player in NCAA Division I history to lead the nation in rebounding in three consecutive years. Earned First Team All-WAC honors his junior and senior seasons and was Second Team as a freshman. Draws comparisons to Malik Rose.

48) Washington – Vladimir Veremeenko, F, Russia
A member of the Belarusian National Team, Veremeenko began his Russian Superleague A career in 2002-03 with Avtodor Saratov. He played there until signing with Dynamo St. Petersburg in 2004-05, and is currently still playing there.

49) Denver – Leon Powe, F, California
Powe has had some knee problems, but is very strong. Should have stayed in school and needs to prove that he can succeed at the next level. He can rebound, however.

50) Charlotte (from Sacramento) – Ryan Hollins, C, UCLA
Hollins finished collegiate career as the fourth all-time leading shot-blocker in UCLA history with 101. In the summer of his freshman year, was a member of the United States team that won the Global Games Championships in Dallas, and finished in fifth place at the 2003 FIBA Junior World Championships in Thessaloniki, Greece.

51) L.A. Lakers – Cheik Samb, C, Senegal
Samb played his first year at the professional level with WTC Cornella in the Spanish LEB2 league. Also appeared with Winterthur F.C. Barcelona with their U-20 team in the Circuito Sub-20, a four-phase competition organized by the Spanish basketball leagues separate from their regular seasons.

52) L.A. Clippers – Guillermo Diaz, G, Miami
Second team All-ACC, Diaz is a big time athlete. He started off as a volleyball player, so he can really jump, but he needs to learn how to play the game a little more instead of just relying on his athleticism.

53) Seattle – Yotam Halperin, G, Israel
Possibly down the road he can be an NBA player, but Halperin is still probably two to three years away from coming overseas.

54) New Jersey – Hassan Adams, G, Arizona
Adams is an explosive transition athlete and a very good offensive rebound guard. He is a scrapper and could be a defensive stopper. He’s not a great passer or shooter, but is a terrific athlete.

55) Cleveland – Ejike Ugboaja, F, Nigeria
Ugboaja is a raw big man from Nigeria who is a long way away. But he has athleticism and size could land him on an NBA roster. He played this past season for Union Bank Lagos in the Nigeria Premier League.

56) Toronto (from Miami) – Edin Bavcic, F, Bosnia
He’s a perimeter-oriented big man who likes to shoot 3-pointers. Decent rebounder. Good size. He’ll probably stay in Europe, however.

57) Minnesota (from Phoenix) – Loukas Mavrokefalidis, C, Greece
This could be a steal for the Wolves. A big center who has put up excellent numbers in Greece and who can hit the 3.

58) Dallas – Danilo Pinnock, G, George Washington
Named First Team All-Atlantic 10 as a junior. Also earned All-District 4 honors from the NABC. Named Atlantic 10 Sixth Man of the Year as a junior, and earned league All-Rookie Team honors as a freshman.

59) San Antonio – Damir Markota, F, Croatia
What a surprise, the Spurs go with an international player with their selection. At this rate, nobody in the San Antonio brass will speak a lick of English by 2009. At least the Spurs have had a ton of success overseas.

60) Detroit – Will Blalock, G, Iowa State
The Pistons have been looking for a backup guard and Blalock should make the team. He currently ranks 22nd all-time in Iowa State history in scoring (1,078 points), sixth in assists (464), tied for sixth in steals (177), and eighth in three-point field goals made (100).

NBA Draft: Second Round, Picks 31-45

Here are picks 31-45 in the second round and what is being said about each selection:

31) Portland – James White, G, Cincinnati
White can fly down the floor and is a very instinctive player. He is a little bit turnover prone, but is also very versatile and should make a dismantled Portland roster.

32) Houston Rockets – Steve Novak, F, Marquette
Novak has deep range and is a terrific catch-and-shoot player. He is not that strong, but can be a very good perimeter defender.

33) Atlanta Hawks – Solomon Jones, F, South Florida
Very long armed and is a big time shot blocker. He is very raw offensively, but is a solid athlete and this is a good very good selection at No. 33. Anything on the anterior can help the Atlanta Hawks and could help push Sheldon Williams.

34) L.A. Clippers (from Charlotte) – Paul Davis, Michigan State
Davis is a good pick and pop shooter. He is solid rebounder, but not particularly a good scorer under the basket.

35) Toronto – P.J. Tucker, F, Texas
Tucker has a 7-1 wingspan, even though he is only 6’5” and is a complete scrapper. He might be the best Long Horn in this draft and is a great rebounder.

36) Minnesota (from Boston) – Craig Smith, F, Boston College
Undersized power forward who uses his body well, but might have trouble scoring underneath against larger opponents. Smith doesn’t have a whole lot of lift, but is tough as nails.

37) Minnesota – Bobby Jones, F, Washington
Jones doesn’t have much offense, but is a great perimeter defender anybody can guard multiple positions.

38) Golden State – Kosta Perovic, F, Croatia
Perovic is not a great athlete and isn’t a defensive presence. He might be a backup center someday, but really isn’t a good rebounder and must keep improving on his scoring.

39) Milwaukee – David Noel, F, North Carolina
First Tar Heel drafted in ‘06, Noel can hit any open shot and is built like a linebacker. He is a guy that won’t harm you on the floor, but won’t necessarily carry an offensive load for the Bucks. Either way, he can compete at the NBA level.

40) Seattle – Denham Brown, G, UConn
Brown finished his career with 1,267 points, the 39th player in UConn history to reach the 1,000-point mark.

41) Orlando – James Augustine, Forward, Illinois
Named First Team All-Big Ten by the league coaches and Second Team by the media as a senior. Earned Third Team All-Conference honors as a junior and was an Honorable Mention selection as a sophomore.

42) Cleveland (from Philadelphia) – Daniel Gibson, Texas
This is a great pick at 42. Gibson is a great athlete who can be a solid player in the NBA. He might not be a true point guard, but next to LeBron James, Gibson has the chance to be a good perimeter scorer.

43) New Orleans/Oklahoma City – Marcus Vinicius, Forward, Brazil
6’10” small forward who has had success in the Italian league. He put a little bit of weight on, but once he gets his weight down, he could be a solid player.

44) Orlando (from Milwaukee) – Lior Eliyahu, F, Israel
First Israeli drafted in NBA history. He’ll probably stay overseas and might be a long way from playing in the NBA.

45) Indiana – Alexander Johnson, F, Florida State
Good size, solid prospect and can shoot from 17 or 18 feet. He’s not much of a post player and should have probably stayed in school for another year to work on his game, but might develop down the line after some seasoning.

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