7/1 Update: In surprising moves, Baron Davis and Elton Brand did indeed decide to opt out.
The NBA free agency period starts on Tuesday, and we know who will be available this summer. Gilbert Arenas, Baron Davis, Elton Brand and Corey Maggette have opted out of the final years of their respective contracts and have become free agents. Shawn Marion, Allen Iverson, Ron Artest and Jermaine O’Neal decided not to opt out.
Below is a list of the top 10 unrestricted and top 10 restricted free agents based on total value, which means I’ll take into account each player’s production, age, upside and estimated asking price. Unrestricted free agents can sign with any team that makes them an offer. Restricted free agents can sign offer sheets from other teams, but their current team has the right to match that offer, which is usually the case.
I’ll also list John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER) for each player, which allows us to compare guys that play different positions.
1. Elton Brand, PF ($15 M – $17 M per year)
PER: 18.04 (15th in PF)
Brand decided to opt out but said it was his intention to stay with the Clippers. This summer, only the Sixers ($23 M) and the Grizzlies ($14 M) have significant space to sign a big-name free agent without having to negotiate a sign-and-trade. Brand probably won’t play for Memphis (and it’s doubtful that they’d spend the money this summer), but Philly is an option. Brand has expressed an interest in the Sixers, though it is believed that he’d rather play out his career in L.A. or go to Miami, who signed him to an offer sheet a few years ago. (However, there are rumblings of a Brand-for-Shawn Marion swap.) For their part, the Sixers have stated that they are trying to build a roster in the shape of the Detroit Pistons, who don’t have any monster contracts. With that in mind, it is unlikely that Brand will land in Philly.
2. Corey Maggette, GF ($7 M – $9 M per year)
PER: 19.43 (6th in SF)
Maggette opted out of the final year of his contract, which would have paid him $8.4 million. He hasn’t been very happy with the Clippers and is looking for a way out, though the team has said that it is a priority to re-sign both Brand and Maggette. Orlando seems like a good fit. The Magic could use an athletic slasher who can shoot it and Maggette fits the bill. He is one of the best in the league at getting to the line and the Magic could use his skills since Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu aren’t great penetrators. Since Orlando has no cap space, the best they could offer would be a mid-level deal, which would be (roughly) in the five-year, $34 million range. Is that enough for Maggette to make the move or will he re-sign with the Clippers for more?
3. Baron Davis, PG ($14 M – $16 M)
PER: 19.87 (8th in PG)
Popular opinion was that Davis wouldn’t walk away from the final year of his contract. Popular opinion was wrong. There isn’t much money out there on the free agent market for Davis, but there is the possibility of the Warriors working out a sign and trade if they elect not to sign him to a new deal and keep him. Davis is just 29, so he still has a few years of good basketball left in him. He is always an injury concern, but when healthy he is one of the best point guards in the game. It’s going to be interesting to see where he ends up.
4. Gilbert Arenas ($15 M – $17 M)
PER: 18.3 (10th in PG)
Unlike Brand, I just don’t think Arenas is a franchise-player and, therefore, he doesn’t deserve a max contract. Too many teams (and players) believe that a franchise’s best player deserves a max contract, but that only goes for about 10-15 of the league’s top players. Arenas is dynamic and exciting, and he is a phenomenal scorer, but he is coming off a knee injury and didn’t look 100% when he tried to come back in the playoffs. The Wizards have stated that they intend to re-sign him, but they’d be wise to limit their offer to the $12 M to $13 M range. If he balks, there aren’t too many other options for him this summer. Where else is he going to get that kind of money? There’s a chance that Philly would bite, but the Sixers already have Andre Miller, who is getting on in years but is affordable and effective.
5. Antawn Jamison, F ($13 M – $15 M per year)
PER: 20.32 (8th in PF)
Jamison made more than $31 M over the last two years, so his asking price might be a little too high. It’s tough to get a guy who averaged better than 20/9 the last two seasons to take a pay cut, but Jamison is 31 and the Wizards (or any other potential suitors) would be wise not to invest too much, as his game is bound to decline by the end of his next contract. (7/1 update: The Wizards signed Jamison to a four-year, $50 million contract. It seems about a year too long, but they got him for $12.5 M per season, which isn’t bad for a player of his caliber.)
6. James Posey, F ($5 M – $7 M per year)
PER: 12.08 (50th in SF)
Given all the credit thrown his way during the Celtics’ title run, Posey’s stock really rose this year. He looks like a good candidate for the mid-level exception, and a team like the Lakers or Spurs (who both have problems at small forward) would be wise to give him a look. He’s 31, so he’ll likely go to the team that gives him the longest deal.
7. Beno Udrih, PG ($5 M – $7 M per year)
PER: 13.39 (32nd in PG)
Udrih played pretty well for the Kings, but the numbers say he’s still only a marginal starting point guard in this league. Some franchise will overspend and give him the mid-level deal he and his agent are looking for.
8. Mickael Pietrus, SF ($3 M – $5 M per year)
PER: 12.76 (44th in SF)
Pietrus is still a bit of an unknown since he didn’t get much run in Golden State and the Warriors’ offense is so much different than the league average. At 26, he is still considered to have upside.
9. James Jones, SF ($3 M – $5 M per year)
PER: 13.66 (46th in PF)
Jones is a career 40% long-range shooter, so he has quite a bit of value and might command a mid-level deal. Still, he is a one-dimensional player and doesn’t bring much else to the table.
10. Bonzi Wells, SF ($4 M – $6 M per year)
PER: 14.37 (35th in SF)
Wells has always been a good player when motivated. He’s a good low post scorer and a strong rebounder for a small forward. But he’s kind of a head case and it’s probably not wise to invest in a player with attitude issues. Everywhere he’s landed he seems to wear out his welcome pretty quickly.
1. Jose Calderon, PG ($7 M – $9 M per year)
PER: 20.51 (5th in PG)
Calderon is wildly productive, but his limited minutes this season keeps his asking price relatively low. The Raptors would be wise to lock him up to a long-term deal averaging about $8 million a season.
2. Josh Smith, F ($11 M – $13 M per year)
PER: 19.08 (11th in PF)
Smith is one of the restricted free agents on this list that actually has a chance to be swiped away by another team. Rumor has it that the Hawks aren’t willing to go over $11 M a season for Smith, and the Sixers might offer him a bigger deal than that. He’d be a good addition in Philly and at 22, it would be a wise investment.
3. Josh Childress, F ($5 M – $7 M per year)
PER: 17.84 (9th in SF)
I’ve always loved Childress’ game. He is one of the most underrated forwards out there and looks to be a great candidate for a mid-level deal, though the Hawks are likely to match that kind of offer.
4. Andre Iguodala, GF ($11 M – $14 M per year)
PER: 19.05 (6th in SF)
The Sixers need to be careful here. Iguodala can really stuff the stat sheet, but he probably can’t carry a franchise, so if Philly can lock him into a long-term contract that is at the bottom of his asking price, it would be a good deal for both parties.
5. Monta Ellis, G ($7 M – $9 M per year)
PER: 19.01 (7th in SG)
Ellis is a dynamic scorer but he has three things working against him: 1) he’s small for a shooting guard, 2) teams question his ability to play the point, and 3) teams believe his numbers are inflated because of the Warriors’ frenetic pace. Still, he’s one of the league’s rising stars, so he deserves a contract that is better than the mid-level.
6. Luol Deng, F ($10 M – $12 M per year)
PER: 17.07 (15th in SF)
Deng turned down a deal from the Bulls that averaged about $10 million per year, but after a rough season that saw his numbers dip a bit, his stock has followed suit. His camp will still be looking for a big contract, so it will be interesting to see if the Bulls can work out a deal.
7. Emeka Okafor ($10 M – $12 M per year)
PER: 17.46 (16th in PF)
Quality big men routinely garner more than $10 million per season, and I don’t see how Okafor is any different. It looks like he’ll eventually re-sign with the Bobcats, though he might become a free agent next summer.
8. Andris Biedrins ($8 M – $10 M per year)
PER: 19.18 (7th in C)
He shoots about 60% from the field and averages a double-double. Again, big men are coveted, so I expect he’ll eventually get a deal somewhere within the range of his asking price.
9. Ben Gordon ($9 M – $11 M per year)
PER: 16.52 (18th in PG)
Like Deng, Gordon turned down a deal averaging $10 million per year, and his numbers also dipped last season. He’s a nice complement to #1 pick Derrick Rose, so it is likely that the Bulls will find a way to retain him.
10. J.R. Smith ($5 M – $7 M per year)
PER: 18.15 (14th in SG)
Smith is an interesting free agent this season because he could probably be had for the mid-level and it’s not a sure thing that the Nuggets will match. He has a rep for being a bit of a malcontent, but a team like the Spurs might roll the dice and hope that the winning environment brings out the best in the talented yet temperamental player.
Others: Daniel Gibson, Delonte West, Sasha Vujacic, Ronny Turiaf and Nenad Krstic