The Top 10 NBA Free Agents of 2010

Originally published December 11, 2008.
Updated November 12, 2009.

The phrase “Summer of 2010” has become part of the NBA lexicon. Teams have been tripping over each other trying to clear cap space for next summer so that they can sign an impact free agent (or two). With that in mind, let’s take a look ahead at the free agent crop of 2010.

Below is a list of the top 10 players that are likely to be free agents next summer. I’m ranking them based mostly on talent, but it’s also important to note each player’s age in July of 2010, as that will affect his value and skill. For example, a 31 year-old Paul Pierce holds much more value than a 33 year-old Paul Pierce. Get the drift?

1. LeBron James, SF (26 years-old)
James is the golden boy of this free agent class and is the player that every franchise would love to land next summer. He will have just turned 26 and whatever team is lucky enough to sign him will – barring injury – enjoy four or five years of the best basketball of his career. The Cavs have gone “all in” this season, signing Shaq, Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon, and re-signing Anderson Varejao. In the process, they gave up whatever cap space they would have enjoyed next summer. If Cleveland’s season ends in disappointment once again, it wouldn’t be surprising if LeBron decides to take his game elsewhere. Three teams — the Knicks, Bulls and Nets — jump out as good fits. LeBron has stated that his top priority is to become a “global icon” and playing in Manhattan would serve that purpose. If the Knicks are able to unload Eddy Curry or Jared Jeffries before the trade deadline, then they’ll have the projected cap space to sign two top players on this list, and that might be enough to convince LeBron to sign on the dotted line. Plus, he’s familiar with Mike D’Antoni (via the duo’s work with Team USA) and the Knicks’ up-tempo system would be a near-perfect fit for LeBron’s skill set. The Nets offer a better supporting cast (led by Devin Harris and Brook Lopez) and the (impending?) move to Brooklyn would boost the franchise’s profile. Chicago has a number of pieces already in place (Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich) and is bigger market than Cleveland. But would LeBron want to go to the franchise that Michael Jordan built?
Note: Player option (PO)

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Wade plans to stay put

Per the NY Times

“I want to be in Miami, and I hope everything works out that way,” Wade said Thursday. “I want to be one of those players that stays with one franchise for his entire career.”

“Next year will be a big year for myself and for the team, but the plan has always been to stay with the Heat, and that’s still the plan,” he said. “I think everything will work out.”

The NY Post went a step further, asking Wade if the Knicks or Nets had a chance of signing him.

And while admitting the Heat were still the favorites, for his services, he pretty much dashed any hope of the Nets or Knicks getting him. After saying firmly “The Heat” as the frontrunner, he was asked point blank if the Nets or Knicks had a chance.

“Not in my mind. I’m not thinking about the Knicks or the Nets. Only when we play them,” Wade said.

In a piece about which teams will project to have a lot of cap space next summer, I wrote this about the Heat…

Of these five teams, the Heat look to be in the best overall shape. Their projected payroll already includes Dwyane Wade, so they have enough to woo another superstar (LeBron, Bosh, Amare, Boozer?) to Miami. They also have a few good young players (Michael Beasley, Daequan Cook and Mario Chalmers) under contract, and the city boasts a great climate and nightlife. But the real draw is playing with Wade, who has already proven that he can win a championship if he has a little help.

There might be a little chicken and the egg thing going on here. In order for the Heat to attract a top free agent like Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire, they need to have a commitment from Dwyane Wade that he’ll re-sign. (Last summer, Baron Davis learned this the hard way when Elton Brand bolted for Philly.) But in order to get Wade to re-sign, he needs to know that there’s help on the way.

Right now, the Nets (with a nice core of Devin Harris and Brook Lopez) and the Knicks (great market) look to be the two biggest threats to stealing Wade away. In his own words, he doesn’t think there’s much of a chance of that happening.

But a lot can happen in a year.

Who will have cap space in 2010?

ESPN’s Chad Ford lists nine teams that will have significant cap space next summer. [Insider subscription required.]

1. Nets ($25-$27 million)
2. Knicks ($24 million, assuming they don’t sign anyone for longer than a year)
3. Heat ($20-$22 million)
4. Timberwolves ($16-$18 million)
5. Bulls ($13-$15 million minus whatever they give Tyrus Thomas)
6. Thunder ($14-$15 million)
7. Rockets ($12-$14 million minus whatever they give to Carl Landry and Chuck Hayes)
8. Clippers ($10-$11 million)
9. Kings ($9-$10 million)

This assumes a cap of $53.6 million, which is an optimistic view. The cap could drop below $50 million.

It takes about $14 million of space to sign a max-contract player, so even under these optimistic circumstances, there really are only five teams — the Nets, Knicks, Heat, T-Wolves and Thunder — that will have that kind of space. (The Bulls are likely to keep Thomas and the Rockets are likely to retain Landry and Hayes, though they could make another move here or there to put them in position to add a superstar.)

Of these five teams, the Heat look to be in the best overall shape. Their projected payroll already includes Dwyane Wade, so they have enough to woo another superstar (LeBron, Bosh, Amare, Boozer?) to Miami. They also have a few good young players (Michael Beasley, Daequan Cook and Mario Chalmers) under contract, and the city boasts a great climate and nightlife. But the real draw is playing with Wade, who has already proven that he can win a championship if he has a little help.

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Chad Ford looks ahead to 2010 NBA free agency

Now that the dust has pretty much settled in the 2009 NBA offseason, ESPN’s Chad Ford previews the free agents that are likely to be available next summer. [Insider subscription required.]

No subscription? Check out our preview from last December. I plan to update it once this year’s restricted free agents are settled, as there are still a few looking for long-term deals.

Right now, it’s looking like the 2010 unrestricted free agent class could include the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, Carlos Boozer, Dirk Nowitzki, Yao Ming, Paul Pierce, David Lee, Manu Ginobili, Shaquille O’Neal, Ray Allen, Tracy McGrady, Tyson Chandler, Michael Redd, Richard Jefferson, Ramon Sessions, Ray Felton, Nate Robinson, Travis Outlaw, John Salmons and Al Harrington.

I expect at least a few of those names will strike long-term deals before next summer, but still, that’s quite the list, and it doesn’t even include the potential restricted free agents from the draft class of 2006 (i.e. Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, Rudy Gay, etc.)

What’s up with that Amare Stoudemire-to-Golden State trade?

The short answer is “I don’t know.”

Not enough? I don’t blame you. I wrote the following during my running diary on draft day:

There’s a rumor that the Warriors might send Andris Biedrins, Marco Belinelli, Brandan Wright and the #7 pick to Phoenix for Amare Stoudemire. That seems like an awful lot to give up given the trades we’ve seen go down in recent days. But Stoudemire is a borderline franchise player, so a good center (Biedrins) and three prospects (Belinelli, Wright and the #7 pick) doesn’t seem crazy.

The Warriors drafted Stephen Curry when he fell to #7. At that point, it wasn’t clear whether or not he’d be headed to Phoenix as part of this trade. Paul Coro of AZCentral.com reported that he “likely” was headed to the Suns.

Golden State’s selection of Davidson point guard Stephen Curry at No. 7 was likely made for the Suns as part of an Amaré Stoudemire trade that can’t be completed until Wednesday. That is because Phoenix would be acquiring Warriors center Andris Biedrins, a base-year compensation player, as part of a Stoudemire deal that would include more Warriors players, possibly power forward Brandan Wright and/or shooting guard Marco Belinelli.

The Suns were hoping they could land Curry or Arizona power forward Jordan Hill with the Warriors’ seventh pick but had their choice after Minnesota took neither with its fifth and sixth picks.

The next day, Coro reported that the deal was all but done, but hinged on whether or not Curry was included…

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