Orlando catches a Bass

Sorry, I couldn’t resist the fish reference…

The Magic signed Brandon Bass to a four-year deal.

The Orlando Magic are trying to keep up in the arms race in the competitive Eastern Conference, agreeing to terms on Friday with free agent forward Brandon Bass on a four-year deal believed to be worth $18 million.

The Mavericks tried to keep him, but Dallas’ commitment to Magic free agent center Marcin Gortat to an offer sheet made money scarce. New Orleans, Bass’s first team, and Cleveland also were working to sign him.

With Hedo Turkoglu gone to Toronto, there may be an opportunity for a starting job at power forward in Orlando for Bass, with the Magic moving Rashard Lewis back to his normal small forward position. But even if he doesn’t start, Bass will provide toughness and size for an Orlando team that now has to contend with Shaquille O’Neal and re-signed forward Anderson Varejao in Cleveland and the return of Kevin Garnett and newly signed Rasheed Wallace in Boston.

Sometimes GMs target productive bench players that play behind All-Stars and they turn out to be good starters. The Mavs signed Dwight Howard’s backup, Marcin Gortat, and the Magic turned around and signed Dirk Nowitzki’s backup to shore up their power forward position. Though I wasn’t a big fan of the Magic’s decision to acquire Vince Carter at the expense of Hedo Turkoglu and Courtney Lee, I do like this signing. This will allow the Magic to go big with Lewis at small forward and Bass at power forward, or utilize Bass off the bench.

I think Bass is starter quality and it will be interesting to see how the 24-year-old develops after posting two seasons with a PER of 16.00 or more.

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2009 NBA Free Agency Preview: The top unrestricted free agents

Once the draft is over, the next step of the NBA offseason is the free agency period. Negotiations start July 1, but players have to wait until July 8 to actually sign on the dotted line. Due to the economy, this promises to be an interesting summer, as more franchises seem to be trying to cut payroll than add talent. There are eight teams with significant cap space this summer, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll be willing to use it. Teams that are over the cap can add good players in two ways: 1) they can sign a player to the Mid-Level Exception (MLE), which will be around $5.8 million per season (and can be split up between two or more players), or 2) they can work out a sign-and-trade with the player’s old team.

Below is a list of the top unrestricted free agents this summer. These are players who can sign with whomever they like. They’re ranked in order of total value, which is based on overall talent, age, injury history and cost.

For each player, I’ll provide his position, age, Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and an estimate of what kind of contract he’s likely to sign.

1. Carlos Boozer, PF (27 years-old)
PER: 17.28
At press time, Boozer hasn’t officially opted out, but he is expected to. He can play another year for $12.3 million, but he thinks he’s due for a raise, and I don’t think he’s going to get the kind of raise he’s expecting. Boozer is one of the top 20 players in the league when healthy, but it’s that whole “when healthy” part that’s the problem. Over the past five seasons, he has missed a third of his team’s games. At 27, he’s in his prime, and assuming he has the right supporting cast, I think he can be one of a twosome or threesome on a championship-caliber team. Boozer may not get a raise this summer, but he could get long-term security. The Pistons, Raptors, Kings and Thunder all have the space to make a run at him, but Sacramento and OKC might consider themselves too far away from contending to add a big piece like Boozer. The Pistons seem like the best fit, but they are rumored to have more interest in Ben Gordon. There’s always the possibility that another team works out a sign-and-trade with Utah, but I don’t think anyone is going to give him a max deal, not in this economy.
Value: $12.0 – $13.0 million per year

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Which NBA teams will have cap space this summer?

The NBA free agency period starts July 1st, and as that date approaches I’ll preview this year’s free agent class in more detail. But for now, I’d like to take a look at which teams have the cap flexibility to be major players in free agency this summer. (Mind you, just because a team has cap space, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll use it. Just sayin’.)

Not familiar with the NBA salary cap? Here’s a quick primer…

1. The cap for the 2008-09 season was $58.7 million. The general consensus is that the cap will stay flat or decrease slightly. We’ll assume it sticks at $58.7 million.

2. If a team is over the cap, the only free agents they can sign are their own, unless they elect to sign a player to the mid-level exception (~$5.8 million per season), the bi-annual exception (~$2.0) or to a minimum contract. (The bi-annual exception may not be used in two consecutive years.)

3. If a team is under the cap, they can sign any free agent they want as long as they do not exceed the cap. They can also take on salary via trade up to the cap, so a team like the Grizzlies (with almost $20 million in cap space) could conceivably trade their first round pick to the Suns for Amare Stoudemire or to the Raptors for Chris Bosh.

Here’s a list of the bigger names in the free agent pool this summer:

Unrestricted: Carlos Boozer, Ben Gordon, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Andre Miller, Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd, Hedo Turkoglu, Allen Iverson, Mehmet Okur, Rasheed Wallace, Mike Bibby, Anderson Varejao, Grant Hill, Kyle Korver, Trevor Ariza, Brandon Bass, Chris Andersen, Zaza Pachulia, Chris Wilcox and Drew Gooden

Restricted: David Lee, Paul Millsap, Ray Felton, Josh Childress*, Marvin Williams, Glen Davis, Ramon Sessions, Charlie Villanueva, Nate Robinson, Leon Powe, Hakim Warrick, Linas Kleiza, Jarrett Jack and Shannon Brown

* It appears that if Childress does return to the NBA, the Hawks still hold his rights, so he would be a restricted free agent.

There are eight teams that project to have more than $5.8 million (the value of the mid-level exception) in cap space this summer:

Memphis Grizzlies
Projected Cap Space: $19.7 million
Memphis has been reluctant to spend for several years now and is probably one of the franchises that’s struggling the most in the current economy. I lived in Memphis for three years, and given its small size and overall lack of wealth, I always thought that it would struggle to support a professional sports team. With a core of Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo and Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies have to feel pretty good about what they have at off guard, small forward and center. The big decision this summer is what to do with restricted free agent Hakim Warrick. When dealing with bad teams, numbers can be deceptive, because no matter what, somebody has to score and rebound, right? Warrick’s PER (16.91) is #24 amongst power forwards, so ideally he’d be coming off the bench for a playoff team. The Grizzlies projected cap space assumes they make the qualifying offer to Warrick ($3.0 million). Memphis is one of those teams that could really use the services of a Carlos Boozer, David Lee or Paul Millsap, but in this economy, are the Grizzlies willing to make that kind of a commitment? They could try to make a run at Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire next summer, but the odds are long that either guy would want to play for the Grizzlies.

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