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)

2. Dwyane Wade, SG (28)
Wade is two years older than James, but is just as effective when healthy. In fact, staying healthy is his biggest problem. In six-plus seasons, he has missed almost 20% of his team’s games. He isn’t a great three-point shooter, but he’s a terrific all-around scorer and gets to the line as well as anyone in the NBA. Like LeBron, he’ll be seeking a max contract, but since he’s older and somewhat injury-prone, he won’t be as good of a value as his counterpart. I wouldn’t rule out a LeBron-Wade combo in New York, but it’s more likely that the Knicks will want to pair LeBron with a big man, like Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire. There’s a good chance that Wade will stay put in Miami since it’s a very desirable place to play and the Heat have enough cap space to sign someone like Bosh or Stoudemire in addition to re-signing their superstar. After all, there are worse things in life than being a multi-millionaire living in South Beach.
Note: PO

3. Chris Bosh, FC (26)
Simply stated – Chris Bosh is one of the best young big men in the NBA. He has averaged at least 22.3 points and 8.7 rebounds over the last four seasons. This year, the versatile power forward has stepped up his game and is averaging 28.9 points and 11.5 rebounds. Everyone in New York is talking about a possible LeBron-Bosh combo, and this would be an ideal situation, but with a projected drop in the salary cap, the Knicks will need to move a player or two by the trade deadline to make it work. Bosh is no sure thing to leave Toronto – the franchise proved it was willing to spend when it signed Hedo Turkoglu to give Bosh some help. With the emergence of Andrea Bargnani and the steady play of Jose Calderon, the Raptors have something going.
Note: PO

4. Amare Stoudemire, FC (28)
Stoudemire is a little bigger and stronger than Bosh, but their numbers are almost identical. Stoudemire is two years older, far more injury-prone, and isn’t as good of a defender, but he boasts a much higher FG%. He’s at his best when he catches a pass from Steve Nash off of the duo’s patented pick-and-roll and attacks the rim. If the Knicks are able to woo LeBron but are unable for some reason to get Bosh, Stoudemire would be the next best choice. He’s obviously a great fit in Mike D’Antoni’s system – he averaged 26 points and 9 rebounds in the 2004-05 season – so it’s a logical pairing.
Note: Early Termination Option (ETO)

5. Joe Johnson, SG (29)
The Hawks raised some eyebrows when they traded future Most Improved Player Boris Diaw and two first round draft picks to the Suns for Joe Johnson. Once Diaw won the MIP, it looked like the Suns got the better end of the deal. But with Johnson turning into a 23-point, five-assist, four-rebound kind of player, it sure looks like the Hawks were the ones to benefit most from the trade. It’s likely that Atlanta will do everything possible to retain him, as he’s the biggest reason the team made its return to the playoffs last season. Given his age, scoring ability, versatility and three-point accuracy (39%), he will be highly valued in the summer of 2010.

6. Dirk Nowitzki, PF (32)
Nowitzki’s reputation has taken a bit of a dip over the last couple of seasons, but he’s still averaging 26-and-9 this year. The Mavs are committed to him, so it’s going to be tough for Dirk to turn down the $21.5 million if the two sides are unable to reach an agreement on an extension by next summer. I don’t see Dirk leaving Dallas anytime soon.
Note: ETO

7. Carlos Boozer, PF (27)
Boozer elected to play out the final year of his contract because he found out last summer that his market value didn’t meet his expectations. Instead, he’s focused on having a good season in Utah and proving to everyone that he can stay healthy. Boozer is a great fit as a sidekick, so it wouldn’t be at all surprising if he landed in Miami, New York or New Jersey/Brooklyn. In fact, the Nets are a trade away from having enough cap space to sign both LeBron/Wade and Boozer, assuming he doesn’t expect a max deal. It’s highly unlikely that he stays in Utah since the Jazz just made a big commitment to Paul Millsap, who has a very similar skill set.

8. Paul Pierce, SG (33)
If Pierce were younger in the summer of 2010, he‘d be higher on this list. Realistically, he’s unlikely to be available because the last year of his deal is worth $21.5 million, and he’s not going to find that kind of money elsewhere. He’ll probably stick in Boston since Kevin Garnett is signed through 2011-12.
Note: PO

9. Manu Ginobili, SG (32)
Ginobili has a reputation for being injury-prone; he has missed almost 17% of his team’s regular season games in seven-plus years. He’s a good three-point shooter (career 38%), and a crafty scorer (14.8 ppg) and passer (3.6 apg). The Spurs have done a great job over the years of re-signing their stars, but if Ginobili becomes available in the summer of 2010, more than a few teams will be interested in signing him to a three- or four-year contract. He always seems to come up big in crunch time.

10. David Lee, PF (27)
Lee was a restricted free agent this past summer and ended up signing a one-year deal to stay with the Knicks. His camp was looking for a deal averaging $8-$10 million per season, but quickly found that the market wasn’t willing to bear that. He led the league in double-doubles in the 2008-09 season, but given the frenetic pace at which the Knicks play, his numbers are a little inflated. Still, he’ll be a great complementary forward wherever he lands.

Honorable Mention:

Yao Ming, C (29)
Yao is a 22/10 guy, but his biggest problem is staying healthy. After playing in all but two games of his first three seasons, Yao has missed more than a third of his team’s games. Yao’s big frame isn’t built for the long haul. This makes him a dicey investment for a team trying to win a championship. Yao would have to terminate a contract that would pay him $17.7 million for the 2010-11 season. It’s doubtful that he’ll find that kind of money on the open market coming off a season-long injury.

Tracy McGrady, SG (31)
T-Mac is one of the league’s most talented and versatile players, but he has two serious issues: staying healthy and an apparent inability to win in the postseason. In the three seasons spanning from 2005-2008, he has missed a quarter of the Rockets’ games. Given his age and health concerns, If he continues to struggle with his knees and back, he could be passed (value-wise) by Richard Jefferson, Michael Redd or Josh Howard.

Shaquille O’Neal, C (38)
Will anyone want to take on a 38-year-old O’Neal? What kind of contract is he willing to play for? If he can help the Cavs win a title, it will boost his stock considerably.

Richard Jefferson, SF (30)
Jefferson would have to opt-out of the final year of his deal ($15.0 million) to become a free agent. It’s doubtful that he’s going to find that kind of money on the open market.

Michael Redd, SG (30)
Redd has a ETO, and is unikely to exercise it due to the value of the final year of his contract ($18.3 million).

Josh Howard, SF (30)
The Mavs have a team option for the 2010-11 season, and given Howard’s off-the-court antics, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be a Maverick for long. If he’s a good citizen, however, he’s sure to stay in Dallas.

Other notables: T.J. Ford, PG (27); Tyson Chandler, C (28); Ray Allen, SG (34); Marcus Camby, C (36); Raymond Felton, PG (26); John Salmons, GF (30); Allen Iverson, G (35); Nate Robinson, G (26); Al Harrington, F (30) and Travis Outlaw, SF (25)

Significant restricted free agents: Rudy Gay, Tyrus Thomas, Ronnie Brewer, Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry and Josh Childress.

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Photos from fOTOGLIF

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