Is the NBA ’09 free agent class better than ’10?

When I saw the headline — “’09 free agents may be better than ’10 class” — I was ready to jump all over David Aldridge for saying that any free agent class could be better than the one that will likely feature LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Amare Stoudemire. But as I read the full article, he made some sense. I still don’t agree with him, but I see his point.

Here’s a look at the possible free agents in ’09:

Those with asterisks either have options for ’09 or can terminate existing contracts for ’09, and many are expected to do one or the other, for one reason or another:

Kobe Bryant*, Carlos Boozer, Shawn Marion, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Hedo Turkoglu*, Mehmet Okur*, Andre Miller, Mike Bibby, Jason Kidd, Allen Iverson, Rasheed Wallace, Kyle Korver*, Anderson Varejao*, Drew Gooden, Stephon Marbury, Grant Hill, Brandon Bass, Joe Smith, Wally Szczerbiak, Zaza Pachulia and Anthony Parker. Jermaine O’Neal could join the group if he walks away from $23 million next season. (Don’t hold your breath. There’s no asterisk by Boozer because he’s already said he’s opting out next summer.)

Aldridge has four major arguments:

1. 2010 is fool’s gold.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that unless seismic changes take place, James is either going to stay in Cleveland in 2010 or go to New York. Maybe Los Angeles. Wade will almost certainly choose between Miami, New York, L.A. and Chicago. Bosh will choose between the preceding cities and, perhaps, Detroit. And that’s it.

Without the Big Three on the market for most NBA cities, the ’10 class loses a good bit of its luster. That’s going to leave a lot of teams with max money to spend on mostly not-max players.

2. Given the recession, owners will not want to spend.

Only seven or eight teams are going to be over the luxury tax threshold this season. That number isn’t going up any time soon. Fewer teams contributing luxury taxes to their fellow competitors will further erode many teams’ bottom lines.

“People have spent (in recent years) not to be a tax payer,” says a CEO of a major market team. “Indiana really can’t afford to spend up to the tax based on their local economy. But they do, because everyone else is doing it … now, I think you’re going to see teams having to make a lot of tough decisions on spending.”

3. Since fewer teams have cap space this summer, ’09 will have more opportunity.

The point is, there will be far fewer ’09 suitors than ’10 teams. And while Bryant is equally not likely to leave L.A. for smaller-revenue teams this summer, those teams are nonetheless in a buyer’s market similar to that of Major League Baseball. There will be solid, veteran players available who may well have to settle for cents on the dollar instead of bigger paydays. A wise team will likely get a whole lot more bang for its reduced buck in ’09.

Says one extremely high-ranking team executive: “This is going to be a nuclear winter for free agents. I would not want to be one this summer. So, if the point is that this summer will be great because there will be bargains galore, you are on the money.”

4. ’10 is loaded with wings, while ’09 has better point guards and bigs.

The ’10 group is lousy with wings — big wings, small wings, fast wings, shooting wings. But so is the whole NBA. The worst teams in the league — Oklahoma City, Washington, Minnesota, Memphis — all have perfectly fine wing players. It’s the point guards and centers that most of them lack, and so does the 2010 class.

Point guards available in two years: Nash. He’s it. And he’ll be 35 on opening night, 2010.

Point guards available next year: Kidd (who, granted, will be 36 on opening night, 2009), Miller and Bibby.

Quality bigs under 35 in two years: Bosh, Nowitzki and Chandler.

Quality bigs under 35 next summer: Boozer, Okur, Varejao, Wallace. Not-great-but good ones include Dallas’ Bass, Chicago’s Gooden and Atlanta’s Pachulia.

I don’t disagree with any of his individual points, but I don’t believe that they combine to make the ’09 class better than the ’10 class. To say that one class is better than another is to say that the collection of talent in one is greater than the other. That’s simply not the case here. It doesn’t matter if only a few cities have a shot at LeBron, D-Wade, Bosh and Amare — those four players hold more value than the entire ’09 class. (All right, maybe they don’t, but you get my point.) Just because the Grizzlies won’t have a shot at LeBron, it doesn’t make the ’09 class better. It might make it better for the Grizzlies, or for any other team with cap space in ’09 and no shot at LeBron, but it doesn’t make ’09 a better class on the whole.

And just because there may more bargains in ’09 than ’10 doesn’t make the former better, it just means that there may be better value available.

Aldridge’s points are all valid, it’s just his conclusion that I don’t agree with. When comparing two free agent classes, the one with more talent is the one that’s better. The other class may have a few traits that will make it appealing to certain teams, but that only makes it better to those individual teams.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

Related Posts