What is the class of 2006 worth?

Around this time last year, I tried to estimate the kind of contracts the big name players from the class of 2004 and 2005 would sign, and here’s how I fared:

All in all, I think I did a pretty good job. Of the 12 players that signed a contract last summer, I correctly predicted the range for seven and was within $1.5 million for the other five. Granted, I underestimated what the Lakers would give Vujacic, but I find him so annoying that I have a tough time objectively determining his worth. (Though it should be noted that he didn’t do anything this season to justify $5.0 million per season.)

This year, I’m going to list the top names from the class of ’06 to try to determine what kind of extension they’ll get if their current teams choose to lock them up this summer instead of letting them hit restricted free agency in 2010. (I’ll tackle the restricted free agents of the class of ’05 in my free agency preview, which will run on 6/29.)

Due to the economy and the unwillingness of most owners to spend, the summer of 2009 promises to be tougher for free agents than years past, so we may see a few players stubbornness get the best of them. One executive predicted a “nuclear winter” of sorts, so at the very least, it will be interesting.

So here are the top players from the class of ’06 and my best estimate of the kind of money they’ll command. I’ll list their age, Player Efficiency Rating (PER), along with a few comparables.

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What do the Cavs do now?

This is not how it was supposed to go.

The Cavs were destined to make the Finals and face the Lakers, with LeBron turning in a fantastic Game 7 performance in front of his loyal fans at the Q to bring the city of Cleveland its first championship since 1964. With a title already under his belt, and a few more on the horizon, he would happily re-up for another four or five seasons. Or at the very worst, the Cavs would lose to the more talented Lakers, leaving fans with the feeling that “one more piece” would be all that is needed to finally bring a title to Cleveland. Under that scenario, there would be no way that LeBron could leave, right? Not when the Cavs were thisclose to a title…

Just over a year ago, I wrote that “The Cavs have failed LeBron James,” which was posted about three months before GM Danny Ferry pulled the trigger on the trade that brought Mo Williams to Cleveland. That trade, along with LeBron’s renewed focus and an improved work ethic (which was inspired by his seeing first hand how Kobe prepared during the 2008 Olympics), pushed the Cavs to a league-best 66 wins this season. Williams was named as an alternate to the All-Star Game (after grousing about not being voted in by the coaches) and all was well with the world.

The Cavs received some more good news when Kevin Garnett struggled with injuries down the stretch of the regular season and was eventually shut down for the playoffs. At the time, the Celtics were considered the Cavs’ biggest threat in the East, but KG’s injury might have allowed the Magic, one of four teams that beat the Cavs twice during the year — the Celtics, the Lakers and…um…the Wizards were the other three — to advance to the Conference Finals when they otherwise wouldn’t have survived to face the Cavs. The Magic were a very bad matchup because the Cavs simply didn’t have anyone that could cover Dwight Howard. When they didn’t double-team him, he would make a living on the post, and when they did send another guy, it would free up the Orlando sharpshooters for open jumpers.

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A look ahead at the free agent class of 2009

With the trade deadline in the rear view mirror and players tied to their current teams at least until the summer, it’s a good time to take a look ahead at the free agent class of 2009. Given the state of the economy and how so many teams are saving up for the class of 2010, some are suggesting that this summer’s free agency could be a “nuclear winter” of sorts, no pun intended. The salary cap and luxury tax thresholds are likely to decline for the first time in years and that has GMs and owners around the league scrambling to cut salary where they can.

There are three types of free agents: players with early termination options (ETO) or player options (PO), restricted free agents and unrestricted free agents.

Players with ETOs or POs

This group includes Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O’Neal, Al Harrington, Jamal Crawford and Mehmet Okur, but it’s highly unlikely that any of these guys will hit the open market given the kind of money they’ll be making by extending their respective contracts. Of this group, Hedo Turkoglu, Anderson Varejao and maybe Carlos Boozer are the only big names that are likely to hit free agency. Boozer has already stated that he’s going to opt out, but he may decide against it if he doesn’t come back strong from his injuries. Turkoglu — the reigning Most Improved Player — is having another nice season, but he’s not playing quite as well as last year. Still, he can command more than the $7.3 million he’s due to make next season. Varejao could stay with the Cavs and make $6.2 million next season, but he and his agent (Dan Fegan) have been looking for more. Varejao wants a long term deal but it seems he and the Cavs disagree on how much he’s actually worth.

For the most part, guys in this group are going to be conservative and play out their contracts.

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