NBA Off-Season Part 1: Playing Matchmaker – Top 20 Free Agents

When a player finds himself in Free Agency, he usually lies somewhere within three distinct categories.

Category A: The ‘Marquee’ Player, the Game-Changer, the Franchise savior.. I think you get the point.

Category B: The instant starter, who along with a few other pieces, can go a long way in transforming a franchise. This player could also have the potential to one day become a ‘Marquee’ guy. Also 6th men who would start on most teams in the league, think James Harden.

Category C: The Role Player. The player who puts a team ‘over the edge’. A player who is a nice piece to possess coming off the bench but isn’t necessarily going to transform your franchise, and should by no means be a starter, and thus should by no means be recieving a starter pay-cheque.

Whatever the Category, free agency is a time for teams to find solutions to needs that were not addressed in the draft. Free Agency is a time for teams to take that next step, be it from a lottery to a playoff team, or a playoff team to a Championship contender. They might  secure multiple pieces, or they may look to go after that marquee guy who is able to transform their franchise. Sometimes, teams won’t be active at all in free agency, they might already be content with the team they have or they may simply lack the finances or allure to attract high-calibre free agents.

Whatever the strategy, free agency will ultimately decide where the balance of power in the league will shift. It will indicate which teams have managed their salary cap effectively and which teams have been quite frankly, idiotic. Will parity be restored? Or will the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer? This years Free Agents class doesn’t possess many ‘game-changers’ but the next few weeks will go a long way in giving us a brief preview of the landscape of the NBA for the upcoming season. So lets preview this years free agency, and take a look at the Top 20 free agents for 2012. Who will become immediate title contenders? And who will become the next Charlotte Bobcats (Ok I slightly over-exaggerated)? Lets find out.

1. Deron Williams (UFA)

Category: A

Potential Destinations: Nets, Mavericks.

Best Fit: Mavericks

Summary: The top name in Free Agency this year, and if he had any sense, he would have already signed for the Mavericks by now. You know, that classy franchise that actually know what they are doing. Unfortunately it looks inevitable that he ends up staying in Brooklyn along with his buddy Dwight Howard (via trade).

2. Steve Nash (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Knicks

Summary: Possibly the most compelling storyline from Free Agency this year, as for the first time since joining the Suns, Steve Nash finally looks set to move on. The Heat, Knicks and Raptors are all possible destinations, all would make a ton of sense and all would be incredibly fun options. Steve Nash with Lebron and Wade? Fun. Steve Nash playing mentor to Jeremy Lin whilst trying to bring the Knicks back to relevancy? Fun. And Steve Nash returning to Canada? Very Very Fun. All fit, I said the best fit was the Knicks, but ultimately I see him taking his talents… to Toronto, who will wind up bidding the other teams out of the water.

3. Eric Gordon (RFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Hornets.

Summary: This would have been a lot more debatable if the Draft had not been fixed granted the Hornets the Number 1 pick, Anthony Davis. But unfortunately, the draft has been fixed granted the Hornets Number 1 pick, so New Orleans (just two years after Chris Paul’s departure) should be ready for another run with a solid foundation in Gordon, Rivers and Davis.

4. Roy Hibbert (RFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Pacers.

Summary: The man who has been attracting the most attention in Free Agency so far, with the Blazers and Pacers both offering Hibbert max deals. It is quite clear, the Pacers are not willing to let Hibbert go and with him being a restricted free agents, I see nothing preventing this from occuring.

5. Tim Duncan (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Spurs.

Summary: The only way Tim Duncan is not performing in a Spurs jersey next year, is if he has decided he’s done wearing jerseys.. I have now realised how bad this sounds.. Lets move on.

6. Brook Lopez (RFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Trade to the Orlando Magic.

Summary: Dwight Howard.

7. Kevin Garnett (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Celtics.

Summary: This has already been confirmed. Much like Tim Duncan, there was no way Kevin Garnett was going to be seen in any other Jersey, than a Celtics one (I think I phrased it better that time).

8. Lou Williams (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: 76ers

Summary: The fact Lou Williams a) opted-out of his contract and b) wants to be a starting Point Guard wherever he ends up, makes me think he doesn’t end up in Philadelphia at the start of the season. Lou Williams fits perfectly into Category B, he is a fantastic asset to possess, for a team looking to take that next step. He is first and foremost a scorer who can ignite an offense, be it coming off the bench or being a starter, and wherever he ends up, I see nothing preventing him from being very productive.

9. OJ Mayo (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Celtics.

Summary: Ray Allen looked all but gone when I started writing this. Who better to replace him than OJ Mayo, one of the best 6th men (Is that how you say it, or is it ‘6th Mans’?) in the league.

10. Goran Dragic (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Rockets.

Summary: Another player who replicates the scenario of Lou Williams. A young, talented scoring point guard who hustles, who will immediately improve any team he is on. Unlike Lou Williams however, I see the best fit actually coming to fruition. Why? Because the Rockets are going to make at least one trade before this season begins. It is simply, inevitable. Does that mean Dragic himself could wind up being traded? Maybe. But it’s just as plausible that Kyle Lowry gets traded, and Dragic gets the starting gig. I see him staying in Houston.

11. Ersan Ilyasova (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Nets.

Summary: I have already stated that I believe Dwight Howard will be a Brookyln Net this season. That almost certainly means Humphries and Lopez are gone, so who better to pair with Howard than Ilyasova? A guy who consistently averages a double double, hustles, crashes the board and is generally a nightmare. You put him in a starting lineup with D-Will, Gerald Wallace and Dwight Howard, and all of a sudden this team looks capable of competing in the East. I don’t see a scenario where this doesn’t happen. Double-negative aside, I have never been this confident making this many assumptions for one NBA team.. ever.

12. Ray Allen (UFA)

Category: C

Best Fit: Heat

Summary: Doesn’t this just make perfect sense? We saw it in the Finals, with the Lebron/Wade pick and roll, driving to the basket, the Heat relied heavily on perimiter shooting from guys like Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller. With Ray Allen, you get a guy, who gives you Miller’s Game 5 production, on a consistent basis. In Boston, Ray Allen had to work for his looks. In Miami, with Lebron and Wade, he will be shooting Wide Open looks almost all of the time. The Celtics have reportedly doubled the Heat’s offer, now it comes down to whether Allen wants the pay-cheque or the Championships.

13. Jeff Green (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Celtics

Summary: David Faulk, who coincedentally is Jeff Green’s agent, stated that Jeff Green was the 2nd best free agent on the market. Obviously that is not true, especially coming off Heart-surgery, but he is still a valuable nonetheless. I see him returning to the Celtics, who if healthy can add another component to a team whose lack of depth was evident in the post-season.

14. Brandon Bass (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Celtics

Summary: Brandon Bass was a revelation for the Celtics this past season. The combination in the front court, between him and Garnett should prosper again this season. As referred to in the Jeff Green summary, the Celtics severely lacked depth last season, so if they can ensure that Bass, Garnett, Allen and Green all return this season, they should be contending again.

15. Chris Kaman (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Heat

Summary: Can the Heat afford him? Maybe not, but there is no disputing that this is the best fit. Chris Kaman, contract aside, is severely underrated. Any guy that produces a double-double is valuable to a team, especially one that lacks a true center. This makes a ton of sense, unfortunately it is very unlikely that the Heat have the cap space to turn this into a reality.

16. Jeremy Lin (RFA)

Category: B 

Best Fit: Knicks

Summary: Linsanity was a great story last year, and there is no disputing his potential. Even without all of the conjecture from the media, Lin proved he was a top 15 point guard, worthy of a starting job. He should return to the team, that (sort of) helped establish himself. After all, who wouldn’t want to play with Carmelo and Amare? Now that they are all healthy.. ermm, I’m struggling to make anything of this, er… lets just move on.

17. George Hill (RFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Pacers

Summary: A combo guard who, much like Lou Williams, isn’t your typical point guard. He can play the 1 or 2, he can score and can consistently be the 3rd best scorer on a team. The Pacers have obviously been focusing most of their attention so far on trying to re-sign Hibbert, but they have also expressed an interest in Hill. He should end up re-signing.

18. Jason Terry (UFA)

Category: C

Best Fit: Mavericks

Summary: Jason Terry is the perfect, if you can’t get Ray Allen, option. He is a fantastic 6th man, who can explode at any point and re-energize a stagnant offence. If Allen ends up going back to Boston, then the scenario I just made reference to, could surface, but ultimately I see Allen in Miami, OJ Mayo in Boston and Terry returning to Dallas.

19. Brandon Roy  (UFA)

Category: Dammit, he ruined my category theory!

Best Fit: Timberwolves

Summary: Brandon Roy has had a tough time of it. A 3 time all star, forced to retire through injury. However, he claims his injury has been given the all-clear and he has returned to give it another shot. I repeat, this man is a 3-time all star, he isn’t some scrub. If he can come back half the player he once was then your happy. Minnesota with Ricky Rubio as the Point Guard, is the perfect fit for him and with it being a small-market team, can return without the pressure of say.. Chicago (who are also interested). This move makes almost too much sense.

20. JaVale McGee (RFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Nuggets

Summary: Three words can summarise JaVale Mcgee’s career so far. Incredible talent, disruptive. Sure he entered the league early, but by now he shoud have matured. I see him returning to Denver, where at times he showed flashes of that incredible talent.

Let’s just put that into perspective. This Free Agent Class posesses just the 1 Marquee player, 16 Category B player, 2 Category C players and 1 “Dammit, he ruined my category theory”… category. In short, this Free Agent Class isn’t spectacular. We are not going to get anything that rivals The Decision, what we are getting are a lot of solid players who will make immediate contributions. It isn’t exciting, but a lot of teams, are all going to slightly improve, and if the NBA can replicate anything near to the NFL’s parity, then we can be satisfied going into this upcoming season. We are after all, getting another off-season of Dwight Howard telling people where he wants to go before he ends up staying in Orlando… Excited? Yeah, me too.

NBA 2011-2012 Playoff Preview – Western Conference

The Regular season is essentially finished and that can only mean one thing, Playoff basketball.  Yep, for some reason, despite any concerns that I may of had regarding the lockout-shortened season potentially affecting my enjoyment of this year, I find myself more excited than ever for the NBA Playoffs. So let’s take a look at what could be one of the best NBA Playoffs of the past decade (Yep Im being overly dramatic, were only 3 years in).

San Antonio Spurs (1) vs Utah Jazz (8)

Can the Jazz replicate the Grizzlies success from last years playoffs? That’s the main talking point from this matchup and there are certainly similarities between the two teams. Just like the Grizzlies, the Jazz are going to have to rely heavily on their front court, to pound the spurs inside. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap certainly provide the Jazz with the forwards capable of doing exactly that, but beyond that, I simply don’t percieve them having the same degree of depth that the Grizzlies possessed a year ago. And whilst I could certainly see them giving the spurs a scare,  this isn’t the same Spurs team from last year. They no longer run through Tim Duncan, Parker’s mvp like season emphasises that. And with Popovich’s masterful season, the Spurs should be fresh going into the playoffs.

Prediction: The only way Utah have a chance in this series is if Devin Harris can contain Tony Parker. I don’t see it. The Spurs are too deep and don’t have the same injury concerns from last year for them to make this a series. Spurs in 5.

Oklahoma City Thunder (2) vs Dallas Mavericks (7)

The youth and veterans collide in this very intriguing matchup. Depite this being 2 vs 7, this is about as close a series as you can get. The undisputed favourites for the conference against the defending champs, and would we really consider it an upset if the Mavs pulled off the win in the series? Probably, but there’s no denying that any Mavs team in the playoffs are a threat. We’ve all witnessed how dangerous the Mavericks are, Dirk can get hot at any time, and well.. If Jason terry hits one 3, you can sure as hell expect a few more to go in. But it’s ultimately not going to be Dirk, Terry or even Jason Kidd that decide the Mavs fate in this series, that honor lies with Brandon Haywood. If he can replicate Tyson Chandler’s season from last season as the anchor of the mavs defence, well then we’ve got ourselves a series.

Prediction: The Thunder’s form has been sketchy as of late, and who knows what Mavs team will show up in the playoffs. I’m so tempted to take the ‘Upset’ but ultimately, I see youth prevailing. Thunder in 7

Los Angeles Lakers (3) vs Denver Nuggets (6)

Discipline. That one word will ultimately define the Laker’s playoff success this season. World Peace has already been suspended, and Bynum’s immaturity which has tarnished what was an otherwise highly productive season are already causes for concern, and if that ill-discipline shows up in the playoffs, then this might be a lot closer than it should be. The Lakers simply cannot afford any more ‘World Peace moments’, they don’t have the depth to compensate for it. And that is the one area, where the Nuggets are a threat. Just like with the Pacers, this lockout-shortened season favours teams like the Nuggets who can go 8 deep.

Prediction: No matter how well he has performed in the regular season, The Lakers need the Super-fast Ramon Sessions more than ever in this series, especially considering he’s going up against the Super-Duper fast Point Guard in Ty Lawson. If sessions negates that threat and the lakers keep their discipline, there’s no reason why they can’t sweep. Lakers in 5

Memphis Grizzlies (4) vs Los Angeles Clippers (5)

This is the hardest series to predict, a team could be swept or it could go to a game 7, I have no idea. I have no idea how Blake Griffin is going to match up with the Grizzlies bigs. I have no idea if Chris Paul’s 4th quarter magic is going to be enough to rally the Clippers and I have no idea if the Clippers key bench players will be enough to compete with the Grizzlies depth. One thing I do know is everybody has the Grizzlies in this series. They’re the number 4 seed despite being without Z-Bo for half the season and they’re as deep as any team in the league. The key to this series is whether or not the likes of Nick Young and Mo Williams coming off the bench will be enough to contain that depth that the Grizzlies possess. Oj Mayo, Marreese Speights and Quincy Pondexter provide us with 3 pretty good reasons why that might not be the case.

Prediction: Ultimately, I think the Grizzlies just have too much depth. It’s been fun watching the Clippers this season, and I think the Clipper fans will be reasonably satisfied to have just reached the playoffs this year. This however, just isn’t a very good matchup for the Clippers, the Grizzles are too deep and too powerful to be out-done by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. If the Clippers bench performs, this is a completely different story but I like the Grizzlies not only in this series but for the entire conference. Grizzlies in 6

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NBA 2011-2012 Season Awards Predictions

Whilst this year’s NBA Lockout may have presented us with a shortened season, it didn’t suffer from providing us some great storylines.  So whilst we have a great playoffs to look forward to, just bear with me for one second as I take a look back at some of the more notable performances of the regular season, in my end of season award predictions.

COACH OF THE YEAR

WINNER : Gregg Popovich

This was probably the most difficult award to predict.

A case can be made for Doc Rivers inspiring a resurgence from the Celtics after the All-Star break or Tom Thibodeau who led his Chicago bulls without his ‘Superstar’ (as Derrick Rose constantly loves to refer to himself as) for practically half of the season, to the best record in the league.

So why have I given it to ol’ pop then? Well for simply proving once again that his ‘AGING’ spurs team, that we continue to discount every off-season, are once again playing at an elite level. No matter if he needed to give Tim Duncan or any of his other key players a rest, he continually managed to extract every ounce of effort and production out of all of his players, be it Tony Parker who is having an MVP esque season or role players such as Danny Green or Kawhi Leonard.

Hell he even managed to rest Duncan, Parker and Ginobbli on the same night and still came out with the victory with the team riding on the backs of a bunch of bench players. It’s really quite remarkable, so while the award will probably end up going to Thibodeau, I think it’s time to appreciate Popovich who has only taken the award home ONCE before, can you believe that? And heck, Thibodeau got it last year, there’s no need to be greedy about it..

2. Thibodeau

3. Doc Rivers

6TH MAN OF THE YEAR

WINNER : James Harden

From the hardest to the easiest pick. James Harden is pretty much the consensus for this award. The Thunder can sometimes be lacking in offensive options with their very defensive minded front court, and whenever Durant or Westbrook are in a shooting slump, so Harden’s instant injection of Offense is crucial. The only argument you can make against him is the fact he plays 32 minutes anyway, more than anybody coming off the bench in the league and more than practically all of the Spurs starters, suggesting that he’s probably not your typical ‘6th man’.

But quite frankly, James Harden would be starting on pretty much every other team in the NBA anyway. No other 6th man or role player can come off the bench and just hit you with 30 points. Lou Williams, Mo Williams, Jason Terry and OJ Mayo would be worthy candidates any other year (well probably not as Harden would more than likely dominate that list too) but the sheer numbers that Harden provides makes it impossible for him to be overlooked.

2. Jason Terry

3. Lou Williams

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

WINNER : Tyson Chandler

If the coach of the year is the hardest choice, then the defensive player of the year certainly has the most viable candidates. And whilst Lebron James is like no other defender in the league with his ability to cover practically every position on the court and Serge Ibaka’s frequent highlight plays, this really came down to two players (three before Howard became a coach killer), Kevin Garnett and Tyson Chandler.

What sets them both apart is their ability to anchor a defence. Kevin Garnett was practically the only big on his roster and has been playing for half a season at the the 5 next to Brandon Bass who measures up at roughly 6″8. Tyson Chandler has not only had to anchor a team with not one single trace of a good defender on, (before Shumpert’s emergence and Melo actually starting to give a shit) and transforming them into the 5th ranked team in defensive efficency, but he also had to be incredibly adaptable with Linsanity, then Lin getting injured, melo taking over, d’antoni getting fired and woodson taking over etc etc – the point is, he’s had to deal with a LOT. At times hes had to be on the court with Baron Davis, Carmelo and Amare AT THE SAME TIME, there’s really no comparison to any other defender in the league so for that reason, hes my defensive player of the year.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

WINNER: Kyrie Irving

I don’t really need to make a case for this one, Irving shocked many with his performances this season and any challenge he may have been presented was muted when Rubio was sidelined for the rest of the season. So, easy pick – It’s Irving.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

WINNER: Lebron James

This is simply a no contest, some people may hate Lebron but you can’t deny this is one of the most statistically impressive seasons of the last decade. So I’m going to quickly dismiss any case you may be able to make for Kevin Durant taking the award.

1) The one element of Durant’s game that is supposed to be superior to Lebron’s is scoring. Lebron is far superior in distribution, rebounding and his all round defensive contribution, so you’d expect Durant to pretty much dominate Lebron in the scoring statistic… RIGHT!!???! Well he only averages 0.9 ppg more than Lebron, so I guess that argument is dismissed.

2) Durant has a better supporting cast. The Thunder are the deepest team in the league, and are practically the only team that can afford to have a player as talented as James Harden be the 6th man. Yes Lebron has Dwayne Wade, but he’s 9-1 without him.. That would suggest he’s pretty valuable to the Heat right?

3) That performance against the Nets. Yes it’s only the nets, but in an MVP race that needed somebody to get ‘hot’ with the remaining 2 weeks of the season, to substantiate his claim for the MVP, Lebron effectively carried the Heat, and that was none more evident than in his ‘clutch’ (yes Lebron was indeed ‘clutch’)  performance against the Nets where he scored the Heat’s last 18 points.

4) During that same time period, Kevin Durant hit a slump, de-stabilising any momemtum he may of had beforehand, with the Thunder going a very average 6-5.

5) There is no better evaluator than when the 2 mvp candidates literally go ‘head to head’, playing the same position, and who came out on top? Well Lebron. The one time the Heat needed to send a message before the playoffs and Lebron produced one of his better performances of the regular season (34-10-7) as his Heat team secured a 98-93 victory over the Thunder.

The only detraction from Lebron’s MVP case, is the fact his team didn’t produce the best record in the East, the Chicago Bulls (who played the majority of their season without Derrick Rose) did. There is no doubt the Heat underperformed, so for me to crown the leading player on that under-achieving team, the MVP is a concern. But for me to choose anybody else, they have to emerge as a legitimate candidate and Durant’s Thunder didn’t achieve much better, only winning one more game with a lot deeper roster, whilst also finishing (like the heat) 2nd in their respective conferences.

And as nice as winning an MVP will surely be for Lebron, that is ultimately not what his season is going to be defined by. The ‘big 3’ project has reached the end of its 2nd year and it needs to start producing results. For Lebron to negate all the nay-sayers, he needs a Ring. So Yes, stastically, Lebron has proven he was the best player in the NBA during the regular season, now it’s time to look forward, and prove he can produce the same results in the playoffs.

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