June 30, 2009
It’s the summer’s biggest garage sale, and everything must go. We’ve got power forwards with 20-10 resumes, we’ve got lunatics with all-world talent, we’ve got prima donna scorers, we’ve got tweeners with Swiss Army skill sets, we’ve got recent NBA champions, we’ve got kids long on talent but short on heart, and we’ve got yesterday’s superstars aging less than gracefully. We also have a couple of key free agents who could pay big dividends en route to a title.
Every summer the NBA’s free agent market has it all – it’s just never entirely clear who is what.
When it comes to free agency in the NBA the operative words are always caveat emptor. There are going to be a few contracts signed this summer that look pretty foolish in a year or two, there always are. Several of these guys will be overpaid, some will get injured, some will be outright busts and some will be happy to simply cash their fat paychecks until the early offseason rolls around every year.
It’s tempting to see every potential free agent as that missing piece you need to make your team more competitive, but remember: with UFAs there’s always a reason their respective teams let them hit the open market…
The Dirty Dozen: 2009′s Top Twelve Unrestricted Free Agents
Carlos Boozer, PF, 27 Years Old
Carlos Boozer has been the most talked about free agent of the summer, and with good cause. He’s going to opt out and there simply aren’t many legitimate power forwards in the league with his offensive prowess and rebounding skills. The broad-shouldered big man is a beast around the basket with a strong face-up game who will bring a baseline of 20 points and 10 boards with decent passing skills wherever he goes.
There are few teams that couldn’t use that.
Still, Boozer is not without his blemishes. His tweener height and lack of mobility make him a pretty mediocre defender, especially when asked to play out of position at center. While he thrives in a half-court offense, he would be woefully miscast in an up-tempo offense. He’s also a headcase with a me-first attitude and a history of back-stabbing. Many question his interest in anything beyond maintaining his own stat line on the court and bottom line off of it.
*UPDATE*: It appears that Mr. Boozer has decided to reconsider this whole “free agent” thing – or at least put it off for another year. Carlos declined to opt out of his current deal, much to the chagrin of Jazz fans everywhere, guaranteeing him $12.7 mill for the coming season. After this development, and Kyle Korver’s decision to play out his deal for $5.2 mill this year, the Jazz suddenly have a lot less room to maneuver or work to aggressively retain the services of Paul Millsap.
Ben Gordon, SG, 26 Years Old
Gordon is the best shooter, and by far the best shooting guard, in the unrestricted class. The man can fill it up, and at as just 26 he’ll be in his prime for the length of any contract he signs. He’s very streaky, which probably means he would best be served as the second or third option on a very strong team, but there are few pure shooters as electric as Gordon when he’s hitting. Gordon has also proven himself to be clutch and capable of taking over in crunch time, a quality that’s hard to put a dollar value on.
Like with Boozer, though, Gordon has a reputation as a selfish player who can be a less than ideal teammate. Gordon turned down a five-year, $50 million deal in 2007 and a six-year, roughly $54 million deal in 2008 making it difficult to guess just how valuable he fancies himself – but it’s likely too much.
*UPDATE*: Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Ben Gordon has agreed to sign with the Detroit Pistons. According to The Woj, “Gordon will receive a five-year contract worth around $55 million.”
Ron Artest, F, 29 Years Old
It’s been a few years since “Snake Eggs” went berserk in the Palace, and he’s genuinely attempted to tone his act down since then, but there is still no scarier man in shorts and a tank top on television. And that’s a good thing. He’s a genuine intimidator with incredible competitiveness. Artest is all about intensity, and he brings it in spades on both ends of the floor. You can question his mentality or his off-court actions or his on-court decision-making, but you cannot question his defensive abilities or desire to win. The man is a bona fide difference maker, and there aren’t many of those in our league.
That desire to win, coupled with the questionably psychiatric report, has led Artest to sign some fairly modest deals. He won’t command top dollar, but in the right system and utilized correctly he can be one of the best players in the NBA.
“Snake Eggs” Photo Credit: Icon SMI
Trevor Ariza, SF, 24 Years Old
Mr. Ariza is one of my absolute favorite free agents this summer. He’s one of the youngest kids out there, his natural ability measures up with anybody available, he’s got tremendous work ethic, he’s constantly working on and improving his game and he’s already proven himself to be a winner. Oh, and on top of all that he’s a pretty good basketball player, too. Ariza is the rare defender who is both a strong man defender and an excellent vulture in the passing lanes. On offense he takes it to the rack hard and in the last year, especially in the 2009 postseason, he’s turned himself into a strong outside shooter.
Whoever signs Ariza, and it looks like it will be the Lakers, is getting an excellent, young, versatile small forward for the foreseeable future.
Charlie Villanueva, F, 24 Years Old
Charlie V has as much offensive skill as any player on this list. He’s downright silky for his size and can literally score in every possible way. Unfortunately, he seems to have gone to the Rasheed Wallace School of Post Play: despite standing 6-11, Villanueva is always loathe to bang inside, preferring to drift to the perimeter and take lower-percentage threes. Charlie’s defense is also suspect and it’s hard to figure if he’s better being physically overmatched as a power forward or out-quicked as a small forward. The answer is likely a little of both, as any team that tries to shoehorn the long man into a given role will end up disappointed, but a team willing to build around and work with his skills could reap huge dividends.
*UPDATE*: Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Charlie Villanueava will join former UConn teammate Ben Gordon in Detroit. According to The Woj, “Villanueva’s five-year deal is expected to be worth about $35 million.”
Seven more elite UFAs and the best of the rest, after the jump…