Ben Gordon

The NBA’s Top 2009 Unrestricted Free Agents

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 these guys hit the open market…

Carlos Boozer Boxes Out Pau Gasol

Carlos Boozer and Pau Gasol Photo Credit: Icon SMI

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

Ron Artest: True WarriorIt’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…

Lamar Odom, F, 29 Years Old

Lamar OdomI was hesitant to even put Odom on this list because he seems almost certain to re-sign with the Lake Show, but he’s proven his value and versatility over the years and belongs here. You need rebounding? Lamar can do that. You need a forward who can handle the ball? Lamar can do that, too. You need some outside shooting? Hey, Lamar is happy to help out. You need versatile inside-out defense? Sure thing, boss.

There’s next to nothing he can’t do on the court – and yet he’s humble enough to this point in his career to not only do just what is asked of him, but to also not ask for a massive contract to do it. Odom deserved that ring. And a new deal. The kid has grown up.

Andre Miller, PG, 33 Years Old

Miller is the definition of a steady, crafty veteran point guard. His game has never been about sheer athleticism, which is why being 33 is less of a concern than it would be for other players. He has shown signs of slowing down on defense, but he’s still capable there while remaining an excellent passer and rebounder at the point.

The most likely scenario is Miller re-signs with Philly for three or four years and tutors Jrue Holiday for a season or two before ceding starting duties to the youngster, but any team looking to shore up their point play (Minnesota, perhaps?) should give the veteran Miller a long, hard look.

Here’s a fun idea: Miller, deciding he needs that elusive ring to define his career, signs on the cheap with the Lakers and provides them the point presence they currently lack…

Lamar Odom Photo Credit: Icon SMI

Shawn Marion, F, 31 Years Old

How is it even possible this guy is already 31? Doesn’t seem long ago that he was a youngster showing up in highlights on TNT as Kenny Smith gleefully championed his Matrix nickname. In any event, since his mid-season departure from Phoenix last season, The Player Formerly Known as Matrix has proven himself to be more of a system guy than anybody expected. His numbers in Miami and Toronto since the move pale in comparison to what the quietly disgruntled Marion was able to put up with Steve Nash finding him for open looks on a nightly basis.

None of that means Marion can’t be an effective combo forward in the right situation, though, if he’s willing to sign a modest deal. He can still get up and down the floor with ease, finishes well, plays opportunistic defense, and stretches opposing defenses with a decent outside shot.

Hedo Turkoglu, SF, 30 Years Old

Hedo Turkoglu Free AgentFew players used the postseason to improve their summer stock as well as Turkoglu did, showing up and performing well on the NBA’s biggest stage. He’s a combo forward that can handle the ball, play the point on occasion, hit jumpers from anywhere, and isn’t afraid to take and make big shots.

All of that said, he’s also getting on in years, a defensive liability no matter where he plays, and a mediocre rebounder for a man his height. Those shortcomings, coupled with poor efficiency and advanced age, don’t make Hedo extremely attractive to me – but somebody is going to overpay.

Mike Bibby, PG, 31 Years Old

Bibby isn’t a long-term solution at the point, and he hasn’t ever really been your prototypical one, but he’s a seasoned vet that shoots well from outside and can run an offense. The Jamal Crawford trade (he used to play point, remember) seems to signal the end of Bibby’s tenure in the ATL. A team in need of perimeter shooting and a stopgap at the top of the key could do a lot worse.

Hidayet Turkoglu Photo Credit: Icon SMI

Mehmet Okur, PF/C, 30 Years Old

It appears Okur will opt out of his contract with the Jazz, leaving $9 million on the table. I can understand wanting to strike now before he gets any older, suffers an injury, or is exposed as the softie he is sans Boozer, but if a team ponies up more than $9 million a year for his services they’re going to regret it.

Memo is one of the best outside shooting big men in the league, but a center he is not. There’s more to being a center than scoring, grabbing a couple of rebounds and being 6-11. Okur can stroke it from outside, but that usually means he leaves his teammates on an island in terms of rebounding (which has also served to inflate Boozer’s and Millsap’s numbers). 1.7 offensive boards a game doesn’t cut it, big fella. On defense, Okur doesn’t give anybody second thoughts about taking it to the basket and he simply can’t guard bruisers down low.

*UPDATE*: Ditto Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver (above); Okur has picked up his player option and will remain in Utah for another season. Okur will make $9 million this season.

Rasheed Wallace, PF/C, 34 Years Old

‘Sheed doesn’t have too many effective years left, but the affable and volatile vet still has the skills to be that final piece to a championship puzzle. He’s got the resume and the playoff experience. He also remains one of the most crafty and effective post defenders in the league – just ask Dwight Howard, few have shut down the big fella with man defense as effectively the last few seasons. And while his days of banging in the post are long gone, Wallace can still hit the open jumper outside and he has a knack for hitting dagger threes. He may seem like an unusual pick here, but Wallace could come cheap and be that final piece for a championship contender like Cleveland, San Antonio or Orlando. A one- or two-year deal for a team with title aspirations could pay huge dividends.

The Best of the Rest UFAs:

Former Celtic Gerald Green

Gerald Green Photo Credit: Icon SMI

Jason Kidd, PG, 36: Washed up, but could be a strong vet/tutor on a young contender.
Allen Iverson, G, 34: I made my feelings on AI known here. He’s not a winner.
Brandon Bass, PF, 24: Quality, young, energetic reserve PF – but undersized.
Chris Anderson, PF/C, 31: Fantastic spark plug and shot-blocker off the bench.
Rodney Carney, G/F, 25: Lanky, athletic and young outside shooter.
Zaza Pachulia, PF/C, 25: Mediocre backup center who can score off the bench.
Antonio McDyess, PF, 34: Efficient, tough scorer and rebounder past his prime.
Gerald Green, G/F, 23: All-world athlete with a dime-store head on his shoulders.
Sean May, PF, 25: Talented and big (very big), but unable to stay healthy.
Flip Murray, G, 29: High-volume scorer who can handle the rock.
Dahntay Jones, G, 28: Strong defender with a chip on his shoulder, but no offense.
Walter Herrmann, F, 30: Scorer with good size, and locks, but little else.
Von Wafer, G, 23: Exciting young kid who can fill it up.
Marquis Daniels, G/F, 27: Does a little of everything, nothing exceptionally.
Rasho Nesterovic, C, 32: Perfectly sub-par, but serviceable, backup big man.
Grant Hill, SF, 36: Extremely efficient, smart player who still has a lot to offer.
Bobby Jackson, G, 36: Sub-par scorer with quick hands who can still play D.
Drew Gooden, PF, 27: Lazy big man that can rebound and score, but not an impact player.
Ime Udoka, SG, 31: Decent defender that can also hit the outside shot.
Anthony Parker, SG, 34: A potential bargain, and short-term starter, that can fill it up.
Anderson Varejao, PF/C, 26: Sideshow Bob plays D, flops and rebounds. That has its value.

Related Reading:
The Summer’s Second-Tier FAs to Keep and Eye On
What Comes Next for Hedo Turkoglu?
Is Allen Iverson Still a Difference Maker?
Welcome to the Conference Finals, Lamar

The NBA’s Top 2009 Unrestricted Free Agents

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