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Top 10 most interesting NBA free agents to watch

Jul 2, 2012, 9:34 AM EDT

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Lockout? You mean those months last year we didn’t have basketball as owners fought to put constraints on themselves because when it comes time to bid for free agents they don’t trust themselves to be rational?

What lockout? Less than 48 hours into the 2012 summer free agent frenzy owner rationality has gone the way of the Dodo. They are once again throwing money around like they are buying hotels to put on Broadway and Park Place. Unless you thought Omer Asik is totally worth $25 million.

Here are the top 10 most interesting free agents to watch this summer. These are not just the 10 best players on the market, but rather the guys who will make owners forget everything they said during the lockout. The guys it will be fun to watch. There is no Tim Duncan on here — he’s a free agent but he will re-sign with the Spurs. Smart, but not interesting. Below are the guys who make free agency fun.

1) Deron Williams. Part of the fun of following free agents is the “anything can happen” factor. Not here. It’s Brooklyn or Dallas. But he is on top of the list because he is the best player available this year — there are maybe 10 true franchise players in the NBA and he is one. You can build a contender around him. He will radically alter the situation of the team that gets him and the team that doesn’t.

2) Eric Gordon. He is a restricted free agent — the Hornets can, and if they are smart will, match any offer for him. But he is meeting with everyone — Pacers, Rockets, Suns, Blazers — trying to get someone to offer him a max deal (four years, $84 million). We’ll see. He’s the best young two guard in the league and if a team is looking to steal Gordon a max offer is what it may take.

3) Steve Nash. Yes he is 36 years old and has had long-term back issues. But he remains one of the best pure point guards in the game, a master of the pick-and-roll. On the right team he can take them from good to great. A guy who sells tickets, who brings in sponsors. The bar has been set — Toronto offered $12 million a year for three years. The Knicks and other teams are trying to find sign-and-trade deals that will get near that number and lure Nash to a better team.

4) O.J. Mayo. He’s interesting to watch because he’s a two guard who can score but is a guy who wants a bigger role than the one he had in Memphis as option number three, or four, at times five. While a lot of guys on this list want to go to contenders, if Mayo does that he will be in the same spot. The Celtics are interested, as are the Nets and Suns. Wherever he lands the new start should do him good.

5) Roy Hibbert. How valuable is an All-Star center? The Trail Blazers have reportedly already offered the young All-Star center a max deal. True quality centers are hard to come by and come at a price. The only question is will the Pacers match it? My question is how do they not? They are average without him.

6) Ray Allen. He will turn 37 next month, but one of the best pure shooters the game has ever seen can still do what he does best — he shot 45 percent from three last year. Boston has reportedly offered him $6 million a year to come back. The Miami Heat have made him a priority but can offer only half that — but they are much closer to a ring than the Celtics. Especially if they have Allen (you saw in Game 5 of the finals what the Heat look like when guys knock down threes around LeBron and Wade). So, what matters most to Ray Allen?

7) Jason Terry. The veteran two guard can light it up as a starter or coming off the bench. Pretty much every team that needs a shooting guard has come calling — the Clippers, the Celtics (although they have one in Avery Bradley), Grizzlies and Suns that we know of. Terry’s people reportedly told the Mavericks they would be given the option to match any offer and keep him, but how much does a retooling Mavericks team want to spend on him? Look for him to get about $5 million a year for three years (he is 34).

8) Jamal Crawford. If Jamal Crawford can find his stroke from a couple years ago when he was Sixth Man of the Year he brings another very valuable two guard to the market. The 76ers, Suns, Clippers, Celtics and Pacers have all reached out in the opening day of free agency. Crawford opted out of a $5 million deal for next season with the Blazers, he’s going to want more than that and more years.

9) Jameer Nelson. Orlando is focused on trading their best player away and trying to jump-start the rebuilding process there. But they are also about to lose their second best player to free agency in Nelson, a quality point guard. Nelson walked away from $8 million next season to hit the market, he likely will not make that much per year but can get a multi-year deal and some security. The Lakers have expressed interest, but they can’t offer much ($3 million a year for three years). Nelson is the guy a lot of teams will turn to second or third, after they lose out on guys like Nash and Williams. If Nelson is patient, the market will come to him.

10) Ersan Ilysova. Not a household NBA name but the best stretch four on the market — he shot 45.5 percent from three last season and grabbed 8.8 boards per game. In the right system he has real value. The Bucks may want to keep him if they are smart, but the Spurs, Cavaliers, Raptors and Nets reportedly all have some interest. The Spurs are a very interesting fit for him. But we’ll have to see about the money.

  1. eltrilliardo - Jul 2, 2012 at 10:11 AM

    I’m not sure that Deron Williams is one of the top 10 franchise players in the NBA… or that you can build a contender around him. Like any all-star, you add enough OTHER all-stars, and yes, you get a contender.

    But in all honesty, is he a top 10 talent (even if you leave out the old guys [Celtics], as you can’t plan on building around them in the future)?

    He might not even be in the top 3 point guards!


    There’s 9 – Do you put Deron at the bottom of this list? Surely, I’d rather have Love… Maybe Westbrook or Griffin. You got Bynum, Aldridge, Stoudamire (eh)…

    According to the all-NBA team, Parker and Rondo are more deserving… Deron hasn’t made the all-NBA team for 2 years.

    In my opinion, he isn’t as good as “top 10 franchise player”… maybe it’s just because I don’t like the way he rocks his face.

    • ccshocktalk - Jul 2, 2012 at 10:18 AM

      Are you seriously putting Dwight Howard on that conversation of people you want to start a franchise around? Talent is there, but the head is not. You can work with athletes to help them develop skill, there is no hope for the mentally unstable.

      Dirk is old
      Kobe is going to retire in 2-3 years
      Melo no way in hell because the ball has to be in his hands
      James yes
      Wade yes
      Rose yes
      CP3 yes
      Durant Hell yes.

      D-Will is a stud, and I’d definitely want him running my offense. He played with some decent guys in Utah and they oftne competed with some extremely tough western conference teams in his first years in the league. Granted he butted heads with Sloan and that was that…but overall talent wise, the guy is legit.

      • wjmoffatt - Jul 2, 2012 at 10:53 AM

        Westbrook needs to be on that list if Wade is

      • eltrilliardo - Jul 2, 2012 at 10:56 AM

        The article says “10 true franchise players”.

        I would say that everyone in my list should be regarded as a franchise player. That means whiny headcase attention-starved D12. Even, old balls, Dirk. And yes, also 2-3 more years of Kobe.

        Melo, as selfish as he is, is more of a “franchise” player than Williams.

        Now, I do agree that I wouldn’t start my franchise with him, or Howard, or Dirk, or Kobe. But, I certainly would take any of them before I picked up Williams….

        Once again though, if we’re going to involve a players personality in this discussion… Deron is right up there with the biggest knuckleheads.

      • ldj5000 - Jul 2, 2012 at 1:42 PM

        there is some serious under valuing of dwight howard going on on this comment board. not only should he be included in the conversation of people you want to start a franchise with , next to lebron james he is the number one asset in the nba. i guarantee you that at least 90% of GMs in the league would opt for howard as their second if not first choice in building a dream team. only lebron impacts a game more than dwight. just because he’s been in a funk lately doesn’t mean he’s not still a phenomenal basketball player with awesome strength and athleticism. by far the most dominant big man in the game, what more do you want in starting a franchise?

    • sprest83 - Jul 2, 2012 at 1:10 PM

      I am fine with your list with the exception of one…Carmelo.

  2. icewinna0 - Jul 2, 2012 at 10:39 AM

    D Will is overratated. I would like him as a starting point guard but not my franchise player. I’d even take Parker, CP3, Rose, Rondo, maybe even Westbrook over Williams. Williams is only can make Nets good if he has guys like Howard or Joe Johnson by his side. I’ve seen CP3, Parker, Rondo, and Rose carry their teams to playoff level. But Deron Williams can’t be that guy. He’s a great guard with All- Star capabilities but is he a champion? No. I think Nets wont even make playoffs this year even with Dwight. But they will eventually be a sweeping floor for Miama,CHI, or IND. Those dudes in Brooklyn just are not winners!

  3. icewinna0 - Jul 2, 2012 at 10:42 AM

    I would love Ersan Ilyasova on the spurs btw.

  4. acdc363 - Jul 2, 2012 at 10:43 AM

    I was lucky enough to steal Ilyasova off the waiver wire last year in fantasy right before he became a starter and it was great. The dude is a double double machine and he even had a 20-20 game or two.

  5. drunkenjunk - Jul 2, 2012 at 10:44 AM

    D Will and Rondo are on equal footing with CP3. Your list is flawed.

  6. storebrandcookies - Jul 2, 2012 at 10:45 AM

    I live in north Texas and the local radio station said that Mark Cuban and Dirk aren’t going to be in the room when Deron visits. This makes me frustrated because it’s Cuban’s only chance to work up some of that “Shark Tank” magic.

    • drunkenjunk - Jul 2, 2012 at 12:31 PM

      that’s weird, did they say why they wouldn’t be involved in the talks? Is Carlisle making the pitch?

      • storebrandcookies - Jul 2, 2012 at 2:02 PM

        I believe Cuban is in L.A. being filmed for Shark Tank and Dirk is at the Wimbledon.

      • drunkenjunk - Jul 2, 2012 at 2:09 PM

        as a Mavs fan, I would hope both of them would be there.

  7. md23rewlz - Jul 2, 2012 at 12:15 PM

    The notion that any team Williams touches will be “radically altered” is simply untrue. Case in point: The team he played for the last season and a half. If he goes back to the Nets, he’s going back to the exact same losing team he was just playing for. That alters nothing. Williams is a great player. He needs a great organization around him to win, though. What in Russian Dude’s history as an owner has indicated that there’s any basketball sense or smarts going on with that team? If Dwight Howard can somehow strong-arm the Magic into trading him to the Nets, I STILL probably would prefer to go to Dallas if I was Williams. Howard has a bad back, a questionable attitude (though I don’t think it’s as questionable as some people do) and the Nets play in a conference loaded with Great teams. The West is a deeper conference, but I think there’s less separation in there. There’s a clear #1 in OKC, but everybody else is sort of floating at around the same level. A player like Williams would have more of an impact on a contending team out West than on a mediocre (sans Howard) or quasi-contending team (with Howard) out East.

  8. hodaghunter - Jul 2, 2012 at 1:38 PM

    Ersan Ilysova is such a ballplayer. No one saw his 20-20 game this year. The fact is this is the kind of player every team should be after. I’m really disappointed that the Bucks wont be able to keep him. Ersan flat out plays ball, keeps his mouth shut and does whatever the team needs him to do on any given night. Enough teams know this that he’s going to cash in on the market.

  9. jengibre23 - Jul 2, 2012 at 2:05 PM

    If I had to go after one of them I would jump on OJ Mayo. He is a good scorer and after the opportunity he could be a big asset to a low seeded playoff team.

  10. hscribner - Jul 2, 2012 at 4:08 PM

    My predictions for summer 2012 offseason:

    Dwight Howard: Nets
    Deron Williams: Mavericks
    Eric Gordon: Hornets
    Steve Nash: Raptors
    O.J. Mayo: Celtics
    Roy Hibbert: Pacers
    Ray Allen: Heat
    Jason Terry: Grizzlies
    Jamal Crawford: Celtics
    Jameer Nelson: Lakers

  11. aldavis4president - Jul 2, 2012 at 4:47 PM

    How can u not have dwill as a franchise pg?!?! He’s prototype PG wit size n will post up n muscle up most guards in da league…he’s not like wall rose Westbrook who Rly only use their athletic ability to drive n kick ot drive n finish..(I’m a huge fan of all 3 but dey dnt run the offense like dwill cp3 nash n OG jkidd) everyone hates on boozer now dat he’s wit CHI…boozer was dwills best option bak den..and mehmet n ak47 were decent too but cmon now…dey took da champion Lakers to 7twice ..a full season with brook crash n comp. Iz playoffs in da east imo. #GSW CURRY THOMPSON BARNES DLEE N BOGUT YEEEE

  12. dal24la - Jul 2, 2012 at 4:51 PM

    Deron Williams SHOULD go to Lakers but since a S&T between them is slim because Lakers lack any assets that Nets want, I’ll go with Dallas. The Nets have a history of making questionable moves, even recently ($35 over 5 years for Travis Outlaw; trading their lottery pick only top 6 protected for G.Wallace) and will likely continue to in the future.

  13. bigkeev124 - Jul 3, 2012 at 8:00 AM

    Not really sure what most you all saw or didnt se in D Will. He is a leader on the floor besides an attitude he developed with his coach, he is a leader with that ball in his hands. He makes far more better decisions than Westbrook whom I really like so to put him in a place where D Will is on the same planet as Rondo, CP3 and Parker is crazy. Drose and Westbrookbelong in that athletic category of guys who get it done that way. D Will has shown the ability to be clutch when needed, can pass the rock and shoot from all spots on the floor as well as post up and get to the basket. He also can run the Offense Just as well as Rondo or CP3 runs theirs. That team is definitely a playoff team if a Howard was involved and Howard would actually be rejuvinated cause he wouldnt have to be a post up center. I think he is a franchise PG and top 3 to boot but htose arguments can go on forever because of th different styles of the top PGs. I saw a mediocre team in Utah be lead by him and players put in the right place to succeed on the court. He did with a terrible team in New Jersey. Someone said those guys in Brooklyn are not winners. The money spent on this new franchise will result in a winning team and a consistant one, maybe not champioships but one that is always around like the Suns in the West.

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