Continued from Part 1, The 2010 Team by Team Offseason Primer:
Now it’s time to focus on the other element that makes the 2010 class matter: the players themselves.
What makes 2010 so special is not just the top-shelf guys who are getting the attention right now; 2010 has a slew of players who could be major contributors on championship contenders, and the sheer number of players matters too, especially when considering the possibility (inevitability?) of multiple higher-level guys going to the same squad.
That said, here is my ranking of the free agents in that class, with some ruminations on where they could end up.
[NOTE: All players are Unrestricted Free Agents that summer unless otherwise noted]
Tier 1: Franchise Players
1. Lebron James– The best player in the world, and also the most important domino in terms of the possibility of a free agent Pied Piper. My best guess is that his effect on other players would be much more dramatic if he chooses to go to a larger media market (Knicks, Nets), which also coincides with more desirable cities to live in. If he stays in the Cleve, the status quo there should continue, but I’d put it at over 50-50 that he would have another Max-quality free agent to play with if he went to NYC.
2. Dwyane Wade– Possibly the most interesting player in terms of 2010 ramifications because of his insane skill and the variety of places he could end up. I see him going in one of three directions: First (and most likely), he says in South Beach with Beasley and the rest. Miami is a great place to live, the “fans” love him, and they have a decent core with management that is happy to build around him. The next most likely possibility is that he moves to a new city with a star, probably LeBron. D-Wade is a winner and I could see him wanting to play with another top shelf guy, which also seems to fit his personality on the court. Finally, the sleeper option for Dwyane is Chicago. Chi-Town is home for him, and Derrick Rose is exactly the type of player I could see Wade saying “Man, I want to play with him.” Something to keep a sharp eye on is any interaction between Rose and Wade at the 2010 All-Star Game, since both should be on the floor for the same team at some point. Like Lebron, Wade will probably be one of the first dominoes to fall in the 2010 offseason, considering the salary offers won’t really vary (other than Miami and everyone else), so D-Wade can think about his decision long before it needs to be made.
3. Brandon Roy (Restricted Free Agent)- I fully expect that Brandon will either sign an extension sooner rather than later or Paul Allen will match any deal he could sign as an RFA, but he’s on here in the interests of full inclusion.
4. Chris Bosh– His choices are nearly identical to D-Wade’s, but I think he is less likely to choose Door #1 than Wade (despite admittedly no direct knowledge on the thought process). In short, he will either stay in Toronto, join forces with another All-Star (probably LeBron or Wade), or go home, which for him is Texas, and Houston should have sufficient cap space in 2010 (as could his hometown Mavericks if Dirk leaves…)
Tier 2: Top-Notch Complementary Stars
5. Joe Johnson– Of the top tier guys, Joe seems the most wide open now. Part of why I love him so much as a Free Agent in this class is that he could easily go to a team where he’d be ‘The Guy” or join up with another star, both of which make sense with his game (much like Bosh and D-Wade…hmmm….). My gut expects him to stay in Atlanta unless one of the New York area teams makes a great offer, likely New Jersey if Vince Carter ends up out of town.
6. Dirk Nowitzki (2010 player option)- By most accounts, Dirk is an incredibly loyal guy. I really don’t see him leaving Dallas unless it is clear that Dallas is not a legitimate contender for the NBA Finals and/or his buddy Steve Nash goes to the right place and he can come along. Should neither of those events occur (seems about 50-50 to me), Dirk will absolutely stay in Dallas, and it would be shaky that he leave regardless.
7. Rudy Gay (Restricted Free Agent)- Like Brandon Roy, there is a substantial likelihood that he gets offered a hearty extension. However, Rudy’s ownership does not appear willing to break the bank for anyone, which could allow a team to pry Rudy away if he wants to leave. Furthermore, I consider Rudy the most likely guy to just sign his 2010 qualifying offer to become a marquee unrestricted free agent in the 2011 off-season.
8. Steve Nash (Phoenix holds a 2009 team option)- Earlier in the piece, I referred to Lebron as a “Pied Piper.” Well, here is the other major draw in the potential 2010 class. My take on things is that players would love to play with Nash much in the same way as Jason Kidd, especially since Nash is higher up on the inevitable career downslope than Jason is. The most logical destination is the Knicks, with Steve’s former coach and a city that is incredibly desirable to live in. What makes Nash different is that the Suns have the 2009 team option to sit on which will have a substantial effect on where Steve ends up, since it appears unlikely that he would sign a one year deal should Phoenix decline his option.
9. Amar’e Stoudemire– Some people will inevitably be mad that I have him this low, but it seems only fair to have the dependent talent below the guy he depends on. Amare has a major decision to make, because some team will probably offer him “The Man” role and the money to go along with it. More than any other player on this list, Amare has the freedom to define himself as a player. In a way, it parallels Joe Johnson’s decision a few summers ago and Shawn Marion’s this summer. My guess? Amare wants to be the man, and if Nash leaves, I see him doing that right where he is.
10. Manu Ginobili– It is amazing that Manu (or anyone above him on this list, if you want to move him up) is the tenth most desirable free agent in any class. That said, it is genuinely hard to see him leave the Spurs after this long a period of time, though stranger moves have happened before.
Tier 3: Very Good to Great Starters
11. Rajon Rondo (RFA)- Don’t really see him going anywhere else, but he would be a major game-changer if he did end up leaving Boston.
12. LaMarcus Aldridge (RFA)- See Brandon Roy. One other note: It would be fascinating to see Portland try to move Aldridge for local son Kevin Love, since that wouldn’t change Minnesota’s bottom line for two seasons, but would give Portland the ability to max out another FA in 2010 (should they not go big this offseason).
13. Tracy McGrady– 1/4 man, 3/4 season has really fallen off the past year or so, but I would love to see him in a system that fit his talents. He could very well stay in Houston, but I would expect to see him go somewhere else at this point, with New Jersey being a very interesting potential location with or without Vince being there.
14. Josh Howard (2010 team option)- I fully expect Dallas to pick up this option, since Josh is a good value at his price. Should be be a FA, he could be a good fall-back for a team that loses out on the big names.
15. Tyson Chandler (2010 player option)- One of the most interesting players in the 2010 landscape if he chose free agency, but it is genuinely difficult to imagine a player turning down playing with Chris Paul for the money Tyson is making.
16. HEDO! Turkoglu (2009 player option)- Hedo has a fun decision to make, because the 2009 and 2010 players are so different. He does stand to make a pay raise which may lead him to declining his option, but Orlando makes the most sense in that case because the only other major 2009 player who needs a SF is Portland, and I’m not sure they’re in play.
17. Marcus Camby– Could end up being the best value of the older 2010 guys, because his price will likely be somewhat low and he may end up taking a smaller contract to get a shot at a ring. It’s a little early to project where a guy like him would go, but I would love to see him in Atlanta next to Horford and Josh Smith.
Tier 4: Solid Starters (or Great 6th Men)
18. Andrea Bargnani (RFA)- No idea whatsoever how Toronto will handle Andrea, but it is worth noting that his cap hold is absolutely gigantic, so a move will likely be made sooner rather than later if Colangelo and Co want to be players in the market.
19. TJ Ford (2010 player option)- It would make a great deal of sense for Ford to opt out of his last year if his 2009-2010 is strong, because the number of openings is going to be so much higher in 2010, coupled with the consistent influx of talent to the position making the value of the position a little bit lower in the long term (though they’ll still get their cash, to be sure). In a way, Ford is in the catbird’s seat because he can just look at what is going on and make a decision based on that relatively late in the game.
20. Memo Okur (2009 player option)- We know pretty well that Boozer is going to opt out of his last year, but I am far more interested to see what Okur does. He is prohibitively more likely to stay in Utah, but there will be plenty of options for him no matter whether he is a FA in 2009 or 2010. I like him more as a PF with a more defensively gifted C (think Orlando), but those opportunities are few and far between.
21. Zydrunas Illgauskas (2009 player option)- Big Z will pick up his option and be a free agent in the mighty class. If LBJ stays, it would follow that Z would take a pay cut to stick around the Cleve, but if Lebron goes to New York, it is hard to predict where Z will want to go. That said, his skills will hold a market as long as his body will keep on trucking, so he’ll be fine.
22. Michael Redd (2010 player option)- He’ll pick up his option, unless he gets the possibility of a long-term offer somewhere. His salary is just too high for 2010-2011.
23. Ray Allen– Of course, the All-Star is worthy of being higher on the list, but age and positional scarcity are part of value as well. I fully expect for him to re-up with Boston, but I could also see Boston trying to get younger two seasons from now and going after a guy like Mike Miller.
24. Jordan Farmar (RFA)- Hard to see the LA boy in any other jersey, especially since Fisher will be nearing the end of his useful run. If he does look to leave, the market could be fairly good as Farmar is still incredibly young for the amount of time he has spent in the NBA.
25. Mike Miller– Love love love him as a 6th man on a championship contender, but not as much as a starter. I really want to see him in a place like Boston or maybe even the Lakers.
26. Randy Foye (RFA)- He seems to finally be finding his optimum role, which is a very good thing. That said, he now needs to find a team that wants him in that role, which will be somewhat more difficult since Minnesota needs more of a traditional SG than a guy like Foye despite his many talents. Like Miller, he could be much better as being lower in the rotation on a better team.
27. Shaq– Simply put, Shaq is the hardest guy to place on this list. Before this season, I would have had no qualms putting him much lower on the list. However, his play coupled with the off the court mojo he brings gives him value to a wide variety of teams. There is a level of irony in the fact that what Miami needs most right now is a player like him, but that also shows what his potential role could be when looking for teams next summer.
28. Chris Duhon– Duhon’s value is hard to gauge right now, because he is doing well but teams will likely temper their enthusiasm because they all know how D’Antoni’s system inflates stats. I could see him staying in NYC, but the possibility of the Knicks getting either a better PG (Nash) or a younger PG (Rubio) just seems astonishingly high to me.
29. Luis Scola– I forget how old Scola is because he came into the US basketball scene so recently, but the man is 28 years old. Still, 28 isn’t horrifically old in basketball terms, and what Scola brings to the table will hold some value, depending on what role he sees himself in. Much like Mike Miller, Scola could end up with a better situation if he is willing to be more of a rotation guy than a starter.
30. Jermaine O’Neal– Where is his value? I still like Jermaine in a limited role, the problem with his value is that he is hurt all the time and does not seem willing to be what he should be 90% of the time he is on the court, which makes having him difficult.
I’m going to take a little break here to put some perspective: We are at #30 here, so you have one player above this for each NBA team. The sheer amount of quality we have so far is startling- every single one of the top 30 has been an NBA starter at some point in their career, and a vast majority are either at their peak or before it.
Tier 5: Good (or Very Good) Rotation Players
31. Tyrus Thomas (RFA)- A hard player to figure out. At points, Tyrus shows flashes of just scary potential, but his problem right now is that those are substantially fewer and farther between than they should be at this point in his development. While his RFA year is still a season and a half away, what I would like to see long-term from him is the ability to be a spark plug off the bench at the PF position who works intensely hard trying to block shots, get tough rebounds, and flush home the ball when possible. Also, there is no reason for a player with his athletic ability to block the ball out of play- he can get it to teammates more frequently (ala Bill Russell) to create offense instead of just intimidaiton and another possession for the opposing team.
32. Brad Miller– Like so many other players on this list, I love Brad in the right system. The guy has an unusual set of skills and holds a great deal of value for a coach that can maximize his strengths and help hide his weaknesses. While Brad does appear to be slowing down a bit due to age, his mentoring makes him worthy of a decent role (and chunk of change to go with it) to a developing team for a shorter-term contract. I would love to see him on a team like the Bulls or Bucks right now.
33. Udonis Haslem– One of the classic good player on a great team guys. Love his hustle, and his game expands at least a little bit each and every year.
34. Ronnie Brewer (RFA)- I’m still not sold on him as an NBA starter, but Brewer has the tools to be a guy who gets consistent minutes and I simply love his potential if he can flesh out his game and make it sufficiently well-rounded to make him a more effective complement for a variety of players.
35. Anderson Varejao (2009 player option)- Another player who needs too be in the right place for maximum impact. Varejao defensively is pretty much what I want Tyrus Thomas to be at this stage- a hard worker who boards pretty well. However, he needs to get a better sense of his game on the offensive end, as one big problem for guys is taking the right shots, especially when they are more of a role player than a lynchpin of the offense. He makes the most sense on a team with a more scoring-centric C (think Bogut, Hawes, or Big Z).
36. Roger Mason– Everyone’s favorite new Suns-killer was the single best FA signing this past offseason. Why he is down here is that his upside beyond what he is right now is pretty limited, and I also don’t see much of a chance of him leaving the Spurs unless something drastic happens in the very near future. As long as the Spurs can find someone to take over the Bowen role, the combination of Parker, Manu, Mason, and the new SF should work incredibly well for at least another few years.
37. Amir Johnson– Really like what the kid brings to the table, and he just needs to keep showing why he deserves minutes.
38. Rafer Alston– One of the guys potentially most hurt by the influx of talented PG’s into the league, because he simply is not that good as the lead guard for a team. I actually think his per-minute production would be improved by a smaller role, and that may very well be what he ends up doing at that juncture in his career.
39. Al Harrington– While more naturally talented than almost every Tier 4 or Tier 5 guy on these lists, the problem with Al is that he is likely to be dramatically overpaid and has the problem of hurting chemistry far too often. As a Warriors fan, I saw what he can do in a positive way and a negative way, and I just see him as either a role player on good teams or a Maggette-type stat filler on bad teams, which does not generate huge value despite his ability.
40. Nenad Kristic (2010 player option)- I fully expect Kristic to pick up his 2010 option, but the fact that he can play C (though he may be more of a natural PF) helps him out quite a bit considering the positional scarcity that still exists there. I like him in a 20 MPG role bouncing between the two positions, and there are a multitude of teams that could use him like that, including the team he is signed with right now.
41. Travis Outlaw– Besides Tyrus Thomas, it is hard to see a guy moving a greater degree on this list between now and 2010. Watching a ton of Blazers ball even makes me more perplexed as to what type of player Travis will end up becoming in the NBA. Like Tyrus, he flashes some incredible talent, and I love the way his jumpshot has improved since he started in the league. On the other hand, he doesn’t have that one skill that most players try to have which keeps them in the league (shooting, rebounding, defense, whatever). Here’s hoping he can establish a niche for himself, both for Portland’s sake and his own.
42. Kyle Lowry (RFA)- Needless to say, backup PG’s are incredibly in demand in the league right now. Part of what puts Kyle high among this group is his ability to pick up the slack in the case of an injury. While he cannot replace a guy like Chris Paul, Lowry is a guy who can keep a team afloat in a larger role while thriving in a smaller one.
43. Marquis Daniels (2009 team option)- Marquis is a guy whose value is different to different teams, because his skillset works incredibly well in some places and holds less utility to others. The talent meshing in Indiana appears to be improving over time, especially as Granger settles in as a bona fide All-Star. While Daniels is overpaid right now, what he can contribute from the SG position can make him the type of player teams will want to have on hand, especially if they need more of a toolsy guy to go along with a higher end SF.
44. Anthony Morrow– Seeing him in person made me see the sheer potential as an NBA player Morrow has. As mentioned in the context of Travis Outlaw, NBA role players need a niche to thrive and survive. Morrow, an undrafted rookie, already has that with his scoring ability. If he can work hard to make himself a competent defender of SG’s (since his size pretty much limits him to that spot), his value shoots up another level.
45. Josh Boone (RFA)- I like Boone as a lower level rotation big, but guys like him definitely have value in today’s NBA. I do not think that New Jersey is the best place for him, but I am confident he will have a spot somewhere.
46. Earl Watson– He is a backup PG in the league who can step up for short period of times without the team’s momentum screeching to a halt. That alone (considering the limited amount of PG quality overall in the NBA) makes him worth a look for a variety of teams.
47. Sergio Rodriguez (RFA)- Why I have Sergio immediately after Earl is that Sergio has a higher ceiling but needs to develop a sense of what his “game” is, meaning how to play to his strengths while hiding his weaknesses. When a player is a backup in the league, that is the way to carve out the proper role, with Eddie House’s career before Boston and now in Boston serving as a good example of the difference.
48. Fabricio Oberto– A personal favorite, but it is hard to see him outside of a Spurs uniform for whatever reason.
49. Quentin Richardson– Another guy who needs to get a better sense of what his long-term role is in the NBA, but he has the talent to be a valued contributor on a wide variety of teams.
50. Thabo Sefolosha (RFA)- Darkhorse NBA starter, but a guy who can work in a lesser role as well. It sure seems like he’ll get a chance to shine in OKC for the time being, but what makes his potential more limited is that he needs to show more of an offensive game to gain value in the NBA. A person that Thabo can look to is Trevor Ariza- Trevor’s improved 3-point shooting should help to make him a great deal more money this offseason.
51. Steve Blake– The newly-minted assists in a quarter record holder is a guy who is great on the right team/role, but I worry about him when he is given too much autonomy, which is extremely atypical for a PG.
52. Craig Smith– A guy who could use the rest of this season to move up this list. I love him as a 10 minutes a game PF who roughs up the other team, but I think he needs to channel his inner Millsap to maximize the minutes he gets. My big worry with him is that he is on one of the only teams in the NBA with two starting-caliber PF’s (Big Al and Love), which makes his possibility of making meaningful contributions limited with the exception of the rest of this season.
53. Matt Bonner– I love what he is doing for the Spurs right now, but it is almost impossible to see him doing this well with any other team, which puts him down here on the list. That said, the man deserves props (and a spot in the 3-Point Shootout next season).
54. Larry Hughes– The man who inspired my favorite URL on the internet (http://heylarryhughespleasestoptakingsomanybadshots.com/) needs to be in exactly the right system to thrive. I just worry that he has not really ever filled that role because of his unrequited love of horrible shots.
55. Ben Wallace– Oh how the mighty have fallen. Watching some of the Cavs’ recent games, it seems like Wallace is finally getting a hold of where his role should be. Wallace’s effort and physical limitations make him a natural fit for a hustle/bruiser guy on a top-level team as long as he is willing to embrace it.
The rest of the Tier 5 guys: Luke Ridnour, Jerry Stackhouse, Raja Bell, Mo Evans ($2.5m player option), Kurt Thomas, Ricky Davis (2009 player option), Bruce Bowen, Eddie House, Etan Thomas, Kenny Thomas, Brent Barry, Bobby Simmons,
Others worth noting: Darko Milicic, Dorrell Wright, Dominic McGuire, Adam Morrison (RFA), Sasha Pavlovic, Antoine Wright, Renaldo Balkman, Kwame Brown (2009 player option), and Hilton Armstrong (RFA)
Tier 1 guys (franchise players): LBJ, D-Wade, Chris Bosh, and Brandon Roy (RFA)
Tier 2 guys (#2 guys): Joe Johnson, Dirk, Rudy Gay (RFA), Steve Nash (2009 team option), Amare, and Manu Ginobili
Tier 3 guys (very good starters): Rajon Rondo (RFA), LaMarcus Aldridge (RFA), Tracy McGrady, Josh Howard (2010 team option), Tyson Chandler (2010 player option), Marcus Camby, and Hedo Turkoglu (2009 player option)
Tier 4 guys (solid starters/great 6th men): TJ Ford (2010 player option), Memo Okur (2009 player option), Zydrunas Illgauskas (2009 player option), Michael Redd (2010 player option), Andrea Bargnani (RFA), Shaq, Jermaine O’Neal, Ray Allen, Luis Scola, Jordan Farmar (RFA), Mike Miller, Randy Foye (RFA), and Chris Duhon
Tier 5 guys (good rotation players): Brad Miller, Udonis Haslem, Ronnie Brewer (RFA), Tyrus Thomas (RFA), Anderson Varejao (2009 player option), Roger Mason, Amir Johnson, Rafer Alston, Al Harrington, Nenad Kristic (2010 player option), Travis Outlaw, Jerry Stackhouse, Kyle Lowry (RFA), Raja Bell, Mo Evans ($2.5m player option), Anthony Morrow, Marquis Daniels (2009 team option), Sergio Rodriguez (RFA), Kurt Thomas, Josh Boone (RFA), Fabricio Oberto, Mikki Moore, Quentin Richardson, Ricky Davis (2009 player option), Luke Ridnour, Bruce Bowen, Ben Wallace, Larry Hughes, Craig Smith, Eddie House, Etan Thomas, Kenny Thomas, Thabo Sefolosha (RFA), Brent Barry, Steve Blake, Bobby Simmons, Matt Bonner, and Earl Watson