While the 'Summer of LeBron' gets most of the headlines, the (potential) 2009 NBA Free-Agent class boasts some upper-echelon talent as well. Even with Elton Brand and Baron Davis opting out last month, as opposed to becoming unrestricted in 2009, there will be some great players and big-time names up for grabs next summer.
Those teams that can maneuver far enough under the cap to create some space will have the opportunity to bid top dollar on a wide variety of superstar talent.
Here is a list of the Top 10 free-agents who will have the opportunity to hit the open market in July of 2009.
1) Kobe Bryant – Los Angeles Lakers
Early Termination Option: owed $47.8 million thru 2011
You may have heard of this guy, he's pretty good. However, attempting to predict what Kobe might be thinking or which way he might be leaning 11 months from now is an exercise in futility. A year ago at this time, after all the public posturing and trade demands, most everyone assumed Kobe would choose to bolt once he had the opportunity to leave LA freely, but now he is coming off his first MVP award and a (albeit disappointing) trip to the NBA Finals. With a huge, potentially dominating frontline of Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum, the future seems very promising in La La Land. Thus, you have to believe Kobe would be content finishing his career in LA, but as we have learned with Kobe, nothing can be taken for granted. There will be some added pressure on the rest of his teammates and the organization as a whole to build off and improve upon the success they experienced last season. If the Lakers were to take a step backwards in '08-'09, things could get dramatic in Hollywood. The most likely scenario is him opting out of his current contract and, and after some harmless flirting with Chicago and a few other teams, eventually agreeing to another long-term max-money contract with the Lakers. Either way, it should be interesting to see this drama unfold. As we saw with Baron Davis and Elton Brand last month, shocking decisions can be made in the 11th hour.
2) Carlos Boozer – Utah Jazz
Player Option: owed $12.6 million for 2009-2010 season
He's just 26-years-old and has already proven himself an elite NBA talent, worthy of max-money, after averaging 21 points and 11 boards per game over the last two seasons. Thus, with the amount of coin he could collect by signing a long-term contract for the maximum allowable salary, it is all but certain that Boozer will opt out of the final year of his current contract. The question is where Boozer will choose to spend the prime of his career. Each and every team with cap space will make a run at him, and even many of those without room will look to finesse a sign-and-trade. The most prevalent rumors associated with Boozer has him landing in South Beach with D Wade and the Miami HEAT. Boozer, who lives in Miami, has stated he would like to return to Utah but will keep his options open.
3) Shawn Marion – Miami HEAT
If you study the statistics, The Matrix has been one of the NBA's most productive and efficient players this decade. His well-rounded game stuffs the stats sheet like very few others. He can defend, rebound, shoot the three, block shots, score in transition, etc. Still, he will be 31 at the start of the 09-10 campaign, and his production has tailed off slightly the last two seasons. It will be interesting to see how he fares in Miami next year. Some believe his production was a byproduct of the Suns high-octane offense and style of play. This was something that clearly bothered Marion, and as a result, last February he welcomed a mid-season trade from a championship contender (at the time) to a last place team with no playoff aspirations. Assuming he is 100% healthy, he will have a full season to prove the naysayers wrong. Expect him to be super-motivated by the allure of a hefty, long-term contract waiting in the wings.
4) Steve Nash – Phoenix Suns
Team Option: owed $13.1 million for the 2009-2010 season
Very safe to assume that the Suns will pick up the relatively affordable $13 million dollar option and keep the former MVP in the Valley of the Sun for at least one more season. Nash would then become and unrestricted FA following the '09-'10 season, joining the unbelievable free-agent class of 2010.
5) Mehmet Okur – Utah Jazz
Early Termination Option – owed $9 million for the 2009-2010 season
It was considered somewhat of a gamble when the Jazz offered Okur a big contract after he served as a role player in Detroit during the early stages of his career, but that gamble has paid off handsomely for Utah as Okur has developed into a versatile and productive big man. With Boozer, Okur, and Kyle Korver all possibly opting out of their contracts next summer, Utah will have some very tough financial decisions to make.
6) Allen Iverson – Denver Nuggets
Iverson has been a warrior and an absolute offensive force throughout his entire 13-year NBA career, but the fact of the matter is the diminutive playmaker will turn 34 next June - and there are a lot of miles on those resilient bones. Still The Answer continues to perform at an elite level; you would expect him to lose a step a some point, but he keep chugging along. It will be interesting to see what kind of offers he receives on the open market. He would be extremely appealing to a team that feels that they are one big scorer away from a championship. How about this intriguing scenario: Iverson, content with the multi-millions he has already deposited in his savings account, agrees to give Philly a hometown discount in order to team up with Elton Brand, Andre Iguodala, et al. It would have the makings of a fairy-tale homecoming, and would have the city of Philadelphia absolutely buzzing...
7) Ron Artest – Sacramento Kings
It was assumed that Artest would opt out of the final year of his current contract and become a free-agent this summer, as he had claimed many times he would do just that. But he surprisingly choose to play out the '08-'09 season in Sac-Town, and then stated he immediately regretted that decision… Artest is an enigma on so many levels. Yes, he has been injury-prone and is a bit unpredictable, but when he steps in between those lines, Ron Artest is great basketball player. Not only is he arguably the most feared defender in the entire league, Ron-Ron is also an terrific scorer and a solid rebounder. In the 57 games he played for the Kings last season, he averaged 20.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 2.3 steals. Combine those stats with All-NBA defense and it's easy to see why Artest is such an intriguing player despite all the baggage he carries. Somebody will roll the dice and offer him a hefty contract.
8) Lamar Odom – Los Angeles Lakers
Odom seemed to really find his niche towards the end of last season as the third option behind Kobe and Pau Gasol. This is a role that Lamar seems perfectly suited for, but with the drama in LA, it remains unclear how this situation will play itself out. There has even talk of a swap sending Odom to Sacramento in exchange for Artest. Nonetheless, if the (luxury-tax weary) Lakers are unwilling to pay Odom what he wants, he will find many other suitors.
9) Hedo Turkoglu – Orlando Magic
Early Termination Option: owed $7.4 million for the 2008-2009 season
Turkoglu is fresh off a career season which netted him the league's Most Improved Player award. Just how good was Hedo last season? Let's put it this way – he was one of only five players in the NBA to average at least 19.5 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game. The other four players were Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James. Not bad company to keep. However, Turkoglu had never averaged over 14 points or three assists in a season prior to last year, so it remains to be seen whether he can come close to duplicating those numbers next season. If he can, he'll opt-opt out and cash in. This is an instance where the Magic overpaying for Rashard Lewis could really come back to bite them.
10) Andrew Bynum – Los Angeles Lakers
Placing him in the Top-10, above many extremely established and well-respected veterans, is a speculative selection. However, over the first few months of the '07-'08 season, Bynum's emergence, and at times dominance, was startling. He averaged nearly 15 points and 11 rebounds (while shooting 65.6% from the floor and blocking 2.3 shots per contest!) in the 25 games he started prior to injuring his left knee in January. Any time a 20-year-old center can post those kind of numbers, the league will take notice. The fact that Bynum wasn't able to make it back to the court at all last season is evidence enough that the injury to his kneecap was severe. However, if he can come back and display the form he exhibited last season, teams will be lining up to spend big money to try and snatch the young, promising big man away from LA. There is also a chance the Lakers lock him long-term this summer, if they can do it an agreeable price.
Just Missed the Cut:
Rasheed Wallace (Unrestricted) – Yes, he racks up technicals, but even at his advanced age, he also piles up points, rebounds, assists, etc. Sheed is one of the most underrated players in the NBA.
Jason Kidd (Unrestricted) – For much of his prime, he was the best point guard on the planet. Now, after being embarrassed by Chris Paul during the playoffs, he is hoping to prove he still has enough gas left in the tank
Andre Miller (Unrestricted) – Miller was the Sixers' best player for much of last season, keying a run to the playoffs. With Elton Brand on board, expect his assist numbers to keep rising.
Richard "Rip" Hamilton (ETO - Early Termination Option) – Hamilton has been a remarkably consistent and productive performer on a Pistons team that has advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals during each and every one of the six seasons he has spent in Detroit.
Mike Bibby (Unrestricted) – Once considered an elite PG, Bibby has struggled with injuries and inconsistency the last few seasons.
Jamal Crawford (ETO) – Expect a big year from Crawford next season under new coach Mike D'Antoni, as Crawford will be encouraged to shoot the ball any time he touches it (and Jamal never needs much encouragement). Ironically, the Knicks may actually prefer that he opts out, which would enable them to free up additional cap space in 2010.
Eddy Curry (ETO) – It appeared he was developing into an All-Star after averaging 19.5 points and 7 rebounds per game as a 24-year-old in '06-'07, but he took a huge step backwards last season with Zach Randolph in town. Curry's career is at a crossroads…
Drew Gooden (Unrestricted) – Maybe if he signs a nice contract, he'll buy a razor and shave off that patch of hair on the back of his neck?
Chris Wilcox (Unrestricted) – The talent has always been there, but the desire and determination have been questioned.
Anderson Varejao (Player Option) – The last time he attempted to negotiate a contract with the Cavs, things got ugly.
Al Harrington (Player Option) – Hasn't quite found his niche in Golden State. It will be interesting to see how Don Nelson incorporates the new pieces (Corey Maggette and Ronny Turiaf) into the forward rotation.
Best of the Rest:
Unrestricted: Wally Szczerbiak; Brandon Bass; Jeff Foster; Trevor Ariza; Stephon Marbury; Grant Hill; Desmond Mason; Chris Mihm; Zaza Pachulia; Kyle Korver (ETO); Marquis Daniels (Team Option)
Restricted FA's from the 2005 Draft (Andrew Bogut, D Williams and Chris Paul have already been locked up long-term):