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SoupIsGood
08-23-2004, 09:13 PM
Monday, August 23, 2004

By Chad Ford
ESPN Insider


Wait until next year.

That's the mantra being pushed in Atlanta, Portland, Golden State and Seattle now that all of the top free agents have found homes and all four teams have little to show for their efforts this summer. What they do have, along with several other teams, is a boat load of cap space with which to work next year.

Assuming the cap stays at around $44 million, a number of teams will be looking at huge cap room next summer. The Bobcats ($30 million), Hawks ($25 million), Blazers ($22 million), Sonics ($19 million), Cavs ($18 million), Warriors ($14 million), Clippers ($14 million) and Bulls ($12 million) have more than $10 million in cap space at their disposal.

Will they really want or be able to use it? A number of the teams, including the Blazers, Sonics, Cavs, Warriors and Bulls, have big free agents they'll want to re-sign, eating up most of their cap room.

The rest will be battling it out for a solid, but aging group of unrestricted free agents led by Tracy McGrady, Ray Allen, Michael Redd, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Theo Ratliff. Of that group, Allen and Abdur-Rahim are the most likely to bolt for a new team.

There are also a host of good players who have opt outs in their contracts for next year, including Shaquille O'Neal, Keith Van Horn and Jamal Mashburn. However, they can't earn anywhere near what they're making right now on the open free-agent market next summer, so don't expect them to opt out of their contracts.

The restricted free-agent class looks much better, but remember, going after restricted free agents in the summer is always a dicey proposition. Only two top restricted free agents changed teams this summer. The Nuggets stole away Kenyon Martin from New Jersey (the Nets eventually agreed to a sign-and-trade) and the Suns pried Quentin Richardson away from the Clippers. Two top restricted free agents, Darius Miles and Stromile Swift, have yet to get offers from anyone.

Also remember that teams have until Oct. 31 to give extensions to the many of this year's restricted free agents. Richard Jefferson and Shane Battier have already scored long-term deals and a number of other free agents, including Andrei Kirilenko, Pau Gasol, Zach Randolph and Tony Parker, could be locked up before the season begins.

Here's Insider's first sneak peek at the free-agent class of 2005. While the names on the board may leave fans breathless, there's little chance most of these guys ever leave home.

Top 10 2005 Free Agents

Key = (R) = Restricted free agent | (PO) = Player Option | (TO) = Team Option

1. Tracy McGrady, G/F, Rockets (PO)


McGrady
The skinny: The Rockets didn't trade away half their team to turn around and lose McGrady in free agency. We can only assume that the Rockets received the proper assurances from his agent that McGrady would either choose not to opt out, or he agreed to sign a long-term extension in Houston. Still, with T-Mac, you never know. If he and Jeff Van Gundy bump heads or if Yao, who is being overworked again this summer, goes down with a major injury, who's to say that T-Mac won't opt out and play the field. Now that there's a precedent set with Carlos Boozer & nothing is impossible until T-Mac officially signs a long-term extension in Houston.

2. Andrei Kirilenko, F, Jazz (R)

Kirilenko
The skinny: The Jazz face an interesting dilemma here. Kirilenko wants the max and there is plenty of statistical evidence to prove that he deserves it. The Jazz know they can't afford to let Kirilenko walk next summer, but aren't sure it benefits them to give him the max this summer, knowing that the collective bargaining agreement is likely to change in the team's favor. Still, if Kirilenko hits the free-agent market next summer, he'll be the hottest name on the market. I haven't met a coach in the league that isn't in love with him. I'd be shocked if he isn't in Utah for the next seven years however.

3. Ray Allen, SG, Sonics

Allen
The skinny: Of the top-tier guys on the list, Allen has the best shot of leaving. He hired an agent, Lon Babby, to start hammering out a max extension with the Sonics. The problem for Seattle is that it wasn't exactly smooth sailing with Allen last season. If the Sonics let him go, the team has $19 million left in cap room. If they sign him to a max extension, they can kiss any flexibility goodbye. If Allen is available, the Blazers, in particular, would show a lot of interest.

4. Pau Gasol, F/C, Grizzlies (R)

Gasol
The skinny: The former Rookie of the Year continues to improve in Memphis and Jerry West has made it clear to other teams that he intends to lock up Gasol to a long-term deal. The Grizzlies are in the same situation that the Jazz are with Kirilenko, however. Gasol wants the max and the Grizzlies don't see any benefit in paying full price now. Just about every team in the league would love to get their hands on Gasol, but it's hard to believe that the Grizzlies wouldn't match any offer next summer.

5. Zach Randolph, PF, Blazers (R)

Randolph
The skinny: Randolph won the Most Improved Player Award and was dominant in the paint for the Blazers last season. The team has made a commitment to build around him and want to sign him to a long-term extension. However, the Blazers are also in love with the idea of having lots of cap room and options next summer and may hold off until next season to give Randolph a big pay day.

6. Michael Redd, SG, Bucks (PO)

Redd
The skinny: On July 1, 2005, Redd may very well be the hottest free agent on the market. He's making just $3 million in Milwaukee this year and tried to bolt the team two summers ago when he signed a three-year offer sheet with the Mavs. Since then he's become one of the league's best shooters and an all-star. He'll command a huge raise next summer, but many teams feel he'll be much more affordable than most of the overpriced players on the market. The fact that he'll be an unrestricted free agent makes things less complicated for teams that want to pursue him. Given the salary limitations of the Bucks and the fact that they paid Desmond Mason big bucks last summer, will they really be able to outbid other teams next summer?

7. Tony Parker, PG, Spurs (R)

Parker
The skinny: If he doesn't sign an extension with the Spurs this fall, Parker will be the only top-tier point guard on the market next summer. That could translate into big bucks for the 22-year-old from France. Steve Nash, who is eight years older, pulled down a six-year, $60 million deal from the Mavs. Given the dearth of point guards on the market, Parker could easily exceed that. A number of teams (the Hawks, Warriors, Blazers and Sonics) will all need a point guard next year. Will the Spurs match? Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has a love hate relationship with Parker. The Spurs are so conservative financially, it's not out of the question that they'll balk at the asking price to keep Parker in San Antonio.

8. Shareef Abdur-Rahim, PF, Blazers

Abdur-Rahim
The skinny: Abdur-Rahim is an enigma. Every year he puts up great stats on whatever team he's playing for, but he's never played on a team with a winning record. Never. He's threatening to hold out the season if the Blazers don't trade him. He knows that Zach Randolph is their future star at the four and doesn't want to play the three next year. At just 27 years of age, Abdur-Rahim still has plenty of juice left. He'd be perfect on a team like the Cavaliers, where he can play second or third fiddle to a star.

9. Zydrunas Ilgauskas, C, Cavs

Ilgauskas
The skinny: It's pretty rare when an all-star-caliber center comes on the unrestricted market. Ilgauskas has issues. He turns 30 next June and has a history of foot injuries that would scare away any team doctor. However, his ability to score in the paint and block shots makes him a coveted commodity in a league that lacks big guys. The Cavs want to re-sign him, but at about half of the $14 million he'll make next season. If Ilgauskas pushes for more, don't be shocked if the Cavs turn around and trade him before the deadline in an effort to salvage something in return.

10. Samuel Dalembert, C, Sixers (R)

Dalembert
The skinny: This spot could easily belong to Kwame Brown or Eddy Curry. What all three have in common is that they're young, big and still unproven. But of all of the talented big men from the class of 2001, Dalembert is the most coveted at the moment. His April numbers (12.3 ppg, 12.4 rpg, 4.8 bpg) were stunning. Dalembert has the size, athleticism and work ethic to be a Ben Wallace-type defensive force somewhere down the road. Brown and Curry may have more upside offensively, but Dalembert is more proven defensively. Given what the Pistons did this year, that's a skill that is suddenly a hot commodity. The Sixers are telling everyone that he's untouchable and that they plan to re-sign him … but at what price. If Dalembert could duplicate his April numbers all of next season, he's looking at near max-type numbers. The Sixers aren't prepared to offer him anything near that right now.

Best of the rest

Player/Team Option: Shaquille O'Neal, C, Heat (PO); Keith Van Horn, F, Bucks (PO); Cuttino Mobley, SG, Magic (PO); Jalen Rose, SG, Raptors (PO); Grant Hill, SF, Magic (PO); Jamal Mashburn, SF, Hornets (PO); Bonzi Wells, SG, Grizzlies (TO); Antonio Daniels, PG, Sonics (PO); Eddie Jones, SG, Heat (PO); Nick Van Exel, PG, Blazers (TO); Bobby Jackson, PG, Kings (TO); Devean George, SF, Lakers (PO); Peja Drobjnak, C, Hawks (TO); Austin Croshere, F, Pacers (PO); Cliff Robinson, F, Warriors (TO)

Note: It's very unlikely that most of the players on the above list will exercise their player options, that's why they weren't listed on the Top 10 list. The only exceptions could be Mobley and Daniels, who might opt out in an attempt to get more money elsewhere.

Unrestricted: Theo Ratliff, C, Blazers; Stromile Swift, F, Grizzlies; Darius Miles, F, Blazers; Antoine Walker, F, Hawks; Donyell Marshall, F, Raptors; Latrell Sprewell, SG, Timberwolves; Jeff McInnis, PG, Cavs; Kerry Kittles, SG, Clippers; Larry Hughes, G, Wizards; Glenn Robinson, SF, Sixers; Damon Stoudamire, PG, Blazers; Jerome James, C, Sonics; Gary Payton, PG, Celtics; Jahidi White, C, Bobcats; Dale Davis, C, Warriors; Bo Outlaw, F, Grizzlies; Ervin Johnson, C, Timberwolves; Raja Bell, G/F, Jazz; Mark Madsen, F, Timberwolves; Tyronn Lue, PG, Rockets; Darrell Armstrong, PG, Hornets.

Restricted: Kwame Brown, PF, Wizards; Tyson Chandler, F/C, Bulls; Eddy Curry, C, Bulls; Joe Johnson, G/F, Suns; Jason Richardson, SG, Warriors; Troy Murphy, PF, Warriors; Jamaal Tinsley, PG, Pacers; Vladimir Radmanovic, F, Sonics; Marko Jarics, PG, Clippers; Brendon Haywood, C, Wizards; Gerald Wallace, G/F, Bobcats; Jason Collins, C, Nets; Primoz Brezec, C, Bobcats; DeSagana Diop, C, Cavs.

Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.