I don't understand why Earl Watson is still available.
Still shopping season in the Association
By John Hollinger
So much for the "Allan Houston rule."
Several new names came on the free-agent market Monday as a result of the new collective bargaining agreement's tax-amnesty provision. Surprisingly, Knicks guard Allan Houston wasn't one of them. Maybe we'll call it the Vin Baker rule instead, based on the titillating prospect of Baker's getting waived by two different teams on the same day (ultimately, only the Celtics waived Baker's contract).
The Knicks cut loose forward Jerome Williams instead of Houston, while other notables such as Dallas' Michael Finley and Orlando's Doug Christie also were on the chopping block. Those new free agents join an unusually large pool of players who have persisted on the free-agent market into late summer. As a result, several quality players remain on the market.
Let's break down the five best players left at each position and where they might be headed. For each, I've included last season's per-40-minute stats and PER -- Player Efficiency Rating, my rating of a player's per-minute statistical production (as explained here, the average player has a 15.0 PER):
1. Earl Watson (13.6 pts, 7.9 ast, 13.04 PER)
Watson's PER isn't as good as the other point guards', but he's the best defender by a mile -- arguably the best defensive point guard in basketball, in fact. That's created plenty of demand, but he's driven off suitors by seeking a team's full mid-level exception.
2. Brevin Knight (13.7 pts, 12.2 ast, 18.06 PER)
Knight played out of his mind last season and has almost no chance of repeating it, but it's still surprising to see such tepid demand for him. With few bites from contenders, chances are he'll return to Charlotte and help groom Raymond Felton.
3. Damon Jones (14.8 pts, 5.4 ast, 15.57 PER)
Jones had a career year but is having trouble getting Cleveland and Miami to raise their bids above the $3.5 million area. At some point he'll have to choose which team will underpay him. Regardless, he'll be starting for a contender and getting lots of open 3s.
4. Gary Payton (13.7 pts, 7.4 ast, 15.18 PER)
Though still a productive offensive player, The Glove's defense is more like "Smell the Glove" these days. He won't be returning to Boston but has several options, including a return to the Lakers.
5. Dan Dickau (17.0 pts, 6.6 ast, 14.85 PER)
Dickau resurrected his career in New Orleans but won't be back after the Hornets drafted Chris Paul. Dickau has had a few nibbles but probably will have to wait for Jones and Watson to go off the market before he gets any serious offers.
1. Michael Finley (17.0 pts, 4.4 reb, 14.34 PER)
A star for most of the past decade, Finley declined sharply last year and Dallas dropped him using the amnesty rule. It remains to be seen whether he'll bounce back, but for the price of a mid-level exception several teams would happily take the risk. ESPN.com's Marc Stein has already broken down the four leading contenders for his services.
2. DerMarr Johnson (16.3 pts, 4.9 reb, 13.97 PER)
Here's the other reason demand for Finley is sky-high: Look at the rest of the shooting guard crop. Going from Finley to Johnson is a drop of Himalayan proportions. Johnson's length makes him a defensive asset and he can hit the 3, but the search for an off-the-dribble game continues. The Nuggets and Spurs both have shown interest in Johnson if they lose the Finley sweepstakes.
3. Greg Buckner (11.4 pts, 5.5 reb, 13.67 PER)
The good-field, no-hit Buckner is useful only as a role player. Buckner had perhaps his best season a year ago but still underwhelmed with his scoring. While his defense will get him a contract somewhere, his inability to find the basket is dampening demand.
4. Doug and Jackie Christie (Doug: 9.0 pts, 5.6 ast, 9.92 PER; Jackie: 0.0 pts, 0.0 ast, 0.00 PER)
A package deal, the Christies suffered through a rough campaign last year thanks to Doug's foot problems and a swarm of reality TV producers. They were waived by Orlando via the amnesty rule but already have an agreement in place to join Dallas; presuming they clear waivers this week.
5. Derek Anderson (14.0 pts, 4.6 ast, 11.68 PER)
An amnesty-rule casualty who was waived by the Blazers, Anderson ventured into free agency with heady talk of getting a team's full mid-level exception but seems to have shifted into a more reality-based view of the marketplace. Several teams have shown interest at a more reasonable price, hoping that his once-potent jumper can return from a two-year siesta.
1. Gerald Wallace (14.5 pts, 7.2 reb, 14.07 PER)
The lack of interest in Wallace has been one of the summer's more mystifying events. He's an outstanding defender, he scores enough to keep defenses honest, and he's very young (just 23). Nevertheless, he might have to take the Bobcats' one-year tender due to the absence of other suitors.
2. Devin Brown (16.4 pts, 5.2 reb, 14.57 PER)
A versatile performer who has been stuck in a deep Spurs rotation, Brown can shoot, defend and create shots. A late-season back problem has stifled interest, however. Utah is the only team to recruit him heavily, so Brown may stay in the Alamo City -- his hometown -- for another year.
3. Glenn Robinson (22.9 pts, 6.1 reb, 17.10 PER)
Big Dog played only 157 minutes last year, but his numbers should have gotten some people's attention. No strong offers have been reported yet, but considering Robinson's solid showing in San Antonio, a team looking for scoring punch off the bench should be dialing his agent soon.
4. Damien Wilkins (14.1 pts, 5.1 reb, 13.36 PER)
The son of Gerald and nephew of Dominique, this Wilkins held his own in limited minutes with the Sonics last season. He's a restricted free agent but is being seriously courted by Minnesota.
5. Latrell Sprewell (16.7 pts, 4.1 reb, 12.10 PER)
For the sake of his starving kids, let's hope somebody gives Spree a contract. He made a colossal blunder in turning down the Wolves' three-year, $21-million extension offer last fall. He'll be lucky to earn a tenth of that this season.
1. Darius Songaila (14.6 pts, 8.3 reb, 14.93 PER)
Teams were reluctant to chase Songaila because of his restricted-free-agent status, but the gloves are off now that Sacramento signed Shareef Abdur-Rahim to play Songaila's position. Songaila doesn't defend or rebound enough to make him worth the full mid-level exception, but many teams could use his offensive punch off the pine.
2. Vladimir Radmanovic (16.0 pts, 6.2 reb, 13.68 PER)
Despite his agent's wild contract demands, Radmanovic is a very ordinary player and has been his whole career. Seattle has an offer of six years, $40 million on the table. Vlad should quickly sign it before the Sonics come to their senses and realize they get a better player for half as much by signing Songaila.
3. Eddie Griffin (14.1 pts, 12.1 reb, 15.96 PER)
Griffin has the most talent of any free-agent forward, with great shot-blocking instincts, good rebounding skills and 3-point range. But his inability to stay out of trouble had most teams backing away, as Griffin spent two weeks of his summer in the can. He looks set to stay in Minnesota on a two-year deal.
4. Reggie Evans (8.2 pts, 15.6 reb, 12.96 PER)
Evans was the best per-minute rebounder in basketball last season, but his inability to score and propensity for turnovers mean he's still a mediocre player overall. He's also a restricted free agent, so few other clubs have been anxious to get in on the bidding. Fortunately for the Sonics, there is a glut of free-agent power forwards -- Christian Laettner, Mikki Moore and Scott Padgett are three others who didn't quite make the list -- which should drive Evans' price down considerably.
5. Jerome Williams (11.9 pts, 9.3 reb, 13.20 PER)
Surprisingly, the Junkyard Dog was dumped by the Knicks and should generate some interest with his ability to defend and rebound. While he saw little action in New York last season, Williams played fairly effectively when he was on the court and has thrived in the past as an energizer-type off the bench.
1. Tyson Chandler (11.7 pts, 14.2 reb, 16.50 PER)
Chandler had one of the best rebound rates in basketball last season and was a major force at the defensive end, but his restricted-free-agent status has kept suitors at bay. Chandler and the Bulls are rumored to be close to agreement on a deal for Samuel Dalembert-type dollars, of which Chandler is much more deserving than Dalembert.
2. Eddy Curry (22.3 pts, 7.4 reb, 16.22 PER)
Curry might as well be radioactive right now. Nobody wants to touch him for two reasons. First, he's a restricted free agent, and second, teams can't get his contract insured because of a heart problem. The most likely option seems to be his taking the Bulls' one-year tender, but little is settled at the moment.
3. Dale Davis (8.7 pts, 11.5 reb, 13.32 PER)
Davis is a veteran tough guy whose shooting range doesn't extend past the end of this sentence, but several teams have expressed interest in securing Davis' physical play off the bench via a one- or two-year deal. A return to Indiana seems the most likely route unless another club coughs up a chunk of its mid-level exception.
4. Vitaly Potapenko (14.0 pts, 9.3 reb, 14.45 PER)
Potapenko played well in limited minutes last year and appears likely to return to Seattle to take over the starting center spot. It shouldn't be hard for him to improve the Sonics, as he'll be hard-pressed to be any worse than Jerome James.
5. Robert Traylor (12.3 pts, 10.0 reb, 11.96 PER)
Cleveland declined Traylor's option to pile up more cap space, but an off year from the Tractor also played an important role. Obviously, conditioning is an issue, but if he's in reasonable shape his scoring numbers should recover from last year's surprising drop.
John Hollinger, author of "Pro Basketball Forecast 2005-06," writes for ESPN Insider.