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Bottom feeders look to be players next summerBy Chad Ford
Wait until next year.
That's the mantra being pushed in Charlotte, New Orleans/Oklahoma City, and to a lesser extent, in Atlanta and Chicago, now that all of the top free agents have found homes and all four teams have little to show for their efforts this summer. The Lakers take this exercise one step further, telling everyone to wait two years as they prepare to make their big splash in the summer of 2007.
Chances are Big Ben will keep doing the dirty work in Detroit.
What they do have, along with several other teams, is a boatload of cap space with which to work next year.
Assuming the cap stays at around $50 million, a number of teams will be looking at a lot of cap room next summer. The Bobcats, Hawks, Bulls and Hornets all will have more than $10 million in cap space at their disposal.
Will they really want or be able to use it? Every year, free agent dreams always seem to come up a little short. Sure Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady bolted for new homes in 2000, and Steve Nash stunned the Mavericks last summer when he left for Phoenix. But on average, top-tier free agents rarely defect from the hometown team. Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant and, this season, Ray Allen and Michael Redd all came close. But usually it's second-tier free agents, such as Joe Johnson and Larry Hughes (although they're paid like superstars in their new contracts), who bolt.
Next season should be no different. Only one superstar, the Pistons' Ben Wallace, is available and the chances of his leaving Detroit are very, very slim.
The second group has a number of talented unrestricted free agents who will be looking for greener pastures next season -- headed by the Kings' Peja Stojakovic, the Bulls' Eddy Curry, the Sonics' Vladimir Radmanovic and the Hawks' Al Harrington.
The restricted free-agent class is shaky. Yao Ming and Amare Stoudemire, the two stars from the class, are in the process of being locked up with long-term deals with the Rockets and Suns. The rest of the group is well ... unproven. That might make them available, but remember, going after restricted free agents in the summer is always a dicey proposition. Only three top restricted free agents changed teams this summer. The Hawks had to overpay for Joe Johnson and the Clippers followed form by letting restricted free agents Bobby Simmons and Marko Jaric walk.
Here's Insider's first sneak peek at the free-agent class of 2006. Sorry if this list doesn't generate a ton of season-ticket sales in Charlotte or Atlanta.
Top 10 2006 Potential Free Agents
Key: (R) = Restricted free agent | (PO) = Player Option | (ETO) = Player Early Termination Option
1. Ben Wallace, F/C, Pistons
The skinny: The Pistons will do everything in their power to re-sign Wallace to a long-term extension before he hits free agency next summer. Wallace is still the top post defender in the NBA, is an amazing rebounder and shot blocker, and brings with him some real intangibles. Wallace did just turn 31 years old and can't keep it up forever. Offensively, he's still way below average and the free-throw problem was as bad as ever last season. But he remains a vital cog in the Pistons' engine -- one they can't afford to lose.
2. Peja Stojakovic, F, Kings (ETO)
The skinny: Last season it appeared to be almost a forgone conclusion that Stojakovic's days in Sacramento were numbered. The Maloofs, who are suddenly getting a little budget conscious, knew he wanted max-type dollars once his contract came up. Stojakovic was upset that the team didn't re-sign Vlade Divac, didn't always get along with Chris Webber, and started off the season in a major funk. However, the Kings traded Webber and Stojakovic ended the season on a tear.
Can Peja lead the new-look Kings to a title?
Now, with the additions of Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Bonzi Wells, the Kings appear poised to challenge again for the Western Conference title. If Stojakovic can get them there, expect the Maloofs to reward him with a nice, fat contract. If he doesn't, it might be the excuse they need to break up the team and move in a different direction. Either way, chances are Stojakovic, who turned 28 in June, gets paid next summer.
3. Eddy Curry, C, Bulls
The skinny: Unless his heart problem is worse than he's letting on, Curry shouldn't sweat his summer-long standoff with the Bulls. GM John Paxson knows what he's doing. There is no market for Curry this year and he's not about to overpay. Paxson knows that there is no way the Bulls, or anyone else except Isiah Thomas, are going to give Curry a long, guaranteed contract until they feel comfortable with his heart situation. Since the Knicks are hopelessly capped out, there's no place for Curry to go but to take the Bulls' one-year tender, play his butt off this season and prove to GMs that his heart (both figuratively and literally) is just fine. If he does, the Bulls might be the first to step up to the table and offer a huge deal.
4. Tayshaun Prince, F, Pistons (R)
The skinny: After three years in the league, Prince is still flying under the radar. That's thanks, in part, to his no frills games, and also due to his largely anonymous role on a team loaded with anonymous, but deadly-effective players. Prince had a real breakthrough after the All-Star break averaging 17.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg and shooting nearly 49 percent from the field.
He has the wingspan of a 7-footer, is a fluid athlete, and can both defend and score. He still needs to be more assertive (his disappearing act against San Antonio in the Finals didn't help his cause) but if Joe Johnson can get $70 million for a desperate team under the cap ... who knows? The Pistons will work hard this summer to lock up Prince to an extension. It's going to take Richard Hamilton money (6 years, $56 million), maybe more, to get it done however.
5. Nene, PF/C, Nuggets (R)
The skinny: He's 6-foot-11, weighs 260 pounds, is an amazing athlete and just turned 23 years old. That alone is enough to turn just about everyone's head. After a disappointing season plagued by injuries, coaching changes and rotation issues, Nene is hoping that this is the season that he takes his game to the next level.
Concerns about his relative lack of rebounding and injury woes didn't stop a number of teams from trying to acquire him via trade this summer. The Nuggets tried to use him as bait to pry away Paul Pierce, and will continue to see if his upside can land them the star two guard they desperately need. If he stays in Denver all season and has a good year, he could be one of the hottest names on the market.
6. Al Harrington, F, Hawks
The skinny: The future for Harrington in Atlanta is questionable, both this year and beyond. The team is going young and drafted a player with the No. 2 pick in the draft, Marvin Williams, who plays the same position as Harrington. Look for the Hawks to try to find a home for Harrington before the trade deadline, especially if the addition of Joe Johnson doesn't translate into more wins.
Al Harrington looks like the odd man out in Atlanta.
Next year, he'll likely be a hot commodity. Though he's never put up big numbers, even in Atlanta, he's only 25 years old and averaged 17.5 ppg and 7 rpg last season. Given how thin the market is, that should be enough to get Al paid next season.
7. Vladimir Radmanovic, F, Sonics
The skinny: The chances of Radmanovic's staying in Seattle next season are slim to none. The minute that he took their one-year tender offer, the wheels of his departure were set in motion. Unfortunately for the Sonics, they'll be unable to trade him this season, which means they might lose him for nothing.
Radmanovic wants to start and he was looking for upward of $80 million over six years to do it. The Sonics couldn't satisfy either demand (not that we blame them). The question is, will anyone else next summer? After reportedly getting into a locker room brawl with one of his own teammates at the European Championships, he's already off to a rocky start this season.
8. Jason Terry, G, Mavs
The skinny: Terry is coming off a very solid season for Dallas. After beginning the season on the bench behind rookie Devin Harris, he came on toward the end of the season and ended up posting an impressive 18.33 PER for the season. Terry shot over 50 percent from the field, 42 percent from the arc and kept turnovers to a minimum. However, he just turned 28 years old, and most GMs still feel that he's more of a combo guard than a true point guard. That could limit his value on the open market next summer.
9. Caron Butler, F, Wizards (R)
The skinny: Butler's career has been all over the place. A nice rookie season in Miami. An injury-filled sophomore campaign. A trade to the Lakers last summer and a subsequent trade to the Wizards this summer leave Butler on unsteady ground. Last season, Butler was an effective scorer for the Lakers, especially when Kobe Bryant was out of the lineup.
Knowing what Larry Hughes was able to do despite the ball-hogging ways of Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison should give him hope of a potential breakout season.
10. Joel Przybilla, C, Blazers
The skinny: He's still an offensive liability, but last season Przybilla turned himself into a rebounding and shot-blocking machine for the Blazers. He ranked seventh in the league in blocked shots per game despite averaging only 24 mpg. And his rebounding rate (rebounds per minute) had him ranked in the top 10 in the league. Given the dearth of centers in the draft and in the open market, Przybilla could cash in big-time if he keeps it up this season. At just 25, he still has some upside left in him.
Others to watch:
Unrestricted: James Posey, G/F, Miami (PO); Matt Harpring, F, Jazz; Keith Van Horn, F, Mavs; Lorenzen Wright, F/C, Memphis; Speedy Claxton, PG, Hornets; Tim Thomas, F, Knicks; Kelvin Cato, F/C, Magic; Marc Jackson, C, Nets (ETO); Bobby Jackson, G, Grizzlies; Nazr Mohammed, C, Spurs; Sam Cassell, PG, Clippers, Bonzi Wells, SG, Kings.
Restricted: Mike Dunleavy, F, Warriors; Drew Gooden, F, Cavs; Chris Wilcox, F, Clippers; Jared Jeffries, F, Wizards (R); Fred Jones, G, Pacers (R); Jiri Welsch, F, Bucks (R); Trevor Ariza, F, Knicks (R).