[Editor's note: Today Ric looks at players 11-20 on his Top 20 list. Tomorrow, it's players 1-10.]
Thanks to the Spurs, Cavaliers and Magic, it's possible to believe that at least some NBA teams are more committed to raising a championship banner than protecting their profit margin.
Now the questions are: how committed? Will anybody else join the party? And if they do, will they make the right choices?
While the 2010 free-agent class might be loaded with franchise cornerstones, the current class has enough cornices and rebar to upgrade a team from fixer-upper to showcase status. Even if Kobe Bryant, Mehmet Okur and Carlos Boozer opt to enter the pool, the options for reworking a team's foundation are limited. (Bryant has indicated he'd only opt out to sign a longer deal with the Lakers, so he is not included in the rankings.) That's not great for Detroit and Oklahoma City, who have the most cap room and are looking to upgrade their core. But for teams in search of specialty items, there is an array of young role players and battle-tested veterans available.
The key, as always, is paying the right price and adding pieces that don't just look nice, but fit the décor. The 76ers blew their budget landing Elton Brand last summer, not anticipating that he'd bog down their up-tempo offense. The Clippers emptied the till to get Baron Davis, not figuring on Brand's defection or Davis balking at coach Mike Dunleavy's play-calling. The Magic, conversely, made a lower-profile move in signing guard Mickael Pietrus, but his athleticism, 3-point shooting and ability to defend bigger wings filled a glaring need at shooting guard and made him an invaluable ingredient in getting them to the Finals.
It's through that lens that we'll examine the 20 free agents (11-20 on Monday, 1-10 on Tuesday) who could have the biggest impact next season, either on their current teams if they're re-signed or on a new team badly needing their services. To help any real or imaginary GMs, a synopsis of what each player can deliver at this stage of his career (which might not match popular opinion) and the best and worst systems for him are included. You know, just in case someone's thinking of building a grand staircase for a mobile home.
*UFA = Unrestricted free agent
*RFA = Restricted free agent
11. Jason Kidd, PG, Mavericks (UFA)
His game: Vast change from Kidd of yesteryear. Now he's a respectable spot-up shooter and defender who plays angles and shepherds his man into help. Still has uncanny ability to find an open man with the game on the line, milk a hot hand or recognize a mismatch. Good post-up threat but no longer finishes in traffic. Pass-ahead, fast-break starter off rebounds.
Right system: A balanced offense that he can initiate, but which features a threat who requires double teams. Still good in a team-defense concept, so needs smart teammates and an organized coach. Athletic wings are a must to exploit his outlet passes and protect him on defense. Lots of off-the-ball, pass-and-cut movement allows him to utilize his passing, vision and timing.
Wrong System: A rip-and-run offensive style with no title-contending hopes or aspirations or players capable of moving without the ball.
Best Fits: Mavericks, Lakers, Cavaliers, Rockets, Magic, Hawks, Celtics
12. Ron Artest, SF, Rockets (UFA)
His game: A matchup nightmare because of his 3-point shooting, handle and physical ability to take contact and still score. Enlivened by defensive challenges, his strength, tenacity and deceptive agility -- even if it has diminished -- make him a rather aggravating cover guy.
Right system: Half-court game with a calm, communicating coach adept at exploiting offensive mismatches. A team with a solid decision-making star who has enough game to command Artest's trust and respect.
Wrong System: My-way-or-highway coach without a star bigger than Artest, one that demands its small forward make plays or one that has no chance at the playoffs.
Best Fits: Lakers, Rockets, Celtics, Cavaliers
13. Mike Bibby, PG, Hawks (UFA)
His game: One of the best 3-point shooting PGs in league. Still effective on pick-and-rolls but more of a set-up-the-offense, flare-to-the-corner type now. A defensive liability but better in a strong team concept. Is not a playmaker but doesn't try to be one; moves the ball on the perimeter, happy to feed and play off a bona fide star.
Right system: Thrives with passing big men, a slower pace, a player's coach and at least one screen-setting big man. Long, athletic, hardnosed wings are recommended so he can hide on defense.
Wrong system: Anywhere that requires him to create shots or provide dribble penetration. A team that lacks a shotblocker or at least one defensive-oriented wing.
Best Fits: Hawks, Blazers, Rockets, Grizzlies, Wizards, Hornets
14. Shawn Marion, SF/PF, Raptors (UFA)
His game: Even though age has somewhat diminished his legendary pogo-stick legs, the faster the game, the better he is. Unheralded defender, both helping and on the ball. Moves well off the ball and has array of flip shots from 10 feet and in. Can make 3s but at this point is most effective when he keeps those to a minimum.
Right system: Up-tempo with a first-rate passing point guard. Moves well enough that he can play with or without a dominant post player.
Wrong system: Lots of chuckers, because Marion's energy suffers without touches and when his defensive responsibilities are overly isolated.
Best Fits: Knicks, Hornets, Bulls, 76ers, Suns, Raptors
15. Paul Millsap, PF, Jazz (RFA)
His game: Space-eater around the rim. Tenacious rebounder, especially good at cleaning up the offensive boards. Can score in the post but limited as a passer. Face-up game is almost acceptable. No jumper beyond 15 feet. Not a shotblocker but very good at keeping bigger, more talented players off the block or away from their spots.
Right system: Needs shooters around him and a playmaking, penetrating point guard. Works best in a structured system in which he has a well-defined, contributing role.
Wrong System: An up-tempo, free-flowing offense or a defense without a shotblocker or solid perimeter defenders. Has neither shotblocking chops nor agility to help on dribble drives. Would get lost next to a post-dominating big man.
Best Fits: Jazz, Blazers, Suns, Celtics, Pistons, Nuggets
16. Drew Gooden, PF, Spurs (UFA)
His game: Designated post-up scorer. Is not going to block shots or find cutters but is an above-average rebounder and can create shots for himself on the block, a precious commodity.
Right system: A simple but disciplined one, where his marching orders are clear. Look for him to provide points when the offense bogs down and jumpers are not falling, and he won't disappoint.
Wrong System: A read-and-react format where he has to provide a defensive post presence or make plays.
Best Fits: Spurs, Bulls, Heat, Blazers
17. Allen Iverson, PG/SG, Pistons (UFA)
His game: Improvisational scorer, still capable of breaking down almost any defender off the dribble. Age, plus wear-and-tear, has him relying more on his midrange jumper than getting to the rim. Needs a strong-but-thoughtful coach to keep him focused and committed.
Right system: A team that has a need for an electric scorer off the bench, featuring a loose, offensive-oriented attack and a locker room/coach strong enough to keep him happy with that role. Preferably without a post scorer to clog up the lane.
Wrong System: Highly structured scheme that doesn't have at least two excellent perimeter defenders to hide Iverson's steal-or-else defensive approach. A coach without a pedigree would not be good, either.
Best Fits: Magic, Warriors, Wizards, Celtics, Suns
18. David Lee, PF/C, Knicks (RFA)
His game: Energy and defense without needing plays called for him. Will sacrifice his body on screens and charges. Undersized but athletic, hardnosed and low maintenance. Rebound and loose-ball fiend. Good hands and decent with putbacks and finishing around the rim off pick-and-roll. Not much of a threat beyond 15 feet or on post-ups. Willing help defender, but not a shotblocker.
Right system: Up-tempo is ideal because he'll outrun most bigs in transition. Need at least three scorers, ideally four, so he has room and reason to chase down rebounds and putbacks. Can't play off an offensive post threat because he doesn't have the jumper to space the floor. Mobile enough to show on the guard in pick-and-roll defense and get back to a rolling big.
Wrong System: A methodical half-court set with a dominant scoring center who is not a shotblocker.
Best Fits: Suns, Blazers, Jazz, Rockets, Thunder, Warriors
19. Linas Kleiza, SF, Nuggets (RFA)
His game: Streaky spot-up shooter from 3-point range. No real in-between game. Unafraid to go strong to the rim and has the muscle to take contact and finish. Good lane-filler on the break. Willing on-the-ball defender who fights over screens and uses his size well to crowd opponents. Not much of a help defender.
Right system: Needs a playmaking point guard or double-team drawing star because he doesn't create his own shot. Better in a team-oriented, lock-em-up, defensive system with a bona fide shotblocker so he can crowd opponents and use his strength without fear of getting beat off the dribble. Also better in a structured offense because he moves without the ball well and understands spacing.
Wrong System: An up-and-down style with lots of one-on-one play because he'll get lost in the shuffle, which is what happened in Denver last season.
Best fits: Cavs, Lakers, Hornets, Spurs, Magic
20. Channing Frye SF/PF Blazers (RFA)
His game: Solid jump shooter with 3-point range. Unafraid to take and make crunch-time shots, even when playing limited minutes. High basketball IQ. Not a physical player but can post up players his size or smaller. Limited defensively by his size and strength but makes an effort.
Right system: A drive-and-kick offense willing and able to move the ball around the perimeter and disciplined defense with willing and able help defenders. Not a shotblocker, so he needs to be protected -- not the protector -- around the rim.
Wrong System: Up-tempo, fast break style. Just not quick or explosive enough to make that work as an undersized power forward. Not going to flourish with a shoot-first point guard, either.
Best fits: Pistons, Heat, Magic