The 2011 NBA offseason has been and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, an example of basketball purgatory in every sense of the word with the unassuming lockout, European infested draft, and a lackluster class of free agents. However, being an optimistic fan that expects the season to occur, shortened, or not, I remain hopeful that the recent NBA power shift can continue with some smart signings by the teams that can afford them.
The "old-guard" teams like the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles, and the San Antonio appear to be capped out this offseason, giving the young teams on the rise like the Indiana Pacers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, and the New Jersey Nets, who all have ample cap room, chances to continue to close the gap in talent and experience.
There are some big-names in the free-agent class of 2011 such as Tyson Chandler, Nene Hilario, and David West, but when considering what they bring on the court, their injury history, and then how those two things coincide with their respective asking prices, a misjudgment of how those factors mix can quickly become a burden to a team’s future aspirations.
The ability to properly gauge a free-agents potential value to your present and future team is one that will be essential to any team going into the "new NBA" where a hard cap looks imminent. So I present you with the top-8 values in the 2011 free-agent class.
8. Kwame Brown C
I would completely understand if anyone were to be initially skeptical about Kwame Brown’s title of being a "good value", but when all things are considered he can be an above-average backup center who will rebound and defend his position effectively all for a price somewhere around one-million dollars.
Kwame actually played well last year for a middling Charlotte team where he averaged 7.9 points and 6.8 rebounds in 26 minutes of work per game.
Despite his respectable numbers, Kwame’s "bust status" and inconsistencies over the years have prevented him from improving his financial worth. If I’m the GM of a contender that needs a few cheap pieces here and there to fill out the bench, ahem…Knicks, I would take a flyer on Kwame. There’s really nothing to lose with this guy.
Winner: New York Knicks
7. Tayshaun Prince SF
Every February, leading up to the trade deadline, there is at least one trade rumor that is centered on a glue guy going to a contending team looking for that missing piece. It seems like Tayshaun Prince has been involved in one of them every year for the last three, or four years. Well, now teams can acquire his services without giving up any assets.
The most recent NBA championship team, the Dallas Mavericks, is just one big sticky compilation of glue guys around a star in Dirk Nowitzki. I believe that you could switch Tayshaun Prince with Deshawn Stevenson, or Shawn Marion, and you would get close to the same results.
Prince can post-up and finish well like a Shawn Marion, but he can also shoot the three effectively (a career 37% shooter from behind the arc). Prince’s greatest known asset is his length and defensive prowess as people often forget that he was an integral part of the dominant Piston defense that made them perennial Eastern Conference contenders for a good part of the previous decade.
I don’t expect Prince to garner any more than the veteran’s minimum because of his age and back injuries, but having him as the glue guy who can defend the stars at the small-forward position would be a huge boost for any playoff team looking to improve at that spot.
Winner: Los Angeles Clippers
6. Luc-Richard Mbah a Moute SF
Mbah a Moute is basically a Tayshaun Prince-lite without the versatility on the offensive end. However, Mbah a Moute is a bit bigger and can defend his position in the post much better than his older counterpart. This is where Mbah a Moute’s value becomes greater than that of Prince’s; he is only 24 years old and despite his limited offensive skills, he is already recognized as one of the top wing defenders in the entire league.
Mbah a Moute is a restricted free-agent, so there still is a pretty good chance that he will remain a defensive gem for the hard-nosed Milwaukee coach, Scott Skiles.
As a result of his limited offensive ability, he will not be considered an A-list free-agent, so he can be had for a somewhat reasonable price. He is only 24 years old, so he still has time to expand his game on offense.
His upside isn’t enormous in any way, but the least you will get out of him is a top-5 overall defender for the next 4-6 years. If a team can get him for somewhere between two and four million, I think he can be the steal of this offseason.
Expected Suitors: Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors, Utah Jazz
Winner: Milwaukee Bucks
5. Chuck Hayes PF/C
Hayes is an extremely undersized center at 6’6 who has received starter’s minutes because his 7’6 teammate, Yao Ming, has been injured for basically all of the last two years.
Hayes is a thick, tough, and tenacious frontcourt player than does almost nothing outside of playing defense and rebounding. The team rebounding and defensive statistics for the Houston Rockets last year were below-average because the undersized Hayes was exploited by bigger frontlines. However, if he is paired with a bigger power forward, or center, his flaws can be masked and his skills will become much more valuable.
He draws comparisons to a smaller Joel Anthony, or a smaller Anderson Varejao. Hayes is another energy/hustle guy that can give his opponents fits because of his relentlessness and strength on the block. His small stature will prove to hinder is financial status, so I think he can be had for between two and four million per year.
Hayes can be a starter if paired with the proper supporting cast, but for most teams, he can be an elite backup center that provides the prototypical "energy of the bench" that every contender needs.
Expected Suitors: Houston Rockets, New Jersey Nets, Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks
Winner: New Jersey Nets
4. Grant Hill SF
With the help of the legendary training staff in Phoenix, Grant Hill has resurrected his career and become a nice scoring wing that can play some defense from time to time. Despite his physical degeneration, Hill still has the experience and basketball IQ that few other players in the league have.
Hill saw his minutes take a hit after the trade that brought in Vince Carter and I think that his new role as a third, or fourth wing player off the bench could serve a playoff team make the leap towards contention next year.
Hill can still contribute on the offensive end with a decent mid-range jumper and the ability to create his own shot (which is a skill that is not as common in the NBA as one might think). However, due to his limited athletic ability, he won’t be able to stay with a Lebron James, or Carmelo Anthony on defense.
I can guarantee that a team will be getting a player in Grant Hill who will not falter in crunch time (ahemm…Lebrick) and knows where he needs to be, or what to do with the ball when the game is on the line.
Grant Hill can be a leader for his team in the first year because he is so highly respected by his peers for his past successes; his high character and efficient game will make him a highly sought after free-agent for any team looking for veteran leadership.
Expected Suitors: Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder
Winner: Oklahoma City Thunder (match made in heaven)
3. Shane Battier SF
Another former Blue Devil, and another great value in free agency. Shane Battier may not be the flashiest of players on offense, or on defense, but he is as consistent and efficient as any.
Battier is a good shooter as he has averaged 39% from three and 75% from the free throw line through his ten years in the league.
Battier’s claim to fame has been with his tenacious defense and high basketball IQ. Battier is still considered an elite wing defender, when he’s healthy of course, that can still start for a team at the small-forward position if he is surrounded by offensively superior players that will mask Battier’s own offensive deficiencies.
The reason I have Battier above Grant Hill and Tayshaun Prince, who are relatively similar players, is because of his age (32) and his remaining ability to guard the best wings in the game. Rarely will one ever see a defender completely shut down a Paul Pierce, or Lebron James, but those annoying defenders who really get up into the grills of the stars, will force the stars out of their games and instead commit silly fouls.
Shane Battier is worthy of a multi-year contract and an opportunity to start in the role of defensive stopper. The Mavericks showed the world how important it is to have a guy like Shawn Marion on a team and I think Battier can fit that mold on a championship team.
Expected Suitors: Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz, Milwaukee Bucks, New Jersey Nets
Winner: Utah Jazz (replacement for Andrei Kirilenko)
2. Tyson Chandler C
Tyson Chandler will be in competition with the other "marquee" players of this year’s class of free agents for the biggest contract. I would not be surprised in the least if he gets rewarded for his all-star caliber play last year with a 3-4 year contract worth about 8-10 million dollars per year.
I could probably count the number of true centers on my own hands, few of which are as talented as Chandler on the defensive end. Though some can claim that last year was an aberration and that the elevation of play is typical of any player heading into free agency, I think his uniqueness and the skill that he brings on the defensive end over-rule the arguments against him. Chandler also has his youth to cling to when negotiating what his asking price is, as he is still only 28 years old.
Chandler is very limited on the offensive end as he scores almost all of his points on dunks and alley oops; I also wouldn’t bet on him developing a post-up game in the future because of his long and lanky frame.
However, he is an elite rebounder, shot blocker, and front court defender. Players of his ilk are few and far between; he can be the difference between a first round exit and an appearance in the finals.
The combination of Chandler’s leadership, that was alluded to by Dirk himself many times throughout the season, and his skills on the defensive end make him a great value to any team lacking a defensive presence in the front-court.
Winner: Dallas Mavericks (If a hard-cap isn’t immediately put into effect)
1. Wilson Chandler SG/SF
Wilson Chandler is not a name that is highly recognized amongst NBA fans, but he will be in a few years. Chandler is 6’8 and 230 pounds who, though not elite, can defend shooting guards, small forwards, and power forwards. He has the athleticism that gives him the potential to be a poor-man’s Lebron James. Yes, I said it. Lebron James. The "poor man" part comes from his lack of passing ability, or the ability to shut down a player on defense. The similarities come from his dominating play in the fast break and in transition during which he can be one of the best finishers in the game.
Chandler can create his own shot and he also has a pretty solid mid-range jumper to combine with his excellent slashing ability. The thing I like most about Chandler is his versatility because he can be a mismatch against almost any team as he is too big for shooting guards and too quick for small/power forwards.
The guy is only 24 years old and his PER has increased every year he has been in the league. One might wonder why would someone want a guy that was one of the mainstays in every trade rumor involving the Knicks and Carmelo Anthony, but I believe the reason he was being offered is because the Knicks knew they wouldn’t be able to keep him from leaving in free agency if they were to also have Carmelo on the team.
I’m not sure that he will light the world on fire next year, so I don’t see veteran teams that are looking to win now going after Wilson Chandler. However, he can be a good get for a young team looking for a second or third option on offense. I really like this guy in case you haven’t noticed.
Expected Suitors: Denver Nuggets, Charlotte Bobcats, New Jersey Nets, Los Angeles Clippers, Toronto Raptors
Winner: Charlotte Bobcats