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Monday, June 30, 2008

NBA FREE AGENCY STARTS TUESDAY....... HERE ARE THE BEST OF THIS YEARS CROP.











In looking for a contract worth $100 million or more, Gilbert Arenas may have limited his options to one team, his Washington Wizards.
Theodore A. Wagner/Icon SMIMarty Burns's Mailbag


The NBA's free agent signing period begins Tuesday, meaning teams can begin talking to free agents, but don't expect a whirlwind of activity right away. For one, contracts cannot be signed until July 9. Also, this year's crop is considered mediocre at best -- and only three teams (the Sixers, Grizzlies and maybe the Clippers) are far enough below the salary cap to make a run at a top-tier free agent.
The rest of the league's teams will be limited to using their mid-level exception, which means they can offer a prospective free agent a deal starting at around $5.8 million.
The biggest intrigue heading into Tuesday might be which players decide to exercise "opt out" clauses in their contracts to become free agents. Elton Brand, Baron Davis, Ron Artest and Corey Maggette are among those who must decide Monday. Of that group, only Maggette is considered likely to test the waters.

Here's a quick primer on the 2008 free agent market:

Three teams that could make a splash
1. Sixers:
Philadelphia will be around $11 million under the cap, and GM Ed Stefanski has said he won't be afraid to use it to pursue a big-time free agent. The Sixers have needs at power forward and shooting guard. Josh Smith, Antawn Jamison and Maggette are among the players who could be targets.
2. Grizzlies: Memphis has around $15 million to spend, but it will be more like $12 million if it signs Spanish center Marc Gasol as expected. The Grizzlies could use a veteran shooting guard to help while top rookie O.J. Mayo learns the NBA game. Or Memphis can hold on to the money and use it next year.
3. Clippers: It's not likely to happen, but L.A. could get some $15-20 million under the cap if Brand and Maggette both were to opt out and sign elsewhere. The Clippers say they intend to re-sign both. But if they were to walk, L.A. would be in position to nab a big-time player.
Three teams facing tough decisions
1. Hawks:
With two key restricted free agents in Smith and Josh Childress, new Hawks GM Rick Sund has his work cut out for him. Smith, in particular, is likely to get a whopper offer. He's a major talent, for sure, but is he the kind of leader they need to take their franchise to the next level?

2. Bulls:
Like the Hawks, the Bulls have two restricted free agents in Luol Deng and Ben Gordon. GM John Paxson already has Kirk Hinrich on the books at a high salary for a number of years, so he might have to make a choice. He also has a glut of guards, making a sign-and-trade involving Gordon a definite possibility.
3. Warriors: GM Chris Mullin has seven free agents, including restricted free agents Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins. He says he plans to keep them both. But with Don Nelson likely in his last year, does Golden State want to invest heavily in two players who might not thrive as readily in a different system?

Three best unrestricted free agents
1. Gilbert Arenas: The explosive point guard opted out of the final year of his contract and is seeking a max deal worth around $120 million over six years. But Philly and Memphis already are set at point guard, so it's hard to see where he could go to get his riches. Barring a sign-and-trade, he'll likely settle for a compromise with the Wizards along the lines of $100 million for six years.
2. Antawn Jamison: The 6-9 All-Star forward is a proven scorer inside and out, and a good clubhouse presence. He won't make the $16.3 million he did a year ago, but he will get a nice offer somewhere. The Sixers, in need of a veteran frontcourt scorer, are said to be interested. But Arenas has made it clear he wants Jamison back in the fold, and the Wizards will likely bring him back, too.
3. Corey Maggette: The 6-6 veteran swingman is expected to opt out of a deal that paid him $7 million next season, so he is going to want more than that. Coming off a season in which he averaged 22.1 points and 5.6 rebounds, Maggette will be in high demand. The Magic, for one, would love to have him. If the Clippers can't re-sign him, they will do a sign-and-trade to get something for him.
Best of the rest: Beno Udrih, DeSegana Diop, James Posey, Ricky Davis, Kurt Thomas, Mickael Pietrus, James Jones, Jason Williams, Eddie House, Carlos Arroyo, Tyronn Lue, Chris Duhon, Sam Cassell

Three best restricted free agents
1. Josh Smith:
The athletic Smith had a big year (17.2 points, 8.2 boards, 1.5 steals, 2.8 blocks) for a Hawks team on the rise. At age 22, he might just be scratching the surface. He could fetch a deal starting at $12-13 million per year, forcing the Hawks to decide whether they want to match.
2. Emeka Okafor: The '05 Rookie of the Year turned down a reported $60 million extension last year in hopes of cashing in this summer. Good big men are hard to find, and he's coming off a season in which he averaged 13.8 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks.
3. Andre Iguodala: The 6-8 small forward is coming off a strong season in which he helped lead Philly back to the playoffs. He passed on a reported $57 million extension last year. It is possible he'll get an offer in that range again, but the Sixers will probably match.
Best of the rest: Jose Calderon, Ellis, Deng, Gordon, Childress, J.R. Smith, Nenad Krstic, Biedrins, Sebastian Telfair

Three potential bargains
1. James Jones:
The 6-8 forward quietly put together a strong season last year for the Blazers, finishing third in the NBA in three-point shooting (44.0 percent) while bringing other intangibles that helped that young team blossom. He opted out of the final year of his contract ($3.1 million), but he probably could be picked up for only slightly more.
2. Pietrus: Once considered a rising star in Golden State, he has been buried on the bench in Nelson's system. But the 6-6 swingman is a terrific athlete who can defend and shoot the three. With a change of scenery, Pietrus just might live up to his potential and turn out to be a steal at the right price.
3. Chris Quinn: The second-year guard from Notre Dame was one of the few bright spots for the Heat last season. Filling in for the injured Jason Williams, he averaged around 15 points and six assists down the stretch with a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Quinn is restricted, and the Heat will probably match any offer, but it might be worth a shot for a team seeking a hard-nosed guard who can shoot with range.

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