Posted Jun 5 2010 9:48AM
King James talks to Larry King and the world tries to read between the royal lines. Dwyane Wade grins and everyone is scrambling to interpret the meaning behind the smile. Chris Bosh wavers, Joe Johnson wonders and Dirk Nowitzki tries to figure out how he'll ever get another shot back in the Finals.
As the countdown clock to Decision Day -- July 1 -- continues to tick, so much of the focus is on the players at the head of the headiest class of free agents in history. But even after LeBron, D-Wade and the other stars have made their choices there will still be plenty of other free agent talent available to help change the fortunes of a few teams.
Here is a look at five veteran players who won't be getting the stratospheric maximum contracts of the stars, but for the mid-level exception ($5.85 million in 2009-10) or less but could fit in nicely and play key roles next season:
Current team: Orlando
2009-10 stats: 8.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg.
Status: Player option for $1.8 million; unrestricted free agent if option is declined.
After a rocky start to his NBA career in Philly and New York, Barnes keeps bouncing around the league and proving himself valuable at every stop. While he might like to think of himself as a long-range shooter who can knock down the 3 in the clutch, his value to every coach has been his intensity and aggressiveness on defense. He gets up in your face to play fly-paper defense, rebounds beyond his stature and takes the floor every night with an angry attitude like somebody just kicked his puppy. Stan Van Gundy kept him in the starting lineup all season, which tells you his motor is always running hot. He's the kind of tough-guy role player that every playoff contender likes to have.
Current team: L.A. Clippers
2009-10 stats: 7.3 ppg, 4.8 apg
Status: Unrestricted free agent
Blake will never be accused of being the toughest player on the court, but there are probably two dozen coaches in the league who would give up a limb -- OK, a finger -- to have this wily fellow on their bench as a backup point guard. He can shoot from behind the 3-point line with the best in the league (38.8 percent), knows how to run a team and -- the attribute that makes the coaches swoon -- rarely turns the ball over. After wasting his talents for the second half of the season with the Clippers, he'll get offers to be somebody's insurance policy at the point and a weapon who hit the 3 when it's needed.
Current team: Olympiacos Piraeus
2009-10 stats: 11.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg
Status: Restricted free agent (Atlanta holds NBA rights)
Childress has one year left on his contract in Greece, but has until July 15 to opt out. After two seasons as an expatriate, the long-armed defender and board-crasher seems definitely ready to return to the U.S. and where he belongs in the NBA. He could fit in perfectly as a high energy defender with the still-learning-to-fly Hawks, who still need some tweaking in order to flap their wings with the big boys in the playoffs. Atlanta could match any offer from another NBA club and those could be forthcoming since plenty of clubs could see a spot on their roster for a 26-year-old already with six years of pro experience and still more room to grow.
Current team: Miami
2009-10 stats: 9.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg
Status: Unrestricted free agent
Haslem has lived in the shadow Dwyane Wade in Miami, but has carved out a nice reputation as a team player and a glue guy. His offensive output went down with the addition of Michael Beasley at his position. But he didn't let it affect his defense or his willingness to go to the glass to get rebounds. He's Shane Battier without the pedigree, not the least bit reluctant to do whatever dirty work is asked and can put on those defensive clamps when needed. There are plenty of teams that would welcome his hustle, his professionalism and the always-under-control game that's hiding down there in the shadows.
Current team: Milwaukee
2009-10 stats: 15.4 ppg; 38.2 3-pt FG
Status: Player option for $5.8 million; unrestricted free agent if option is declined.
Salmons carved out a reputation over the past two seasons as a closer. He joined the Chicago at the midway point of the 08-09 campaign and was an offensive force when the Bulls took Boston to the 7-game limit in the first round of the playoffs. This season he jumped aboard the Bucks' train at midseason and was a key in Milwaukee steaming down the tracks into the post-season. There's no question that the can put the ball in the hole and be a consistent offensive force. The Bucks would love for him to play out the last year on that contract. But if he decides to strike while the iron is hot -- and that's most likely -- Salmons can lock up a deal to be one of somebody's big guns and lock up more years too.
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