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Fran Blinebury

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LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are the two top targets to wear different uniforms in 2010-11.
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Taking a look at the NBA's top 25 free agents


Posted Jun 6 2010 6:29PM

No waiting for the Fourth of July this year. The fireworks begin on July 1 when the most talented crop of free agents in history explodes over the landscape and could alter the face of the NBA for the next decade.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson and Amar'e Stoudemire lead the talent parade that could wind up producing a super team with two or more stars choosing to blend their talents in pursuit of a championship(s).

There are also intriguing prospects for some veterans -- Dirk Nowitzki and Yao Ming -- who aren't expected to change teams, but nevertheless have options in their contracts that would allow them to test the open market and, at the very least, throw a potential scare in their current clubs.

Toss in players that range from 38-year-old Shaquille O'Neal to 23-year-old Rudy Gay and there are plenty of players that will cause GMs and coaches to play recruiters this summer and get fans excited with the possibilities of instant improvement.

What follows is a rundown of NBA.com's Top 25 free agents. A couple of notes:

A restricted free agent is one whose current team has the right of first refusal on any offer made. A player option means the player can end his contract one year early. Early termination means that a contract can be voided two or more years early. In both cases, a player is an unrestricted free agent, available to sign with the highest bidder.

All player ages listed are as of July 1, when the free agency period begins.

1: LeBron James
lebron_james.jpg

Pos: SF

Height: 6-8

Age: 25

Status: Player option; unrestricted free agent

Player page

Where will the rumors end? With the Russian billionaire who bought the Nets offering him half of Moscow if LeBron will play in New Jersey? With the Knicks offering to build a Manhattan skyscraper in his likeness? With Nike unveiling a new logo shoe at each stop of his "recruiting" tour? With him gathering up his own personal all-star team to conquer the basketball world? The two-time MVP is the best free agent ever to come onto the open market. His decision could change the NBA for the next decade.

2: Dwyane Wade
dwyane_wade.jpg

Pos: SG

Height: 6-4

Age: 28

Status: Player option; unrestricted free agent

Player page

After four seasons of wearing himself to the bone trying to get the Heat back to their 2006 championship level -- or even the second round of the playoffs -- Wade clearly needs help. He is still amazingly explosive and virtually unstoppable from getting to the basket or getting himself an open mid-range shot. Attacking, attacking, attacking all of the time. At the defensive end, he's a force blocking shots from the weak side and getting into the passing lanes for steals. Odds are that he'll stay in Miami if team president Pat Riley can deliver that long-promised help.

3: Dirk Nowitzki
dirk_nowitzki.jpg

Pos: PF

Height: 7-0

Age: 32

Status: Player option; unrestricted free agent

Player page

The fact that he'll probably exercise the option to end his contract early doesn't necessarily mean that Nowitzki is looking to bolt from Dallas after a first-round playoff loss. It's more likely that he's taking a page from the Big D icon book of Troy Aikman and restructuring a new deal that will allow the Mavericks to upgrade the roster of talent around him. He'll turn 32 before the free-agency period begins, but has shown no signs of slowing down. If a team like New York strikes out in its bid for LeBron and Wade, Dirk could be a most tempting fallback.

4: Chris Bosh
chris_bosh.jpg

Pos: PF

Height: 6-10

Age: 26

Status: Player option; unrestricted free agent

Player page

The consensus says that Bosh is the most likely big-name free agent to change teams. Plenty of teams would like to hitch their wagon to the still young power forward. The Rockets have targeted him No. 1 to play alongside Yao Ming for quite some time. But Bosh's wish list of destinations for next season -- Raptors, Lakers, Knicks, Bulls, Heat -- did not include Houston. He's also seen as the player most likely to sign on as a sidekick to LeBron or Wade. That might make the most sense, considering that in seven seasons in Toronto, Bosh has been able to carry the Raptors to the playoffs just twice in the weaker East.

5: Joe Johnson
joe_johnson.jpg

Pos: SG

Height: 6-8

Age: 29

Status: Unrestricted free agent

Player page

After he turned down an offer for a reported four years and $60 million from Atlanta last season, the Hawks have ramped up their efforts to keep their star shooter. If Johnson gets away, the Hawks' climb up the ladder of Eastern Conference contenders is halted. The question is whether the big-time offensive gun thinks he can be patient and wait it out in Atlanta or if he should jump into the express lane and join LeBron or Wade as their wingman. He'll get plenty of attention from Chicago, New York and New Jersey, all of whom have plenty of money to burn.

6: Amar'e Stoudemire
amare_stoudemire.jpg

Pos: PF

Height: 6-10

Age: 27

Status: Player option; unrestricted free agent

Player page

It really all comes down to whether Stoudemire is feeling loved enough in Phoenix. Even while the Suns were making their surprise run to the Western Conference finals, he insisted it was 50-50 that he'd be back. Seems that two years of being dangled out there on the trading block has ruffled his feathers and bruised his ego. There are reports that say the Suns have agreed to offer him a new max-level deal, but STAT wants to see how management will improve the team. If he leaves, he'll likely have decided joining LeBron or Wade is a surer path to a ring.

7: Carlos Boozer
carlos_boozer.jpg

Pos: PF

Height: 6-9

Age: 29

Status: Unrestricted free agent

Player page

Very few around the league expected Boozer to still be with the Jazz past the trading deadline. Almost no one figured his season would be turmoil-free. But after so many angry words were exchanged last summer, that's exactly what happened and Boozer's stock went up again. Seems unlikely the Jazz will re-sign him and keep expensive Paul Millsap as a backup for another season. Boozer isn't known as much of a defender, but he can score and rebound and he'll get attention from the teams with cap space who end up empty in the LeBron-Wade derby. Rumors have had him headed to Miami, where he makes his off-season home, for quite some time.

8: Yao Ming
yao_ming.jpg

Pos: C

Age: 29

Height: 7-6

Status: Player option; unrestricted free agent

Player page

The Rockets -- and probably no one else -- are in no hurry to give Yao a new max-level contract until he gets back on the court and proves that he can stay there. Yao missed all of last season following reconstructive foot surgery. His minutes will be closely monitored and limited, especially for the start of next season. He has missed 173 games -- more than two full seasons -- over the past five years. Yao will likely not exercise his option to become a free agent and show that he can return to All-Star form. But as he approaches 30 before next season, he could try to strike it big before the next CBA takes effect. That would shake the Rockets' world to its core.

9: Rudy Gay
rudy_gay.jpg

Pos: SF

Height: 6-9

Age: 23

Status: Restricted free agent

Player page

This time a year ago there were plenty of folks in Memphis who were willing to hold the door open for Gay to walk right out. But after he and the Grizzlies tightened down on their loose parts and showed real signs of coming together under coach Lionel Hollins, now everyone is panicked that he might leave. Team owner Michael Heisley has said repeatedly and publicly that he will do whatever it takes to re-sign the talented wing man. Of course, a whopping offer sheet could make a sign-and-trade the way to go.

10: David Lee
david_lee.jpg

Pos: PF

Height: 6-9

Age: 27

Status: Unrestricted free agent

Player page

Lee tried to cash in for a big payday last summer, but a tumbling economy and the fact that the Knicks held a right of first refusal forced him to sign a one-year deal to become an unrestricted free agent this time around. Unless they can do some creative accounting gymnastics, the Knicks will have to let Lee go if they succeed in their bid to sign two big name free agents. A 20-11 big man with high energy, there are places -- Oklahoma City, Houston -- where he would be a welcome addition to the lineup.

11: Paul Pierce
paul_pierce.jpg

Pos: SF

Height: 6-6

Age: 32

Status: Early termination; unrestricted free agent

Player page

Why would The Truth give up $21.5 million on the last year of his contract when there's no way he'd get that kind of salary for next year on the open market? Well, the truth is that he'd be trying to beat the ax that is supposed to fall with the new collective bargaining agreement that will take effect in 2011 (assuming no year-long lockout). Especially if the Celtics are able to figure out a way to beat the Lakers and especially if he has anything close to another Finals MVP showing. Maybe he can get one more four- or five-year deal, at say $12- to $14-million per, that would give him a big payday over the long haul. You've got to figure the Celtics move first to extend Pierce.

12: Josh Childress
josh_childress.jpg

Pos: SF

Height: 6-8

Age: 27

Status: Restricted free agent

Player page

Childress has until July 15 to opt out of his contract with Olympiakos Pireus in Greece. All indications are that he's ready to come back home to the NBA after two seasons abroad. Atlanta still has right of first refusal on any NBA deal. A return to the Hawks would seem to make the most sense, adding another piece to the puzzle for a team trying to build a Finals contender. Childress is a long, aggressive wing defender with a nose for the ball and a knack for getting to the basket for his shot or to clean up the glass. If Atlanta doesn't want to pay the price, there are plenty who will.

13: Luis Scola
luis_scola.jpg

Pos: PF

Height: 6-9

Age: 30

Status: Restricted free agent

Player page

The Rockets are trying to spread the word that you're only wasting your time submitting an offer sheet to Scola, because they'll match virtually anything that's tossed out, just as they did a few years ago with Carl Landry when Charlotte tried to pry him away. Considering that he's already 30 years old, this could be Scola's one time to hit a home run in terms of a contract. It stands to reason that one or more courters will test Houston's resolve when it comes to this tough, wily, smart, dependable veteran who has an assortment of nifty moves around the basket and can stick the mid-range jumper, too.

14: Tyrus Thomas
tyrus_thomas.jpg

Pos: PF

Height: 6-9

Age: 23

Status: Restricted free agent

Player page

How long does Thomas continue to get by with being the young guy who is still full of potential? After 3 mostly exasperating seasons in Chicago, where he battled with coaches and feuded with teammates, is there a team willing to make a big play for big dollars for this long defender? You never want to write off a guy who is only 23, but Thomas is getting close already to that point in his career where he is either going to "get it" and become a key contributor or spend the next half dozen seasons being passed around like a bad check. You figure Larry Brown believes he can get through to Thomas, so the Jordan-owned Bobcats keep him.

15: Ray Allen
ray_allen.jpg

Pos: SG

Height: 6-5

Age: 34

Status: Unrestricted free agent

Player page

They way they were peddling Allen ahead of the February trade deadline, it would seem unlikely the aging Celtics would be looking to re-sign a guy who'll turn 35 over the summer and seems to have lost something off his fastball. Then Boston went and made the run to the Finals and maybe that changes things. But probably not. Of course, Allen at not quite his peak is still better than a large majority of shooters in the league. It won't take long for one of the other elite teams to scoop him up as a weapon to bring off the bench if Boston starts planning for the future.

16: Shaquille O'Neal
shaquille_oneal.jpg

Pos: C

Height: 7-1

Age: 38

Status: Unrestricted

Player page

Yes, he's 38 years old. No, he's no longer the dominating force who ruled the NBA for more than a decade. But if you're a team that needs someone to take up some space, chew up some minutes and get some rebounds, you could do a lot worse than the Diesel. And don't forget that he can still put some points on the board, though not consistently and not at his former pace. If you're sitting in Houston, Shaq might just be the answer as the backup to a mending Yao Ming and also a mentor who could impart a few tips about being mean. New York, New Jersey and Chicago are a few other spots where the original NBA Superman could be flexing his muscles next season.

17: John Salmons
john_salmons.jpg

Pos: SG

Height: 6-7

Age: 30

Status: Player option; unrestricted free agent

Player page

Salmons carved out a reputation over the past two seasons as a closer. He joined Chicago at the midway point of the '08-09 campaign and was an offensive force when the Bulls took Boston to the seven-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 postseason. There's no question that he 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 that will have him paid well for four or five more seasons.

18: Brendan Haywood
brendan_haywood.jpg

Pos: C

Height: 7-0

Age: 30

Status: Unrestricted free agent

Player page

A lot of people thought he was a critical part of the deal that also brought Caron Butler to Dallas in exchange for Josh Howard. But as the season and the playoffs wound down, the 7-foot Haywood saw his playing time fall off. He's not going to fill up the basket, but he can rebound and block shots. And, oh yes, he's still a 7-footer and, as Frank Layden used to say, you can't teach height. He's not going to break anyone's bank, but his size will get a reasonable contract and playing time as a sub, probably with a playoff team.

19: Udonis Haslem
udonis_haslem.jpg

Pos: PF

Height: 6-8

Age: 30

Status: Unrestricted free agent

Player page

Haslem has lived in the shadow of 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. 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 he 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.

20: J.J. Redick
jj_redick.jpg

Pos: SG

Height: 6-4

Age: 26

Status: Restricted free agent

Player page

Redick is the poster boy for perseverance. He came into the league and seemed lost, because he's undersized as a defender and doesn't do much of anything as a shooting guard except fire up shots from long range. But he toiled long and hard to play just enough defense to get onto the floor for Stan Van Gundy in Orlando and his 40-percent shooting on 3-pointers makes him a nice weapon to have coming off a bench. The Magic will likely keep him in the fold. But if they hesitate and leave the door cracked open, somebody could sign him to an offer sheet that raises the price.

21: Ronnie Brewer
ronnie_brewer.jpg

Pos: SG

Height: 6-7

Age: 25

Status: Restricted free agent

Player page

It's all about defense with Brewer, who was sent from Utah to Memphis in a cost-cutting move, promptly tore a hamstring and played only five games with the Grizzlies. With Memphis ready to fork over big money to hold onto free agent Rudy Gay, there's not going to be a lot of extra dollars to toss around. But if there's one area the Grizzlies have to improve, it's their defense. Brewer can definitely get after it on the perimeter. For a reasonable price, he makes a lot of sense to stay right where he is.

22: Raymond Felton
raymond_felton.jpg

Pos: PG

Height: 6-1

Age: 26

Status: Unrestricted free agent

Player page

Larry Brown is tough on point guards. Felton has learned that the hard way, losing minutes and stature within the franchise over the past season. It looks like Felton and the Bobcats have reached a fork in the road, The former No. 5 overall pick is going to have to go elsewhere to get his payday and his respect. He's respectable on defense and can pass the ball. His offense is below average, so he needs to find a place where the job is just to set the table.

23: Josh Howard
josh_howard.jpg

Pos: SF

Height: 6-7

Age: 30

Status: Team option; unrestricted free agent

Player page

With all of the pieces they have to pick up in Washington, it would seem certain that one of them will not be the $11.8 million final year on Howard's contract. After wearing out his welcome in Dallas, he lasted all of four games before a torn left ACL ended his season. He is questionable for training camp, but supposed to be ready for the regular season. His stock has dropped precipitously, but there are sure to be a few teams who'll risk the mid-level or a little below to try tap into the old Howard who was such a wild card in the Mavs' lineup not so long ago.

24: Matt Barnes
matt_barnes.jpg

Pos: SF

Height: 6-7

Age: 30

Status: Player option; unrestricted free agent

Player page

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 three 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 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.

25: Richard Jefferson
richard_jefferson.jpg

Pos: SF

Height: 6-7

Age: 30

Status: Player option; unrestricted free agent

Player page

If Jefferson comes anywhere close to exercising his option and becoming a free agent, somebody ought to take him in to have his head examined. He'd be walking away from a guaranteed $15 million next season a year after he was a $14.2 million bust in San Antonio. It seemed like a good idea at the time when the Spurs got Jefferson to add punch to their offense. But they forgot that Jason Kidd and all those lob passes didn't come with him. Jefferson spent the year mostly lost in the San Antonio offense and rarely contributed on defense. Truth is, the Spurs would love to see him exercise the option, but aren't holding their breath.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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