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Fran Blinebury

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Tracy McGrady averaged 9.4 points a game in 24 games with the Knicks last season.
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Feeling lucky? Five free agents who might be worth the risk


Posted Jun 30 2010 2:53PM

When the clock strikes midnight, you can break out the checkbook, bet on the chalk -- LeBron James, Dwyane Wade -- and know that your big dollars are well-spent and safe.

But by the time the free-agency frenzy of the summer finally cools, there will be more than a few teams that will place more than a few longshot bets on players who carry more than a few questions.

Nothing says you're in it to win it like taking chances. Here are five free agents who would definitely rate as gambles:

Ray Allen

Pos: SG
Height: 6-5
Age: 34
Status: Unrestricted free agent

That he set an NBA Finals record by hitting eight consecutive 3-pointers in Game 2 against the Lakers and still finished the series connecting on just 29.3 percent from behind the arc speaks volumes about how Allen's shooting touch has taken a perilous dive of late. A contender scooping him up to be that "Jesus Shuttlesworth" weapon of old could be severely disappointed at crunch time next spring, especially if it committed to a three-year contract. He says he wants to stay in Boston, but if the Celtics are going in a newer, younger direction, it probably wouldn't make sense to get tied up again long term. The most sense would seem to be a Final Four-type contender with a star -- hello, LeBron; hello, D-Wade -- to carry the burden, using him as a designated shooter off the bench.

Tracy McGrady

Pos: SG/SF
Height: 6-8
Age: 31
Status: Unrestricted free agent

After spending the first half of last season crowing that he was 100 percent fit and the Rockets were being unfair to keep him handcuffed to the bench, he went to New York, showed one or two flashes and then said he couldn't be expected to show off his skills because he was still fighting his way back from microfracture knee surgery. T-Mac still believes he can get back to the level that briefly made him magical in the early part of the 21st century. But the truth is, after 13 seasons, he's a high-mileage vehicle that is likely to break down at any moment. Cash for clunkers, anyone? He remains the only scoring leader in league history to have never won a single playoff series. Any playoff team that thinks he is the missing piece to get them to the next level might be just as well served using the money to buy lottery tickets.

Brad Miller

Pos: C
Height: 7-0
Age: 34
Status: Unrestricted free agent

The questions is whether last year was just one negative blip in a 13-year career or continuing evidence that he's sliding to the end. He's getting slower, less mobile and his medium range shot practically fell off a cliff, resulting in a career-low shooting mark of 43 percent. At this point, there are a lot of teams who think he's a guy who can play 15 minutes a night, 20 in a pinch. That doesn't expose you too much to his diminishing defensive abilities, but can still take advantage of a good head for the game and a shot that you've got to bet hasn't left him. He could have a handful of teams willing to roll the dice for less than the mid-level exception. He's an excellent teammate who helps make things work in the locker room, which will make things palatable if he is at the end of the line.

Shaquille O'Neal

Pos: C
Height: 7-1
Age: 38
Status: Unrestricted free agent

Surely there are VW vans that went to the original concert at Woodstock that have fewer miles on the odometer than Shaq. But at 38 years old with 18 years of grooming, he's still Shaq and he proved last season in Cleveland that he can still put the ball into the basket and still rebound, even if that means he still can't shoot free throws or defend the pick-and-roll. The original NBA Superman says he would like to play another couple seasons. There's no reason to think that he can't be part-time mentor, part-time backup, full-time larger-than-life character and help a playoff team. Would he be willing to keep his wagon hitched to LeBron, whether that means staying in Cleveland or moving to a new locale? There are teams that could use him -- pssst, Houston -- that won't want the circus atmosphere. But somebody will take a flyer on a former MVP, four-time champion and legend with a reasonable one-year deal.

Tyrus Thomas

Pos: PF
Height: 6-10
Age: 24
Status: Player option; unrestricted free agent

A team confident in its ability to perform personality transplants could sneak in and steal Thomas away from the Bobcats with a big money offer. But that big money would carry significant risk considering that you'd be attaching it to a player who seems to possess plenty of physical skills and very little of the attitude required to be a long-term success in the league. He talked and complained and pouted his way out of Chicago, often by being confrontational with coaches and teammates. The offense is almost nonexistent, but those long arms and a nose for defense make him the kind of guy that every club would like to have in its rotation. But only if he can play nice with the other kids and listen to the teacher. Thomas could blossom if he chooses to stay in Charlotte and let Larry Brown actually coach and nurture him. Or he could take the money and run to become somebody else's problem.

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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