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Chuck who? Teams in need of a hard worker should get to know Chuck Hayes.
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Glue guys: Five veteran free agents who keep it all together

Posted Jun 30 2011 9:28AM

From year to year the names at the top of the free agent classes change as often and as dramatically as the weather. Last summer it was LeBron James and Chris Bosh making landfall in Miami that hit the NBA like a Category 5 hurricane. Twelve months later, the gale force winds were still being felt in The Finals.

But for all of the huffing and puffing over the names at the top of the marquee, just as important to the building of a playoff contender is the presence of the glue guys who are critical for doing the dirty work and holding it all together.

They're the guys who stand in the shadows, not the spotlight, the players who are often the vital links in the chain who wind up putting the rings on everyone's fingers.

Here are five free agent glue guys who could stick anywhere and make a difference:

Tyson Chandler

Position: Center
Height: 7-foot-1
Age: 29
Status: Unrestricted free agent

Talk about good things coming to those who wait and work. Chandler is the poster boy for patience and exquisite timing, the former No. 2 pick in the 2001 Draft who has gone from early bust to sonic boom 10 years later, playing a key role in the Mavericks' run to the championship. He spent the first five seasons of his NBA career labeled as an under-motivated under-achiever. It took getting paired up with Chris Paul in New Orleans to teach him the value of running the floor and getting his long body to the basket to rebound, block shots and rattle the rim on the closing end of Paul's lob passes for slam dunks. After spending time in limbo with Charlotte, he arrived in Dallas and immediately was a perfect fit. For a guy with a limited offensive set -- dunks and put-backs -- he became invaluable in Dallas with his athleticism and aggressiveness around the hoop at both ends of the floor. He's No. 1 on Mark Cuban's priority list to re-sign, but that will come at a steep price.

Shane Battier

Position: Forward
Height: 6-foot-8
Age: 30
Status: Unrestricted free agent

When it comes to glue guys, he fits in so many ways. Battier will stick to his man at the defensive end, where he is a gritty, hard-nosed wing defender who has harassed everyone from Kobe Bryant to Kevin Durant to Kevin Garnett. He'll also stick his nose in under the boards to get key rebounds. If you leave him open in his favorite spots in either corner he will stick the 3-pointer to make you pay. He's every coach's dream, a walking computer of analytics and angles on the court, the player whose effectiveness shows up in the win column far more than on the stat sheet. He played a key role in the Grizzlies' upset of the No. 1 seeded Spurs in the playoffs. But at this point in his career, Battier could be the kind of key acquisition that puts a wannabe contender over the top.

Tayshaun Prince

Position: Forward
Height: 6-foot-9
Age: 31
Status: Unrestricted free agent

The moving van should be packed up, the tank filled with gas and ready to go. Nobody needs a change of scenery more than Prince after a long, difficult season in Detroit that went from trying to downright ugly as he clashed with now-departed coach John Kuester. An integral component on those greater-than-the-sum-of-their-parts Pistons teams that dominated the Eastern Conference for seven seasons, the 31-year-old can still knife through traffic to get to the rim and get off his mid-range shot to the tune of 14 points a game and 47 percent shooting last season. With those long arms and all-around smarts, he's still an excellent wing defender. Since the Pistons are in a total rebounding mode, it only makes sense that Prince picks a spot where his veteran knowledge and instincts can make a difference with a contender.

Grant Hill

Position: Forward
Height: 6-foot-8
Age: 38
Status: Unrestricted free agent

Who would ever have thought that a guy playing in the desert could have stumbled upon the Fountain of Youth? Chalk it up to all of those disappointing seasons lost to injuries and surgeries, but the 17-year NBA veteran seems to be having the time of his life. Don't tell Suns coach Alvin Gentry that his 38-year-old ace can't hang with the young pups. He goes out every night and usually guards the toughest non-center on the other team, everyone from LeBron James to Paul Pierce to Kobe Bryant. Offensively, he can still get down the floor to finish on the break, and shoots the 3-pointer at a 39.5 percent clip. Hill would seem to be another prime candidate try to chase a ring as a key role player before he retires. But his relationship with Gentry and the Suns, who have helped resurrect his career and put the joy back into his job, could make it tough to leave Phoenix.

Chuck Hayes

Position: Forward
Height: 6-foot-6
Age: 28
Status: Unrestricted free agent

Who? That's what everyone says once they get through snickering at the thought of the under-sized "big man" surviving in the NBA. That is, until they watch him take the floor every night to outhustle and outwork opponents with a competitive streak that is so big that it can't be measured. Hayes came out of Kentucky as a guy hoping just to latch onto a job and over the past six years has been invaluable to the Rockets. For the past two seasons -- with Yao Ming on the shelf for all but five games -- he has been the league's shortest starting center at 6-foot-6 and been able to more than hold his own defensively. He uses great lower body strength, a high basketball I.Q. and a nose for the ball to play taller than his stature on defense. He has had to expand, out of necessity, his offense to more than just put-backs. He even racked up his first triple-double last season. Hayes likely won't attract a lot of attention on the free-agent market. And the Rockets want to keep him in the fold. But an upper echelon team that wants a smart, high-energy player to come off the bench and do whatever it takes wouldn't go wrong here.

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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