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Shaun Powell

Nene
Nene has the flexibility to play either center or power forward.
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

In this free-agent class, big men (not big names) rule


Posted Jun 28 2011 10:36AM

We can reach at least one conclusion, without question, about this summer's free agent class: None will have his own hour-long selection show.

And that's both good and bad.

There's no LeBron James on the market -- not even close -- which means the current batch of free agents will lack in ego and talent compared to the class of 2010. There are no game-changers, no franchise-makers, nobody who'll throw an entire city into a tizzy if they pick up and leave.

Well, J.J. Barea does have quite a following in Dallas. But the folks there will be too hung over from the championship party to notice his absence if he sneaks out of town.

It's not a loaded market, and when that happens, big men tend to be a bit over-valued and subsequently overpaid. (General managers know they can get a good 6-foot-5 guy any summer.) So our list of the top free agents is loaded with the big guys:

10. DeAndre Jordan (Restricted)

He's 6-foot-11, only 23, and had a 20-rebound game last season for the Clippers. There were times (not many, but a few) when he was the best big man on the floor for the Clips, who see him as a potential replacement for Chris Kaman, now on the trading block. Jordan and Blake Griffin make for a young and promising power duo. Nimble and athletic, a guy like Jordan would've been a lottery pick last week. He might fetch an offer sheet but some teams are wary about his work ethic, fearing he might suddenly chill with a big contract. Also, he doesn't have a long track record as a starter, so Jordan is largely unproven as a prime-time guy.

9. Yao Ming (Unrestricted)

He's no longer considered a franchise player, not after all the surgeries and lost seasons. He has only played four complete seasons in his career, just five games since 2009 and now he's 30. There's no guarantee he'll ever step on the floor again, much less be able to play 30-plus minutes and deal with the physical demands of the low post. But if he's healthy and no longer running on bad wheels, don't forget, he's also 7-foot-6. In a league lacking in quality centers, Yao remains on the radar. As long as a team doesn't need to lean on him (he might break), he can be someone's missing piece.

8. J.R. Smith (U)

An ideal sixth man who can score (career high is 45 points), there's no question Smith has skills that many teams can use. He's cut in the mold of Jamal Crawford and Jason Terry, players who can instantly change a game and create matchup hell for the other team. Yet he comes with a checkered history and can be high maintenance, too. If you rub him the wrong way, there's no fear of any ink coming off his body, just whining and pouting. Anyone who gets Smith must accept the complete package. For a contender, given what he brings off the bench, he might be worth any headaches he could cause.

7. Greg Oden (R)

Would the Blazers dare allow Oden to walk if somebody blows them away with a big offer? First, the Blazers must tender him a qualifying offer, which is expected. Then the drama begins. This is a huge risk/reward situation for any team contemplating such an offer, because Oden can be a solid rebounder and shot-blocker. He's also a work-in-progress on offense, and because he hasn't seen much court time, that offense will need more time to develop. Of course, the big issue is health; after two major leg surgeries, is his body trustworthy enough to warrant a big contract? Most likely, teams will rather wait and see next summer.

6. Jamal Crawford (U)

Over the last three years, only Jason Terry has rivaled Crawford as the league's best sixth man. Crawford can bring big points off the bench and isn't afraid to take the most important shot of the game. The downside is he can shoot 4-for-15 some nights as well. He thought he had stability in Atlanta until the Hawks put his contract talks on hold last summer. Crawford is perhaps the most attractive non-big man on the market, because he brings good character and plenty of gusto, although teams will wonder if his best years are behind him.

5. Kris Humphries (U)

After seven nomadic seasons, Humphries enjoyed a breakout in 2010-11, both on and off the court. It doesn't get any better than hooking 10.4 rebounds a game and Kim Kardashian. He's only 27 and perhaps finally hit his stride with the Nets. He may never be a scorer but if teams believe he can continue to rebound at that rate, then Humphries will get almost as many looks as his fiancé. There are some red flags, though. He played for a poor team and therefore rebounds were in abundance. Also, was he a one-hit wonder? With teams suddenly watching their checkbooks, Humphries might not get the kind of big money that was thrown in the direction of players like him roughly five years ago.

4. Marc Gasol (R)

Flush with the buzz from their unexpected playoff run, the Grizzlies say they plan to do everything they can to retain their rugged center. On one level, that makes sense. Gasol is the perfect complement to Zach Randolph, who was taken off the free agent market with a big extension, and you wonder if Z-Bo would suffer if Gasol leaves. Also, why would the Grizzlies suddenly go cheap after generating all that goodwill in Memphis two months ago? Yet this remains a small-market team that shelled out plenty to Z-Bo, Rudy Gay and Mike Conley over the last 12 months. There's no way they'll retain O.J. Mayo, but Gasol is a keeper unless some team comes along and offers Pau money (not likely).

3. Tyson Chandler (U)

About 18 months ago Chandler was hardly a wanted man. He had injury issues and was strictly a one-dimensional center, never developing anything offensively. Amazing what a solid postseason and championship run will do, though. Suddenly, Chandler got a lot prettier. He took over from Brendan Haywood, who was supposed to be the big man of the moment in Dallas, and the Mavericks never looked back. He still can't put together two decent moves with the ball, but the shot-blocking is there, and sometimes the rebounding, too. In the right system, Chandler would be an asset and perhaps a missing piece; at least he was for the Mavericks, who you figure will re-sign him after dealing with Erick Dampier and Shawn Bradley all those years.

2. David West (U)

Either the Hornets will overpay West in an attempt to convince Chris Paul to stay next summer, or they'll let him go and begin the process of weighing offers for Paul. West is coming off knee surgery but has done enough in the NBA that teams aren't worried, provided he can pass a physical. A 6-foot-11 post player with good footwork and a smooth touch would elevate an average team, or turn a good team into a contender. He's easily the most skilled big man on the market and will fetch a solid price. But not more than Paul next summer.

1. Nene (U)

He's still in his prime at 28, a double-double big man (14 points and nine rebounds last season) who's a borderline All-Star. He can play either center or power forward and that flexibility is what makes Nene attractive. Teams without an inside presence will want him to fill a void, and teams with a solid post player already in place see Nene as a complementary piece. Nene has always been somewhat of an enigma to NBA scouts; some believe he should be much further along, skill-wise, by now. Others say he's refreshingly consistent, content to be himself without making unreasonable demands. In a summer lacking in A-list free agents, it's interesting that the biggest prize doesn't have a big name, just one.

Second 10: Glenn Davis (U), J.J. Barea (U), Tayshaun Prince (U), Carl Landry (U), Aaron Brooks (R), Thad Young (R), Reggie Evans (U), Rodney Stuckey (U), Nick Young (R), Caron Butler (U).

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. 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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