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Fran Blinebury

J.R. Smith is a proven scorer, but also a proven risk to just about any team that adds him.
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These free agents could swing -- or sting -- a team's future

Posted Jun 27 2012 9:42AM

One of these days, NBA general managers might start wearing tuxedos on the first day of free agency. After all, it's a lot like walking into Le Grand Casino in Monte Carlo. High stakes. High anxiety.

Every new high-dollar contract is a spin of the roulette wheel. Each new card dealt from deck could give you a blackjack or a bust.

Of course, nobody's going to question your sanity if you put your money down on the likes of Deron Williams, Eric Gordon or Steve Nash. But here are a lucky seven free agents who are definitely rolls of the dice:

Michael Beasley

Height: 6-8
Weight: 235
Position: SF, PF
Age: 23
Status: Restricted
11.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg

There are blue collar workers in the NBA and there are bumbling carpenters. Beasley fits into the latter category -- he has all the tools, but doesn't know how to use them.

When you're as strong, athletically gifted and can dominate overmatched players at a young age, the hard part is often learning to keep working. Beasley doesn't pass, doesn't play defense and seems allergic to rebounds.

If he could ever put it together, he's an All-Star. But will somebody bet the house on that happening?

Ramon Sessions

Height: 6-3
Weight: 190
Position: PG
Age: 25
Status: Unrestricted
11.3 ppg, 5.5 apg

He has long arms, a nice sense of the floor, a good attitude and the skills to be a capable point guard in the league for a lot of years. He was definitely a step up from the ancient Derek Fisher when he joined the Lakers at mid-season. But then that wasn't a big step to climb.

By the time the playoffs were through, Sessions had watched plenty of opponents turn the corner and get to the hoop against his defense and a so-so perimeter shot wasn't falling. The danger here is in over-paying for a player who fits strictly into the middle of the pack.

Brook Lopez

Height: 7-0
Weight: 260
Position: C
Age: 24
Status: Restricted
19.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 0.8 bpg

He's like the old riddle about how many balls of string would it take to reach the moon? One. But it would have to be a big one.

Here's a legitimate 7-foot center with a package of good offensive moves around the basket and a willingness to improve on the areas -- passing, defense -- that need improvement. So there's only one reason he's a gamble, but it's a big one. That broken bone in Lopez's right foot and memories of what a similar series of injuries did to Yao Ming's career has to make Orlando (and anyone else) think twice about regarding him as a foundation for a franchise.

Matt Barnes

Height: 6-7
Weight: 226
Position: SF
Age: 32
Status: Unrestricted
7.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg

Athleticism, high energy, a nose for the ball. Those are the attributes that always seem to look better walking in the door than when he's on the way out. There's a reason when a guy bounces around to eight different teams in nine seasons.

He's not nearly as good on the offensive end as he thinks he is and Barnes is far too inconsistent in the intangible areas. By the end of the playoff series against OKC, Lakers coach Mike Brown was hardly letting him get off the bench.

Aaron Brooks

Height: 6-0
Weight: 160
Position: PG
Age: 26
Status: Restricted
22.3 ppg, 4.8 apg, 3.5 rpg (In China)

It was just two years ago when Brooks won the Most Improved Player award and it seemed his career was about to take off in Houston. But he let those accolades inflate his ego, couldn't handle the competition from Kyle Lowry and showed only flashes of his old self after being traded to Phoenix. After the 2010-11 season, he was last seen bolting for China ahead of the lockout.

He's quicker than a hiccup and can bury the 3-pointer. Much more of a scorer than a point guard and he won't stop anyone. Won't be a happy camper if you don't hand him the starter's job.

J.R. Smith

Height: 6-6
Weight: 220
Position: SG
Age: 26
Status: Unrestricted
12.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg

If basketball players were thoroughbred racehorses, you might think he came out of Secretariat's bloodlines. What a physical specimen. What an athlete. He's got the range to put the ball in the hole from anywhere on the floor and can get the hoop to throw down thunderbolts when so inclined.

But he doesn't particularly like passing the ball, is selfish, careless, unthinking and can take bad attitude to a whole new level. After all these years, he's still J.R. -- sign him at your own risk.

Tracy McGrady

Height: 6-8
Weight: 210
Position: SF
Age: 33
Status: Unrestricted
5.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.1 apg

There once was a time when you might have thought he could reinvent the game. He could almost do it all -- drive, pass, shoot, leap, handle -- but could never carry a team. Still the only scoring champ in NBA history to never win a single playoff series.

McGrady is a faded shadow of his former self now, able to tease with occasional bursts and short flashes of the past. Microfracture knee surgery has taken away the quickness and now, at 33, you'd only be betting on faded glory.

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

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