Cohen: Predicting Homes for Free Agents

By Josh Cohen
May 29, 2012

ORLANDO -- While this year's free agent class is not all that glamorous, there are several players that will be available on the market worth paying attention to.

Although it is premature to start predicting where some of these free agents will end up signing, I decided to start conjecturing some possibilities.

FREE AGENT: Deron Williams

It only seems logical to assume Deron Williams’ home will be in either Brooklyn or Dallas for at least the next four or five years.

The Nets, for one, own his bird rights, are well under the salary cap anyway and have been trying to convince him to stay since he arrived a year and a half ago. The Mavericks, on the other hand, diligently liberated payroll after winning the title in 2011 to be under the cap to make a pitch for the Dallas native.

But yet, I’m not convinced either of these scenarios will indeed ensue. Unless the Nets acquire another superstar before July 1 to impress Williams and satisfy his cravings of playing on a championship level team, Brooklyn doesn’t seem all that appealing.

Yes, it has the brand new arena, is situated in a power market and can offer Williams the maximum amount of money. However, at some point during free agency, competing for titles must play a significant function.

Dallas, meanwhile, may intrigue the three-time NBA All-Star for a number of reasons (hometown, play with Dirk Nowitzki and for Mark Cuban), but the Mavs don’t quite have that much leverage.

You see, if Williams informs the Nets he would prefer to play for the Mavericks and won’t be returning, why wouldn’t Brooklyn open up the phone lines and negotiate a sign-and-trade for the most targeted free agent this summer. If that were to happen, many teams that simply don’t have salary cap space can enter into the sweepstakes.

This is where the L.A. Lakers enter the picture – an organization in some disarray and desperation after losing to the Thunder in the conference semis.

L.A. would almost certainly trade Pau Gasol for Williams, but Brooklyn wouldn’t consider that. It would probably rather continue to alleviate payroll rather than consume Gasol’s final two years of his contract.

Let’s also bear in mind that Brook Lopez, who missed most of last season with foot and ankle problems, is a restricted free agent.

So why not this scenario:

The Lakers send Andrew Bynum and Steve Blake to Brooklyn for Williams in one sign-and-trade deal and then negotiate a secondary package that would also deliver Lopez to Tinseltown. While L.A. doesn’t have much else to offer Brooklyn, the Nets should consider accepting some temporary cap relief. They can take back Josh McRoberts and Ramon Sessions’ expiring contracts together with future draft picks.

Listen, its no secret L.A. would rather use Bynum in a trade for Dwight Howard if Orlando decides to deal him. But, rather than taking its chances on that, why not make a big splash and obtain one of the best point guards in the league along with a budding center to replace Bynum?

A starting lineup of Deron, Kobe, Metta, Pau and Brook in Hollywood would be very appealing.

Meanwhile, the Nets would be getting arguably the second best center in the game today and would be able to save money for the rapidly approaching class of 2014 when superstars such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and others will potentially be available.

Bynum has a team option for next season and could become an unrestricted free agent in 2013 if he is not offered an extension. He also is from the New York area and would also serve as the cornerstone of a franchise trying to dig out of a rocky stage of its cycle.

It's important to note, however, that if the Nets land some luck in this week's NBA Draft lottery, D-Will and Brooklyn's perspectives can dramatically change. The Nets have a 7.5 percent chance of obtaining the No. 1 overall pick and have a 25 percent chance of getting in the top three. But, if they don't move up into the top three, the pick is awarded to the Blazers as a result of the Gerald Wallace trade from a couple of months ago.

Simplicity, on one hand, insinuates Williams’ most plausible landing spot is Brooklyn or Dallas. Logic, on the other hand, implies that a team like the Lakers would make more basketball sense.

FREE AGENT: Kevin Garnett

It’s premature to start exploring the future of Kevin Garnett considering his Celtics are still competing for a championship this season.

Let’s just assume, however, Miami eliminates Boston in the conference finals.

What now for KG?

At the age of 36, it’s hard to believe Garnett still wants to be the best or even second best player on a team with championship aspirations. Unless you want to argue that Paul Pierce is a more “valuable” player than KG, Garnett and Rajon Rondo are the two preeminent players right now in Beantown.

It would also seem rational for the Celtics to start a rebuilding project if they don’t reach the NBA Finals. Aside from KG, Ray Allen is also an unrestricted free agent this summer. Rather than shelling out the cash for these aging veterans, wouldn’t it make more sense for the C’s to start freeing up some cap space for that elusive free agent class of 2014?

If you examine the landscape of the league and all the teams with a pragmatic goal of winning a championship, many already have a top-tier power forward on its roster.

The Heat have Chris Bosh, the Lakers have Pau Gasol (despite rumors he may be traded), the Bulls have Carlos Boozer and his massive contract, the Knicks have Amar’e Stoudemire and his mammoth deal, the Clippers have Blake Griffin, the Mavericks have Dirk Nowitzki, the Pacers have David West, the Thunder have probably the premier defensive power forward with Serge Ibaka and assuming he returns, the Spurs have Tim Duncan.

So here is my thinking:

If Dwight Howard remains with the Magic for next season, pairing him up with KG in the frontcourt may be something worth exploring in Orlando.

Remember, Garnett was Howard’s favorite player growing up and the two together would create havoc in an already undersized Eastern Conference.

KG is like fine wine because he knows how to adapt. While he is generally just a jump shooter these days, Garnett remains so effective because of his commitment on every possession on both ends of the floor.

Now, the Magic are well over the salary cap and would have to hope the 14-time NBA All-Star would accept a pay reduction to come to central Florida or would have to depend on Boston negotiating a sign-and-trade deal like it did with Glen Davis last year.

Ryan Anderson is a restricted free agent this summer and it’s been made clear that Orlando wants to bring him back for the foreseeable future. Even if he did return, however, a rotation of D12, KG, Rhino and Big Baby would be lethal and difficult for opponents to contend with.

FREE AGENT: Steve Nash

I’m just going to play connect the dots here. If Deron Williams does not end up in Dallas, if Jeremy Lin (restrictred free agent) stays in New York and if Steve Nash wants more than a mid-level exception’s worth pay, the Mavericks seem like the perfect landing spot for the two-time league MVP.

Phoenix can obviously pay him the most, but Nash made it clear late in the season that unless the Suns surround him with other All-Star caliber talent, he will likely leave.

Many figure the Heat will intrigue Nash. But considering Miami is way over the salary cap and has practically no financial flexibility, it may not be in Nash’s best interest to create a new Fantastic Four in South Beach.

Some may suggest Chicago should make a strong push for Nash considering Derrick Rose may not return until late next season. C.J. Watson could become an unrestricted free agent if the Bulls don’t pick up his team option and John Lucas will also be a free agent. But like Miami, Chicago does not really have any financial elasticity to steer another All-Star point guard to The Windy City.

Therefore, a return to Dallas – the city in which Nash flourished in from 1998-2004 – seems very rational.

First off, the Mavs have plenty of cap space and can offer Nash an attractive deal. Second, we all know he and Dirk Nowitzki are extremely close and would probably relish the prospect of playing together again.

Jason Kidd will be a free agent this summer and even if Dallas decides to retain him, it’s apparent he is no longer a legitimate starting point guard.

Nash back in Big D would be fitting, especially with their not being too many other opportunities for him to chase a championship and still get paid what he deserves.

Which free agent's projected landing spot from this article seems most reasonable to you and best for both the player and team?

Which free agent's projected landing spot from this article seems most reasonable to you and best for both the player and team?

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