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Seller's market

Expect crazy offers in this summer's free-agent frenzy

Posted: Friday July 2, 2004 12:09PM; Updated: Monday July 5, 2004 6:10PM
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Derek Fisher
Teams are advised to pursue a hands-off policy with Fisher this summer.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

If you learn one thing about economics, learn this: It's all about supply and demand.

That explains everything you need to know about this year's free agent market. On one hand, the demand is rampant. Seven teams -- the Suns, Spurs, Clippers, Jazz, Nuggets, Hawks and Bobcats -- have enough room under the cap to sign a player to a maximum contract. The supply side, however, is a bit sparse. Only one free agent, Kobe Bryant, is deserving of such a deal, and he comes with the risk that his uniform next season may be an orange jumpsuit.

As a result, at least six teams -- all seven if Kobe stays with the Lakers -- are going to be sitting on a wad of cash and looking for a place to spend it. Expect to see crazy money thrown around at players that aren't worth half of it. Heck, we've already seen it -- five years and $65 million for Steve Nash? Hope the Suns will be paying will off that deal with Canadian dollars.

The second lesson we can take from Econ 101 is that the market responds to these signals, those of a bloated demand. Troy Hudson, for example, spent all last season on the injured list and had ankle surgery in April. Guess who just opted out of his contract to become a free agent? Hudson's agent is no dummy. Even though Hudson has done nothing for 12 months, he figures to get more money in free agency than he did a year ago. Ditto for players such as Bruce Bowen, Derek Fisher and Stephen Jackson, who couldn't opt out of their contracts fast enough.

But in nearly any marketplace, no matter how overpriced, you can still find bargains if you look hard enough. Heck, I once found a cheap meal in Switzerland, and it doesn't get any more overpriced than that place. So with that in mind, let's take a look at a few players in this summer's market who will be overvalued, and some others whom the market is overlooking.

Note that for each player, I've included their per-40-minute averages in points, rebounds and assists, which makes it a lot easier to compare guys with differing amounts of playing time.

(* - restricted free agent)


1. Steve Nash (17.6 points/40, 3.6 rebounds/40, 10.5 assists/40) -- No. 1 with a bullet after reaching a deal with the Suns that even had Allan Houston giggling. He's a 30-year-old point guard who breaks down every spring and plays no defense, and Phoenix gave him a five-year deal for nearly the max? I can't imagine the Suns will be happy to fork out $15 million five years from now when Nash is 35 and backing up Leandro Barbosa.

2. Marcus Camby (11.5 p/40, 13.5 r/40, 2.4 a/40) -- Camby is looking at $9 million a season as his reward for making it through a year in one piece for the first time since the Mayflower landed. It was the only time in his eight-year career that Camby played more than 63 games. Now the Nuggets, who re-signed Camby to a multi-year deal, have put on the blinders that helped get them through last year, presumably because they think he'll be healthy the next four or five seasons. Better have that team doctor on stand-by. 

3. Erick Dampier (15.2 p/40, 14.8 r/40, 1.0 a/40) -- Dampier's numbers from last year are undeniably eye-opening, but they're also massively better than anything he did before. If you think he'll do it again, I've got some land in Saskatchewan to sell you. Paying $10 million a year for a guy who played way over his head in a contract year? Where do I sign up? At least Dampier's a true center and doesn't get hurt, so he's a less appalling risk than Camby.

4. Rasheed Wallace (18.2 p/40, 7.7 r/40, 2.6 a/40) -- Only because somebody will offer him the max, and he's proven that he wants to be one of the guys rather than The Man. You can get "one of the guys" for half this price -- and a better behaved guy at that. Just because Wallace played nice in the final four months of his contract doesn't override the fact that he was a giant hemorrhoid for the preceding eight years.

5. Derek Fisher (13.1 p/40, 3.4 r/40, 4.2 a/40) -- Role players on championship teams invariably are overrated and end up with absurd contracts (think B.J. Armstrong, Devean George, or Luc Longley). Fisher is primed to be this year's example. He opted out of a deal that would have paid him $3 million and presumably will make more, even though point guards who are as good or better (Carlos Arroyo, Damon Jones, Bob Sura) are widely available for much less.

Honorable mention: Troy Hudson, Manu Ginobili, Mark Blount, Rafer Alston, Antonio McDyess


1. Marquis Daniels* (18.4 p/40, 5.6 r/40, 4.5 a/40) -- I saw a few different lists of the top free agents, and he wasn't on any of them, which is insane. Listen: He was one of the best three or four players on the market. Compare his 40-minute numbers to Nash's. Daniels' numbers are better, he's nearly a decade younger and he's bigger. If Phoenix was going to throw $65 million at anyone, it should have been him. Even those who think Daniels was over his head last season have to acknowledge there's substantial room for improvement, because he still doesn't have a jump shot. His $38 million, six-year deal with the Mavs will be the steal of free agency.

1a. Carlos Boozer* (17.9 p/40, 13.2 r/40, 2.3 a/40) -- Boozer surprisingly became a restricted free agent on Thursday when the Cavaliers didn't pick up his option to play next season at the minimum. It was a clever move by the Cavs, who can now match any long-term offers he receives instead of watching Boozer take off as an unrestricted free agent next summer. It's all but a done deal that Boozer is re-signing with Cleveland, but I have to list him just in case, since he's the best free agent out there after Kobe.

2. Stromile Swift* (19.0 p/40, 9.9 r/40, 1.1 a/40) -- He's stuck in a bad situation in Memphis, playing out of position at center because Pau Gasol is entrenched at Swift's natural power forward spot. But Swift was the No. 2 overall pick in 2000 for a reason. He's taken knocks in the past for his low basketball IQ, but Hubie Brown has helped him considerably in that area. He has crazy hops and can score, rebound and block shots -- he just needs to play.

3. Rodney White (21.9 p/40, 6.7 r/40, 2.4 a/40) -- When he wasn't buried at the end of the Nuggets' bench, White was scoring in bunches. In fact, his per-40-minute scoring rate was nearly as good as Carmelo Anthony's (23.0). His aversion to defense is an issue, but given that White still is only 22, can fill it up and is likely to be had for much less than the mid-level exception, somebody will get a screaming bargain.

4. Brian Cardinal (18.0 p/40, 7.8 r/40, 2.5 a/40)-- Almost nobody is taking Cardinal's breakout season last year seriously, and I'm not sure why. I'll grant that he's unlikely to shoot 44 percent from 3-point range again, but he got to the line so often and made so many hustle plays that it's tough to imagine him suddenly reverting to a scrub. He's way off the radar right now, but he's a better player than many guys who will get the mid-level exception or more.

5. Foreign guys -- Several veteran European players could be making the jump this year, and unlike the Euros from the draft, they're going to help right away. Since many teams focus their European scouts on the draft and don't invest a lot of time eyeing the vets, there could be some real bargains here. Remember these names: Andres Nocioni, a versatile swingman from Argentina; Arvydas Macijauskas, an uncannily accurate shooter from Lithuania; Nikola Vujcic, a soft but effective Croatian power forward; Fabricio Oberto, an Argentine power forward whose haircut is on loan from Prince Valiant; and Luis Scola, another South American stud whose rights are owned by the Spurs.

Honorable mention: Chris Andersen, Zeljko Rebraca, Etan Thomas, Bob Sura, Carlos Arroyo

John Hollinger is an NBA producer for SI.com and author of Pro Basketball Prospectus