The stars of summer
Strong 2008 free-agent class just got even deeper
Posted: Thursday November 1, 2007 3:32PM; Updated: Thursday November 1, 2007 3:57PM
The clock struck midnight Thursday, and only three more players from the 2004 draft class got their rookie contract extensions.
Minnesota's Al Jefferson (reported deal of five years, $65 million), Orlando's Jameer Nelson (five years, at least $30 million) and Toronto's Kris Humphries (three years, $9 million) beat the 12 a.m. EST deadline to make deals that will kick in next season. It brings to six the number of '04 first-round picks now locked up long term. Orlando's Dwight Howard, Dallas' Devin Harris and Sacramento's Kevin Martin had previously come to terms.
Among the bigger names who will now become free agents next summer are Emeka Okafor, Luol Deng, Josh Smith, Andre Iguodala and Ben Gordon. Keep in mind, these players will be restricted free agents. That means their respective clubs will still have the right to match any offer they receive.
The scary thing for these young guys who didn't take the extensions is what might happen in next summer's market. A handful of big-name players have the right to opt out of their deals and become unrestricted free agents after the season. Washington's Gilbert Arenas already has said he will do it, and Sacramento's Ron Artest and the Clippers' Corey Maggette are considered likely to do so.
Others, such as Phoenix's Shawn Marion, Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal, Denver's Allen Iverson, Golden State's Baron Davis and the Clippers' Elton Brand, might join the fray.
If more than one or two of these big names decide to test the market, it could leave the young guns out of luck. Only a few teams are expected to have any significant room under the salary cap. Plus, teams are often fearful of making bids on restricted free agents because they run the risk of losing out completely if the player's oiginal team takes the full seven days and then decides to match the offer.
At any rate, the lack of extensions for the '04 class certainly has made next summer's free-agent crop more intriguing.
Here's an early top 10 for the 2008 free-agent market, with only those players who are either free agents already or considered a virtual lock to become one as of today. In other words, we'll hold off on including those big-name guys (except for Arenas, Artest and Maggette) for now. Restricted free agents are denoted with an asterisk.
1. Gilbert Arenas, Wizards: The high-scoring All-Star point guard looks like the prize of the free-agent class right now.
2. Emeka Okafor*, Bobcats: Decent big men are always in high demand, and he's a former Rookie of the Year.
3. Luol Deng*, Bulls: At age 22, he's already on the cusp of All-Star status. A big season would drive his price high.
4. Josh Smith*, Hawks: Incredible athlete who is still learning NBA game and could be on the verge of stardom.
5. Andre Iguodala*, Sixers: The 6-6 guard/forward should blossom even more now that he's out of Iverson's shadow.
6. Ron Artest, Kings: The volatile swingman is expected to opt out of the final year and $8.45 million on his deal -- assuming he stays out of trouble.
7. Antawn Jamison, Wizards: The 6-9 veteran forward is a former All-Star and a good guy in the locker room.
8. Ben Gordon*, Bulls: He could be in high demand for a team looking for a scorer to push it over the top.
9. Andris Biedrins*, Warriors: Another promising big man who could tempt somebody into risking big money, a la Darko Milicic.
10. Corey Maggette, Clippers: A scoring swingman still in his prime, he should be able to fetch more than his current $7 million per season.
Best of the rest: Ricky Davis (Heat), Monta Ellis* (Warriors), Nenad Krstic* (Nets), Jose Calderon* (Raptors), Josh Childress* (Hawks), Robert Swift* (Sonics), Matt Barnes (Warriors), Jason Williams (Heat), Tony Allen* (Celtics), Mickael Pietrus (Warriors), Sam Cassell (Clippers), Bonzi Wells (Rockets), DeSagana Diop (Mavs).