Previewing the '09 free-agent class
The 2009 free-agent class has been overshadowed by talk of the 2010 group
The '09 class does have potential gems, headlined by Kobe and Carlos Boozer
Other notable '09 free agents: Allen Iverson, Shawn Marion and Ron Artest
Everybody's talking about the "Summer of LeBron."
But what about the summer of 2009?
Next offseason's free-agent crop might not be as ballyhooed as the class of 2010, but it has the potential to be solid. Kobe Bryant, Carlos Boozer, Shawn Marion and Allen Iverson are just some of the big names who could be available. There also are quite a few players from the rookie class of '05 who will be restricted free agents, including Marvin Williams and David Lee.
So which teams are best poised to take advantage in 2009? It's early yet, but at this point the Thunder, Grizzlies and Trail Blazers are positioned to have enough cap space to nab a marquee player. The Pistons, Heat, Hawks, Jazz and Timberwolves could get into the mix if they let certain key free agents walk away.
Here is a look at some of the players who could be on the market after the season. Those with early termination options (ETO) or player options (PO) can become unrestricted free agents.
Kobe Bryant (ETO). The Lakers' superstar can opt out of the last two years (worth $48 million) of his deal. Will it happen? Don't count on it. Bryant has indicated that he is happy again (at least for now) with the Lakers. If he does opt out, it would probably be to sign a contract extension.
Carlos Boozer (PO). The Jazz forward would become a hot commodity if he declines his $12.7 million option for 2009-2010. The Heat are said to be very interested, and Boozer lives in Miami during the offseason.
Shawn Marion. The Heat forward decided last summer not to opt out of the final year (and $17.2 million) of his deal and test the market. The 6-7 Marion fills a stat sheet, but the Heat might not be willing to commit big money when they have bigger needs elsewhere.
Allen Iverson. The Pistons' new point guard is getting up there in age (34), but he's still an amazingly productive player. It will be interesting to see how many years he seeks in his next deal, and how much of a pay cut from this season's $21.9 million he is willing to take.
Ron Artest. Like him or not, Artest is an All-Star talent who plays at both ends. The 29-year-old forward will be looking for a long-term, big-money deal, and could play himself into a nice one in Houston if he can help lead the Rockets deep into the playoffs.
Jermaine O'Neal (PO). With all his knee problems, it is extremely unlikely that he would give up his $23 million salary for 2009-2010. But if the six-time All-Star were to have a monster season in Toronto, who knows?
Lamar Odom. With his size and versatility, the silky-smooth forward could help a lot of teams. Odom said before the season that he hoped to finish his career with the Lakers, but will he want to stay after being relegated to sixth-man status?
Hedo Turkoglu (ETO). The reigning Most Improved Player, Turkoglu has said he is likely to opt out of the final year (and $7.4 million) of his current deal. In his prime at age 29, the 6-8 Magic forward will find himself an attractive commodity.
Rasheed Wallace. The 6-10 forward could be had by any team willing to overlook his age (34) and volcanic temperament. It won't even require a sign-and-trade, since the Pistons won't want to take back any contracts.
Jason Kidd. Like Iverson, he is a future Hall of Famer in the last year of a deal that pays him $21 million. At age 35, he won't get anywhere near that again. But he could get a nice deal somewhere -- if not an extension in Dallas.
Mehmet Okur (ETO). Like his Utah teammate Boozer, the 6-11 former All-Star center might opt out of the final year (and $9.5 million) of his deal to test the market. Okur could probably get back whatever he leaves on the table with a new, longer deal.
Mike Bibby. Once considered an elite point guard, the 30-year-old Bibby has struggled with injuries and inconsistency the past few seasons. However, his leadership and play with the surprising Hawks this season could boost his stock back near its old level.
Andre Miller. His career took off again after helping Philadelphia become one of the surprise teams a year ago. If Miller, 32, can join with Elton Brand to lead the Sixers to the next tier in the East, he will be in some demand.
Al Harrington (PO). Frustrated with his role in Golden State, the 6-9 forward with the inside-outside game has asked to be traded. Depending on where he ends up, he could decide not to pick up that $10 million option next season in hopes of an extension with his new club.
Ben Gordon. The pocket Microwave could be a nice pickup for a team seeking a scorer. After reluctantly agreeing to play this season for the Bulls' one-year tender offer ($6.4 million), he also could be looking for a fresh start somewhere else.
Best of the rest: Jamal Crawford (ETO), Zyrunas Ilgauskas (ETO), Stephon Marbury, Drew Gooden, Anderson Varejao (PO), Eddy Curry (ETO), Trevor Ariza, Grant Hill, Kyle Korver (ETO), Desmond Mason, Joe Smith, Matt Barnes, Anthony Parker, Ricky Davis (PO), Chris Wilcox.