Top 2009 NBA free agents
Hedo Turkoglu's shooting and passing are good fits for title-contending teams
Allen Iverson could struggle to create much of a market after a rough season
Jazz forward Paul Millsap is the top restricted free agent available
You don't have to be standing in an unemployment line -- or more likely, waiting for your browser to grind to the next Web page -- to know this is a dreadful job market, whether you're a plumbing contractor, a paralegal or a point guard. NBA free agency was to begin at 12:01 a.m. ET Wednesday, but, rather than a starting gun, a more appropriate sound might be an index finger inserted into one cheek and popped out. As in, whoop-de-darn-do.
If the economic fears gripping teams this summer aren't enough -- remember, ticket sales in 2008-09 largely were made before the worst of the recession hit -- there is the paucity of teams with salary-cap space. And, of course, there is the NBA's new savings rate, with clubs sitting on money in hopes of shopping more aggressively in the summer of 2010.
What does that mean for the job seekers of '09? That fewer of them will cash in as expected, that some who might otherwise have opted out will hunker down for one more year and that there could be some real bargains to be had. Here are my top 20 unrestricted free agents and top 12 restricted free agents (whose original team can match an outside offer), excluding players unlikely to exit their current deals or otherwise change employers (Kobe Bryant, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Al Harrington among them).
Unrestricted free agents
1. Hedo Turkoglu, F, Magic
If I'm trying to win a title, I want Turkoglu. As a shooter, as a matchup headache, as a point forward, as a locker-room guy. Orlando can play hardball with him now, though, with Vince Carter in the house. Detroit and Sacramento might be wooing him, but Portland or even Oklahoma City would suit his skills and leadership better. He passed up $7.3 million next season with the Magic but can gain security with a new contract.
2. Ben Gordon, G, Bulls
It's tricky with Gordon -- he wants starter's minutes and money, but he is best equipped for a sixth-man role. He also is dragging old paradigms, as they say, into this new sober market: He turned down deals from Chicago worth $50 million and more than that might be tough to find now. His alleged No. 1 option after the Bulls, the Pistons, might spend their money elsewhere or horde for 2010. It doesn't help his leverage that John Salmons picked up so much scoring slack late this season.
3. Trevor Ariza, F, L.A. Lakers
With defensive-stopper skills and work ethic, and with more scoring potential than guys known for that role (Bruce Bowen, Raja Bell, James Posey), losing Ariza would be a severe blow to the Lakers. GM Mitch Kupchak won't let it happen -- he picked up $3 million for pick No. 29 in last week's draft for a reason, y'know.
4. Jason Kidd, G, Mavericks
Ricky Rubio probably would be too raw to carry the New York Knicks on his back this season, even if Donnie Walsh could swing a deal with Minnesota. Steve Nash is a year away, maybe, from free agency. But Kidd is available now, and the Knicks might not be willing to wait for the others. Even at 37, the longtime Net-turned-short-time Maverick could shine for coach Mike D'Antoni (Nash never relied on foot speed). The Lakers could make sense, too, a couple of years later than first suggested. But getting Kidd's price down to the mid-level from $21.3 million might be requiring too much.
5. Lamar Odom, F, L.A. Lakers
Odom has the talent and versatility to plant a flag for just about any team's offense, but as he approaches 30, he doesn't appear to have the demeanor for it. He seems fine with his complementary role, but might not like being paid like a complementary player if he stays in L.A. He's valuable to the champs, but at what price?
6. Andre Miller, G, 76ers
Miller would be a nice pickup for a team seeking a veteran to mentor one of the many young point guards selected in last week's draft. Then again, he already is doing a nifty job of mentoring the young Sixers' squad, with rookie Jrue Holiday now poised to benefit. The Philadelphia Daily News reported that a three-year deal worth about $10 million annually is Miller's target.
7. Shawn Marion, F, Raptors
Unless Phoenix thinks it can hit the reset button completely on its high-octane style, there might be no better place for Marion than with the Raptors. He won't be making $17.8 million again next season, but franchise player Chris Bosh wants him back and GM Bryan Colangelo is OK with that. "He fits, he fits this roster," Colangelo told reporters last week. Marion fits Toronto better, frankly, than he fits the teams -- anyone? anyone? -- with both the cap space and an interest in pursuing him.
8. Rasheed Wallace, F/C, Pistons
It's Sheed's turn in the Chauncey Billups tank, a beloved hero of DEE-troit BAS-ketball to be cut loose. Whether he finds similar success in new whereabouts depends on his price tag and team selection. Wallace, who will be 35 by opening night, is said to want another hefty contract, but he's a tough player to project. Can he handle and adapt to a slip in skills? Can he find a home as comfy as the Pistons again? Dallas has interest, as long as he logs minutes at center. Atlanta, where Wallace had a cameo en route to Detroit, is an option. Cleveland makes sense, Orlando might, too. Then there's San Antonio, where the Spurs like him and kind of owe him, for straying from Robert Horry at the end of Game 5 in 2005.
9. Anderson Varejao, F/C, Cavaliers
Varejao won't have to worry this time around about a holdout that messes with next season -- he's a marketable commodity with some leverage now, so opting out of his $6.2 million contract for a freshened deal makes sense. As a physical, energetic player and mobile defender, he remains as valuable with Shaquille O'Neal around as he was before the big man arrived.
10. Ron Artest, F, Rockets
Hope is hard to come by in Houston at the moment, and one guy you don't want losing hope is Artest, because it easily could lead to him losing focus and discipline. Committing to this guy is like buying a used Jaguar -- exquisite capabilities, magnificent craftsmanship, but you could choke on the maintenance bills. The Rockets might want to focus on a more thorough retooling (i.e., summer of '10) and consider themselves fortunate Artest passed through their organization without major mishap. Only serious contenders need apply here.
11. Chris Andersen, F/C, Nuggets
The Birdman couldn't have selected a better time to soar, boosting the Nuggets to the Western Conference finals and becoming a cult figure not just in Denver, but around the NBA. It makes the most sense for him to stay where he is, the organization he sought when he had hit rock bottom, but pushing into the $5 million range annually might have the pesky defender/rebounder/shot-blocker migrating to another market.
12. Charlie Villanueva, F, Bucks
The 24-year-old forward had career highs in scoring (16.7) and rebounds (6.7) last season, but the Bucks are being careful with funds and prefer to focus on point guard Ramon Sessions. This could be good news for newly acquired Amir Johnson and a challenge for Villanueva, who might draw interest from Detroit and Cleveland.
13. Allen Iverson, G, Pistons
It isn't just Iverson's stock that has fallen dramatically the past two seasons -- it's his career status. Respected as the best pound-for-pound NBA star since Nate Archibald, his lack of (or even negative) impact on team results gained more attention with Denver's rise and Detroit's sag. What he brings to the court -- scoring, without much regard for the offense in which he plays -- isn't worth the $20.8 million he made last season. He might be looking at the rudest salary awakening since Latrell Sprewell sneered at three years, $21 million.
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