Posted: Tuesday June 22, 2010 12:19PM ; Updated: Thursday July 1, 2010 12:38AM
Chris Mannix
Chris Mannix>INSIDE THE NBA
Top 40 NBA Free Agents

Before the 2009-10 season even began, teams were salivating over the thought of acquiring LeBron James, the 25-year-old with unearthly athleticism and skill who managed to turn the ever-struggling Cavaliers into contenders.

His impending free agency was the story of the year, and now, his future could reside with any team with an open wallet.

But James isn't the only star who could find a new home this summer. This year holds what promises to be the best free-agent class in history, with the likes of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amar'e Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki and Joe Johnson all set to test the market. Here's a look at the top 40 free agents.

Note: Free-agent negotiations begin July 1 and players can begin signing contracts July 8.

 
1
LeBron James
Age: 25 | 2009-10 Team: Cavaliers | Position: SF
'09-10 Stats: 29.7 ppg, 50.3% FG, 7.3 rpg, 8.6 apg, 1.6 spg
Status: Unrestricted
The two-time MVP is at the top of every team's wish list, with the unique ability to turn middling franchises (such as the Knicks and Clippers) into instant contenders. Few players have ever possessed the blend of size, skill and speed of James, who still could be a few years away from reaching his prime. Wooing James will be complicated -- a hefty contract and perhaps signing some of his free-agent buddies to fill out the roster are among the requisites -- but if a team has the money, it will make the sacrifices.
 
2
Dwyane Wade
Age: 28 | 2009-10 Team: Heat | Position: SG
'09-10 Stats: 26.6 ppg, 47.6% FG, 4.8 rpg, 6.5 apg, 1.8 spg
Status: Unrestricted
Wade's place on this list may be only nominal, with few GMs believing he's eager to leave Miami. Indeed, Wade has said he prefers to remain on South Beach -- so long as the Heat use their near-$24 million in estimated cap space to sign or deal for another high-level star. Signing Wade does come with risks: Wade's injury history and relentless attacking style make it likely he will miss significant time at some point while under his next contract. Still, Wade is a legitimate franchise player and the top shooting guard on the market.
 
3
Chris Bosh
Age: 26 | 2009-10 Team: Raptors | Position: PF
'09-10 Stats: 24.0 ppg, 51.8% FG, 10.8 rpg
Status: Unrestricted
There are some questions as to whether Bosh is capable of carrying a team. Fortunately, only one team that's after the five-time All-Star wants him to do so. Houston would love to pair Bosh next to Yao Ming, Chicago envisions a Bosh/Joakim Noah frontcourt (with Derrick Rose running the show) and Miami will recruit Bosh to be Wade's sidekick. Only the Raptors want Bosh to be the face of the franchise. But in a secondary role, Bosh, who averaged career highs in scoring, rebounding and shooting percentage last season, should thrive.
 
4
Dirk Nowitzki
Age: 32 | 2009-10 Team: Mavericks | Position: PF
'09-10 Stats: 25.0 ppg, 48.1% FG, 42.1% 3PT, 7.7 rpg
Status: Unrestricted
Don't blame Dirk for the Mavs' first-round flameout: He averaged 26.7 points on 54.7 percent shooting against San Antonio. Nowitzki is the Mavericks, and if he looks elsewhere, he will likely take a pay cut. Dallas can offer Nowitzki a four-year maximum contract worth $96.2 million and a no-trade clause. Like Wade with Miami, Nowitzki may want to see what moves the Mavericks make (particularly with Erick Dampier's non-guaranteed $13 million contract) before re-signing.
 
5
Amar'e Stoudemire
Age: 27 | 2009-10 Team: Suns | Position: PF
'09-10 Stats: 23.1 ppg, 55.7% FG, 8.9 rpg
Status: Unrestricted
Stoudemire's stock went up after a superb postseason stretch in which he keyed Phoenix's surprising run to the conference finals. Questions about Stoudemire's surgically repaired knees and eye injury have been answered; he is poised to command a max-level, five- or six-year contract. His ability to play two positions will also increase his value with teams with a hole at either power forward or center.
 
6
Joe Johnson
Age: 29 | 2009-10 Team: Hawks | Position: SG
'09-10 Stats: 21.3 ppg, 45.8% FG, 36.9% 3PT, 4.6 rpg, 4.9 apg
Status: Unrestricted
Johnson and Bosh are co-leaders in the most-likely-to-move category. Johnson blossomed into a bona fide superstar in Atlanta, but the Hawks' uncertain future -- can Larry Drew coach? Will ownership open its wallet for free-agent help? -- will have the four-time All-Star's eye wandering. Wade is the marquee shooting guard on the market, but Johnson's exceptional inside-out game and durability -- he played 82 games for five of his nine seasons in the league and appeared in no fewer than 76 games in each of his last three seasons -- make him a solid second choice.
 
7
Carlos Boozer
Age: 28 | 2009-10 Team: Jazz | Position: PF
'09-10 Stats: 19.5 ppg, 56.2% FG, 11.2 rpg, 3.2 apg
Status: Unrestricted
A year ago, Boozer was coming off an injury-plagued and inconsistent season and staring at an uncertain future. But after proving himself to be both durable (78 games last season) and productive, Boozer is suddenly a hot name again. Utah's big financial commitment to fellow power forward Paul Millsap (three years left on his four-year, $32 million deal) might preclude a substantial offer, but Boozer will be a solid fallback for teams (New York, Chicago, Miami) that lose out on the LeBron/Wade/Bosh/Johnson sweepstakes. The Knicks, who run a heavy pick-and-roll offense, look like a natural fit.
 
8
Paul Pierce
Age: 32 | 2009-10 Team: Celtics | Position: SF
'09-10 Stats: 18.3 ppg, 47.2% FG, 41.4% 3PT, 4.4 rpg, 3.1 apg
Status: Unrestricted
Pierce is another player who may be looking to cash in before the collective bargaining agreement expires. His status with the Celtics -- expect his number to be the next one raised to the rafters -- will put pressure on them to keep him. Pierce isn't as explosive offensively as he once was, but he is still a capable scorer who gets to the line frequently.
 
9
Rudy Gay
Age: 23 | 2009-10 Team: Grizzlies | Position: SF
'09-10 Stats: 19.6 ppg, 46.6% FG, 5.9 rpg
Status: Restricted -- $4.4 million qualifying offer
Like Boozer, Gay's current team may not be willing to break the bank to keep him. Gay is a prolific scorer who has only scratched the surface of his potential. The question is, How much will a team be willing to pay a player who has proved he can score but not much else? Gay will be looking for max-level money and there may be teams willing to give it to him: the Clippers and Nets. The Clippers have a gaping hole at small forward while New Jersey will be looking to make a big splash under new owner Mikhail Prokhorov.
 
10
Ray Allen
Age: 34 | 2009-10 Team: Celtics | Position: SG
'09-10 Stats: 16.3 ppg, 47.7% FG, 36.3% 3PT
Status: Unrestricted
One GM believes Allen will be looking for a five-year, $75 million deal. The 34-year-old likely won't find that type of offer, but his super conditioning, professionalism and shooting ability will have teams lining up. A return to Boston is the best fit, but don't count out New York or Miami should either team have cap space left over after making a run at one of the big-name free agents.
 
11
David Lee
Age: 27 | 2009-10 Team: Knicks | Position: PF
'09-10 Stats: 20.2 ppg, 54.5% FG, 11.7 rpg, 3.6 apg
Status: Unrestricted
Last summer, Lee struggled to create a market, with most teams thinking the Knicks would match any offer for the restricted free agent. The Knicks no longer have that leverage. Lee's jump shot has improved over the last two seasons and he is one of the most active rebounders in the league. Teams will be a little wary, though, about committing top dollar to anyone who played in Mike D'Antoni's offense-happy system, and Lee's preference to play in a big market limits his options.
 
12
Luis Scola
Age: 30 | 2009-10 Team: Rockets | Position: F-C
'09-10 Stats: 16.2 ppg, 51.4% FG, 8.6 rpg
Status: Restricted -- $4.1 million qualifying offer
With Yao out, Scola was featured more in the Rockets' offense. And he delivered. A polished post game and soft touch from the perimeter make Scola a valuable commodity for the right price. Expect Houston -- which will try to work its way into the mix for Bosh -- to dangle Scola in sign-and-trade scenarios.
 
13
John Salmons
Age: 30 | 2009-10 Team: Bulls/Bucks | Position: SG
'09-10 Stats: 15.4 ppg, 44.1% FG, 38.2% 3PT
Status: Unrestricted
Salmons is the ultimate mercenary. Two seasons ago, he averaged 18.3 points for Chicago and helped it make the playoffs after being acquired from Sacramento at the trade deadline. In 2010, he was dealt again, this time to Milwaukee, where his scoring average spiked more than seven points (12.7 to 19.9) during the Bucks' playoff push. Salmons is a pure scorer but one better served playing for a team with an established No. 1 option.
 
14
Brendan Haywood
Age: 30 | 2009-10 Team: Wizards/Mavericks | Position: C
'09-10 Stats: 9.1 ppg, 56.2% FG, 9.3 rpg, 2.0 bpg
Status: Unrestricted
Haywood is a rare in-his-prime pure center who is a consistent double-double threat. His mediocre postseason (6.0 points, 6.2 rebounds) won't help his résumé, but if the Mavericks unload Dampier, they might be inclined to spend on a pivot they know fits well into their system.
 
15
Josh Childress
Age: 27 | 2009-10 Team: Olympiakos (Greece) | Position: SF
'09-10 Euroleage Stats: 15.2 ppg, 52.3% FG, 4.8 rpg
Status: Restricted (Hawks) -- $4.8 million qualifying offer
Olympiakos' financial issues, likely changes in Greek tax laws and one-too-many unruly fans have Childress primed for a return to the U.S. (his deadline to opt out is July 15). Lots of teams will be in the market for a versatile swingman who can defend and provide instant energy off the bench. The Hawks, who have retained Childress' rights, are one of them. Atlanta could bring back Childress in a reserve role or sign him to potentially replace Joe Johnson.
 
16
Tyrus Thomas
Age: 23 | 2009-10 Team: Bulls/Bobcats | Position: PF
'09-10 Stats: 9.4 ppg, 46.2% FG, 6.2 rpg, 1.6 bpg
Status: Restricted -- $6.2 million qualifying offer
Thomas was solid for Charlotte after coming over from Chicago in a deadline deal, and his superior athleticism makes him a prototypical power forward in Larry Brown's system. A full season away from the Bulls -- where the atmosphere had become poisonous for both sides -- should help Thomas to continue to develop, likely for the 'Cats.
 
17
Shaquille O'Neal
Age: 38 | 2009-10 Team: Cavaliers | Position: C
'09-10 Stats: 12.0 ppg, 56.6% FG, 6.7 rpg, 1.2 bpg
Status: Unrestricted
The Big Mercenary has a big decision: Does he latch on to another contender and hope to pick up one more ring, or does he go for the biggest paycheck out there, even if it means toiling with a struggling team at the end of his career? O'Neal has said he would like to play for three more years, but no team is likely to offer him that kind of guarantee. Would Boston take a flier on him? Would Chicago? Maybe Dallas, where O'Neal would finally be united with Mark Cuban?
 
18
Raymond Felton
Age: 26 | 2009-10 Team: Bobcats | Position: PG
'09-10 Stats: 12.1 ppg, 45.9% FG, 38.5% 3PG, 5.6 apg
Status: Unrestricted
Felton, who averaged career highs in field-goal and three-point percentages, has leverage with the Bobcats, who are reluctant to hand the team over to D.J. Augustin. Felton is one of a handful of established starting playmakers on the market, but with a likely salary demand of more than $6 million per year, he may price himself out of Charlotte.
 
19
Richard Jefferson
Age: 30 | 2009-10 Team: Spurs | Position: SF
'09-10 Stats: 12.3 ppg, 46.7% FG, 4.4 rpg, 2.0 apg
Status: Unrestricted
Coming off his least productive season since his rookie campaign, the nine-year veteran made a bold move in opting out of his $15.2 million contract for 2010-11. But by becoming a free agent now and instead of waiting a year, Jefferson is able to take advantage of the current collective bargaining agreement.
 
20
J.J. Redick
Age: 26 | 2009-10 Team: Magic | Position: SG
'09-'10 Stats: 9.6 ppg, 43.9% FG, 40.5% 3PT, 86.0% FT
Status: Restricted -- $3.9 million qualifying offer
Redick is fresh off the most productive season of his four-year career, having firmly established himself in Orlando's rotation. As Vince Carter and Matt Barnes struggled during the postseason, Redick was frequently on the floor for the Magic in the fourth quarter. Redick could be in line for a deal that starts at more than his qualifying offer.
 
 

 
SI.com
Hot Topics: NBA Draft Yasiel Puig NHL Playoffs NBA Playoffs Mark Cuban Jabari Parker
TM & © 2014 Time Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you. Read our privacy guidelines, your California privacy rights, and ad choices.
SI CoverRead All ArticlesBuy Cover Reprint