Don't expect enormous impact from this offseason's free-agent class
Outside of Deron Williams, there are few true stars in this year's free-agent class
Most of the top players are restricted free agents or in the twilight of their careers
Both the Nets and Mavericks are hoping to acquire Williams and build around him
This is a free-agent class of experience, to put it kindly. When the contracts expire Sunday, there will be one All-NBA star who is approaching his peak. His name is Deron Williams, and his options appear to be focused on re-signing with the Brooklyn Nets or moving back to his hometown of Dallas to renew the championship hopes of the Mavericks.
Most of the other free agents are too young to be pried away from their current teams because they are restricted and their contract offers can be matched, or too old to merit a long-term investment.
Here is a quick look at the month of free agency ahead. It isn't going to be remembered as a summer of enormous impact.
1. Deron Williams. The point guard has been treated as a franchise star by the Nets ever since they traded for him two Februarys ago. Coach Avery Johnson has established a strong rapport with him, and general manager Billy King has involved Williams in all major decisions. The Nets are moving into a new arena in Brooklyn, which will give Williams a chance to become a major story in the nation's biggest market. At the same time, the Mavericks surrendered the opportunity to re-sign Tyson Chandler and defend their championship in order to generate the cap space with which to recruit Williams to the city in which he was raised. If Williams had been a free agent in 2010, he would have been a second-tier option behind LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but this summer it's all about him. He insists he doesn't know what he is going to decide, and with Dwight Howard having postponed his free agency until 2013, there will be no other star of Williams' class. He is 28 and entering what should be the most meaningful years of his All-NBA career.
2. Ersan Ilyasova. The Bucks' 24-year-old power forward averaged 13.0 points and 8.8 rebounds and was second in the NBA in three-point accuracy at 45.5 percent. As a young draft pick from Turkey he was said to have a pre-existing ankle injury that would limit his career. Now he is known for his ability to stretch the floor and attack the boards. The lack of young unrestricted free agents on the market may boost his value.
3. Lou Williams. The 25-year-old shooting guard is expected to return to Philadelphia, where he led in scoring while coming off the bench. The 76ers had trouble scoring last season and they should continue to value his leadership as well as his production in the fourth quarter.
4. Goran Dragic. The Rockets were trying to trade Kyle Lowry before the draft, in part to create room for the promising Dragic, 25, to return as a starter. The Rockets have the money to bring him back.
5. Kris Humphries. The 27-year-old power forward is best known for other matters, but he is a hungry rebounder who averaged a double-double last season. Look for Humphries to leave the Nets -- though he shouldn't expect a raise on last season's $8 million salary.
1. Kevin Garnett. The 36-year-old was rejuvenated by a midseason move from power forward to center, and thereafter was credited with playing the best basketball of his five years with Boston. The Celtics are waiting to hear whether he is going to sign with them or retire; there appear to be no other options.
2. Steve Nash. He remains one of the league's best point guards at 38, and it has everything to do with his fanatical approach to health and conditioning, as well as an unsurpassed love for the game. Nash will be auditioning for All-Star teams into his 40s. In this era of pressure to win now, Nash should be a priority for any team that needs a point guard.
3. Tim Duncan. He is too good to retire at 36. It was an amazing achievement for Duncan to help lead the Spurs within two wins of the NBA Finals. The ensuing loss does not reflect poorly on him whatsoever. He should, and probably will, come back to San Antonio.
4. Ray Allen. His play diminished not because of age but because of injury. Recent ankle surgery should enable the 36-year-old shooting guard to return to the level he showed in the first half of the season, when he and Rajon Rondo were Boston's best players. He may not return to Boston -- though the Celtics have the wherewithal to offer Allen far more money than he can make with the Heat, Clippers or Bulls.
5. Jason Terry. His shooting and leadership played a huge role in the Mavericks' 2010-11 championship. The 34-year-old guard may yet return to Dallas, pending the outcome of its pursuit of Deron Williams or potential trades to fill its cap space.
1. Roy Hibbert. He's an All-Star center at 25, and the Pacers are likely to match any offer for him.
2. Eric Gordon. He's a finalist for the Olympic team at 23, and the Hornets are likely to match any offer for him.
3. Brook Lopez. He's a 24-year-old center who averaged 19.2 points two seasons ago (before suffering injuries last season). The Nets are unlikely to let him bolt Brooklyn.
4. Nicolas Batum. He's a 23-year-old small forward who has developed at both ends of the floor. The Trail Blazers see him as a piece of their future nucleus.
5. Ryan Anderson. He was named the NBA's Most Improved Player last season at age 24, but if another team offers him outlandish money then the Magic may let him go as they change direction around new GM Rob Hennigan.
1. Brooklyn. Most of their cap space will be spent on Deron Williams, and if he accepts it, then it will be money well spent.
2. Dallas. The Mavericks are hoping to entice Williams with their cap space. If he says no, then Plan B may involve trades or short-term contracts that cut into their space.
3. Houston. The Rockets have been aggressively pursuing a new roster, via attempts to Dwight Howard or another star. The failures of those attempts aren't going to convince the Rockets to stop seeking opportunities to find a difference maker.
4. Phoenix. The Suns haven't given up on re-signing Nash. If he leaves, will Phoenix prove to be the attractive market that it's been in the past? This is not a good summer in which to rebuild a team overnight.
5. Toronto. The Raptors would love to bring Nash home to Canada as a free agent alongside rookies Jonas Valanciunas (2011 draft) and Terrence Ross. It may be difficult for Nash to say no.
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