Those overachievers at SB Nation have just finished a top 50 free agents list, with the final 10 appearing here. In the interest of brevity, we'll focus on those 10, the cream of the crop(and, if you look at #11-20, the names become increasingly less appealing). Care to dream-on a little with me?
10. Andre Iguodala, G/F, Denver Nuggets (option for '13-'14)
-The man Liberty Ballers doesn't want to call "Iggy" has been around a while now, but is stil just 28. His calling card is his elite-level defense, but he is also one of the best finishers in the NBA. His all-around offensive game has grown over the years, and at times he's been called a "poor man's leBron", highlighted by very underrated passing skills. After Allen Iverson left Iguodala had a couple of seasons where he appeared to be on a path to super-stardom, but that didn't quite materialize, although he is paid essentially at that level. That brings us to the main problem: he'll only be a free agent if he declines his option, which seems unlikely. Had he not been traded to Denver, I would have thought he might be a solid choice as a trade target, with just a year of healthy-sized salary left after this season. As it is now, my guess is he stays in Denver.
9. Ty Lawson, G, Denver Nuggets (restricted free agent)
- I think Ziller correctly puts Lawson ahead of Brandon Jennings, who was #11 on the list. Lawson has some limitations(his size makes him less than stellar defensively, and he's not quite elite as a passer), but he is a fantastic young point guard who should earn a very nice pay raise as a restricted FA. He is adept both at shooting the three and driving to the basket, where his speed and solidly built frame allows him to finish around the basket. I think Lawson, despite his youth, is probably pretty close to a finished product, having entered the league as a polished upper-classman from a power program at UNC. There may not be much upside left, but the "now" is pretty good.
8. Tyreke Evans, G/F, Sacremento Kings (restricted FA)
- Tom Ziller, for those who don't know, is the writer for Sactown Royalty, the SB Nation Kings blog, so you could perhaps make the case he is overvaluing his homeboy(certainly we're all guilty of this from time to time). Evans, after winning rookie of the year, has regressed in two seasons since, likely due to iniuries, and an organization that frankly has been too unstable to develop a talent like Evans. And, at the very least, he is a talent. I don't think he's a point guard, which he played his rookie year, and I don't think he's a small forward, which he kind of was by default last year when Sacremento would play him alongside Marcus Thornton and Isiah Thomas. What he is, is a scoring guard with some point skills who can, when healthy, can get to the basket and shoot lots of free throws. AKA the player Dallas has never had and could really, really use. Now, how healthy he'll be going forward I don't know, and his maturity level even when healthy remains a question(not aided by the lack of positive role models on the team). I don't know what the Kings plan to do with Evans, but he's worth considering.
7. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (RFA)
- Curry is maybe the best shooter in the NBA. He may go down as one of the best ever. He's that good. I also think on the right team, with the right pick and roll mate, perhaps, he has growth left as a passer(he didn't play point his first year or so in college). Offensively, dreaming of that P&R partner being Dirk is pretty awesome. The question is, how healthy is he? This year will go a long way in determining his price tag as a free agent, but if he stays on thr court I would consider giving him a max-offer sheet. How Dallas evaluates him I'm not sure, but in a lot of ways he's similar to former Mav Steve Nash.
6. Manu Ginobili
- Great player. He's not coming here. Let's move on.
5. Josh Smith, F, Atlanta Hawks (unrestricted FA)
- A bona fide free agent here. Very versatile forward who rebounds, defends, runs the floor like a gazelle and can even pass pretty well. He's filled out as a pro, and may be starting to get to the point where he's not quite a super combo-forward anymore, and is just a great power forward, which wouldn't make him an ideal fit in Dallas. But, if he can still play the 3, he's a near-max worthy player. He is from Atlanta, however, and speculation has it that he will recruit heavily to have another Atlanta boy join him in Dwight Howard. Which probably won't work but doesn't help Dallas, either. Does he deserve Deron money? I'm not sure. As good as he is, he still takes too many outside shots, which limits his efficiency, and his athletic ability is so key for him you have to wonder how well he'll age.
4. Andrew Bynum, C, Philadelphia 76ers (UFA)
- As the train I'm writig this on pulls him to the city of brotherly love, who better to talk about than their newest toy. Bynum is, on talent, a top 10 player in the NBA. When motivated he legitimately rivals Dwight Howard as the best center in basketball. Assuming he has no major setbacks this season, I expect Dallas to make him a max offer. That being said, the question of whether he deserves such an offer does not have an overwhelming consensus, I don't think. Bynum has battled injuries, and he has significant NBA mileage on him considering his age. There are also questions about his commitment, which is not something you can have about the presumptive best player on a championship-aspiring team. In the end, the likeliest outcome is that he signs with the team that can offer the most money: Philly.
3. James Harden, G, Oklahoma City Thunder (RFA)
- After the Ibaka extension, a popular theory going around was that OKC wouldn't be able to pay Harden. Let's not get carried away: they can still pay him and avoid the luxury tax. They are a smart organization who knows what they have and what they are capable of doing. And they have time. Whatever happens, they won't be taken by surprise and make some sort of panicked misstep. Now, as for the player, I love James Harden. I've long said I think he's a clone of Manu Ginobili, but younger and healthier. Easily worth the RFA-level max, in my view. Look at what he's done with two majorgunners and just one ball. If he's ever the first option he will score 25 a night.
2. Dwight Howard, C, LA Lakers (UFA)
- We've said so much about Howard, already; what's left? He's the best center in the NBA, one of the three or four best at any position, an incredibly dominant defensive center who would be the perfect partner for Dirk, as a defending and rebounding savant. Now he's in LA, and it's hard to imagine him leaving. The only reason anyone might think otherwise is because Howard is a dramatic fellow prone to erratic nonsensical behavior, as the insanity of the last 12 months attest to.
1. Chris Paul, G, LA Clippers (UFA)
- One could maybe dispute Ziller's ranking of Paul over Howard. I won't. Chris Paul is probably my favorite player not named Dirk Nowitzki. He is a basketball genius, like Magic and Stockton before him, and although he's short and has lost a lot of his athleticism to injury, and will continue to do so with age, I wouldn't hesitate to give him a longterm deal. Take Jason Kidd's BBIQ and passing talent, Terry's shooting touch and killer instinct, and you still fall short of how goof Chris Paul is. Now, before the pipe dream takes hold, it's clear that this is not your older brother's Clippers. They have put a team of savvy veterans around Paul, alongside a young frontline that's as good as any. So, something is going to have to go seriously wrong for him to end up in Dallas.