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On the verge of an NBA season to be opening on Christmas day, fans will enter a familiar place where curiosity sets in for their beloved teams and how far they can go this year. However, with the exception of the summer’s draft picks, teams have remained relatively the same since the end of last season due to the lockout prohibiting trading and free agency. Therefore, expectations should be the same.
With free agency set to begin on December 9th, just sixteen days before the season tips off, several general managers will make significant roster moves that can have a huge impact on the playoff picture at season’s end.
The 2011 class doesn’t contain any stars the way that the 2010 list did with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but it does possess some interesting talent that can really shake up the final standings in comparison to last year. So out of the dozens of players available which ones should fans hope that their teams go after exactly? Let’s break it down categorically beginning with restricted free agents.
Some of the top restricted free agents include names like Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler and Grizzlies center Marc Gasol. Chandler brings the ability to score from anywhere on the floor, which is why he was a major piece of the trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to New York. Meanwhile, the much improved Gasol brings incredible size with the ability to also shoot at 7’1, 265 pounds.
Other restricted free agents that will spark interest include Nuggets guard Arron Afflalo, Celtics forward Jeff Green, Heat guard Mario Chalmers, and Clippers center DeAndre Jordan for his remarkable athleticism. Although there aren’t any restricted names that jump out as great scorers, there are a few unrestricted ones that could help a team put up points down the stretch to complement their primary threats.
This includes Mavs forward Caron Butler and Magic guard Jason Richardson. Richardson has averaged 18 points per game over his career since coming into the league in 2001, while Butler has averaged 16.6 since beginning a year later in 2002. While Butler did not contribute to the Mavericks title run in 2011 due to injury, three key components on that team will also be available on the 9th.
Guard J.J. Barea, who brings great energy and a consistent jumper, will be on the market along with teammate forward Tyson Chandler, who adds ferocious defensive intensity and strong rebounding.
Guard Peja Stojakovic, an extremely lethal shooter, helped spread the floor for the offense as well, while hitting a number of big shots throughout his career going all the way back to his early 2000’s days with the Kings.
Every team needs at least one pure three-point threat similar to Stojakovic. The Nuggets’ J.R. Smith, the Hawks’ Jamal Crawford, and the Heat’s James Jones provide excellent shooting for any team that lacks it. Jones won last year’s three point shootout and shot almost 43% from behind the arc, while Crawford and Smith can also score off the dribble as well.
But shooters and scorers won’t be enough to win championships. That can only be done by obtaining size to clog up the paint and rebound, along with lockdown defenders to shut down perimeter scorers in the big moments of a game. Players such as Boston’s Glen Davis, Denver’s Nene and Kenyon Martin, and New Orleans’ David West make the best available big men.
Memphis’ Leon Powe and Shane Battier, Phoenix’s Grant Hill, and Detroit’s Tayshaun Prince are the main desired defenders. Although there are several more players who will become free agents in a matter of days, these seem the vital pawns for a team’s playoff run, and even perhaps to win a championship.
Fans should hope that their teams can acquire any of these players, especially those that played for them last year. While there are other players who seem interesting on paper such as Mavs forward DeShawn Stevenson, Lakers guard Shannon Brown, and Wizards guard Josh Howard – their character issues make them distractions that fans should hope their teams stay far away from.
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