When the free agency period opens on July 1st the three major chips of course are LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. But with so many teams clearing salary cap space we are going to see some very different teams next season across the NBA. How will all of this impact the Nuggets and how can Denver become a player?
The best part about this free agency period will be when the dust of the "Big 3" settles, but who knows how long that process will drag out. It would appear that Chris Bosh will likely team up with either LeBron James or Dwayne Wade, but who knows what will happen. Rumors have been flying around and they will only intensify as things continue to heat up.
Let's take a quick look at the upcoming free agents to be ... both unrestricted and restricted.
The Unrestricted Free Agents: (free to sign wherever they choose)
1.) LeBron James: Will he stay or will he go? Get ready for more LeBron, LeBron and more LeBron. Yes, even I am helping feed the hype ... sorry.
2.) Dwyane Wade: Supposedly the most likely of the the big trio that will stay with his original team (depending on who you talk to in Bron-Bron's camp).
3.) Chris Bosh: The 6'10'' power forward averaged 24 points and 10.8 rebounds for the Toronto Raptors last season. For some reason I think Bosh will follow LeBron wherever he goes, unless James re-signs with the Cavaliers, and if James does re-sign in Cleveland I think Bosh will consider the Heat or Lakers. Whoever lands Bosh gets a premier big man who doesn't turn 27 years-old until March 2011.
4.) Dirk Nowitzki: The 32 year-old forward keeps plugging along and is expected to re-sign with the Dallas Mavericks with a verbal commitment to be reached before he puts ink to paper. All I can say is ... remember Carlos Boozer's verbal commitment to the Cleveland Cavaliers? If not, read this.
5.) Amare Stoudemire: The 6'10'' power forward turns 28 years-old on November 16, 2010. Stoudemire turned in one of his finest seasons averaging 23.1 points and 8.9 rebounds and he also played in all 82 games for the first time in his 8-year career. The two biggest questions I have for teams looking at the veteran big man: A.) Can he thrive without Steve Nash? B.) Will he play as hard as he did last season with a nice new contract?
Other unrestricted guys to keep an eye on: Paul Pierce, Celtics; Carlos Boozer, Jazz; Joe Johnson, Hawks; David Lee, Knicks; Shaquille O'Neal, Cavaliers; Ray Allen, Celtics; John Salmons, Bucks (ETO); Raymond Felton, Bobcats; Channing Frye, Suns; Josh Howard, Wizards; Udonis Haslem, Heat; Tracy McGrady, Knicks; Randy Foye, Wizards; Travis Outlaw, Clippers; Al Harrington, Knicks; Mike Miller, Wizards; Nate Robinson, Celtics; Brendan Haywood, Mavs; Luke Ridnour, Bucks; Steve Blake, Clippers; Derek Fisher, Lakers; Shannon Brown, Lakers; Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Cavs; Jermaine O'Neal, Heat; Brad Miller, Bulls; Larry Hughes, Bobcats; Kyle Korver, Jazz; Darko Milicic, Timberwolves; Drew Gooden, Clippers; Chris Duhon, Knicks; Sergio Rodriguez, Knicks; Craig Smith, Clippers; Roger Mason, Spurs; Earl Watson, Pacers; Eddie House, Knicks; Antoine Wright, Raptors; Amir Johnson, Raptors; Raja Bell, Warriors; Bobby Simmons, Nets; Rasual Butler, Clippers; Dorell Wright, Heat; Kwame Brown, Pistons; Joe Alexander, Bulls; Oleksiy Pecherov, Timberwolves; Javaris Crittenton, Wizards; Ian Mahinmi, Spurs; Adam Morrison, Lakers; J.R. Giddens, Knicks. List sourced here.
The Restricted Free Agents: (their teams can match any offer)
1.) Rudy Gay, Grizzlies: Gay is a backup plan for all the teams that lose out on the big time options above. The kid can score and he's going to be just 24 years-old when the season starts (August 17, 2010). Whoever signs the talented 6'8'' forward is going to be very pleased and Gay will be a major contributor to any team looking to add some scoring pop and what could be better than snagging a guy before he's realized his full potential?
2.) Luis Scola, Rockets: The long-haired forward would be hard to let go, but for the right price I think teams could pluck him away. Houston is pretty well stocked with youth at power-forward with draft pick Patrick Patterson and with the addition of Jordan Hill last season from the New York Knicks. Scola is a veteran voice on a team that has been getting younger and losing his leadership would hurt the team, but again if the right deal comes along Scola could be wearing a different uniform next season.
3.) Josh Childress, Hawks: Childress has played his last two seasons overseas in Greece, but the Atlanta Hawks, like the Nuggets with Linas Kleiza, still own his NBA rights. The Hawks are probably losing Joe Johnson and could use Childress' services, but perhaps the right sign-and-trade would work. Atlanta took a risk with Josh Smith, so what about taking a risk with J.R. Smith for Childress? Smith isn't a name that Atlanta fans would be happy with, but he could replace a lot of the scoring load left with J.J.'s departure.
4.) Tyrus Thomas, Bobcats: The problem the Nuggets have with J.R. Smith also plagues Thomas ... consistency. With Larry Brown at the helm in Charlotte (for now), Thomas is in pretty good hands. The young and athletic power forward reminds me of Kenyon Martin with a more polished offensive game. T.T. turns 24 years-old August 17, 2010 (exact same birthdate as Rudy Gay) and will probably get a deal that K-Mart should have received in the $6 million to $10 million range. Thomas is a big risk/reward guy and whatever team signs him will be taking a pretty big risk and they better have the right people in place to manage him.
5.) J.J. Redick, Magic: The shooting guard from Duke has come a long way since his rookie season and is learning how to hold his own in the NBA. Redick is a great role player and will be a nice addition to a contender looking to add a shooter who is constantly on the move. If the Celtics' Ray Allen finds a new home, look at Boston to make a play for him.
Other restricted guys to keep an eye on: Ronnie Brewer, Grizzlies; Jordan Farmar, Lakers; Kyle Lowry, Rockets; Hilton Armstrong, Rockets; Josh Boone, Nets. List sourced here.
Unrestricted Free Agents the Nuggets should pursue:
The following players are the guys that I would like to see Denver go after. There are plenty of questions about the Nuggets front office and who is running things and who the heck is signing the checks, but believe me ... somebody is in charge and the Nuggets are operating as lost as some may report.
The dream scenarios: The Nuggets find a way to bring in Chris Bosh, David Lee, Amare Stoudemire, or Brendan Haywood. We can probably cross these guys off the list right now since they would require a sign-and-trade deal, so not only would the Nuggets have to convince the guys to come here, but they'd also have to work out a trade with their former teams.
Realistic options with the Mid-Level Exception: If the Nuggets are looking to add some big men they could look at Udonis Haslem, Jermaine O'Neal, or Craig Smith. O'Neal is the tallest player of that bunch and his career is on life-support. He's not a long-term answer, but he could move into the starting lineup and allow Nene to move to power forward. Haslem and Smith are both power forwards who are a bit undersized. They would not help the Nuggets deal with the Lakers length, but Smith is a rebounding force that knows how to use his bulk to his advantage. Kyle Korver is also a guy whose name jumped out at me ... he's tall enough to be able to get his quick three-pointer off without much of a problem and his addition would probably mean the Nuggets are close to shipping J.R. Smith out of town.
Restricted Free Agents the Nuggets should pursue:
Sign-and-trade options: The following guys are too rich for Denver's blood and would require a sign-and-trade deal: Luis Scola, Josh Childress, and Tyrus Thomas. Childress intrigues me with the possibility of a sign-and-trade with J.R. Smith. Childress just turned 26 years-old and is a 6'8'' and 210 pound shooting guard. I could see Childress battling with Arron Afflalo for the starting spot and playing a different style of game in Greece may have made Childress a more well-rounded player. He was asked to share the load overseas and could be a valuable player in the NBA with the Nuggets whether he comes off the bench and handles the scoring load (which he was used to with Atlanta) or starts. The Hawks need to take a chance and Childress may never play for them again, so why not get something for him?
Tyrus Thomas will likely re-sign with the Bobcats and he's probably in his best situation with Larry Brown running the team, but what will happen when Brown moves on? It'll be interesting to see if anyone takes a chance with big money for Thomas, I don't see it happening and he will likely be a bargain for whatever team signs him.
Luis Scola has proved he can score inside with his limited athletic ability, but team wont overspend for him and the Rockets would likely match a reasonable deal. Could the Nuggets land him in a trade? I don't know what the Rockets would want from Denver as the team is rebuilding on the fly and is loaded with young talent and a few good veterans.
Possible MLE options: Both Ronnie Brewer and J.J. Redick could be options for the Nuggets, but with reasonable contract offers why wouldn't their teams just match and keep them? Brewer could be valuable if the Grizzlies lose Rudy Gay and Redick has done a nice job for Orlando and may have some bigger money waiting for him. Neither guy solves Denver's big man issues as they are both guards (Brewer could play a little small forward). But with Afflalo, Smith and possibly Joey Graham returning these guys may not make sense.
The Nuggets need to be players in the free agent market. With limited money, Denver needs to use the MLE wisely and they need to use it. Denver's own free agents: Joey Graham and Johan Petro may be on the Nuggets radar and if they are re-signed the Nuggets will have even more luxury tax to pay. The Nuggets are sort of backed into a corner and need to make trades in order to shake up the roster as they don't have any room to bring in an impact player via free agency.
This will be a historic offseason and one the Nuggets must find a way to be players in.
Photo courtesy of Lynne Sladky AP Photos