We all know the obvious names in the NBA Free Agent Class of 2010—LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, etc.
We also know the names of the guys who have the chance to rip up their current deals and sign new ones before the expiration of the league’s current collective bargaining agreement—Amaré Stoudemire, Paul Pierce, Dirk Nowitzki, Kenyon Martin, etc.
But there are a number of soon-to-be free agents, or potential free agents, who might find the free agent market not as welcoming to them as they initially perceived it might be.
Some of these guys are free-agents-to-be, while others have either early termination options or player options on their current deals that they might think twice about exercising.
While it’s expected that many players will take financial hits in light of the current state of the economy, many of those on this list could be facing an even bigger hit than expected.
Be on the lookout for part two, where I examine those upcoming free agents whose values have increased this season.
The list is in no particular order.
Tyson Chandler, Charlotte Bobcats
Last summer, Chandler was traded from the Hornets to the Bobcats for Emeka Okafor. While it was seen as a cost-cutting move, the trade hasn’t really worked out for either team.
Okafor is averaging fewer points and rebounds than he did his rookie season while Chandler has already missed 10 games this season—mostly due to a stress reaction in his left foot.
Even in a league with so few legitimate centers, there’s very little chance that Chandler will choose to exercise the early termination option in his deal.
There isn’t much of a chance that the nine-year pro, who is averaging 6.6 points and seven rebounds per game, will make more money than the $12.75 million he is scheduled to make next season.
Even though Chandler would have been expected to take a pay cut next season, there was a legitimate chance that he would have been able to receive another long-term deal.
It would have bode Chandler well to have at least one injury-free season before becoming a free agent. Given his injury history, it’s unlikely that Chandler will ever receive another deal for more than three years—despite turning 27 just a few months ago.
Richard Jefferson, San Antonio Spurs
Jefferson was No. 1 on my list of the worst offseason transactions so far this season.
If Jefferson was on the open market this summer, it would be hard to include him amongst the top-10 available free agents.
Jefferson is averaging 13.2 ppg, the lowest since his rookie season and four fewer points than his career average—despite only playing four fewer minutes per game.
Jefferson has an early-termination option for next season at $15 million that he probably wouldn’t have terminated regardless of how successful his season was.
At the same time, if he had lived up to the expectations and proven his value to the Spurs, there was a chance that he could have opted out and forced the Spurs into giving him a long-term deal.
But if his play continues to decrease over this season and next then Jefferson, who turns 30 in June, will be lucky to get another contract for more than three years in the summer of 2011.
Derek Fisher, Los Angeles Lakers
Fisher is in the final year of a three-year, $14 million deal he signed with the Lakers after the Jazz granted him his release so he could seek better medical care for his daughter.
All three of the Lakers point guards face uncertainty this coming off-season. Fisher is an unrestricted free agent, Jordan Farmar is a restricted free agent, and Shannon Brown has a player option for next season (more on Brown in Part 2).
While Fisher’s value to the team can’t be weighed solely in statistics, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Fisher may have to take a pay cut if he wants to remain a member of the league’s highest-paid roster.
So far this season, Fisher is averaging 7.3 points and 2.7 assists per game. He’s shooting just 36 percent on his three-pointers and has struggled to defend the league’s premiere point guards.
I recently wrote that when Fisher shoots a three-pointer, I’m more fixated on what Lakers are in position to grab the rebound than I am on whether the shot will go in.
Fisher has stated that he’d like to play past this season. He’s the president of the NBA Player’s Association and would have to be an active player in order to continue in that role.
With the league’s current CBA expected to expire in the summer of 2011, Fisher would have to play at least one more season for that to happen.
The Lakers will most likely try to re-sign their co-captain but will hope to do so at a reduced rate, given his decrease in productivity.
John Salmons, Chicago Bulls
Salmons was a key contributor to last season’s first-round almost-upset of the Boston Celtics.
Just before Christmas, Bulls’ head coach Vinny Del Negro replaced Salmons in the starting lineup with Kirk Hinrich and since then, the Bulls have won five of eight games.
After averaging 18.3 ppg in each of the last two seasons, Salmons has seen his average dip to 13.1 this season.
Salmons has an early-termination option on his contract and would earn $5.8 million if he chose not to exercise it.
The Bulls are hoping to be big players in free agency and that may or may not depend on whether Salmons chooses to terminate his contract.
While Salmons has proved he’s a bona fide scorer, it doesn’t look like he could do better than $5.8 million on the open market.
There’s always the chance he may decide it’s worth opting out in exchange for another long-term deal, since he has a much better chance of getting one at 30 than he does in 2011 at 31.
T.J. Ford, Indiana Pacers
I’ve never been a fan of T.J. Ford. Anybody who has read my writing over the past three years could tell you that.
Fans of the Toronto Raptors always had an overvalued sense of what Ford was worth, and I was tired of defending myself.
Then the Raptors made Ford available for trade and all they were able to get for him was a washed-up Jermaine O’Neal and the draft rights to Nathan Jawai.
Now, Ford is listed third on the Pacers depth chart at point guard behind Earl Watson and rookie A.J. Price.
Pacers head coach Jim O’Brien must really not like Ford since the chances of Larry Bird finding a willing trade partner decreases with each DNP – COACH’S DECISION he accrues.
Ford has a player option for next season at $8.5 million. If I had $8.5 million, I would bet all of it that Ford won’t opt out.
For a team headed nowhere, it would behoove them to play Ford. Teams would be much more willing to trade for Ford’s 2011 expiring contract if they felt they could at least get something out of him on the court.
Ford has a career-scoring average of about 15 ppg. This season he’s averaging close to 10. While the rest of Ford’s season averages aren’t that far off from his career averages, it seems as if Ford is being blamed for the team’s 11-25 record.
If he were playing well, it wouldn’t be inconceivable for Ford to opt out and sign a new long-term deal.
But now that’s impossible unless the Pacers think that not playing him might make him miserable enough to opt out just so he can play elsewhere.
Michael Redd, Milwaukee Bucks
As I write this, the news has just come out that Redd will miss the rest of this season with tears to his ACL and MCL suffered in Sunday night’s game against the Lakers.
Redd has a player option for next season at $18.3 million that this latest setback won’t have any bearing on, since there was no way that Redd would have opted out anyway.
The only thing that has changed is that Redd’s career could be over and his salary for next season could be covered by insurance.
If that’s the case, then this might come as welcome news to the cash-strapped Bucks.
Either way, a possible horrible ending to the career of a guy that, by all accounts, was considered one of the league’s good guys.
Ray Allen, Boston Celtics
The good news for Allen is that the Celtics are 26-9 and have the best record in the Eastern Conference.
As a result, there hasn’t been much attention paid to the fact that Allen is in the midst of the worst three-point shooting season of his career. He’s also scoring fewer points per game than in any season since his rookie year.
It’s not as if Allen has taken a big dip in minutes. He is averaging 16.5 ppg in 36 minutes a game after averaging 18 ppg in the same amount of minutes last season.
Allen is making close to $20 million in the final year of his contract.
While the Celtics are fully aware of Allen’s value to the team, the fact that his numbers are starting to decline might scare off other teams. As a result, Allen could lose a lot of leverage in his negotiations with the Celtics next summer.
With Rajon Rondo’s extension kicking in next season, a possible new contract for Paul Pierce, and a roster to fill out, there was a chance that the Celtics might not have been able to compete with an offer from another team.
But now it appears that the Celtics might be able to re-sign Allen and still end up paying less money combined for Allen and Rondo than they are paying them for this season.
The question now is whether the Celtics will feel the need to offer Allen more than two years if he doesn’t receive an offer from another team.
Before the season started, it wouldn’t have been absurd to think Allen could get a deal similar to the one Lamar Odom signed with the Lakers last summer (four years, $36 million—$30 million guaranteed).
Now the Celtics seem like they could get away with giving Allen two years, $20 million.
Mike Miller, Washington Wizards
The biggest problem that Miller has faced this season is his inability to stay healthy. Because of an injury to his left calf muscle, Miller has only appeared in 11 of the Wizards’ 35 games this season.
With Gilbert Arenas suspended indefinitely, Miller has a golden opportunity to pad his stats, but teams might be unwilling to offer a long-term deal to the former Florida, Gator who turns 30 next month.
On the bright side, Miller has made 15 of his 25 three-point attempts this season.
Miller has now missed at least 12 games in all but two of his 10 seasons—the lone exceptions being his rookie season and 2008-09 when he missed nine games.
Miller is making $9.75 million in the final year of his deal and is sure to take a pay cut next season wherever he ends up.
Nate Robinson, New York Knicks
Robinson was a restricted free agent last summer and received very little interest from any team other than the Knicks.
Maybe teams were afraid to lock up cap space for a week while the Knicks decided whether to match an offer, or maybe it was because teams viewed Robinson as a one-dimensional player who can score but do little else.
As a result, Robinson and the Knicks agreed on a one-year, $4 million deal that will make Robinson an unrestricted free agent this summer.
If Ben Gordon could get five years, $55 million from the Pistons, then surely Robinson could get at least four years, $40 million from somebody, right?
Robinson was benched for 14 straight games by head coach Mike D’Antoni, and only recently has he been part of the rotation again.
He did manage to score 41 points in his first action since being benched but that might not be enough to change the opinions of teams who have already been scared off from Robinson.
The good news is that Robinson seems like the type who likes to play with a chip on his shoulder. Whoever does get Robinson next summer will get a motivated player on a mission to prove his critics wrong and make the GMs who passed on him pay.
Tracy McGrady, Houston Rockets
It’s hard to criticize McGrady when you consider that he hasn’t really done anything wrong. Had the Rockets not surpassed expectations through the early part of this season, they might have been more willing to give him a chance to play.
But because the team is playing really well without him, they see no sense in letting him play when they have no intention of bringing him back next season and hindering the progress of the team’s new nucleus.
McGrady, the league’s highest-paid player, is in Chicago working out with trainer Tim Grover while he awaits either his release or a trade.
McGrady’s only goal this season will be to get on the court and prove that he has fully recovered from microfracture surgery.
Either way, he shouldn’t expect to receive any big money offers from teams next summer. He is making $23 million this year and will be lucky to get a third of that next season.