David West(notes) has a message for any NBA teams looking to sign an elite power forward when the free-agent market opens on Dec. 9: If you pass on him because of concerns about his surgically repaired left knee, you'll regret it.
One of the more productive players at his position in recent years, West tore his left anterior cruciate ligament late last season. West, 31, says his knee feels strong and he's progressed to playing with some contact.
"I'm glad they're doubting me," West told Yahoo! Sports. "I am going to shock folks. I have not stopped working. No vacations. No family time. No chilling. I have not worked this hard or as consistent in any point of my career, college or pro."
West has played his entire NBA career with the New Orleans Hornets. But while the Hornets are interested in re-signing him, West plans to assess all his free-agent options. The franchise's future is uncertain for two reasons: The NBA still is looking for an owner for the Hornets; and All-Star guard Chris Paul(notes) could end up being traded if New Orleans fears he'll leave as a free agent at the end of next season.
"Basically, I'm looking at the best option for the next few years of my career," West said. "I want to win. … I'm really going to look at every option closely and make a well thought-out decision."
West probably won't have to think for too long. Free agency figures to be fast and furious as teams try to quickly fill out their rosters after the lockout officially ends. The amnesty provision in the new collective bargaining agreement – which allows teams to waive one player and remove his contract from their salary cap – also could put some more players on the market. And some general managers wonder if former NBA players Wilson Chandler(notes), J.R. Smith(notes), Aaron Brooks(notes) and Kenyon Martin(notes) can find a way to get out of their guaranteed contracts in China. If so, several GMs said to expect strong interest in Chandler.
Until then, however, here's a look at 15 of the top free agents, regardless of whether they're unrestricted (U) or restricted (R). Teams will have three days to match any offer sheet made to their restricted free agents.
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1. Nene(notes), Nuggets, C, 29, $11.3 million 2010-11 salary; U: The Nuggets can pay Nene more money than any other team. Nene's wife also is from Colorado. Still, several teams will try to persuade him to leave Denver. Golden State, Houston, the Los Angeles Clippers, Washington, New Jersey and Indiana could make a run at him. The Miami Heat want an upgrade at center, but they likely would have to work a sign-and-trade deal to land Nene. Portland and Dallas (if it doesn't re-sign Tyson Chandler) also could have interest.
2. Tyson Chandler(notes), Mavericks, C, 29, $12.6 million 2010-11 salary, U: Chandler's stock rose dramatically after his defense helped lift the Mavericks to last season's championship – which is why the Mavs hope to re-sign him. Dallas could lower its salary-cap hit by using its amnesty provision on Chandler's backup, Brendan Haywood(notes). The same teams pursuing Nene likely will be interested in Chandler.
3. David West(notes), Hornets, PF, 31, $8.2 million 2010-11 salary, U: The Hornets can ill afford to lose West, especially if they want to keep guard Chris Paul happy. Will his knee injury scare prospective teams? Sacramento, New Jersey and Indiana could pursue him. Denver also could have interest if Nene leaves.
4. Marc Gasol(notes), Grizzlies, C, 26, $3.5 million 2010-11 salary, R: Gasol would be No. 1 on this list if he weren't a restricted free agent. The Grizzlies likely will have to go into luxury tax territory to keep their starting center. And after reaching the second round of last season's playoffs, they could be willing to pay that price.
5. DeAndre Jordan(notes), Clippers, C, 23, $854,000 2010-11 salary, R: The Clippers might give Nene, Tyson Chandler and Gasol a look before making an offer to Jordan, who has become a nice complement to Blake Griffin(notes). Jordan could get overpaid by a desperate team, possibly the Rockets.
6. Thaddeus Young(notes), Sixers, SF, 23, $2.9 million 2010-11 salary, R: With Andre Iguodala(notes) and Evan Turner(notes) on the roster, could Young be expendable? The Clippers, who are looking for a versatile small forward, could come calling.
7. Andrei Kirilenko(notes), Jazz, SF, 30, $17.8 million 2010-11 salary, U: The Jazz appear committed to developing Gordon Hayward(notes), so re-signing Kirilenko doesn't appear likely. Kirilenko signed a three-year deal with CSKA Moscow with an NBA out clause, but he will need a strong offer to leave. It's no secret the Nets' Russian owner, Mikhail Prokorov, is interested in his fellow countryman.
8. Jamal Crawford(notes), Hawks, SG, 31, $10 million 2010-11 salary, U: One of the top scorers in this free-agent class. Phoenix, Chicago, New Jersey, Miami and Portland will have interest in Crawford. Atlanta would like to bring him back, sources said, but might not have the money to make a competitive offer.
10. Jeff Green(notes), Celtics, F, 25, $4.5 million 2010-11 salary, R: The Celtics acquired Green in last season's trade that sent Kendrick Perkins(notes) to Oklahoma City. They likely will try to re-sign him, but at what cost? Green was offered $8 million a year from the Thunder, but his agent, David Falk, wanted much more.
11. Shane Battier(notes), Grizzlies, SF, 33, $7.3 million 2010-11 salary, U: There won't be a shortage of interest for the tough defender, 3-point shooter and respected professional. Miami, New Jersey, Boston, Oklahoma City, the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State could try to sign him. The Grizzlies also could try to keep him.
12. Caron Butler(notes), Mavericks, SF, 31, $10.5 million 2010-11 salary, U: Like West, Butler is coming off knee surgery. Teams could be hesitant to give big money to him, but the Heat – who know Butler well from his days with the franchise – have some interest in bringing him back.
13. Jason Richardson(notes), Magic, SG, 30, $14.4 million 2010-11 salary, U: A veteran team needing scoring could use its midlevel exception to try to sign Richardson. How would he look in the Bulls' backcourt next to Derrick Rose(notes)?
14. Rodney Stuckey(notes), Pistons, G, 25, $2.7 million 2010-11 salary, R: The Pistons are interested in re-signing Stuckey and are protected by his restricted status. Will any other team give him an offer sheet?
15. Kris Humphries(notes), Nets, PF, 26, $3.2 million 2010-11 salary, 26, U: Kim Kardashian no longer wants him. But there always will be interest from NBA teams in a young big man who can provide a double-double nightly.
Other notable free agents: Nuggets G Arron Afflalo(notes) (R); Mavericks G J.J. Barea(notes) (U); Bobcats C Kwame Brown(notes) (U); Kings C Samuel Dalembert(notes) (U); Celtics F Glen Davis(notes) (U); Pacers F Mike Dunleavy (U); Rockets F Chuck Hayes(notes) (U); Suns F Grant Hill(notes) (U); Hornets F Carl Landry (U); Wizards F Josh Howard(notes) (U); Bucks F Luc Richard Mbah a Moute(notes) (R); Kings SG Marcus Thornton(notes) (R); Cavaliers G Anthony Parker(notes) (U); Wizards G Nick Young(notes) (R).
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