Ball Don't Lie - NBA

We're less than half of a day away from half of the NBA, it seems, becoming available on the free-agent market.

Who is the best of the bunch? Who is free to go wherever they please, who would fit where, and who would have a tough time weaseling their way out of their former team's grasp? It's all here: BDL's Top 25 free agents of the 2010 offseason.

1. LeBron James(notes)

He's the big one, fully unrestricted, and with his pick of six different teams that can offer him a maximum contract without resorting to sign-and-trade machinations. It's not just that teams have been preparing for the last season or two to sign James this summer, it's that teams have been preparing since he re-signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the summer of 2006, shedding payroll weight and hoping their fans understood the loss of weight, along with the wait. He's the biggest NBA free agent since the summer before Michael Jordan's last season with the Chicago Bulls, with the distinction that James (unlike Jordan in 1997) is quite available.

2. Dwyane Wade(notes)

Wade seems less available, though he's barely less potent than James. At times, Wade is this league's best player, and he's easily the best of this free-agent bunch with an actual ring to show for it. A Chicago native, Wade has shown little inclination toward heading there or anywhere else besides the team he's been with since 2003, the Miami Heat.

3. Chris Bosh(notes)

Bosh is the anti-Wade, someone who has shown little interest in committing to the team that also drafted him in 2003, the Toronto Raptors. Bosh's own general manager has called him "likely," as the lanky offensive-minded forward seems keen on hitching his wagon to that of James' and possibly Wade's in Miami.

4. Amar'e Stoudemire(notes)

Stoudemire has long felt disrespected, for whatever reason, by the Phoenix Suns. But a recent and rather large offer from the Suns (who drafted him in 2002) to stick with the dry heat may have him reconsidering. Based on injury and attitude concerns, other teams have been less interested in Stoudemire, despite his white-hot play to end last season.

5. Dirk Nowitzki(notes)

Nowitzki seems a long shot to leave Dallas, the only team he's known since being traded to the Mavericks in 1998. But he is at least technically testing the waters by opting out of the last year of his contract. Next season, Nowitzki might be a better fit alongside a player like James or Wade than either of the players listed above him, but the 2007 MVP is 32 years of age and likely a less-attractive long-term option.

6. Carlos Boozer(notes)

Boozer has been hardly the picture of health in his career, some question his motivation and there is the whole thing about publically betraying the trust of a blind man. But beyond it all, he can score and he can rebound. And this is the NBA, so you will get paid quite a lot of money for scoring quite a lot and rebounding nearly as much.

7. Joe Johnson(notes)

Johnson has been revealed as a second-fiddle at this point, but second-fiddles in a seller's market tend to make first-fiddle (do they have first-fiddles?) bank, and it appears as if Johnson will have his pick of the fiddle-appreciators once LeBron James makes up his mind as to where to head. Buyer beware, as Johnson is a minutes hound who puts up big numbers as a result and is about to hit the downside of his career. That in place, he could be a damn good counterpart to anyone ranking above him on this list.

8. David Lee(notes)

Lee is no product of the system, because through three coaches with wildly disparate systems, he's shot a high percentage and rebounded like mad in five seasons with New York. He's not going to win you many games as a go-to guy in an offense, but down the stretch of a game you could do a lot worse than having the high-flying Lee as your screener-and-roller.

9. Rudy Gay(notes)

Questions about Gay's attitude have dogged him since college, and it does seem a bit curious that he seemed to start getting everything right on the pro level in his contract season last year. This didn't just feel like the expected growth of a still-maturing player; as Gay's level of concentration and interest shot way up. A restricted free agent, the Grizzlies can match any offer another team makes and keep Gay in Memphis, and they've fallen just short of promising as such.

10. Paul Pierce(notes)

As it is with Nowitzki, Pierce's presence on your team might be more beneficial next season than, say, having Lee or Gay around. But he is getting on in age and it's possible that the only reason he is a free agent (opting out of the last year of his deal and $21.5 million) is to give up a little money on the front end of a contract with the Boston Celtics to take in some long-term money that he probably won't deserve on the tail end of his deal.

11. Luis Scola(notes)

Scola's situation is complicated to those who aren't familiar with the NBA's salary by-laws. He's a restricted free agent that can either re-sign with the Houston Rockets, sign an offer sheet with another team that the Rockets could match and retain him (even against his will), or he could play one year for Houston under a qualifying offer of a little over $4 million. In his prime and highly valued by Houston, he'll likely put together a long-term deal with the club.

12. Brendan Haywood(notes)

He'll never be an All-Star, but Haywood is a capable 7-footer that does just about everything well, and those are hard to find in this league. Starting-level centers are always more valuable than flashier counterparts in the backcourt, and while Haywood might be overpaid in what could be a pretty crazy summer, he'll be closer to earning the dough than you'd think.

13. John Salmons(notes)

Salmons is in his prime, and given the right system, he can put up some sound numbers. Salmons flourishes on poor offensive teams that really have few other options but to dump him the ball and get out of the way, so it'll be interesting to see if he values money and shots over a lesser role with a better team.

14. J.J. Redick(notes)

Mock the guy all you want, but Redick has worked his way into a sound all-around player that could really destroy opponents offensively if he had the luxury of playing anything more than spot minutes. He can still be beaten defensively, but it won't be for lack of effort, as he held his own matching up against Ray Allen(notes) in this year's postseason.

15. Ray Allen

Allen is still the game's best shooter, and he can really help a team next season, so he'll vault a few spots up this list if the team in question (say, his incumbent Boston Celtics) picks him up on a one- or two-year deal. But age has to set in at some point, and there were times this season when Allen was working as a well-well-below average player.

16. Shaquille O'Neal(notes)

It's hard to get away from the fact that at no point last season were the Cleveland Cavaliers consistently better with Shaquille O'Neal on the court than they were with him off it. O'Neal still shoots that high percentage, he can guard and/or foul the other team's opposing center and hit the open man. But nobody in this league has logged more miles than the Diesel, and he's a bit low on torque at this point.

17. Udonis Haslem(notes)

He may not be the biggest name around, but Haslem might be this game's most underrated defender. The Miami free agent can move his feet with the best of them, he is a master at helping on screen and roll, he knows how to be the biggest destructive force in a zone (as we saw last year with the Heat) without having to block many shots and he rebounds expertly. Whoever latches onto Haslem will be getting a steal.

18. Brad Miller(notes)

Miller is clearly on the downside of an All-Star career, but he's still as good as backup centers come, to say nothing of his ability to stretch the floor as a big forward. If the former Hornet, Bull, Pacer, King and Bull (again) can stop forcing passes and lay off the 3-pointer a bit, his next team will have a solid contributor at two of the toughest positions to fill.

19. Tyrus Thomas(notes)

Thomas is maddeningly inconsistent, and it worries that he was still inconsistent and aloof in a contract year last season. But even if he passes on all that potential, Thomas is still a knockout defender. As it is with Luis Scola, the Charlotte Bobcats can either sign Tyrus, match any offer or sign him to a qualifying offer.

20. Zydrunas Ilguaskas

Zydrunas looked a little stuck in the mud last season with Cleveland after coming back from a long midseason layoff following his trade to Washington and subsequent release. He can still hit the offensive glass, score in the post and spread the floor -- even if the long shots aren't falling.

21. Matt Barnes(notes)

A tough defender who often goes a little too far over the line, Barnes has a good playoff rep and the ability to contribute offensively. If only he'd stop trying to dribble so much, the turnover-prone Barnes can provide quality depth to an already strong team.

22. Raymond Felton(notes)

Though it's still up in there as to whether Felton's over-dribbling can help or hurt a team once it's all added up, he can sop up minutes at point guard, and there is always a market in this league for point men who can at least try to execute plays.

23. Nate Robinson(notes)

He's a headcase, for sure, but if someone can crack the nut, they'll be unleashing the talent of one of this game's better all-around performers. Robinson is a contributor just waiting to be spoken-to in his own weird language.

24. Mike Miller(notes)

Miller is this game's most unheralded headcase, just not as showy as Nate Robinson's brand is. The recently well-traveled wing has fancied himself more of a Magic Johnson-type over the last few years, with terrible, team-killing results as he passes up shots and forces pass after pass. Given the right coach, Miller could still be a standout at his relatively young age.

25. Anthony Morrow(notes)

A lights-out shooter, Morrow contributes absolutely nothing else of any value at this level. Still, he's a lights-out shooter. He's not quite as obscure as your lefty reliever or good long snapper, and he'll win a few games for you if the opposition leaves him alone in the corner.

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