There will be nothing like “The Decision” this year, unless there’s an unexpectedly large desire to see where Rodney Stuckey and Carl Landry end up signing.
Instead of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, this year’s crop of NBA free agents will offer a much smaller yield of Tyson Chandler, Nene, Marc Gasol and Jamal Crawford — steady contributors for playoff teams, but not franchise players.
Nowhere in the crowd is there even a Joe Johnson, who signed a larger deal than any of the Big Three last season, a six-year, $124-million whopper with the Atlanta Hawks.
But there will be a level of excitement in this year’s hurry-up free-agent signing period that has not been felt around the league since the last lockout ended in January 1999.
A frenzied free-for-all started Wednesday morning when team officials were first allowed to contact players’ agents.
General contract terms can be discussed with agents, but verbal and written agreements are not allowed until the free-agency period officially begins Dec. 9, the same day training camps are expected to start around the league. It creates a two-for-one punch in which teams can see the physical shape of their own players the same day they can sign away players from other teams.
Which guys will be in play this year? Some key free agents are listed below by position, with last season’s salary included.
Aaron Brooks ($2 million) is a speedster and scorer who doesn’t offer much defensively, but he’s playing in China and might be stuck there this season. Stuckey ($2.8 million) has signs of potential but not much of an outside shot. Jose Barea ($1.8 million) is a restricted free agent who ran rings around the Lakers in the playoffs and probably re-signs with Dallas.
Nick Young ($2.6 million) emerged from a dreary Washington lineup to average 17.4 points in his fourth NBA season. Crawford ($10.1 million) has a score-first mind-set but can also play point guard. Marcus Thornton ($762,195) quickly wore out his welcome in New Orleans but had an inspiring partial season with Sacramento, averaging 21.3 points in 27 games.
Arron Afflalo ($2 million) added an improved offense last season to an already strong defensive game but probably will be re-signed by Denver. Jason Richardson ($14.4 million) slipped statistically after being traded from Phoenix to Orlando early last season.
This is the deepest group of free agents thanks to Gasol ($3.6 million), Nene ($11.4 million) and Chandler ($12.6 million). They can all hold their own defensively with the NBA’s best big men.
DeAndre Jordan ($854,389) is an up-and-comer who probably will re-sign with the Clippers after getting a substantial raise.
Samuel Dalembert ($13.4 million) is a shot-blocker with limited offensive skills, and Chuck Hayes ($1.97 million) and Craig Smith ($2.3 million) are physical pluggers down low.
This is an aging group that will provide leadership much more often than 20-point games.
Shane Battier ($7.4 million) is one of the league’s best in the locker room. Grant Hill ($3.2 million) just keeps on going. Caron Butler ($10.5 million) is one of the league’s good guys but played only 29 games last season because of a knee injury.
Tayshaun Prince ($11.1 million) didn’t do much on a declining Detroit team. Mike Dunleavy Jr. ($10.6 million) will take a huge pay cut but can still be a threat from outside.
There’s a glut of potential and productivity here, but no real game-changers after David West, who declined a $7.5-million option with New Orleans despite sustaining a season-ending knee injury last March.
Kris Humphries ($3.2 million) had a career year on and off the court (Kim Kardashian wedding, divorce filing). Landry ($3 million) is reliable and unspectacular. Andrei Kirilenko ($17.8 million) made a ton of money last season with Utah but has signed with CSKA Moscow and might just stay there.
Glen Davis ($3 million) was good and bad with Boston but should be in line for a raise somewhere. Jeff Green ($4.6 million) didn’t do much with Boston after being acquired midseason from Oklahoma City, where he was a solid third option after Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Compounding the uniqueness of this free-agency period will be the “amnesty” clause allowing teams to waive one player and free up cap space while potentially saving tens of millions in luxury taxes.
Baron Davis, Brandon Roy, Rashard Lewis, Gilbert Arenas, Al Harrington and Travis Outlaw are all candidates to be cut by their teams, at which point potential suitors submit secret bids to the NBA. The highest bidder wins the services of that particular amnesty player.
It’s that simple. It’s that secretive.
The fine print
Assuming the new collective bargaining agreement is ratified next week by players and owners, there will be shorter contract lengths and smaller annual raises compared with recent seasons, but still some perks to keep free agents with their teams.
Players can sign for a maximum of five years if they stay with their teams but only four years if they change teams. They also receive higher raises if they remain with their team — 7.5% annually versus 4.5% annually if they move.
Next year’s free-agent class will be a big one, with Dwight Howard and Chris Paul possibly hitting the open market, but this one will have its memorable moments for no other reason than the potential for bedlam.