Ranking (and Predicting) the 2010 NBA Free Agent Class

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Over the past two years, the talk around the NBA has centered around where LeBron James will play in 2010. Finally, that time is near. After July 1, LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and many other top superstars will potentially be changing zip codes. Although some players such as Dirk Nowitzki, Amare Stoudemire, and Paul Pierce have Early Termination Options (ETO) and are likely to remain with their respective teams, they’re included on this list in case they do opt out, which will only add to the biggest free agent class in the history of sports.

10. Rudy Gay – SF

An athletic, multi-dimensional forward, Gay has spent his first 4 seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies and is the only Restricted Free Agent on this list, meaning Memphis can match any offer Gay receives if they so chose.

Where I think he should go: Memphis Grizzlies

The Griz are a player or two away from being a perennial playoff team only if they find a way to keep Rudy Gay, however, it’s unlikely that the small-market Grizzlies will be able to match any offer.

Where I think he will go: Miami Heat

This will count on Pat Riley finding a taker for Michael Beasley, perhaps in a sign and trade with Memphis for Gay. I think Miami’s the best fit for Gay, providing they can resign Dwyane Wade, as well as get a top tier big man like Chris Bosh or Amare.

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9. David Lee – C/PF

One of the best young big men in the league, David Lee and his ability to rebound and hit the mid-range jumper, will be a great pick up for any team.

Where I think he should go: Atlanta Hawks

Assuming Joe Johnson leaves, the Hawks can easily fill his starting spot with Sixth Man of the Year Winner, Jamal Crawford. Atlanta has struggled the past couple years with their Power Forward position. If they can find a taker for Marvin Williams (or he agrees to come off the bench), it would leave the door open for the versatile Lee, who would be a good fit on the front line with Al Horford and Josh Smith.

Where I think he will go: New York Knicks

Although the Knicks have made more boneheaded moves than Sideshow Mel, I do believe they’ll do the right thing and resign David Lee. If they want any chance of landing LeBron, they’ll need to surround him with talent, and the young Lee can be a very integral part of their future.

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8. Carlos Boozer – PF

A tough veteran, Carlos Boozer’s strong low post game will add power inside for any team looking to pay him. Although he’s on point with Deron Williams, he’s largely ineffective against the Lakers and with Paul Millsap waiting in the wings, it’s highly unlikely that the Utah Jazz spend the money to keep Boozer.

Where I think he should go: Chicago Bulls

I know the focus of the Bulls this summer is to sign LeBron James, so the reality of Boozer joining them is slim, however, if the Bulls were to sign James and have some money left over, both the Bulls and Boozer would be silly not to join forces, where he can play alongside Joakim Noah down low.

Where I think he will go: Miami Heat

For the past two years, every trade rumor involving Boozer had the Miami Heat’s name involved, so now that he’s an unrestricted free agent, it is only fitting that he goes to the city where he spends every off season. It’d be a perfect fit, which I’ll explain why a little further down.

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7. Joe Johnson – SG

Safe to say that after his no-show in this years playoffs, Joe Johnson’s stock has definitely fallen. However, he still ranks as the second best 2 guard on the market.

Where I think he should go: Dallas Mavericks

Every year Dallas is “one player away” and every year Mark Cuban tries to find that player, whether it’s Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion or Caron Butler. Well this summer, it’s Joe Johnson. All the other pieces are in place for the Mavs, yet the one thing they truly lack is a number two option so that Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t have to score 40 points for them to have the chance to win. Jason Terry tries to be that guy, but he is somewhat inconsistent off the bench. Johnson would give them a legitimate 20 point scorer and the opportunity to give Kidd some rest during the long season.

Where I think he will go: New York Knicks

Spolier Alert: I don’t think LeBron will be going to New York. Sorry Knicks fans, but Joe Johnson is your consolation prize. The bright spot would be that the Knicks will finally have a consistent scorer and someone who should benefit from Mike D’Antoni’s offense. The negative (other than losing the LeSweepstakes) is they’ll still lack a proven playoff performer.

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6. Paul Pierce – SF

One of only two World Champions on the list, Pierce has the Early Termination Option, and although a few months ago I thought he might exercise said option, the Celtics’ recent resurgence and deep playoff run have put that thought on hold.

Where I think he should go: Los Angeles Clippers

Yep, I said the Clippers. I’ll give you two reasons why. First, he grew up in L.A., and although he routed for them, he wouldn’t dare play for the hated Lakers. Second, the Clippers have a young and promising team (as they seem to every year) who can use a veteran like Pierce who’s won in the playoffs.

Where I think he will go: Boston Celtics

You’d be crazy (which I am) to think Paul Pierce would finish his career anywhere other than Boston. He’s up there with Larry Bird and Bill Russell when it comes to Celtic legacy.

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5. Amare Stoudemire – PF/C

Also with the ETO, I would be surprised if Stoudemire chooses to stay with Phoenix because of the fact they have repeatedly thrown his name out there in trade talks and he’s expressed his annoyances with that. If he does leave, he will provide any team with a low post scoring threat that has added a lethal mid-range jumper, however his defense is still beyond suspect.

Where I think he should go: New York Knicks

The Knicks need someone who can sell tickets and I’m not totally sure that Stoudemire can do that on his own, however, he is an uber athletic Power Forward that can score at will and reuniting with Mike D’Antoni would provide Stoudemire with a spark. David Lee can shift to center and grab the rebounds that Amare has shown he’s sometimes unwilling to get.

Where I think he will go: New York Knicks

Whether they land LeBron or not, Stoudemire is a good fit in New York for the above reasons I just named. As teams in the West look to match up with the Lakers, guys like Stoudemire and Boozer, who can’t match up with the Lakers bigs, are likely to shift conferences. David Lee, Amare Stoudemire and Joe Johnson sure aren’t LeBron and Bosh, but they should be good enough to get the Knicks back into the playoffs in the East.

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4. Chris Bosh – PF/C

A skilled Power Forward/Center, Chris Bosh has averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds over his career and is hands down the best second option available and will make a great running rate with LeBron or Wade.

Where I think he should go: Miami Heat

If Pat Riley hopes to keep Dwyane Wade, he’s going to have to pull out all the stops. Not only will he have to rejoin Wade on the bench, but he will need to pick up another superstar to play down low. Chris Bosh is the perfect fit for Miami because of his unselfish play, his rebounding tenacity and the fact him and Wade are friends, draft classmen and Olympic teammates.  To me, this is a no brainer.

Where I think he will go: Miami Heat

If Chris Bosh wants a legitimate shot at a championship, other than a rumored trade to the Lakers, teaming up with Dwyane Wade is a must. Bosh knows it. Wade knows it. Riley knows it. Like I said, no brainer.

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3. Dirk Nowitzki – PF

After yet another disappointing early playoff exit, Nowitzki let his emotions run free when he said that he might be willing to opt out of his contract with the Dallas Mavericks. Most people believe he said it in the heat of the moment, if he was to opt out like the rumors say, it would change every team’s free agent approach.

Where I think he should go: Phoenix Suns

Dirk would be an upgrade over Amare, although they’ve both averaged nearly the same numbers over their respective careers, he has been a more consistent player who stays relatively healthy and has been known to put up big numbers in the playoffs. Dallas’ playoff struggles really can’t be blamed on Dirk (26/11 career playoff averages). Not only would he reunite with his best friend, Steve Nash, but his ability to create shots, hit the long range jumpers and beat defenders off the dribble will add some more firepower to the best offense in the league.

Where I think he will go: Dallas Mavericks

No way Mark Cuban allows Dirk to walk. He would probably strip the entire team and start over than to let the greatest Dallas Maverick of all time go to another team, especially a Western Conference rival. Luckily for Dirk, Mark Cuban is that type of owner who won’t just sit by. He’s got deep pockets and a dedication to winning so I’m sure he will do whatever it takes to keep Dirk and to add one more piece to that team. My opinion is a scoring 2 guard. Joe Johnson, anyone? Unless…and that’s a pretty big unless, they can get Dwyane Wade.

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2. LeBron James – SF

LeBron James number 2?! Am I insane? Yes…and no. I understand that the focus of this entire summer is centered around LeBron. I understand that many believe he is the greatest basketball player in the world (I’m still picking Kobe for that title). I understand he’s coming off back to back MVP’s. However, and I truly believe this, he can’t be the leader of a championship team. At least not now. This has already been proven in back to back years in Cleveland where the best record in the league hasn’t even been able to get a Finals appearance.

Where I think he should go: Chicago Bulls

Although the pressure to win will be high wherever he goes, no doubt it would be highest if LeBron decides to step into the shadow of his hero, which I’m not sure he’s willing to do. However, the fact he already changed his number, the chance to play with Derrick Rose and the possibility of returning the Bulls to greatness could give LeBron added motivation. I personally think that of all the teams with money to sign him, Chicago is the best destination. It’s just a question if LeBron wants to burden the responsibility of bringing Chicago a title.

Where I think he will go: Chicago Bulls

Let’s run down the list. Cleveland? Nope. He essentially quit on his team, the city and his fans against the Celtics. Time for a fresh start. New Jersey? No way. Although their new owner is loaded, they will be playing in Newark over the next 3 seasons. Miami? Nah. Dwyane Wade needs a low post guy and we all know LeBron has a weak low post game. L.A. Clippers? Definitely not. Although they have a strong young core, LeBron doesn’t want to go to a city where he’ll already be second fiddle. New York Knicks? Maybe. LeBron’s favorite city and favorite arena, however they need too many pieces. Other teams have been linked in sign and trades most notably Dallas and the Lakers, however I doubt that. Chicago has the pieces in place and is ready to regain the powerhouse stature it held in the 90′s when Michael Jordan was running things.

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1. Dwyane Wade – SG

Dwyane Wade is number 1 for this reason: he’s a champion. Anytime you can add an explosive superstar with a Championship and a Finals MVP, you should put him tops on the list. I think that if Dwyane Wade was on the Cavs this year in place of LeBron James, Cleveland would be representing the East in the Finals. No way he quits like that.

Where I think he should go: Miami Heat

If Pat Riley steps up and surrounds Wade with the right caliber of players, he would be foolish not to resign with the Heat. (Note to Pat Riley: trade Michael Beasley). I know Wade grew up in Chicago and there’s been rumors he might want to join the Bulls, and I feel that if this was last summer, he probably would’ve. But I think Riley will add some key pieces and come back down to the bench to show Wade that Miami is serious at another title run. Also, the Miami fans love the guy, as evident from this.

Where I think he will go: Miami Heat

Now for my explanation on why Carlos Boozer, Rudy Gay and Chris Bosh will join Dwyane Wade in Miami. The Heat have so much cap space it’s crazy. They only have three players under contract for next season, one of which is Michael Beasley, who must be traded for this to work out. Then they’d have Bosh at Center, Boozer at PF, Gay at SF and Wade at SG. That’s a pretty good top four that would work. Wade would still be the Alpha Male and he’d now have two very good big men and an athletic wing man, none of which are known to be “ball-hogs”. Note: If Pat Riley sits on his hands and LeBron doesn’t go to the Bulls, Wade will.

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