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Offseason Extra: Reading the free agency landscape

Fantasy Writer
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Now that the NBA Draft has come and gone, the next big event on the NBA calendar is the start of free agency. While players can’t officially sign until July 11, teams were allowed to start negotiating with players starting on July 1 and there have been no shortage of handshake deals made over the past few days. Many of the top players on the market have already agreed in principle on a deal but there are several more who are undecided and have been making visits to various cities to get wined and dined by members of the team’s upper management.

We’re going to take a look at the top unrestricted and restricted free agents on the market this offseason and where they will likely end up playing during the 2012-13 campaign. We will also assess how their Fantasy value will be affected -- if at all.

Deron Williams: Considered the top catch of the free-agent class this offseason, Williams had narrowed his choices down to signing with his hometown Mavericks or staying with the Nets. He met with both teams and, according to some reports, was leaning toward signing with Dallas. However, Brooklyn changed the whole dynamic of the offseason by first re-signing fellow free agent Gerald Wallace and then agreeing to a trade with the Hawks for All-Star guard Joe Johnson. Those two moves, along with the Nets moving to Brooklyn and opening a new arena this season, convinced Williams to agree to a five-year deal worth approximately $98 million to remain with the Nets.

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Fantasy Analysis: Williams averaged a career-best 20.8 points per game last season with the Nets but paid a price for his increased scoring. He shot a career-worst 40.7 percent from the field and posted his lowest assist total since his rookie campaign (8.7) as he was counted on to carry the offensive load for much of the season. However, the addition of Johnson gives Brooklyn one of the more dynamic backcourts in the league and should allow Williams to be more of a facilitator. Wallace will also help take some of the scoring burden off the 28-year-old and the Nets are reportedly still in the market to land Dwight Howard. Williams has been an elite Fantasy option for some time now and would have retained that status no matter where he ended up playing next season. He should once again be one of the first guards taken off the board on Draft Day.

Goran Dragic: The 26-year-old was considered by many to be the second-best guard on the market after turning in a breakout campaign with the Rockets last season. He received offers from several teams, including Charlotte, Houston and Dallas, but ultimately decided to sign a four-year deal worth $34 million with the Suns after the team traded Steve Nash to the Lakers for draft picks.

Fantasy Analysis: Dragic turned in a breakout campaign with the Rockets last season as he averaged 11.7 points and 5.3 assists while serving as Kyle Lowry’s backup for much of the year. However, the fourth-year guard from Slovakia really opened eyes when Lowery went down with an injury. Dragic averaged 18.0 points, 8.4 assists and 1.8 steals in 28 games as a starter and will have every opportunity to start for the Suns. Phoenix also has offered a max contract to Eric Gordon and reached an agreement with free agent Michael Beasley, which should provide Dragic with plenty of weapons on the perimeter to compliment Marcin Gortat. Most Fantasy owners have been waiting for Dragic to get a chance to be an everyday starter and it appears he will finally get his shot with his former team. Consider Dragic a solid No. 2 Fantasy guard with a ton of upside.

Ersan Ilyasova: The power forward from Turkey was one of the more popular free agents this offseason as he received interest from as many as 12 teams, according to some reports. The 25-year-old also received a few offers from teams in Europe but is reportedly on the verge of agreeing in principle on a five-year deal worth around $45 million to remain in Milwaukee.

Fantasy Analysis: Illaysova finished second in balloting for the league's Most Improved Player Award last season after averaging a career-best 13.0 points and 8.8 rebounds over 60 games for Milwaukee. While the Bucks are once again loaded in the front court, Illaysova should be able to retain his starting gig heading into the 2012-13 campaign. However, Fantasy owners know how unpredictable coach Scott Skiles can be with his distribution of minutes -- especially at the forward position -- so it remains uncertain if he will finally able to become a 35-minutes-per-game player. Still, Illaysova should once again be able to be counted on to provide low-teens scoring and solid rebounding numbers, making him worthy of a middle-round pick in most formats on Draft Day.

Steve Nash: After spending the past eight seasons in Phoenix, Nash hit the free-agent market this offseason and garnered a huge amount of attention from teams across the league. The Knicks, Mavericks and Suns seemed to be the favorites to retain the services of the 38-year-old, but Nash shocked many when he agreed to a sign-and-trade deal that sent him to the Lakers. The veteran will earn a reported $27 million over the next three years and of course be paired in the backcourt with Kobe Bryant.

Fantasy Analysis: Nash landing in Los Angeles was one of the more surprising moves this offseason, but many feel the move will benefit both parties involved. It will be interesting to see how Nash plays alongside Kobe, especially since both players like to have the ball in their hands. However, the Lakers also have a ton of other options that will be at Nash’s disposal, which is something the Suns have been lacking over the past few seasons. The veteran averaged 12.5 points and 10.7 assists, despite seeing 31.1 minutes per game, which was the shortest amount of time he has spent on the court since averaging 27 minutes with the Mavericks back in 1999-2000.

Gerald Wallace: The 11-year veteran opted out of the final year of his contract the Nets, which would have paid him $9.5 million in search of a multi-year deal. While Wallace did get a few nibbles from other teams, Brooklyn was confident it would be able to re-sign Wallace and the two sides agreed in principle on a deal that will pay the 29-year-old $40 million over the next four years.

Fantasy Analysis: Wallace is coming off a disappointing season that saw him average 13.8 points and 6.7 rebounds, his lowest output since the 2004-05 campaign. However, he did average 15.8 points during his 16 games with the Nets last year, despite dealing with chronic hamstring problems over the final few weeks of the season. He is expected to be fully healthy by the start of training camp and will be paired with Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, making Wallace a prime candidate for a bounce-back season. There aren’t too many players who can fill up a stat sheet like Wallace can as he has averaged 2.1 assists, 1.5 steals and just under a block per game over his career. Consider the former University of Alabama standout worthy of an early-to-middle round pick -- especially in Rotisserie formats.

Kris Humphries: After having trouble drawing interest during the 2011-12 offseason, Humphries has had at least 12 teams inquire about his services over the past week. While the 76ers looked to be the team making the strongest push for the 27-year-old, there are now reports surfacing that the Cavaliers are interested in bringing him to Cleveland as part of a sign-and-trade deal that would ultimately land Dwight Howard in Brooklyn.

Fantasy Analysis: Humphries was one of just eight players to average a double-double last year and one of five players to accomplish the feat in each of the last two seasons. He also increased his scoring by nearly four points per game during the 2011-12 campaign and did so without having many plays run for him. While it remains uncertain where Humphries will play next season, he will be worth an early round selection in most formats as long he is able to retain a starting gig – wherever he ends up playing.

Ray Allen: After spending the last five seasons in Boston, Allen hit the free-agent market July 1 and had no shortage of teams wanting his services. However, the 37-year-old very quickly narrowed down his choices to the Celtics and Heat. Despite being offered more money and a no-trade clause from Boston, Allen agreed to sign with Miami, accepting the team’s mini-mid level exception which will pay him $9 million over the next three seasons.

Fantasy Analysis: Allen was apparently not happy about the way he was treated over his final few months in Boston as the Celtics tried to trade him back in March before removing him from the starting lineup down the stretch. There have also been reports detailing the rocky relationship he had with Rajon Rondo, which also played a factor in his decision to leave. Allen averaged just 14.8 points per game last season, his lowest scoring output since his rookie season with the Bucks, while shooting 45.8 percent from the field. However, he did play with bone spurs in his ankle for most of the year and has already had surgery to correct the problem. Many feel Allen could be in for a bounce-back campaign playing alongside LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh next season as he should see plenty of open looks in the Heat’s up-tempo offense. While Allen may have lost a step or two over the past few years, he still remains one of the top 3-point shooters in the game and is worthy of a middle-to-late round pick -- especially in Rotisserie formats.

Jason Terry: The former Sixth Man of the Year hit the open market for the first time in his career when the clock struck midnight on July 1 and had several teams contact him about his services. Terry said he would give the Mavericks an opportunity to match whatever offer he received, but the Celtics quickly swooped in and agreed to sign the veteran with their mid-level exception, which will pay him $5 million over the next three seasons.

Fantasy Analysis: Terry will likely be used the exact same way he was in Dallas as the Celtics want him to be their sixth man off the bench. However, he could find himself in the starting lineup over the first few weeks of the season with Avery Bradley expected to miss some time with a shoulder injury. Terry has been a model of consistency over the past few years as he has averaged between 15.1 and 17.1 points in six of his last seven seasons with the exception coming during the 2008-09 campaign when he averaged 19.6. He also remains a decent source for 3-point shooting as he finished with 138 from beyond the arc during the shortened 2011-12 campaign, which ranked second in the NBA. Terry’s Fantasy value will likely remain right on par with what it had been in Dallas over the past few years, making the 34-year-old worth targeting in the middle rounds of most formats on Draft Day.

Chris Kaman: Considered one of the top centers on the market this offseason, Kaman has had no shortage of teams inquiring about his services. The Cavaliers, Jazz, Pacers, Spurs and Suns are just some of the clubs interested in bringing on Kaman, whose future in New Orleans came to an end when the team drafted Anthony Davis. However, the fact that Kaman has played in more than 70 games just once over the past five seasons has made some clubs skeptical about offering him a long-term contract.

Fantasy Analysis: Despite suffering another injury, almost being traded and then benched for a period of time, Kaman still managed to average 13.1 points and 7.8 rebounds last season. He also dished out a career-best 2.1 assists per game while averaging well over a block per contest for an eighth-straight year. While every team and Fantasy owner out there knows about his injury history, Kaman showed last season he still can be a very productive option when he stays healthy. Consider targeting the 30-year-old in the middle rounds in most formats no matter where he winds up signing.

Courtney Lee: The 26-year-old has had his fair share of possible suitors over the past few weeks, but the Celtics have been making a very aggressive push for him of late. Boston does not have the cap space to sign Lee, but the Rockets have made it known they would be willing to complete a sign-and-trade deal under the right circumstances. Houston has also expressed interest in bringing back Lee, who has spent each of the last two seasons with the Rockets.

Fantasy Analysis: Lee averaged 11.4 points per game last season as his role grew in Houston. He saw more than 30 minutes per game for the first time in his career and also made 1.5 3-pointers per contest, which was also a personal best. While several teams have expressed interest in Lee, the Celtics seem to be the favorite right now, especially with Avery Bradley expected to miss the first part of the year. That could translate into a starting gig for Lee, although keep in mind the Celtics also signed Jason Terry, who will certainly command 30-plus minutes at the two-guard spot. Fantasy owners should continue to view Lee as more of a low-end option no matter where he signs.

Eric Gordon: Considered the catch of the unrestricted free-agent class, Gordon agreed to terms on a maximum-salaried contract worth $58 million over four years with the Suns a few days ago. Gordon is expected to sign the offer sheet July 11 and the Hornets will then have three days to match the offer, which they have already said they would do. However, Gordon has been telling everyone who will listen that he prefers to play in Phoenix.

Fantasy Analysis: While it will be very interesting to see what the Hornets decide to do regarding Gordon, the 23-year-old’s Fantasy value won’t be determined by where he is playing next season but rather by his health. Gordon has proved he can be a top-tier Fantasy performer when he is healthy, which hasn’t been the case over the last two seasons. He played in only nine games a year ago due to a knee injury after missing 20 games the season before last with a wrist injury. As long as Gordon can stay on the court, he can be considered a high-end option in all formats no matter where he ends up playing in 2012-13.

Roy Hibbert: The 7-footer received interest from several clubs when he hit the market and received a maximum contract offer worth $58 million over the next four years from Portland. Hibbert is expected to sign the offer sheet on July 11 and the Pacers will have three days to match the offer. Indiana has stated numerous times that it wants to re-sign Hibbert, leading many to believe the Pacers will match the Trailblazers’ offer.

Fantasy Analysis: Hibbert turned in his best season as a professional last year, which helped him earn his first trip to the All-Star game. He averaged a career-best 12.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks while logging just under 30 minutes per game. The 25-year-old also helped the Pacers reach the Eastern Conference Semifinals and looked dominant at times as he averaged 11.7 points and 11.2 rebounds during Indiana’s postseason run. While most expect Hibbert to wind up back with the Pacers, he will be considered a No. 1 Fantasy center no matter where he ends up playing in 2011-12.

Brook Lopez: The Nets have started working on a contract extension for Lopez, which means the team is ready to re-sign him to a long-term deal or are getting their ducks in a row for a possible sign-and-trade deal for Dwight Howard. Either way, it appears Lopez will be playing for the Magic or Nets next season unless something drastically changes over the next few days. The Rockets have also expressed some interest in the 24-year-old, according to a few reports.

Fantasy Analysis: The normally durable Lopez only played in five games last season because of ankle and foot injury after appearing in all 82 games in each of his first three years in the league. While Lopez is considered a bit of a liability on the defensive end of the floor, he has more than proved his worth on the offensive end as he has averaged 17.4 points over his 251 career games. He will likely be counted on to be the starting center no matter where he ends up playing next year, making him a No. 1 Fantasy center in all formats.

Nicolas Batum: The 24-year-old has drawn interest from several clubs since hitting the open market and has already received an offer from the Timberwolves worth an estimated $45 million to $50 million over the next four years. The Trail Blazers will now have three days to match the offer, although the team has been pretty quiet on its intentions regarding the matter.

Fantasy Analysis: Batum’s fourth-year in the league was his best one yet as he averaged 13.9 points and 4.6 rebounds in 59 games for Portland. He really thrived once he cracked the starting lineup and is expected to start no matter where he winds up playing. Batum has come out on several occasions recently to discuss his displeasure with how he was used while playing in Portland and has also expressed interest in playing alongside a top-tier point guard. With the promise of seeing starter minutes, Batum can be considered a viable starting forward in the majority of formats on Draft Day.

Jeremy Lin: After bursting onto the scene with the Knicks last season, Lin has garnered some attention from other teams this offseason. The Rockets agreed to terms with the point guard on a three-year offer sheet that includes a team option for a fourth year worth roughly $29 million. Lin is expected to sign the offer sheet July 11 and the Knicks will have three days to match. Multiple sources have reported New York is expected to match Houston’s offer.

Fantasy Analysis: Lin took the league by storm last year after landing with the Knicks and averaged 18.2 points and 7.7 assists in 25 games for New York before a knee injury cut his season short. The Knicks have already agreed in principle to deal with Jason Kidd with the expectation that the 39-year-old will serve as a mentor for Lin. While there is some concern that Lin will have trouble adjusting to coach Mike Woodson’s isolation-heavy offense, he will get the first crack to run the show in New York. Even if something changes and Lin winds up playing for the Rockets, he is expected to be the team’s starting point guard. Consider the Harvard graduate a No. 3 Fantasy guard with a ton of upside on Draft Day.

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