By: Martin Rand, III
Date: April 1 ,2012

Remember last summer in the NBA? There were two main topics of discussion. The first was the NBA Lockout, which stopped all league activity until a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) was signed. The second was the 2012 free agency, which featured super-star Center Dwight Howard in a starring role.

Deron Williams (No. 8) will be the biggest fish to catch during the NBA free agency period.

Since that time, a new CBA has been signed and Howard decided to pass on free agency this year for next year. So, now that Howard is not on the market, who are the the top names in this year’s free agency?

To be honest, there aren’t many. There are some big names, but most of them have their better days behind them. Other free agents are young, but have the possibility to be great, in the future, based on what they have shown so far in the league.

Below, are the top 2012 free agents.Half are *unrestricted, and the other half are **restricted.

Unrestricted Free Agents

1. Deron Williams PG; New Jersey Nets: Williams, the top overall free agent this year, has made it very clear that he would be playing somewhere else next season. With Howard not being traded to the Nets, expect Williams to be in a different uniform next year.

2. Steve Nash PG; Phoenix Suns: I would have never thought Nash would leave the Suns; but, judging by some recent comments of his, he isn’t happy with how things are going there. Even at his age, he is still leading the league in assists per game (APG) and will be much sought after this off-season.

3. Ray Allen SG; Boston Celtics: This season will be the last hurrah for the original Big 3. Yes, unless the NBA’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made takes a huge paycut to stay with the Celtics, Allen will be leaving. Although, the biggest question remains; do the Celtics want him back, or are they going into full rebuild mode for the future? At his age, he’s still deadly accurate from behind the arc, runs around the half-court (usually tiring out his defender) and has one of the prettiest releases in the game; so, if the Celtics don’t want him, another team will be sure to pick him up.

4. Jason Kidd PG; Dallas Mavericks: Kidd has said he wants to play at least two more seasons, at which point he’ll be 40 years old; but, those two years probably won’t be with the Mavericks. By letting key players (Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler, J.J. Barea) from their 2011 title winning team sign with other teams in 2011 free agency, billionaire owner Mark Cuban has made it clear that he is looking to retool the team around NBA Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki and get younger in the process. Kidd will be one of the next players to go.

5. Tim Duncan C; San Antonio Spurs: Duncan isn’t what he once was, but he still averaging 15 points per game (PPG) and 10 rebounds per game (RPG); and, he’s a major reason why the Spurs have the second best record in the west (35-14). The chances of him leaving the only franchise he’s ever played for and led to four NBA titles are slim, so don’t hold your breathe; but, as we know with NBA free agency, anything is possible.

6. J.R. Smith SG; New York Knicks: Smith could become a free agent if he chooses. He has a ***player option next season and could use it to stay with the Knicks. Whether he stays or goes, depends on how far the Knicks go in the playoffs. If they make it to the second round or deeper, he’ll stay. If they have an early first round exit, expect him to have an early exit out of New York.

7. Kevin Garnett C; Boston Celtics: Much like Allen, Garnett’s time in Boston is more than likely over; and, he would have to take a huge paycut to stay. Also, much like Allen, it becomes a question of whether the Celtics even want him back because they’re going to be one of those teams after Howard next season in free agency. The answer is probably not. Injuries have slowed the former NBA MVP down in recent seasons, so Garnett will be playing somewhere else next season.

8. Jameer Nelson PG; Orlando Magic: To me, Nelson is the most underrated PG in the league. People forget that he was an all-star three years ago; and, if it wasn’t for an injury keeping him out the playoff run, the Magic could’ve had a better chance at beating the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2009 NBA Finals. Sure, he’s not Chris Paul or Derrick Rose, but he’s still effective at running the offense. He does have player option, so he could stay with the Magic if he wants. Since Howard decide to stay, he’ll probably also stay to make one final run at a title in Orlando.

9. Steve Novak SF; New York Knicks:I know many of you don’t know this player. Heck, I didn’t know who he was before the season started either. However, this season, he has turned into one of the top 3-pt shooters in the league and is a huge reason the Knicks are in playoff contention. Becuase of his shooting ability, there will be a lot of teams after him, but I don’t think the Knicks will let him go so easily.

10. Spencer Hawes C; Philadelphia 76ers: Another relative unknown by the masses, but Hawes has been doing some good things for the Sixers. He can rebound, can post-up and can make a tight pass to cutting teammates. At 23-years-old, he’s only going to get better.

Restricted Free Agents

1. O.J. Mayo SG; Memphis Grizzlies: Mayo will more than likely sign with another team this off-season, without much fuss from the Grizzlies. The day before the trading deadline last season the team actually traded him to the Pacers; but, due to paperwork issues, the trade was never finalized and he stayed with the Grizzlies. This summer, expect nothing to stop him from moving to a new city.

2. Brook Lopez C; New Jersey Nets: The Nets are a team with domino pieces. Howard didn’t land there, so Williams is leaving; and, since Williams is leaving, Lopez is probably going to want to leave too. However, with the Nets moving to Brooklyn next season, they need a talented player to bring fans to the stadium every night, so they’ll match any offer for Lopez. Their hopes will be to either sign one of the top guards in the 2013 free agency pool to play along side him (Yes, Paul could still land in New York), or use Lopez as a centerpiece to finish a trade with Orlando that would bring Howard to Brooklyn next season.

3. Roy Hibbert C; Indiana Pacers: Ever wonder why the Pacer are the fifth seed in the East right now? Here’s one of the main reasons. Hibbert is a true big man of the game. He plays with his back to the basket, rebounds at a high rate, and defends the rim with the best of them. He showed signs of life towards the end of last season after the Pacers fired Jim O’Brien (who publicly belittled Hibbert for his play), and this season he has shown his true potential. With a shortage of big men in the league, expect a lot of teams to be going after him, but also expect the Pacers to match any offer.

4. Jeremy Lin PG; New York Knicks: Where would the Knicks be right now if they hadn’t found this gem at the end of their bench? For a brief stretch in February, Lin was all the talk in New York City and the NBA. His former teams, that had cut him, all said they knew he had talent; but, there just wasn’t any room on their roster for him. Well, this summer, I’m sure those teams, as well as others, will make room to acquire Lin. However, with the Knicks finally getting the PG they’ve been looking for, don’t expect Linsanity to leave Madison Square Garden anytime soon.

5. Ryan Anderson PF; Orlando Magic: This has been Anderson’s breakout year. His ppg and rpg are way above his career averages, and he’s one of the best 3-pt shooters in the league. If the Magic want to keep Howard long-term, keeping Anderson in the fold would be a good place to start. Of course, with their salary cap issues, they may not have enough to keep him around.

6. Nicolas Batum SF; Portland Trailblazers: Batum is one of the few bright spots for a franchise that seems to have a dark cloud hanging over the arena. He consistently plays hard at both ends of the floor; and, even though he’s small for his position, his long wingspan makes him a hassle to deal with. I’m sure the Blazers want to keep him in Portland to play alongside Lamarcus Aldridge for years to come. However, one thing I’ve learned about the Blazers franchise, its future is never written in stone.

7. George Hill SG; Indiana Pacers: Hill has starter talent, but has been the sixth man of the bench for his entire, although brief, career. When he was with the Spurs, he played behind Tony Parker and now with the Pacers, he plays behind Darren Collison and Paul George. I think Hill wants to prove he can be a starter in this league; and, since the Pacers have two young talented starting guards already, I don’t see them spending starter money for a player to come off the bench.

8. Landry Fields SG; New York Knicks: Fields has been a good young player for the Knicks. He is an okay defender, can drive to the basket (although sometimes it seems like he’s out of control) and has a nice mid-range jump-shot. The Knicks will want to keep him for the foreseeable future in the starting two-guard position.

9. J.J. Hickson PF; Portland Trailblazers: I’ve always liked Hickson; but, things haven’t worked out well for him early in his career. He was traded by the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Sacramento Kings, then waived by the Kings and then picked up by the Blazers recently. I can’t understand why he can’t find a home because he has a nice offense game, can rebound the ball, has tons of athleticism and hustles on defense. Well, he skills were on full display against the Los Angeles Clippers recently, where he started in place of the injured Aldridge. He scored 29 points, grab 13 rebounds and shot 68% from the field. If he keeps putting up numbers like this, he will definitely land somewhere for a long time.

10. Jodie Meeks PG; Philadelphia 76ers: Meeks was playing very well as a starter at the beginning of the season, when the Sixers jumped out ahead of everyone in the Atlantic Division. Then, Evan Turner, the 2nd overall pick from the 2010 NBA Draft, moved ahead of him in the rotation and his numbers dwindled a little. Even though, he can still contribute to the team, if another team decides to sign him, I don’t think the Sixers will match the offer.

*Unrestricted Free Agent: A player can sign with any team he chooses.

**Restricted Free Agent: A player can talk to other teams and agree to a deal; however, the player’s current team has the option to match the offer. If the team doesn’t match within seven days, the player can sign with the other team. If the team does match the offer within seven days, the player will stay with the current team for the offer that was matched.

***Player Option: The player has an extra year on the original contract he signed with the team. He has the option to either stay for that year or forgo the year and become an unrestricted free agent.

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Will 2012 free agency be better than previous year’s free agency?
Maybe free polls