By Chris Mannix
June 26, 2012
Top 25 NBA Free Agents of 2012
This year's free-agent class features one clear headliner, a number of future Hall of Famers who are nearing the end of their careers, and several young restricted free agents who will be difficult to pry from their current teams. With the negotiating period set to open on Sunday, here's a look at the best players on the market. (Teams can begin signing free agents on July 11.)
Deron Williams
Age: 28 | 2011-12 Team: Nets | Position: PG
'11-12 Stats: 21.0 ppg, 8.7 apg, 3.3 rpg, 1.2 spg, 40.7 FG%, 33.6 3FG%
Status: Unrestricted
Williams is the unquestioned prize of this class. The Nets desperately need to re-sign him as they head to Brooklyn but will face stiff competition from Dallas, which hopes to reboot the franchise around Williams and Dirk Nowitzki.
Roy Hibbert
Age: 25 | 2011-12 Team: Pacers | Position: C
'11-12 Stats: 12.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 2.0 bpg, 1.7 apg, 49.7 FG%
Status: Restricted
Hibbert made the All-Star team for the first time and his stock rose after a strong postseason in which he averaged 11.7 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.1 blocks. "He's a stud," an Eastern Conference general manager said. "He would fit in on any team." The problem? Rival executives are convinced that the Pacers will match any offer, including a max deal.
Eric Gordon
Age: 23 | 2011-12 Team: Hornets | Position: SG
'11-12 Stats: 20.6 ppg, 3.4 apg, 2.8 rpg, 45.0 FG%, 25.0 3FG%
Status: Restricted
The sharpshooting guard battled injuries last season, playing in just nine games after being shipped to New Orleans in the Chris Paul trade. Still, Gordon is considered an elite shooter (career 37 percent from three-point range) and a borderline All-Star-level two-guard. Indiana, Phoenix, Portland and Dallas will likely pursue him, but the Hornets can match.
Kevin Garnett
Age: 36 | 2011-12 Team: Celtics | Position: F-C
'11-12 Stats: 15.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 2.9 apg, 50.3 FG%
Status: Unrestricted
Garnett will be a sought-after free agent -- if he decides he wants to play. KG discovered the fountain of youth last season, sliding over to center after Jermaine O'Neal went down and averaging 16.8 points and 8.7 rebounds in 36 games at the position. Still, a surgically repaired right knee requires daily, lengthy treatment to get Garnett game-ready, making retirement an option. "I think that his decision will be, 'Do I really want to play? Or do I not want to play," Celtics president Danny Ainge told Boston radio station WEEI last week. "I hope that he wants to come back. That's sort of been the indication that, if he's going to play, that he would like to come back to Boston."
Steve Nash
Age: 38 | 2011-12 Team: Suns | Position: PG
'11-12 Stats: 12.5 ppg, 10.7 apg, 3.0 rpg, 53.2 FG%, 39.0 3FG%
Status: Unrestricted
Nash has made it clear that his interest in returning to Phoenix hinges partly on the team's using its $23 million in cap space to add to the roster. Though he played no fewer than 74 games in his first seven years in Phoenix and appeared in 62 of 66 last season, Nash's degenerative back issue is a concern, especially with his seeking a three-year deal. "You have to wonder, if you take him out of that system and away from that training staff, will it hold up?" a Western Conference executive said. Toronto, Dallas, Portland and New York are expected to make offers.
Brook Lopez
Age: 24 | 2011-12 Team: Nets | Position: C
'11-12 Stats: 19.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.2 apg, 0.8 bpg, 49.4 FG%
Status: Restricted
A foot injury limited Lopez to just five games last season, but that won't prevent him from earning north of $8 million per season in a long-term deal. Barring a trade, he will make it in Brooklyn, too: A team source said the Nets will match any offers.
Tim Duncan
Age: 36 | 2011-12 Team: Spurs | Position: F-C
'11-12 Stats: 15.4 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.5 bpg, 49.2 FG%
Status: Unrestricted
The self-proclaimed "Spur for life" enjoyed one of his healthiest seasons in years last season and is expected to sign a one- or two-year deal to finish his career in San Antonio.
Ersan Ilyasova
Age: 24 | 2011-12 Team: Bucks | Position: PF
'11-12 Stats: 13.0 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.2 apg, 49.2 FG%, 45.5 3FG%
Status: Unrestricted
Ilyasova is a prototypical stretch power forward with shooting range and a high motor that helps on the glass. His age and improving play -- he averaged career highs in scoring, rebounding, shooting percentage and three-point percentage in 2011-12, the last good for second in the league -- will have teams clearing cap space to sign him. The Nets, Celtics and Pacers are among the front-runners if Milwaukee doesn't have the cash.
Ray Allen
Age: 36 | 2011-12 Team: Celtics | Position: SG
'11-12 Stats: 14.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.4 apg, 45.8 FG%, 45.3 3FG%
Status: Unrestricted
Allen is the least likely member of Boston's Big Three to return. The Celtics have made a commitment to Avery Bradley, who blossomed as a late-season starter when Allen was sidelined with an ankle injury, and the NBA's all-time three-point leader can find a starting role (Clippers, Bulls) or a better chance to win a title (Heat) elsewhere. Allen will be in high demand: He shot a career-best 45.3 percent from three-point range, and executives say they love the diligent veteran's potential influence on younger players.
Ryan Anderson
Age: 24 | 2011-12 Team: Magic | Position: PF
'11-12 Stats: 16.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 43.9 FG%, 39.3 3FG%
Status: Restricted
The NBA's Most Improved Player picked a good time to have his best season. Three-point prowess is Anderson's strength, but he also proved to be a capable rebounder playing alongside Dwight Howard. One scout said Anderson's value decreases significantly without a dominant big man off whom to play. League sources said the Nets have a strong interest.
Nicolas Batum
Age: 23 | 2011-12 Team: Trail Blazers | Position: SF
'11-12 Stats: 13.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.4 apg, 45.1 FG%, 39.1 3FG%
Status: Restricted
An emerging small forward with top-shelf defensive skills and a sweet three-point stroke, Batum will get offers that exceed $7 million per season. But most executives expect the Blazers to match any offer and keep him as part of their rebuilding effort.
O.J. Mayo
Age: 24 | 2011-12 Team: Grizzlies | Position: SG
'11-12 Stats: 12.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.6 apg, 40.8 FG%, 36.4 3FG%
Status: Unrestricted
Mayo's four years in Memphis have been both tumultuous (he was nearly traded at the deadline in each of the last two seasons) and productive (he was one of the NBA's top sixth men last season). The small-market Grizzlies -- who have made big, long-term commitments to Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley -- may not be inclined to pay $5 million to $7 million per season for Mayo, but other teams will be willing to meet that price. Indiana, New Orleans and the Lakers are believed to be possibilities.
Lou Williams
Age: 25 | 2011-12 Team: 76ers | Position: SG
'11-12 Stats: 14.9 ppg, 3.5 apg, 2.4 rpg, 40.7 FG%, 36.2 3PG%
Status: Unrestricted
The high-scoring, low-turnover sixth man left close to $6 million on the table when he opted out of his contract. Williams is an ideal reserve, capable of carrying a second unit with his offense and creating his own shot late in games. According to, Williams averaged 34 points per 48 crunch-time minutes, the 14th best rate in the league. Philadelphia would like to keep him, but league sources said Williams will likely hear from Portland, Phoenix and Boston, too.
Jason Terry
Age: 34 | 2011-12 Team: Mavericks | Position: SG
'11-12 Stats: 15.1 ppg, 3.6 apg, 2.4 rpg, 43.0 FG%, 37.8 3FG%
Status: Unrestricted
Terry would like to finish his career with the Mavericks, but he wants a long-term deal along with it. The Mavs, fearful of being taxpayers when the new CBA rules kick in next summer, refused to offer Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and Caron Butler more than two-year deals last summer and will likely take the same stance with Terry. Two general managers said Terry is a mid-level exception player who could garner a three-year, $15 million deal.
JaVale McGee
Age: 24 | 2011-12 Team: Wizards/Nuggets | Position: C
'11-12 Stats: 11.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.2 bpg, 55.6 FG%
Status: Restricted
McGee, a Western Conference executive said, "is scary." Not because of his superior athleticism and natural shot-blocking skills, but because his frequent mental lapses make a player who reportedly was looking to earn $14 million per year while in Washington an enormous risk. The Nuggets would like to retain McGee, but an NBA source said GM Masai Ujiri is leery of doling out Nene-type money (the veteran center signed a five-year, $65 million deal last year) for such an unpredictable player.
Jeremy Lin
Age: 23 | 2011-12 Team: Knicks | Position: PG
'11-12 Stats: 14.6 ppg, 6.2 apg, 3.1 rpg, 44.6 FG%, 32.0 3FG%
Status: Restricted
Lin isn't going anywhere, regardless of how the NBA's appeal plays out in the arbitration case about his Bird rights. The Gilbert Arenas provision in the CBA prevents teams from offering Lin more than the mid-level exception (about $5 million), which the Knicks will match.
Goran Dragic
Age: 25 | 2011-12 Team: Rockets | Position: PG
'11-12 Stats: 11.7 ppg, 5.3 apg, 2.5 rpg, 46.2 FG%, 33.7 3FG%
Status: Unrestricted
Dragic is ready to be a full-time starter: He averaged 18.0 points and 8.4 assists in 28 starts last season. Dragic says he would like to remain in Houston, where he developed a strong relationship with coach Kevin McHale, but the presence of Kyle Lowry and the Rockets' desire to upgrade the frontcourt may prevent that. Atlanta, Portland and Phoenix are possibilities.
Gerald Wallace
Age: 29 | 2011-12 Team: Trail Blazers/Nets | Position: SF
'11-12 Stats: 13.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.8 apg, 45.4 FG%, 26.5 3FG%
Status: Unrestricted
Wallace has opted out of the final year (and $9.5 million) of his deal, but the Nets have made re-signing him a priority. According to team sources, the Nets' plan is to retain the core of Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Wallace before exploring trades, possibly for Dwight Howard. Buyer beware, though: Wallace's production dipped for a third straight season and scouts worry how a player who relies heavily on his athleticism will perform into his 30s.
Jameer Nelson
Age: 30 | 2011-12 Team: Magic | Position: PG
'11-12 Stats: 11.9 ppg, 5.7 apg, 3.2 rpg, 42.7 FG%, 37.7 3FG%
Status: Unrestricted
Nelson has hedged on whether to give up the final year (and $7.9 million) of his contract, a decision he has to make by Friday. But if he does opt out, the 30-year-old could be attractive in a market stuffed with past-their-prime point guards, though his production declined last season. One general manager said Nelson "is not an $8 million player," which means that if he becomes a free agent, he likely would take a pay cut in exchange for the security of a long-term deal.
Kris Humphries
Age: 27 | 2011-12 Team: Nets | Position: PF
'11-12 Stats: 13.8 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 1.2 bpg, 48.1 FG%
Status: Unrestricted
Humphries tuned out the Kardashian drama to put together his finest statistical season. But the Nets have back-burnered Humphries, turning their attention to Kevin Garnett, Ryan Anderson and Ersan Ilyasova, so it's likely that Brooklyn's starting power forward will move on. General managers have expressed concern over his price tag (Humphries made $8 million last season) and the possibility that he is a classic good-numbers-on-a-bad-team player.
Chris Kaman
Age: 30 | 2011-12 Team: Hornets | Position: C
'11-12 Stats: 13.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.6 bpg, 44.6 FG%
Status: Unrestricted
Kaman is two years removed from an All-Star season and in the prime of his career, making a long-term contract easier to offer. The Hornets will add Anthony Davis in the draft but dealt Emeka Okafor, leaving no proven center on the roster. Miami, Boston and San Antonio were hot for Kaman before the buyout deadline passed, while Portland and Indiana (if Hibbert unexpectedly departs) will be in the mix.
George Hill
Age: 26 | 2011-12 Team: Pacers | Position: PG
'11-12 Stats: 9.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.9 apg, 44.2 FG%, 36.7 3FG%
Status: Restricted
Hill's value spiked late in the season, when he took over the starting role from Darren Collison and led Indiana to the second round of the playoffs. The Pacers love Hill, but with Collison under contract for at least one more year, Roy Hibbert headed for a huge new deal and others (such as Paul George) who will need to be paid down the road, signing Hill becomes problematic. The Pacers will likely wait and see what kind of offer Hill gets before deciding whether to match.
Jeff Green
Age: 25 | 2011-12 Team: Celtics (DNP) | Position: F
'10-11 Stats: 13.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.4 apg, 44.9 FG%, 30.3 3FG%
Status: Unrestricted
After undergoing heart surgery in January, Green is expected to be ready for training camp. Green's agent, David Falk, told's Sam Amick that 12-14 teams had already expressed interest. But Green's long-term position ("I'm not sure if he is a three or a four, or a starter at either" forward position, an interested GM said) and price tag make teams nervous. Green would have made $9 million with Boston last season. A major reason the Thunder traded him in February 2011 was because they could not come to an agreement on a long-term extension.
Omer Asik
Age: 25 | 2011-12 Team: Bulls | Position: C
'11-12 Stats: 3.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.0 bpg, 50.6 FG%
Status: Restricted
Chicago will have to pay a premium for Asik, who reportedly has already generated interest from Boston, Houston and Cleveland, among others. Seven-footers with skills are always valued, and Asik has proved to be a strong rebounder and defender in limited minutes in his first two seasons. The Bulls could end up in luxury-tax territory if they match any $5 million-plus offer to Asik, who would still be behind Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson on the depth chart.
Jamal Crawford
Age: 32 | 2011-12 Team: Trail Blazers | Position: SG
'11-12 Stats: 14.0 ppg, 3.2 apg, 2.0 rpg, 38.4 FG%, 30.9 3FG%
Status: Unrestricted
The former Sixth Man Award winner will likely opt out of his $5 million contract for next season to seek a multiyear deal. Crawford is still a dynamic scorer, but he shot a career low from three-point range and his overall accuracy dipped below 40 percent for the first time since 2004-2005. Minnesota, Miami, Boston and the Clippers are expected to show interest.
BEST OF THE REST: Chauncey Billups, Jason Kidd, Andre Miller, Antawn Jamison, Ramon Sessions, Brandon Bass, Nick Young, Carl Landry, Spencer Hawes, Marcus Camby, Michael Beasley (R), Grant Hill, Aaron Brooks (R), Delonte West, J.R. Smith, Brandon Rush (R), Courtney Lee (R), Raymond Felton, Darrell Arthur (R), Steve Novak.

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