Ryan Desmarais is a senior at the University of New Hampshire at Manchester, where he will receive his BA in English in December 2009. He currently resides in Manchester, NH.
The NBA offseason is officially firing on all cylinders and free agency is now upon us. Although we’ll have to wait to until next year to see where the big-time studs like LeBron, Wade and Bosh end up, this year’s class of free agents aren’t exactly a bunch of slouches. There are a number of players who can immediately turn a team into a legitimate contender. Here is a list of the top 5 free agents who can turn a team’s fortunes around.
1) Carlos Boozer
A former second round draft pick, Boozer has developed into one of the premier low-post players in the game today. At only 26 years old, this nightly double-double is sure to receive big-money offers from any team that is able to do so. He knows how to finish when he gets the ball in the paint and his field goal percentage has been above 52% every season except this past season. The only knock on Boozer is his inability to stay on the court. He has never played a full 82-game season. The closest he has ever come was in 2007-2008 when he played in 81 games and ended up having his best statistical season, averaging just over 21 point and 10.4 rebounds while leading Utah to the Western Conference Semifinals. This past season, Boozer only played in 37 games because of a knee injury, but don’t look for many teams to back away from offering Boozer max money as his reward highly outweighs his risk.
2) Shawn Marion
Marion has been an absolute freak since entering the league in ’99. He does just about everything well. He can get to the hoop and finish as well as step back and hit the mid-range J. He also shoots a decent percentage behind the 3-point line, around 34%. His length allows him to be a force on the boards, block shots and get nearly 2 steals a game throughout his career. Still, questions surround The Matrix. His numbers have tailed off over the last two seasons and at 31, some teams may think his best days are behind him. Marion’s also been traded twice over the past two seasons, including forcing his way out of Phoenix, and teams might see this as a red flag. Still, Marion is an extremely versatile player who will garner a lot of attention on the open market.
3) Hedo Turkoglu
If the term “point-forward” were in the dictionary, Hedo Turkoglu’s picture would be right next to it. At 6’10”, does a little bit of everything. Over the past two seasons, he’s averaged just over 18 points, 5.5 boards and right around 5 dimes a game for Orlando. A terrific ball-handler for his size, Hedo consistently brings the ball up the floor, especially in late-game situations. He has the ability to create his own shot and is still one of the most dangerous shooters in the league from downtown. Turkoglu can be inconsistent at times, evidenced in the playoffs against Philadelphia and Boston, and he sometimes takes some shots that are questionable at best. But Turkoglu has turned himself into more than just a shooter, getting his teammates involved on nights where his shot doesn’t fall. Look for Turkoglu to get some serious offers around the league.
4) Ben Gordon
Gordon can put the ball in the hoop, we all know that. He’s been doing it since his days at UConn. But he took it to an entirely new level during the playoffs, specifically Game 2 against Boston. Gordon torched the C’s for 42 points on 14 of 24 shooting, including 6 of 11 from long range. He was hitting everything from off-balance mid-range J’s to transition 3’s as he singlehandedly matched Boston bucket-for-bucket. When Gordon gets hot, he’s as unstoppable as anyone in the league. The problem with Gordon is that when he doesn’t get hot, he doesn’t do a lot of other things. He only averages 3 rebounds and 3 assists a game in his career and he prefers to try to shoot his way out of slumps instead of trying to find his teammates, which can be a quick way to lose a game. He’s also shown to be more valuable as a sixth man than as a starter. But Gordon’s age (26) and his ability to get quick buckets will force teams to give him a good look.
5) Lamar Odom
Lamar Odom just might be the most gifted player in the NBA today. I’ll give you a second to read that statement again if you need to. His combination of size, speed and shooting ability allow him to do things that not very many other players in the league can do. At 6’10”, he can get to the hoop whenever he wants and he knows how to finish. He can extend the floor and consistently make the 3, forcing opposing bigs to leave the paint and guard him on the perimeter. He has averaged at or near 10 boards a game every year for the past 6 seasons. Plus, he’s averaged a steal and a block per game over his career. Odom has showed inconsistent play throughout his career and has been rotated in and out of the starting lineup numerous times over the past few seasons. He has also had some character issues that have dated all the way back to college, but it appears that he has matured since then. Odom’s ability to do just about anything he wants on the floor will have GM’s around the league salivating.
Ron Artest: One of the best on-ball defenders in the game today and shows good range on the offensive side as well, but has never been on the floor for all 82 games and his character issues are well-documented.
Allen Iverson: The man can still score like few others in the league and has the heart of a bulldog, but the 34-year-old may be losing steam and is coming off a season where he missed 25 games due to injury.
Rasheed Wallace: He stretches the floor with his ability to shoot from long range and can bang down low, but his fiery attitude has gotten him in trouble with the commissioner many times before and his age (34) may have teams backing off of him.