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Guards aplenty as NBA free agency begins

Deron Williams looks on during a game against

Deron Williams looks on during a game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center. (January 13, 2012). Credit: Getty Images

The NBA free-agency negotiation period began Sunday at 12:01 a.m., and the Knicks and Nets were expected to be among the more active teams.

Teams can't sign free agents until July 11, so there is plenty of time to talk. It's a guard-heavy group, and some teams might save or just give out one-year deals to put themselves in position to sign Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Andrew Bynum or Josh Smith in 2013.

Here's a look at the top unrestricted free agents in this year's class:

DERON WILLIAMS

He's the best player on the market and can receive the most money from the Brooklyn Nets, who are putting everything into keeping Williams and making him their franchise player in their new city and arena. Williams' hometown Dallas Mavericks and a chance to play with Dirk Nowitzki pose the biggest threat to the Nets.

Prediction: It really is a toss-up, but it seems the Nets have the edge at this point on Dallas.

STEVE NASH

At 38, he's still one of the NBA's top point guards and floor leaders. The Knicks will pursue Nash as hard as they can. But he'll get more money from the Mavericks (he's their fallback option if they can't get Williams), Toronto Raptors (Nash is Canadian and Toronto's top target) and Phoenix Suns, who don't want to let him go.

Prediction: Going home to Canada or reuniting with Nowitzki probably trumps re-teaming with Amar'e Stoudemire, especially with Mike D'Antoni gone.

O.J. MAYO

The Grizzlies didn't extend him a qualifying offer, so Mayo is an unrestricted free agent and should be one of the more sought-after players because of his age (24), scoring ability and talent.

Prediction: The Pacers, who continually pursued Mayo in a trade, and Celtics are two possible landing spots.

RAY ALLENMany teams will be lining up for the services of the still sweet-shooting Allen, who had ankle surgery after the playoffs. The Celtics and Heat will be the first in line, with the Knicks and Suns in the mix also. The Spurs and maybe the Thunder will gauge Allen's interest in playing for them.

Prediction: At this stage of his career, Allen is going for wins first so the Heat and returning to the Celtics, now that Kevin Garnett will re-sign, are at the top of his list.

New York Sports