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Who's up, who's down in free agent rankings

Houston Rockets' Courtney Lee (5) shoots over Golden

Houston Rockets' Courtney Lee (5) shoots over Golden State Warriors' Nate Robinson during the first half of an NBA basketball game. (Feb. 12, 2012) Credit: AP

As we hit the halfway point of the NBA season and approach All-Star weekend, free agency should be the last thing on everybody's mind, right?

Of course not!

The 2012 NBA free agent rankings received a massive overhaul over the weekend, including the abolishment of the Richard Jefferson rule.

(For those unaware, the original rankings included players such as Andrew Bynum, Greg Monroe and DeJuan Blair; three guys all but assured to return to their respective teams next year. They were originally on the list because Jefferson's declining his $15 million player option in 2010 showed that anything in free agency is possible.)

First, the new top 10:

1. Dwight Howard
2. Deron Williams
3. Steve Nash
4. Eric Gordon
5. Ryan Anderson
6. Ray Allen
7. Roy Hibbert
8. Gerald Wallace
9. Jeremy Lin
10. Nicolas Batum

Howard-Williams is the same 1-2 we've had most of the season.

Nash's move to No. 3 is simple: despite the fact that he's 38 years old, he continues to play like he's 28. The Suns point guard may wind up with another 50/40/90 season, he's leading the league in assists, and has scored at least 20 points eight times this year. On top of all that, the Suns, a bad roster outside of Nash, are two hot weeks away from being in playoff contention.

Gordon is still in the top 5 despite another season full of injuries. The Hornets would be silly not to bring him back, but the first deadline to re-sign restricted free agents already passed without movement, so who knows.

You get a pair of sharpshooters at 5-6. Anderson has been the league's most lethal threat from downtown, already with 97 3-pointers in 33 games. Allen continues to be the model of consistency, meaning he'll get a short-term deal somewhere.

Hibbert and the Pacers seemed oddly off when it came to contract negotiations earlier his year. Don't be shocked if he signs elsewhere.

Then, you get this year's biggest surprise, Lin, sandwiched behind two not-so-surprises in Blazers forwards Wallace and Batum. Lin's a restricted free agent next year, so no matter what, if the Knicks choose, they could bring him back. If Lin keeps up his play -- which we have no reason to believe he won't -- he'll continue to move up this list, possibly into the top 5.

Some other notable movers:


Jason Terry (No. 13)

Terry's been great in the clutch; as noted here, one of the best in the NBA. The veteran shooting guard may not want to leave Dallas, considering how much he has blossomed in the role of 6th man, but there's no doubt teams will be pining for the services of a confident shooter.

Mo Williams (No. 15)

It's not at all crazy to think Williams could make more than his $8.5 million player option in free agency. He's looks good enough to start somewhere, and that won't happen with Chris Paul in Los Angeles.

Vince Carter (No. 16)

A couple of years ago, would you have ever thought that a 35-year-old Carter would actually be motivated to be a role player on a contender? He's shooting a career-high 44 percent from three, and is averaging 16.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists per 36 minutes. Seeing that he is willing to come off the bench, teams will come knocking.

Courtney Lee (No. 26)

Post-hype sleeper, anyone? Lee looked promising his rookie year in Orlando, looked a little too raw his sophomore year in New Jersey, and took a heavily reduced role last year in Houston. Finally with some continuity in his second year with the Rockets, Lee has been very effective off the bench, shooting 40 percent from three while averaging 14 points per 36 minutes. It could be time to for a team to give the 26-year-old another chance to start.


Spencer Hawes (No. 21)

Before Lin broke on to the scene, Hawes' early-season success was the NBA's most surprising story. In 14 games, Hawes posted a field goal percentage way above his career average (56.8 percent vs. 46.5 percent), and was averaging a career-best 10.8 rebounds per 36 minutes. On top of that, his offensive (114) and defensive ratings (94) -- measures of how many points are produced and allowed per 100 possessions -- were elite. However, the Sixers center has battled injuries and hasn't been able to stay on the court. If he comes back and can handle the increased role and increased minutes, he'll move back up the list.

Chauncey Billups, Greg Oden (Nos. 47, 63)

Pretty easy, here. The smart money is on neither Billups nor Oden playing basketball again. But both have been insistent they'd like to give it a go. Billups definitely won't be ready for the start of next season, though, and you'd have to guess Oden won't be either. 

Shannon Brown (No. 51)

It looks like Brown made a huge mistake leaving the Lakers for a one-year deal in Phoenix. The move seemed to make sense -- put Brown in an offense-happy system, pump up the stats for a year, then sign a big deal in the offseason. Instead, he's has been in and out of the Suns' rotation, shooting just 39 percent from the field in 27 games.

J.J. Hickson (No. 61)

2009-10: 55.4 percent from the floor. 2010-11: 45.8 percent from the floor. 2011-12: 37.4 percent from the floor. You think that sort of regression will excite anybody?

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