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(Slightly) Off-Topic: The search for the next Jerome James

Player evaluations will continue tomorrow. -Pradamaster

One of my favorite stretches of the NBA does not occur when games are being played.  Every team has been knocked out for some time.  We're well beyond the conspiracy theories, well beyond the playoff heroics (or, in this year's case, yawns), and well beyond the debates of where the champion ranks in the annals of basketball history.  We're even beyond the draft, which was always one of my favorite times of year (although I'm slightly less enthused this year because the draft has already received too much attention).

No, what I'm talking about here is the beginning of free agency.  More specifically, I'm talking about the inevitable ridiculous signing of a random player who plays out of his mind in the playoffs.  It happens every single season.  Ignoring all the past years of data, a stupid team forks out an incredible amount of money to guys who have random phenomenal playoff performances.  The idea is that the player is somehow "coming up big when it counts most," when the reality is that he's simply having an abnormally hot stretch at the perfect time.

With two rounds of the playoffs already done, it's time to lay odds on who's going to be the guy in this free agent class.  Who's going to win the "Jerome James Award?"  Past winners include Tim Thomas, Speedy Claxton, Tyronn Lue, Austin Croshere, and, of course, Jerome James.  

Here are the early odds on some members of the 2007 free agent class.

Mikki Moore

Pros: A big guy, which increases the likelihood that he'll get a big salary...Plays with Jason Kidd, which makes him look more valuable...Only playing because of Nenad Kristic's injury, which makes his raw numbers look a lot better...Plays with a lot of "energy" and not a whole lot of great defensive/offensive production, a la Etan Thomas.

Cons: Was pretty good all season, so maybe he really did turn a corner.

Odds: 3/2

Matt Barnes

Pros: Came out of nowhere to be an indespensible player on an underdog team...Delivered one of the biggest highlights of the NBA playoffs with his dunk over Dirk Nowitzki...A guy whose raw numbers look a lot better playing in the Golden State up-tempo system.

Cons: One GM who could potentially make a big deal, Billy King, waived him recently...Probably worth more to Golden State than anyone else, reducing the risk of him going back to being unproductive...

Odds: 2/1

Jason Kapono

Pros: A one-dimensional shooter who only succeeded because he played with Shaq and Wade...Won the three-point shootout...This year was the only year he got minutes, so obviously his numbers are up.

Cons: Didn't have a great postseason; his place here is based more on the regular season...Exposed in the Bulls series as someone who couldn't guard anybody.

Odds: 5/1.

Darko Milicic

Pros: Had a fantastic series against Detroit, and looked good in the process (i.e. it wasn't just the numbers, it was the nice post moves too)...Did it against his former team, adding to the symbolism...Potentially the next Jermaine O'Neal.

Cons: Only did it in a 4-game span, which is a tiny sample size...Will command a lot more than most teams have to give him...May not actually be a free agent...Potentially will continue to be Darko Milicic.

Odds: 6/1.

Steve Blake

Pros: His jumpers made are deceiving, because he gets lots of open looks playing with Carmelo and AI...Rarely gets pressured, for the same reason...Doesn't control the ball much, so doesn't commit many turnovers...Seems scrappy, like Eric Snow, but really isn't.

Cons: A point guard, so won't command a huge salary...Wasn't all that incredible in the playoffs.

Odds: 7/1.

Jarvis Hayes

Pros: Has a sweet-looking stroke, but doesn't usually go in...Shot the ball much better after Arenas went down...Did a passable job on LeBron for most of the Cavs series.

Cons: Also had two awful shooting games...Is a restricted free agent playing a position with lots of comporable players...Coming off two knee surgeries.

Odds: 10/1.

Sasha Pavlovic

Pros: Toiled around in infamy for a long time before breaking into the Cleveland lineup...Seen as a good offensive player, but looks even better because Cleveland sucks offensively...Not really as good a shooter as his reputation suggets.

Cons: One of those guys that always had the talent, but never had an opportunity...Young enough where he could legitimately turn the corner and not cost an incredible amount of money.

Odds: 20/1.

Chris Webber

Pros: Playing on the slowest-paced team in the league masks his creaky knees...Playing on a really efficient offensive team with tons of great options makes his passing look better...Playing with such good perimeter defenders makes his defense look better.

Cons: Too old for a really big contract...Dogged his way out of Phily.

Odds: 50/1.

Feel free to predict the contracts these guys sign.  I'll be thinking of them too.