LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O’Neal Rated as Top NBA Free-Agent Bargains

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The Miami Heat have been, by far, the biggest spenders in the NBA this offseason.

But according to New York-based analyst Rich Steinlauf, who has studied the NBA for three decades, the Heat?s signings of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh make them the most cost-efficient team in the NBA this year.

Steinlauf told Sports Illustrated that Miami may be paying James $14.5 million for the 2010-11 season, but his actual value is somewhere around $31 million. That $16.5 million difference makes James the best bargain from the 2010 free-agent class.

The estimation is based on a system that Steinlauf created, which rates each player?s dollar value based on his impact on the court, and how that value fits into a team?s salary cap.

Because the NBA salary cap is $58 million, Steinlauf?s estimation that James is worth $31 million means that James is worth roughly 54 percent of what a team can afford to spend. James? actual $14.5 million salary for next year is only 25 percent.

Steinlauf rated James? new teammate, Wade, as the No. 2-rated free-agent bargain. Wade signed a six-year deal worth $17.9 million annually, but Steinlauf projects that Wade will be a $22.5 million player this season — a $4.6 million difference.

Meanwhile, Boston found a steal of its own this offseason. The Celtics signed future Hall of Fame center Shaquille O?Neal to the veteran?s minimum — $1.4 million — but Steinlauf expects that O?Neal will perform like a $5.5 million player. That $4.1 million difference is good for third among free agents.

"I had him as the second-best player for Cleveland in the Boston series last year," Steinlauf told Sports Illustrated. "When you're the second-leading scorer for your team in one of the marquee playoff series, you're probably a pretty good player."

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