Ranking top-tier free agents

Tyson Chandler is one of several top big-man free agents this offseason. AP Photo/Robyn Beck

Regardless of whether there is a lockout, many NBA free agents eventually will look for homes. Chris Palmer offers his take on the top-tier free agents this offseason in the first of three installments of ESPN Insider's Free Agent Buyer's Guide.

Although not as heralded as the LeBron James-led 2010 free-agent class, 2011's group has some top-level targets whom teams will look to sign. We evaluated the top tier, ranking its players in order and according to the following categories:

Game-changer: five stars

Franchise cornerstone: four stars
Starter: three stars
Role player: two stars
Second unit: one star

1. Tyson Chandler, C, Dallas Mavericks

A year ago, Chandler was slogging through a season with the Charlotte Bobcats, posting some of the worst numbers of his career. A year later, it's hard to think of a player who upped his value more in the postseason with his work on the defensive side of the ball than Chandler did. His intensity and aggression proved to be the linchpin to the Mavericks' impressive defense, as he helped shut down LeBron James in the Finals. Chandler also showed few ill effects from the ankle injury that had bothered him for much of the two previous seasons and clearly established himself as one of the best defensive anchors in the league. Bonus: He's still just 28 years old.