The 2013 free-agent class features some of the largest names around the NBA. Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum are the faces of the class, but James Harden, Al Jefferson and Tyreke Evans could be on the move as well.
Not all of the big-name 2013 NBA free agents deserve to be paid max money. That won't prevent general managers from overpaying for their guy, though, as we see every year when an above-average player gets money that only the great players deserve.
General managers can kill their teams' cap space with one bad contract. They have to recognize which players are worthy of the max money and which are just average NBA players.
Just because a player is both productive and a free agent doesn't mean he deserves to be offered a max extension. NBA franchises get in trouble when they overvalue a player and pay him the maximum money.
Teams need to be aware of a few things before signing a player to a max deal:
1. How highly do teams around the league value this player?
2. Where does this player rank among others playing the same position?
3. Is the player an injury risk, e.g. Brandon Roy?
4. Is the player entering or on the downside of his prime?
5. Ultimately, does this player signed for big money bring you closer to winning an NBA championship?
These players, all of them good and at the moment set to be free agents in the summer of 2013, should not be offered max deals. Of course, knowing NBA general managers, a number of these guys will be offered max deals.
Andre Iguodala (Early Termination Option)
Great player, but a classic case of a guy who's an All-Star and not a superstar. You can win a NBA championship with Iguodala, just not with him as your franchise cornerstone.
Josh Smith (Unrestricted)
Smith has always been under-appreciated. Early on Smith could be worth the max, but he has the potential to become an untradeable contract quickly. Anytime you tie a lot of money into an older player who relies on his athleticism to be effective, it's a red flag.
Al Jefferson (Unrestricted)
Similar to Roy Hibbert, Jefferson will benefit from being one of only a handful of competent big men in the NBA.
Stephen Curry (Restricted)
Curry has been a good player thus far in his career but has yet to show he's worthy of a max deal. Being a restricted free agent will help Curry's cause. As we saw this summer with Hibbert, Nic Batum and Jeremy Lin, being a restricted free agent can be nice for the final dollar amount.
Tyreke Evans (Restricted)
If Evans were drafted by a different team, maybe he could have been a max player. This player's growth has been handled terribly by the Sacramento Kings. Instead of worrying about money, Evans should worry about finding himself the right situation.
Monta Ellis (ETO)
There's no denying Ellis' talent, but has he proven his playing style will ever translate to postseason success? Right now the answer is a definite no.
Reasons Why Ty Lawson Should Be Offered a Max Deal
1. Turns 25 on November 3.
2. Top-10 point guard in the NBA.
Reasons Why Ty Lawson Should Not Be Offered a Max Deal
1. His size.
2. Has never had the responsibility of being "the guy."
Lawson hasn't made an All-NBA team or even an All-Star game. But at his age, with that kind of speed, Lawson has clearly done enough to establish that he's not just an average point guard.
Lawson has an element to his game that makes him different from the opposition. His speed, which plays perfectly into the Denver Nuggets' style, makes him at times unguardable. Because of that, if the Nuggets want to keep Lawson on their team heading forward, they will have to pay him.
The point guard position is as deep as it's ever been in the NBA. Don't blame Lawson for that. He may not fit the usual mold of a franchise player, but Lawson, with his playing style, is the epitome of the Nuggets. Lawson plays fast and explosive and has no problem playing within a team structure.
Since the Nuggets don't have a bona fide go-to guy, it's hard to pinpoint exactly who their best player is. If you thought about it in terms of handicapping, the player the Nuggets would miss the most if you removed him from the roster would be Lawson. You can find players like Danilo Gallinari and JaVale McGee. Players like Lawson don't grow on trees.
Each year in his career, Lawson has improved as a passer, scorer and defender. With 2012-13 being Lawson's fourth season in the NBA, it'll be his last chance to prove he's worthy of being the face of the Nuggets franchise.
Reasons Why James Harden Should Be Offered a Max Deal
1. Only 23 years old.
2. Has shown vast improvement each season.
3. Top-five shooting guard in the NBA.
Reasons Why James Harden Should Not Be Offered a Max Deal
1. Has never been any higher than the No. 3 offensive option in his career.
2. Has a tendency to disappear, as seen in the 2012 NBA Finals.
While the NBA currently has a surplus of young, talented point guards, the state of the shooting guard position is in great turmoil. James Harden may not be a starter on his own team, but if you take a look at the shooting guards around the NBA, he's clearly one of the best.
The Thunder recently signed Serge Ibaka to a four-year, $48 million contract extension, leaving Harden's status with the team up in the air. Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Thunder "will be hard-pressed to invest so much money into their payroll," so losing Harden next year is a very real possibility.
As seen this summer, restricted free agency can get nasty. Some team next offseason will see Harden as the missing piece to its puzzle, and it will offer him a max contract.
Considering Brook Lopez re-signed with the Brooklyn Nets for a max deal, it's a no-brainer Harden will sign somewhere with a max deal. He's improved every year of his career, to the point where he is now the second-best player from the 2009 NBA draft class, behind only Blake Griffin. The Thunder situation looks great on paper, but Harden may want to test his wings on his own team. There's only so long a player of his caliber can handle being the third fiddle.
Reasons Why Andrew Bynum Should Be Offered a Max Deal
2. At the moment, he's unquestionably the second-best center in the NBA.
3. Has the ability to be dominant at times.
Reasons Why Andrew Bynum Should Not Be Offered a Max Deal
2. Injury risk.
The 2012-13 NBA season will answer a lot of questions about what kind of a player Andrew Bynum really is. Bynum will be signed for the max deal, but has he proven he has what it takes on a nightly basis to be the go-to guy for a team?
Before anyone argues if he's a better center than Dwight Howard, let's wait and see how Bynum reacts to the pressure and spotlight that comes with being "the man" in a sports-crazed East Coast city. As Grantland's Bill Simmons said on his podcast, Bynum didn't have to worry about the spotlight in Los Angeles. It was all Kobe Bryant, all the time. If Bynum tries some of the foolishness in Philly that he did in Los Angeles, he will be raked over the coals.
Now assuming Bynum's game translates to his new team, the independence from Bryant could improve his game significantly. Bynum is a great offensive player, and with no true rival big man in the East, he should dominate the conference with ease. He'll finally be able to get all the touches, which should cause a sharp rise in his points per game.
The argument about Bynum vs. Howard has always been flawed. Now that Bynum will finally get a chance to be "the man," we'll see once and for all if Howard has a true rival in the NBA.
Reasons Why Dwight Howard Should Be Offered a Max Deal
1. He's the best center in the NBA.
2. One-man defensive force.
3. Franchise cornerstone.
Reasons Why Dwight Howard Should Not Be Offered a Max Deal
2. Injury risk.
Dwight Howard has done everything possible to make himself the most unlikeable athlete in the country. Now that he's on the Los Angeles Lakers, the dislike towards Howard will only grow.
In movies, the bad guy always loses. In sports, it doesn't work that way. Two years ago, LeBron James threw trash on the city of Cleveland on his way out the door to Miami. Now he's an NBA champion. Howard essentially left the Orlando Magic in a position of hopelessness for the next few seasons. He now gets to enjoy his time as the starting center in one of the best starting lineups ever assembled.
Howard will sign a max deal. He doesn't want to say if it will be with the Lakers, but it's hard to see someone who loves the spotlight as much as Howard turning away Los Angeles. When he finally suits up for the Lakers, the fans will love him. Being the face of the Lakers franchise post-Bryant has a nice ring to it as well.
Howard is keeping his options open, as he should, but expect the big man to return to Los Angeles when it's all said and done.
Reasons Why Chris Paul Should Be Offered a Max Deal
1. He's the best point guard in the NBA.
2. Franchise cornerstone.
Reasons Why Chris Paul Should Not Be Offered a Max Deal
1. Injury risk.
It's hard to find a con to signing Chris Paul to a max deal. Paul's knee could be a concern for his future production, but at the moment he's the gold standard in the NBA. He's the textbook point guard: makes his teammates better, controls the flow of the offense and a true leader on the court.
Paul was traded to a Los Angeles Clippers franchise that had only made the NBA postseason once since 1996-97. He was a difference-maker his first year in Los Angeles, changing the culture of the Clippers and leading them to the second round of the playoffs.
If any player in the league deserves a max contract, it's Paul. He's a great teammate, someone who's not a cancer on or off the court and a true franchise cornerstone. He's one of the few players in the NBA who significantly improves his team's chance of making it to the postseason, regardless of who's on the roster.