In the NBA, there is no such thing as the luxury of time.
Letting situations unfold isn't an acceptable course of action, it's a sign of weakness and indecision. Especially when it comes to expiring contracts.
Even when dealing with the most prolific of players, the "wait-and-see" game is a terrible tactical approach.
An entire season seems like a long time, right? Well, it isn't. And teams must understand which impending free agents who hold leverage are not sold on the current dynamic, or else the question of them leaving wouldn't have been posed in the first place.
Simply put, standing idle—even if an organization's plan is to hold on to said athlete—can only be detrimental. Expiring contracts are one of the hottest trade commodities there are, so if a franchise is clinging to one, it better be for good reason.
Not because they're unsure of how to proceed.
*Note: Prospective restricted free agents and athletes with player, team or early termination options will not be considered to be under an expiring contract.
2012-13 Salary: $15,000,000
I'm a huge fan of Enes Kanter, but he's never going to replace the overwhelming presence of Al Jefferson.
Jefferson is one of the top big men in the NBA, and he is the only current Jazz player who can be considered a true cornerstone.
Last season, he not only led Utah in points, rebounds and blocks per game, but his supposed eventual replacement, Kanter, proved incredibly raw in his rookie season. And while another year of experience will do Kanter some good, is he ready to average a double-double or establish himself as one of the strongest shot-blocking presences in the league?
No, he's not. That's why the Jazz need to hang on to Jefferson. He's only 27 and has proved to be a capable leader in the post-Deron Williams era. I mean, Utah simply would not have made the playoffs last year without Jefferson in the fold.
You simply cannot shop such a player, even if he's a flight risk next summer, and especially if he holds the fate of your future playoff hopes in his hands.
Buy or Sell: Buy, Jazz need hold on to Jefferson and prove they're ready to build around him.
2012-13 Salary: $14,107,492
I get that Manu Ginobili was injured for almost half of last season. I also get that he's still one of the most potent bench scorers in the game. But more importantly, I understand it's time for the Spurs to move on.
Yes, move on.
Though San Antonio can attribute his struggles to an injury-plagued 2011-12 campaign, the fact is his 12.9 points per game were the lowest he's tallied since his sophomore season. And the 8.4 field goal attempts, coupled with his 23.3 minutes per contest were his lowest since his rookie year.
But come on, injuries, right? Again, I understand, but we're talking about a 35-year-old swingman; his health and performance are only going to deteriorate from here on out.
That's why it would be prudent of the Spurs to deal him. They could let his $14 million salary ride off the books, but that will hardly leave them with enough cap space to fill the holes that would be left by him, and then potentially Stephen Jackson.
You see, Ginobili is bound to be plenty valuable on the trade market. Heck, San Antonio could even land some prolific youth in exchange for the scoring punch he provides off the bench.
So, while it's imperative the Spurs move on now, they must do so without losing him for nothing.
Buy or Sell: Sell, it's time for San Antonio to move one-third of its Big Three.
2012-13 Salary: $16,473,002
This isn't even a question.
Unless Philadelphia's end-goal is to completely cripple the franchise, holding on to Andrew Bynum is essential to its future.
Not only is Bynum coming off the best statistical season of his career in which he averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game, but he's easily the second most powerful center in the entire league. And maybe even the best if Dwight Howard's back can't hold up.
But is Bynum a flight risk? If the Sixers go bust, is he likely to take his talents to greener pastures?
No. But what if—still no.
Bynum is entering his eighth season in the league, but he's only 24, so being the primary focus of a rebuilding project isn't likely to scare him off. Especially when Philadelphia can offer tens of millions of dollars more than any other team.
Plus, if it's not about money, Bynum is likely to experience a new, satisfying sensation as a member of the Sixers, one that only comes with being the go-to guy. That's something he never experienced in the shadow of Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles.
His new team just has to prove it is committed to him, and trading a franchise star in Andre Iguodala to land him was a good way to start.
Buy or Sell: Buy, the Sixers cannot let the prospect of free agency ruin their current blueprint.
2012-13 Salary: $10,000,000
David West can be a scoring machine, and he can also be a fierce rebounder. But he's neither of those on a consistent basis anymore.
Yes, Indiana's roster is much deeper than New Orleans' was two years ago, leaving less playing time and touches for West, but his rebounding totals dropped significantly, as did his points per contest last season. By over six, in fact.
West is 32, and he simply isn't gong to be the same player he once was; he already showed signs of slipping during 2011-12 campaign. He was never what you would consider athletic, but his ability to run the floor last season was underwhelming at best.
And for a team like the Pacers, who are a fringe-conteder, capitalizing off players who won't be around for future runs at an NBA championship should be priority No. 1.
That means shopping West and his eight-figure expiring contract. More likely than not, he's going to cost a pretty penny next summer when he hits the free-agent market, so the Pacers should distance themselves from the situation before another George HIll-esque contract graces our presence.
Buy or Sell: Sell, West isn't going to propel the Pacers to title contention, so it's time they find someone who will.
2012-13 Salary: $19,261,200
Did the Lakers really come all this way, go through all these negotiations and covet the NBA's most polarizing big just to turn around and consider cutting ties with him before next summer?
Deficient back or not, Howard is the league's best center until proven otherwise. Even in a season cut short by injury, Howard managed to average 20.6 points, 14.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game, absolutely gaudy numbers.
Most importantly, though, until last season, the man child was the poster-boy for durability. He had never appeared in less than 78 games his entire career and was visibly in as great a shape as anyone else in the league.
Is Howard a threat to spurn Tinseltown next summer?
Technically, yes. He will be a free agent, leaving him "free" to explore his options.
But will he?
Considering how the Lakers can offer him more money, the rich basketball history Los Angeles is shrouded in and the supporting cast he'll be playing alongside, I'm inclined to say no.
A million times over.
Buy or Sell: Buy, there's no reason for the Lakers to be intimidated by Howard's impending free agency.
2012-13 Salary: $13,200,000
While the Hawks made a financially and tactically shrewd move by ridding themselves of Joe Johnson's burdensome contract, they're far from a prosperous reality.
Josh Smith will undoubtedly be pleased in his new role as Atlanta's No. 1, but don't expect that to last too long.
Smith put up an impressive stat line last season, averaging 18.8 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game on his way to solidifying his reputation as one of the most dominant forwards in the leagues.
Though that reputation stands to gain even more traction this season, the Hawks are still a mediocre team. That is to say, they're destined for another early postseason exit. And despite a pile of money to spend next summer, that's not going to change.
It's going to be extremely difficult for Atlanta to turn itself into a title contender. When big names like Chris Paul and Dwight Howard hit the open market, the Hawks are unlikely to be their first choice.
And how do you assemble a title contender overnight when the most prolific of athletes aren't enticed by your market?
You can't, and Smith knows it. Which is why he's going to leave after this season.
Buy or Sell: Sell, there's no use in the Hawks prolonging the inevitable; Atlanta must capitalize off his eventual departure.
2012-13 Salary: $12,939,675
And you thought Carmelo Anthony was one-dimensional.
Though Kevin Martin is the most experienced scorer currently on the Rockets, and someone the team's youngest guns will look to for answers, he has no place in Houston now or in the future.
It's not just that his voluminous scoring abilities will command a significant amount of money next summer, it's that the Rockets already have his replacement in Jeremy Lamb.
Certainly, it doesn't hurt Houston to have extra depth at the shooting guard position, but what's the point of keeping Martin? Why hold onto a guy who's good as gone next summer?
Because not only has Martin proved to be a substantial injury risk—he's played in just 60 or more games four times his entire career—but his scoring production dropped by over seven points per game last season.
Factor in that, with his injuries and 30th birthday being on the way, and you have a one-dimensional wing who is anything but a sturdy foundation to build upon.
Subsequently, Houston must capitalize off his remaining offensive value while it still can.
Buy or Sell: Sell, it's time for the Rockets to ship Martin out.
2012-13 Salary: $7,200,000
Paul Millsap, like his teammate Al Jefferson, is a 27-year-old talent on the rise.
Unlike Jefferson, though, he must be shipped out.
Though Millsap was the team's second-leading scorer last season, it's time for the Jazz to move him before he hits free agency. Unlike Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors is a more than capable replacement, who with his team option, will come much cheaper than Millsap.
Is Millsap a strong two-way presence? Does he not receive enough credit for his rebounding and shot-blocking prowess? Is he on his way to superstardom?
Yes, yes and yes, but Favors can be just as strong of a presence. No, he didn't average the 16.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game Millsap did, but in limited playing time, he posted a 17.0 PER, the team's highest behind—you guessed it—Millsap and Jefferson.
Utah has an abundance of bigs, and as intriguing as this current low post dynamic is, it's time for the Jazz to dismantle it.
And that begins with trading the expiring contract of Millsap in favor of strengthening the team's perimeter attack.
Buy or Sell: Sell, it's time for Utah to show more faith in Favors.
2012-13 Salary: $17,779,457
Chris Paul is a flight risk. There, I said it.
Although it matters that the Clippers can offer him an extra year and plenty of more money than any other team, his future in Los Angeles is far from written in stone.
That said, the Clippers have no other choice than to keep Paul off the chopping block.
Sure, they could probably fetch a boatload of talent in exchange for his services, and sure, they still have another superstar in Blake Griffin, but make no mistake, Paul is the engine that keeps this car running.
Los Angeles won 40 games last season, eight more than all of 2010-11, yet it did so with 16 fewer games on the schedule. That's an impressive swing, and it's one that doesn't happen without Paul.
The point guard averaged 19.8 points. 9.1 assists (3rd in the NBA) and 2.5 steals (1st) per game last season, leading a much more prolific Clippers charge than during the 2010-11 campaign. His 27.09 PER was second only to LeBron James, who, by the way, was the league's MVP.
Simply put, Paul is as valuable of a trade chip as there is in the NBA, but he's absolutely invaluable to the Clippers current and future title aspirations.
Buy or Sell: Buy, Clippers must throw caution to the wind and continue to attempt to sell Paul on their current dynamic.