The landscape of the NBA changes each summer due to the shuffle of talent that occurs with free agency.
In today's NBA market, good teams struggle to retain all of their assets due to a punitive luxury tax and the way in which front offices are willing to overpay for players in order to improve.
With the Bird Rights in place, free agents are often better off resigning with their current team, though this doesn't always occur.
Successful GMs are able to receive maximum production from their payroll, as very few owners are willing to shell out the $100 million in player salaries that Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss will this season.
There is a finite number of ways in which a team can improve, with free agency being the quickest.
The problem with free agency is that teams often overpay for players, although this wouldn't be considered a problem by the players themselves.
James Harden has been the most talked about upcoming restricted free agent of the 2013 class, and this is unlikely to change as the deadline to sign an extension draws closer.
Harden is a well-rounded offensive player who doesn't mind coming off the bench. In an era in which athletes are often criticized for being egotistical, Harden is selfless and cares only about the success of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
While Harden is the third option in the Thunder offense, he is unequivocally the most dangerous third option in the entire NBA.
Harden is among the most dangerous pick-and-roll players in the league due to his proficiency as a deep-threat and his ability to drive the ball to the rim and draw fouls.
Perhaps the most impressive detail about Harden's third season in the league was his ability to increase his shooting percentage while taking roughly two more shots per contest.
During the 2012 season, Harden shot 49 percent from the field and 39 percent from behind the arc, both of which were career highs.
If Harden becomes a restricted free agent next summer, the Thunder will have no choice but to match the maximum contract offer that he is going to receive from other teams.
With the Thunder in position to compete for this year's NBA Title, it's unlikely that GM Sam Presti would trade Harden. Although losing Harden to free agency without receiving some form of compensation would be a tough pill for the Thunder to swallow.
Paul Millsap is one of the most versatile power forwards in the NBA yet is often overlooked because he suits up for the Utah Jazz and plays alongside stand out center Al Jefferson.
But if people have overlooked Millsap in the past, that will change next summer.
With the assumed progression of Derrick Favors, Millsap may lose his starting position with the Jazz after the 2013 season.
In the lockout shortened 2012 season, Millsap averaged 16.6 points and 8.8 rebounds on 49.5 percent shooting. He finished 13th among power forwards in scoring and eighth in rebounding. While he didn't finish among the position's elite in either category, his efficiency in both categories make him a valuable asset.
The knock on Millsap is his size, as he stands only 6'8". While height is important, Millsap's wide frame and ability to hit mid-range jumpers makes him difficult to guard.
Depending on what the plan is for the Jazz moving forward, it wouldn't be completely out of the question to see Millsap get moved prior to the trading deadline.
If Utah doesn't trade Millsap, then I see him signing a big contract with a different organization next summer.
While Millsap will never be a top option on a championship team, he can still help a team win a fair amount of games in the regular season.
Ty Lawson broke out in his third season, and continued his strong play in the first round of the playoffs against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The 2012 campaign saw Lawson set career highs in points, assists, rebounds and minutes. He was even better in the playoffs, as he took advantage of the Lakers weakness at point guard and scored over 20 points four times in the seven game series.
Lawson is extremely fast. He can drive into the lane in the blink of an eye, which makes him a perfect fit for George Karl's system.
Denver led the league in scoring in the 2012 lockout shortened season, and with Lawson pushing the ball up-and-down the court, the same may be in store this year.
According to Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post, talks have been positive in regards to convincing Lawson to sign an extension with the team.
If the two sides are unable to come to an agreement prior to the October 31st deadline, then the Nuggets will likely have to match a maximum contract offer in order to keep Lawson in Denver.
Lawson is set to make $2.5 million in the upcoming season, but he will be making double that by this time next year.
With a salary of $2.1 million for the upcoming season, Taj Gibson may provide the best value in the entire league.
While Gibson doesn't start for the Chicago Bulls—that privilege remains with Carlos Boozer—he has been an integral part of the team's success over the course of the last two seasons.
Gibson is athletic and runs the floor very well, but his real strength is his defense.
The ex-USC Trojan is among the best defenders in the league at power forward. His quick feet allow him to keep up with guards in pick-and-roll situations.
Based upon his salary and skill set, Gibson is one of the league's most underrated players. That may change this season, as the Bulls will need everyone on their roster to improve their production in the absence of Derrick Rose.
Gibson is set to be a restricted free agent next summer, so it will be interesting to see if the Bulls will match the lucrative offers that he is certain to receive once he hits the market.
Chicago may have let Omer Asik walk this past offseason to ensure that they have the appropriate funds in order to keep Gibson in the Windy City.
Andrew Bynum has finally gotten his wish, as he is unequivocally the primary option in the Philadelphia 76ers offense.
Bynum will have to defer to Kobe Bryant no longer, and he will begin his career with the 76ers as the unchallenged alpha dog. If Philly is successful this season, Bynum will receive much praise as he would have proven that he has matured enough to become a dominant force on a nightly basis.
While Dwight Howard is a better all-around center, few would argue that he is a better offensive player than Bynum.
Bynum is the most talented offensive center in the league. He has good touch around the hoop and the size to dominate the majority of big men in the paint.
While he probably won't sign an extension prior to the deadline, most figure that Bynum will resign with Philly next summer because he grew up in nearby New Jersey.
In today's NBA—where there is a lack of great big men—Bynum is a huge asset when healthy and able to stay on the court.
Bynum has had knee issues throughout his career so there are still plenty of questions as to his long term success.
While Bynum isn't the safest investment, his talent and size warrant the risk that the 76ers took by trading for him.
As Jrue Holiday enters his fourth season in the NBA, the Philadelphia 76ers will be expecting him to make major strides as a team leader and player.
Holiday appears to have the talent to be a successful point guard, but he was disappointing during the 2012 campaign, failing to show progression on the court.
But the NBA market is willing to overpay for potential in order to maintain strong attendance. If you need proof, take a look at the Houston Rockets, who signed Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik to maximum-contracts despite being relatively unproven players.
Holiday is 6'4" and extremely quick. As a point guard, Holiday has few physical limitations even if he's considered an average passer.
According to John N. Mitchell of philly.com, Holiday said the following about his future:
For sure, as a player you want to set that standard, and obviously for me that's the standard for myself that I want to set. That's the type of player that I want to be. I want to be seen as that type [of max-contract] player. But I'm not really worried about it; that's not the type of player that I am, honestly. I'm not really a money man. I'd rather get the wins.
In order for Holiday to prove that he's worthy of a max contract he needs to work his way into the Top Ten among point guards in both scoring and assists.
By the end of the 2012 season, Holiday found himself ranked 15th in scoring among point guards with 13.5 points per game and 30th in assists with 4.5 per contest.
Holiday has to progress at a quicker rate in order to reach his potential. Luckily for him, NBA teams overpay for potential every offseason.
Chris Paul forced his way out of an unfavorable situation with the New Orleans Hornets and took on a fresh start with the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Clippers were not hesitant to pull the trigger on acquiring Paul because he promised to pick up his option, which was for the upcoming 2013 season.
In his first season with the Clippers, Paul made the team relevant as he and Blake Griffin led the Clips' to the second round of the playoffs (where they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs).
While the Clippers were completely outclassed by the Spurs, it was remarkable to see LA's other team hosting playoff games.
Paul is the best point guard in the NBA. He affects the game in virtually every aspect.
Last year, Paul ranked third in the league in assists, fourth among point guards in scoring, and according to NBA.com was the fourth most effective player in the entire league.
As he enters his eighth NBA season, Paul is on the cusp of reaching the free agent market as an unrestricted free agent for the first time.
Paul is set to sign a maximum offer next summer, and whichever team earns his services will be a legitimate threat during the duration of that contract.
Stephen Curry has one year left on his rookie contract and is set to make $3.9 million in the upcoming season.
Ankle injuries limited Curry to just 28 starts during the 2012 campaign, but he was excellent when able to stay on the court.
In those 28 games, Curry averaged 14.7 points, 5.3 assists and 4.1 rebounds while posting a PER of 21.23 (which was well above the league average).
As the preseason gets underway, the Golden State Warriors and Curry both appear committed to coming to an agreement on an extension that would keep Curry with the team for the foreseeable future.
With Curry the Warriors have one of the most lethal deep-threats in the league and a player that is continuing to develop on the defensive end of the court.
According to Marcus Thompson II of insidebayarea.com, the expectation is that Curry and the Warriors will come to an agreement prior to the October 31st deadline.
But if Curry suffers another injury during the preseason or early on in the regular season, it's plausible that GM Bob Myers would wait until after the season to see if the team wants to make a long term financial commitment with Curry.
Even if the Warriors decide to let Curry test the restricted free agency market next season, I fully expect another front office to offer the young point guard a maximum contract.
Curry's talent and demeanor warrant a lucrative contract, whether or not that happens in 2012 or 2013 is the only question that looms over this situation.
Dwight Howard is the best center in the NBA and is among the top five basketball players in the world.
You don't win three straight Defensive Player of the Year awards on accident—a feat that only Howard has achieved.
At this point of his career it would be very difficult for Howard to improve on the defensive end, but the same cannot be said about his offensive game.
There will be three times the pressure on him to produce and win meaningful games as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. Never before has Howard entered a season with the expectation from the media being title-or-bust.
In his first season on the West Coast, Howard will earn a cool $19.2 million as the league's eighth highest paid player.
Since his trade to LA, Howard has fit in well and seems comfortable in his new surroundings. The way in which Howard has carried himself—along with the fact that he has been in Los Angeles since his surgery in the Spring—suggests that he will resign with the team next summer.
Things always seem to fall the Lakers way, and Howard's arrival in the City of Angels is just another shred of evidence to support that claim.
Josh Smith is set to make $13.2 million this season, and the Atlanta Hawks are getting great value for their money.
The 2012 season was the best of Smith's career as he posted career highs in points and rebounding.
The pectoral injury that caused Al Horford to miss the majority of the 2012 campaign forced Smith to become the go-to guy for the Hawks inside, and Smith didn't disappoint.
Smith is a poised power forward who is extremely athletic and is among the most dynamic shot blockers in the league. Smith has become one of the league's premier power forwards.
However, the question is whether or not the Hawks will be able to resign Smith once his contract expires.
Prior to the 2012 season there were reports (like this one from Michael Cunningham of ajc.com) that Smith was unhappy in Atlanta and wanted to be traded. The Hawks have yet to trade Smith, but by next summer he will have earned the right to sign with whatever team he sees fit.
Barring any major injuries, Smith will be courted by a myriad of teams and will receive a raise as he signs the third contact of his NBA career.