Power Ranking the Biggest Flight Risks of 2013 NBA Free Agency

Ben Leibowitz@BenLeboCorrespondent IIIOctober 10, 2012

Power Ranking the Biggest Flight Risks of 2013 NBA Free Agency

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    While a few teams around the league have championship aspirations this season, teams trying to rebuild are looking forward to 2013 free agency. Some marquee players are entering the final year of their contracts, and could be preparing to leave their current squads.

    For a player to be labeled a "flight risk," the team they're currently under contract with would actually have to miss their presence. In other words, the risk of losing said player via free agency would significantly alter the outlook of a team.

    Some players appear certain to re-sign with their current team due to loyalty or cap space. Others, however, whether it be for money, team fit or chasing championships, may make a new locker room their home starting in fall of 2013.

Honorable Mentions: Chris Paul and Dwight Howard

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    I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the possible (although not probable) flight risk of both Chris Paul and Dwight Howard in 2013.

    Paul is the best point guard in the game today and Howard is the best center. If the NBA has taught us anything in recent years, it’s that the superstars have all the leverage. If they ultimately decide they’d rather play elsewhere, Los Angeles could be left high and dry.

    Will this happen in 2013? Well, Howard has shown that he’s a loose cannon from his time in Orlando, but the chances that Howard or Paul leave L.A. seem remote.

    As originally reported by Jarrod Rudolph, confirmed by Chris Broussard of ESPN and referenced by Kurt Helin of NBC Sports, Howard plans to re-sign with the Lakers long-term following the 2012-13 NBA season.

    Despite the widespread reports that Howard plans to re-sign with the Lakers long-term, the “following the 2012-13 season” part is important.

    According to an article by NBC Sports’ Kurt Helin citing a report by ESPN’s Chris Broussard, Paul has already declined a three-year max money extension from the Los Angeles Clippers.

    This doesn’t necessarily mean CP3 plans to skip town, but with the new quirks of the CBA, Paul can get a more lucrative deal if he waits until the end of the season to sign. The same situation goes for Howard. If he waits until season’s end to re-sign with the Lakers, he’ll get more years and more money.

    Of course, an article by SI.com referenced a tweet by New York Knicks’ beat writer Frank Isola, who said NBA executives think Paul wants to join the Knicks. So there are rumors Paul could leave the Clippers for a different situation next summer.

    Again, the flight risk associated with these two stars isn’t overwhelming, but it’s worth noting in the wild and crazy NBA.

8. Rodrigue Beaubois

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    Rodrigue Beaubois is set to become a restricted free agent at the end of the 2012-13 season. So regardless of where Beaubois wants to go in free agency, the Dallas Mavericks will have the ultimate say as to whether or not they plan to match an offer extended to him.

    The 24-year-old guard from France hasn’t exactly built upon a solid rookie campaign in which he shot 51.8 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from three-point land (shooting below those marks for two straight seasons). However, his lack of improvement could be attributed to a lack of playing time (he notched a career-high 21.7 minutes per game last season).

    Beaubois may see an increase in playing time now that Jason Kidd and Jason Terry have left for New York and Boston, respectively. Nevertheless, the Mavs still have a solid group of guards, including new addition O.J. Mayo.

    The flight risk of Beaubois may not be high due to Mark Cuban’s past stance that Beaubois is “pretty much untouchable” in the trade market, according to Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas.

    Unless that stance changes in the near future, look for Cuban and the Mavs to retain Beaubois regardless of price. But you never know what can happen in the NBA. Just look at the Jeremy Lin situation this summer. Does anyone remember the Knicks' stance that they'd match any offer up to $1 billion?

7. Brandon Jennings/Monta Ellis

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    The future of the Milwaukee Bucks’ backcourt tandem is a bit of a question mark at this juncture.

    After the trade that netted the Bucks Monta Ellis from the Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee had a 12-9 record. That’s not bad, but it’s not great either.

    Having two score-first guards in the same backcourt didn’t work in Golden State, and the dueling banjos routine may be back in full force in Milwaukee next season.

    Brandon Jennings was reportedly already keeping his options open and “doing his homework” on big market teams in February of this year, according to an article by ESPN’s Chris Broussard. The Bucks can match any offer extended to Jennings, but if he doesn’t want to stay there, the team should weigh all of their options.

    Ellis, on the other hand, has an early termination option in his contract that he can exercise after this season. He may not choose to do so, but if he does, the Bucks will have two huge decisions to make next summer.

    Milwaukee needs to evaluate their team chemistry and how well the Jennings/Ellis tandem can gel moving forward before they make any decisions about their future.

6. Al Jefferson/Paul Millsap

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    Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are both entering the final year of their current contracts. With those two post players, the Utah Jazz have one of the deepest and most formidable frontcourts in the entire NBA. Because Jefferson and Millsap get the bulk of the playing time though, young guns Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter don’t get a chance to shine.

    The chance that both Jefferson and Millsap are brought back to Utah is close to zero considering the money they’ll command. Millsap has already declined a maximum three-year $25 million contract extension from the Jazz to test the waters in free agency, looking for more money after the season ends, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. Whether or not Millsap will find more money, or be disappointed in free agency remains a mystery.

    The Jazz certainly can’t go wrong with either player. Both are 27 years old, and although Jefferson puts up bigger numbers, Millsap may have more potential to improve moving forward.

    The Jazz organization would be wise to start shopping one of these players in the trade market before they leave via free agency. The odds that Utah would be able to keep both post players simply isn’t feasible. Given the talent they have with two young, potential-packed players waiting in the wings via Favors and Kanter, embracing the youth movement isn’t a bad idea.

5. Taj Gibson

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    Where Marcin Gortat gained notoriety in the NBA as “the best backup center in basketball” when he played for the Orlando Magic, Taj Gibson has my label as the best backup power forward in basketball. Playing behind Carlos Boozer in Chicago hinders Gibson from putting up big stats, but he’s a major competitor in this league.

    He plays with a mean streak on both ends of the court, grabs rebounds, scores, blocks shots and defends.

    Gibson’s position as a flight risk for next summer is evident when you factor in Chicago’s payroll. The Bulls are paying a lot of money to Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Boozer and Joakim Noah. With so much money invested in that core, Gibson could easily grab a lucrative contract elsewhere that the Bulls can’t compete with.

    For the Bulls to have a shot at keeping Gibson, they’ll likely have to exercise the amnesty clause on Boozer to free up cap space.

    There are plenty of teams around the NBA that would love add a guy like Gibson as a starter. If he wants that opportunity over staying with a championship contender like the Bulls, Gibson may leave town in 2013.

4. Tony Allen

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    Tony Allen was voted to the NBA All-Defensive first team last season, joining Chris Paul, LeBron James, Serge Ibaka and Dwight Howard. He’s gained a reputation as being one of the league’s best all-around defenders, which is an asset every team would love to have.

    A talent worthy of first team all-defense honors should be set for a big raise over his $3.3 million 2012-2013 salary. Considering that Nic Batum received a max contract offer sheet from the Minnesota Timberwolves this summer, which was matched by the Portland Trail Blazers, Allen may be prepared for a similar payday.

    The Memphis Grizzlies are aware of the asset they have on the roster. They wouldn’t have let O.J. Mayo leave via free agency this past summer if they didn’t already have a plan in place. But if Allen finds a deal he’s fond of next summer as an unrestricted free agent, he could sign without Memphis having a chance to stir the pot.

3. Jrue Holiday

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    Despite a vastly mediocre year from an offensive standpoint, Jrue Holiday wants a max contract extension from the Philadelphia 76ers, according to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports.

    A max contract for a guy who averaged 13.5 points (on just 43.2 percent shooting), 4.5 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game seems like a stretch. Sure, guys like Roy Hibbert and Nic Batum got massive deals based on potential, but it’s up to the 76ers (and other teams around the league, for that matter) to decide if Holiday is worth that kind of cash.

    On the positive side, Holiday is 22 years old with great upside, and he’s a respected defender. However, his scoring has been inconsistent and 4.5 assists per game out of the point guard spot isn’t great production.

    Even so, if Holiday and his agent are aiming for a max contract, there’s a good chance at least one team out there will offer him that.

    Considering the Philadelphia 76ers will be occupied trying to lock up Andrew Bynum to a new deal, Holiday may slip out the back door next summer to another team willing to pay him.

2. Josh Smith

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    Atlanta Hawks fans should be ecstatic that new GM Danny Ferry was able to unload the unsavory contracts tied to Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams. Ferry was able to free up a boatload of cap space for the future without having to use the amnesty clause on either player, which is nothing short of a miracle.

    Someone who has shown considerable concern with the moves, however, is Hawks’ forward Josh Smith.

    According to an article by Michael Cunningham or the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Smith has requested to be traded to a championship contender in the past, and recently met with Ferry about the team’s direction moving forward.

    Even when the Hawks had a core of Johnson, Smith and Al Horford, they weren’t a threat to win the Eastern Conference. Unless Ferry has a few tricks up his sleeve to make this team a contender in the near future, Smith may ultimately decide to sign elsewhere next summer.

1. James Harden

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    According to an article by Dylan Murphy of Dime Magazine, the Oklahoma City Thunder have $58.5 million committed to six players for the 2013-14 season. Those six players are Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison and Thabo Sefolosha.

    In other words, the Thunder cannot afford James Harden without digging themselves a deep hole with luxury tax penalties.

    The financial reasons for why Harden is one of the NBA’s biggest flight risks next summer are obvious. In addition to OKC’s unavoidable money issues though, Harden may have a fresh landing spot in mind when he hits free agency next summer.

    According to an article by Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic, Harden has said he would consider signing with the Phoenix Suns when his contract expires. Harden went to college at Arizona State University and loves the area. Not to mention his mother still lives in Arizona.

    The Suns may not be able to provide championship pedigree right away, but Phoenix is a familiar location for Harden and he would immediately become the franchise player instead of sixth man.

    The Thunder are among the favorites to win the Larry O’Brien trophy this season with their young core, but many signs point to Harden leaving OKC in 2013.