The combination of free agency and a salary cap is a beautiful thing because it forces change. It creates eternal excitement in the NBA, because every team changes at least a little bit every season.
Free agency is a way for some teams to acquire the talent that they desperately need, while front offices with young and talented players could be forgiven for resenting the process if it costs them their future stars.
In the blink of an eye, the Heat were no longer the same team that had been bullied by the Boston Celtics in the playoffs two months earlier.
Situations such as The Decision will forever be linked with free agency, and hopefully the process will continue to change the landscape of the league for years to come. '
I didn't include players that I expect to re-sign with their current team in this list.
Josh Smith is set to be an unrestricted free agent next summer, and there will be no shortage of offers once he hits the market.
Due to Al Horford's pectoral injury, Smith was forced to take a larger role on both ends of the court. The added responsibility led to career highs in scoring and rebounding, as Smith proved to be one of the league's premier power forwards.
Smith won't sign an extension with the Atlanta Hawks because he can earn more money signing a new contract next summer.
The Hawks will be able to offer Smith more money than any other team, but that doesn't necessarily mean they will be able to re-sign him.
Atlanta isn't a high-profile destination, and there have been murmurings in the past that Smith wasn't happy with the team.
If a team close to contention is able to sign Smith next summer, they should be elevated to contender status once he signs.
Smith's range and shot blocking would make any team in the league better, and he is just entering his prime now.
As Chris Paul enters his eighth season in the NBA, he does so as the best point guard in the league.
In fact, Paul did the near impossible last season when he led the Los Angeles Clippers to the second round of the 2012 postseason.
In his first season with the Clips, Paul averaged 19.8 points, 9.1 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 2.5 steals while posting a stellar PER of 27.09. If you compare that stat line to the league's other premier point guards, you will quickly realize that Paul is the best of the bunch.
Paul is set to be an unrestricted free agent next summer, and his decision will drastically change the NBA landscape. Every team that has the appropriate cap space will be at his door in an attempt to persuade him to sign.
When he was with the New Orleans Hornets, Paul proved that he could single-handedly win games and keep a team relevant.
Paul is the best field general in the NBA, and the effect that he has on the game cannot be quantified.
Paul Milsap has made up for being undersized by being an excellent rebounder and versatile scorer.
What makes Milsap special is the way in which he plays the game, as he is very intelligent and plays to his strengths as much as any player in the league.
He knows when to take advantage of a situation in the post, but can just as easily step out and outmaneuver slower power forwards.
During the lockout-shortened season, Milsap averaged 16.6 points and 8.8 rebounds while posting a PER of 21.85. Those are excellent numbers, and will entice lucrative offers next summer when he becomes a free agent.
Milsap has already proven that he can be a productive player on a playoff team, which will only increase his value.
The Utah Jazz acquired Derrick Favors in the trade that sent Deron Williams to the Nets, and he appears to be on the cusp of deserving a starting role.
Favors will be a cheaper and more athletic option, so it is unlikely that Milsap will be with the Jazz after this season.
It is possible that the Jazz could trade Milsap prior to the trade deadline, but if they don't, expect him to sign a lucrative deal with a new team next summer.
James Harden won the Sixth Man of the Year award for the 2012 season, as he proved to be the third member of the Oklahoma City Thunder's triumvirate.
In his third season, Harden set career highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals and minutes. The scary part for those who play the Thunder this season is that Harden will likely be even better this season.
Harden is set to become a restricted free agent next summer, as it doesn't seem likely that he will sign an extension with the Thunder prior the extension deadline.
If Harden does find himself with a different team after this season, he will be faced with different expectations in his new situation. For one, Harden will no longer be the third option, and may even wind up being his new team's top option.
Harden has excellent ball skills, is a proficient shooter and excels at getting his teammates involved on the offensive end of the court. That alone guarantees that he will receive a max contract offer next summer.
The question that remains is whether the Thunder will be willing to match the lucrative offer that Harden will certainly be offered next season.
No matter what happens, the NBA world will be watching closely, as it will change the landscape of the league.
Al Jefferson finished the 2012 season with an average of 19.2 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks while posting a PER of 22.88.
After this season, Jefferson will be an unrestricted free agent like his frontcourt mate Paul Milsap.
Jefferson is often overlooked because he plays for the Utah Jazz, but he is among the top five centers in the NBA.
The ex-Boston Celtic has a variety of post moves, is an excellent rebounder and is a good passer for a center.
What made Jefferson so effective during the 2012 season was his turnover rate, as he turned it over just one time per 34 minutes. Jefferson's improvement passing the basketball is the primary reason for such a low turnover rate, as he is quick and accurate when passing out of double teams.
Center is the weakest position for many teams, due to the lack of talented big men in the NBA.
When Jefferson hits free agency, his services should start a bidding war because his presence inside can change the identity and fortunes of a team.
Tyreke Evans is on this list because he will have a bounce-back season in his contract year.
Evans will look more like the player he was during his rookie season, rather than the player that has regressed in each of the past two seasons.
I believe in Evans because he is too talented to fail. His stunted progression has been partly due to the instability of the Sacramento Kings coaching staff.
Now that Keith Smart appears to have the team together, Evans will once again thrive on the wing.
Evans is set to be a restricted free agent next summer, as the Kings aren't going to offer him an extension due to his inconsistent play and lack of growth.
Due to his size and athleticism, Evans has a much higher ceiling than the majority of NBA players. The higher expectations are the reason why Evans has been under so much scrutiny in his short career.
Evans will be motivated by the criticism, and will begin his ascent to star status this season.
When he does hit free agency next summer, there will be no shortage of teams looking to invest in him long term.