Best Fits for the Top 25 2013 NBA Free Agents

Michael Pina@@MichaelVPinaFeatured ColumnistMarch 12, 2013

Best Fits for the Top 25 2013 NBA Free Agents

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    Free agency is one of the most exciting things about offseason basketball, with organizations that were wise enough to carve financial flexibility for themselves finally getting the opportunity to improve their teams. When a big name player changes cities in search of another contract, the entire landscape of the league can change—as we saw with LeBron James and the Miami Heat.

    Here's a list of the top 25 players heading into unrestricted and restricted free agency this summer. The players are subjectively ranked based on their talent levels today (when healthy), and how positive an impact they'll likely have in the first year of their next contracts.

    On the matter of player/early termination options, those who are expected to opt out (Monta Ellis, O.J. Mayo) and become unrestricted free agents will be included on this list, while those who've shown no indication of doing so (Andre Iguodala, Shawn Marion) will not.

    All projected contract figures were calculated with the help of Basketball-Reference, Larry Coon's NBA Salary Cap FAQ, Sham Sports and HoopsRumors. This article wouldn't be possible without their help.

25. Mo Williams

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    Predicted Landing Spot: Los Angeles Lakers

    Using their taxpayer mid-level exception, the Lakers would love to get their hands on a natural scoring backup point guard with the ability to electroshock a sleeping defense every once in a while. Even though he's well past his prime—this year his PER is the lowest it's been since his rookie season—Williams could thrive in Mike D'Antoni's system.

    He's a solid shooter in pick-and-roll situations and is currently knocking down 38 percent of his threes. Gunning for his first realistic shot at a championship since playing with LeBron James, a motivated Mo Williams could end up being a dangerous thing out West, and the Lakers would love to have him on board.

    Projected Contract: Three-years, $9.97 million

24. Chris Kaman

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    Predicted Landing Spot: Atlanta Hawks

    Atlanta is probably losing Josh Smith, and Zaza Pachulia and Johan Petro are unrestricted free agents, so they'll undoubtedly be scouring the market for size. Chris Kaman is size. Even though he's suddenly grown allergic to the free-throw line, Kaman's numbers this season haven't been as bad as some might think. He's averaging 18.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per 36 minutes with the third highest PER of his career.

    If he's able to stay healthy and give Atlanta more than 23 minutes a game, he could allow Al Horford to play more minutes at the four, which would make their front court one of the more potent tandems in the league.

    Projected contract: Two-year, $15 million (team option on second year)


23. Tony Allen

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    Predicted Landing Spot: Chicago Bulls

    Here's an admitted case of wishful thinking. Unless he's willing to sign for the taxpayer mid-level exception (the slightest of raises from the mid-level exception he signed three years ago), the Bulls would have to amnesty Carlos Boozer and waive Richard Hamilton just to enter the ball park of being able to afford a free agent like Tony Allen.

    But just imagine him starting at the two alongside Derrick Rose, hounding all those point guards next year and allowing Chicago's franchise star to focus on fixing that oh-so-dreadful offense.

    Allen's on-ball defensive ferocity is relatable to any scheme for a solid 20 minutes every night, and in Chicago he just might be the difference in a seven-game series against Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat. (Also: Allen is from Chicago. The fit is too good to be true!)

    Projected contract: Three-years, $9.97 million

22. Kevin Martin

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    Predicted Landing Spot: Charlotte Bobcats

    The Bobcats need experience all over their roster, and to be honest, speaking subjectively, Kevin Martin looks out of place on a winning team. This upcoming postseason will be his first meaningful visit to the playoffs, and it wouldn't be a surprise if his one-dimensional ability to score rears its ugly head as the Thunder do battle against some of the most varied defenses in the league every other night.

    If that happens, expect Oklahoma City to then head in a different direction with their bench and let Martin walk in free agency. Meanwhile, the Bobcats would be more than happy to bring in a solid offensive player like Martin. And they have the money to make it happen.

    Projected Contract: Three-years, $27 million

21. Greg Oden

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    Predicted Landing Spot: Cleveland Cavaliers

    While situations like Boston, San Antonio and Miami would allow a quicker path to instant success, the Cavaliers are the clubhouse favorite here because they have cap space and can therefore offer the most money. Oden may never play another game in the NBA again, but if he ever comes back healthy, whichever team lands him would be very pleased with their investment. Some may have forgotten what type of presence Oden briefly brought early on in his career, and if he's able to replicate even 80 percent of what we thought we were in for six years ago, Cleveland's defense could dramatically improve. 

    Projected Contract: Three-years, $17 million (team option on third year)

20. Jose Calderon

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    Predicted Landing Spot: Utah Jazz

    The Jazz have cap space and a need for stable point guard play. (Jamaal Tinsley, Earl Watson and Mo Williams are all set to become unrestricted free agents this summer.) It's one of their great deficiencies, and a major reason why their team is unable to find itself during this ongoing, depressing collapse.

    Calderon is an underrated professional, and his dead-eye shot combined with an ability to spread the wealth around with all Utah's big guys should be more than enough of an incentive to bring him aboard.

    Projected Contract: Two-years, $14 million

19. J.J. Redick

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    Predicted Landing Spot: Los Angeles Clippers

    Redick was one of the more highly coveted players at the trade deadline, and his value should stay high heading into the summer when he hits free agency. One team that could seriously use his services is the Los Angeles Clippers.

    They could stand to get younger, with Chauncey Billups, Matt Barnes and the plethora of wing players on that roster all set to either retire or become unrestricted free agents, and it might make sense, along with re-signing Chris Paul, to add a career 40 percent three-point sniper who can defend and even create for others off the dribble.

    Redick would take a significant paycut (possibly $16 million in guaranteed money) in signing with the Clippers, but from a basketball perspective it's likely the best place for him right now if winning is a heavy priority.

    Projected Contract: Four-years, $22 million

18. Jarrett Jack

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    Predicted Landing Spot: Detroit Pistons

    The Warriors struck gold with Jack this season, signing him for veteran leadership and insurance in case Stephen Curry's brittle ankles once again cracked. Instead he became their fourth quarter offensive catalyst and undeniable locker room leader, serving a much higher purpose as they transformed into a legitimate playoff threat. The Warriors would be wise to keep him, and there's no doubt they'll try.

    But other teams that possess more cap space will be snooping around, and it wouldn't be surprising at all to see Jack receive the most outlandish contract of the summer. He's a career journeyman, but this renaissance season in the Bay Area will make him a very rich man. The Pistons are one such team that would love to bring a player like Jack in. Also look for the Cavaliers, Jazz or Bucks to make a sizable offer.

    Projected Contract: Four-years, $30 million

17. J.R. Smith

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    Predicted Landing Spot: Philadelphia 76ers

    Things in Philadelphia haven't worked out so well with Nick Young, and since J.R. Smith is basically a rich man's Nick Young, it might not be so illogical to replace the former with the latter next season. The Sixers have one of the worst offenses in the league, and adding an offensive weapon like Smith (who's surprisingly emerged as a serious sixth man candidate) could release pressure on Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner.

    (Note: Smith has a player option for $3.9 million next season and it'd be a complete and utter shock if he decided to play for that salary instead of hitting free agency.)

    Projected Contract: Three-years, $18 million

16. Jeff Teague

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    Predicted Landing Spot: Atlanta Hawks

    The Hawks didn't extend Teague's contract for several reasons, most notably because they can enter the summer with much more leverage at the negotiation table. They also probably wanted to get a better look at the point guard's development in an offense lacking Joe Johnson isolations before anointing him as the long-term starter.

    Teague responded by spiking his assist numbers and evolving like a suitable starting point guard should. As a restricted free agent, there's no reason to think the Hawks won't match any offer sheets that come his way once the season ends. He's definitely proven his worth. But watch for a team like Utah to offer him the max, which could turn Atlanta's decision not to extend him into a major mistake.

    Teague is probably worth something in the four-year, $40 million range, but the max stretches that number to $61 million. I'll put his projected contract somewhere in between.

    Projected Contract: Four-years, $50 million

15. Tiago Splitter

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    Predicted Landing Spot: San Antonio Spurs

    Historically, leaving San Antonio typically isn't synonymous with "good career move," and it's for this reason Tiago Splitter would be crazy to sign elsewhere, even if it puts a few million less dollars in his savings account.

    Projected Contract: Three-years, $21 million

14. Manu Ginobili

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    Predicted Landing Spot: San Antonio Spurs

    Manu Ginobili isn't playing for anybody else. He's either retiring this summer or signing another deal with San Antonio. That's just how it is.

    Projected Contract: Two-years, $20 million (team option on second year)

13. Brandon Jennings

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    Predicted Landing Spot: Milwaukee Bucks

    Brandon Jennings recently told Yahoo! NBA reporter Marc J. Spears that he would be open to signing the qualifying offer, playing next year for $4.3 million, then becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2014, when well over half the league could be flush with cap space. Given his unorthodox track record, I believe him.

    Projected Contract: One-year, $4.3 million

12. O.J. Mayo

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    Predicted Landing Spot: Utah Jazz

    The Jazz have cap space and a desperate need for three-point shooters who can also create offense for themselves off the dribble. Mayo can do this, but signing him could be seen as a negative, as it will likely stunt the growth of Alec Burks. But there are only so many young, inexperienced players you can build around in order to eventually find postseason success.

    Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are the two youngsters who lack experience that Utah is betting the bank on, and beefing up the backcourt through free agency might be the wisest route to go.

    Projected Contract: Four-year, $45 million

11. Monta Ellis

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    Predicted Landing Spot: Dallas Mavericks

    Ellis needs one year in a competent organization to prove he can buy into a winning system. That's what it's come down to, and in order to do so he'll need to accept a short term guaranteed contract for relatively fair annual money. The Mavericks are one situation that could be perfect, especially if Ellis has paid any attention to what Rick Carlisle did for O.J. Mayo.

    It'd be a gamble, sure, but if Ellis can prove his worth in a controlled environment and boost his efficiency numbers just a bit, his next contract might be more along the lines of the monstrosity he's been looking forward to.

    Projected contract: Two-years, $23 million (player option on second year)

10. Tyreke Evans

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    Predicted Landing Spot: San Antonio Spurs

    This prediction is probably wishful thinking, as the Spurs aren't typically in the business of paying players their second contracts absent of having access to oversee their development, but Evans is a rare situation.

    His market is as difficult to gauge as any player available, and it should be mentioned that his status as a restricted free agent allows the Sacramento Kings to match whatever offer comes in. But Evans has All-Star potential. He really does. And his ability to impact the game on both ends of the court is as consistent as it gets playing for the most dysfunctional franchise in the league.

    If he winds up in San Antonio, Evans would flourish, most likely off the bench as a long-term scoring replacement for Manu Ginobili (who could easily retire this summer). You know it's a smart move because executives around the league would collectively wince if it happened.

    (Side note: Signing Tyreke Evans would likely send both Tiago Splitter and Gary Neal out of town. Another potential road block in what could be a heavenly relationship.)

    Projected contract: Four-years, $38 million

9. Andrei Kirilenko

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    Predicted Landing Spot: Oklahoma City Thunder

    The Thunder would have to use their non-taxpayer mid-level exception to acquire Kirilenko, which would represent a massive pay cut for the do-everything-all-the-time Russian forward. At this point in his career it'd make sense to play for a winning squad, and the Thunder could seriously use an efficient scorer/elite wing defender like Kirilenko to finely tune their team on both ends of the court. He could be their "Shane Battier," except way better.

    Imagine a Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Andrei Kirilenko, Nick Collison/Reggie Jackson unit at the end of games? That's dangerous stuff. This is the type of short-term move Sam Presti makes to get Miami's attention.

    Projected Contract: Three-years, $16 million

8. Nikola Pekovic

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    Predicted Landing Spot: Minnesota Timberwolves

    Similar to what happened with the Indiana Pacers and Roy Hibbert last summer, Nikola Pekovic will receive a max four-year offer from some team looking to fill their hole in the middle. And once they do, the Timberwolves will immediately match, avoiding a five-year contract but perhaps paying more than they'd like. 

    Pekovic is 27-years-old, averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds per 36 minutes in just his third NBA season. He's also shooting over 50 percent from the floor, and stands as an interior presence the Timberwolves simply can't afford to lose. 

    Projected Contract: Four-year, $61.7 million

7. Al Jefferson

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    Predicted Landing Spot: Philadelphia 76ers

    The Sixers could move on from the Andrew Bynum fiasco by bringing in one of the game's least appreciated players, Al Jefferson—the last of a dying breed. By my math they could barely sign him to a max deal if Kwame Brown exercises his player option and becomes someone else's problem.

    If not they could still make an offer, just not as much as another team (though the open market interest in the 28-year-old Jefferson is a true mystery, and maybe he could be had for less than the max). He's only one year older than Dwight Howard, and even though his defense is truly suspect, the Sixers could become a potent offensive squad combining him with Jrue Holiday for the foreseeable future. 

    Projected Contract: Four-years, $70 million

6. Paul Millsap

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    Predicted Landing Spot: Dallas Mavericks

    Millsap isn't having the type of year players dream about when their contracts are set to expire. He's struggled a bit fitting in with Utah's jumbled front court, but his PER remains above 20, and he's 42 days younger than LeBron James.

    Millsap could be an All-Star playing beside Dirk Nowtizki, under Rick Carlisle's tutelage, and the Mavericks would love to finally fill up some of their cap space with a long-term stable rock.

    Projected Contract: Four-years, $55 million

5. David West

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    Predicted Landing Spot: Indiana Pacers

    Due to both his on-court bullishness and off-court governance, David West is the most important player Indiana has. He's eligible for the Early Bird Exception, so the Pacers can go over the cap re-signing him. And doing so should be their biggest priority this summer.

    Projected Contract: Two-years, $24 million

4. Josh Smith

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    Predicted Landing Spot: Houston Rockets

    The Rockets desperately need another offensive weapon to take the pressure off James Harden and allow him to focus more on defense, and Josh Smith could be that guy. The fit is there, and a starting lineup of Jeremy Lin, Harden, Chandler Parsons, Smith and Omer Asik would be one of the most feared in all of basketball.

    (And should Dwight Howard—or any other superstar—find himself unhappy in the future, Daryl Morey will be armed with more assets and impact players than any other team to swing a blockbuster deal. Just because they sign Smith to a four-year deal doesn't necessarily guarantee he'll be spending the life of it in Houston.)

    Projected Contract: Four-years, $74 million

3. Andrew Bynum

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    Predicted Landing Spot: Phoenix Suns

    The combination of cap space and desperation is always a bad mix, and the Phoenix Suns are one team that possesses a bit of both. In order to make this work, Marcin Gortat's $7.7 million expiring contract will need to be unloaded (possibly to Cleveland), and Shannon Brown and his non-guaranteed contract will have to be waived.

    If no teams are willing to offer Bynum a four-year maximum contract, Phoenix might even be able to slide with a lower first-year price if they're guaranteeing four years worth of money. But being that it's the Suns, giving the max to a player who may never play again doesn't seem so strange. It's a risky situation, obviously, but combining Bynum with Phoenix's training staff could be a natural fit.

    Projected Contract: Four-years, $75.7 million (team option fourth year)

2. Chris Paul

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    Predicted Landing Spot: Los Angeles Clippers

    Chris Paul is guaranteed a maximum value contract because he's the best point guard in basketball. The Los Angeles Clippers can pay him $28 million more than anybody else, and guarantee an extra year of play. So it makes sense that he'll sign there, doesn't it?

    Projected Contract: Five-years, $107.3 million

1. Dwight Howard

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    Predicted Landing Spot: Los Angeles Lakers

    He might still be the best center in basketball despite the fact that he's recovering from offseason back surgery and playing through a shoulder injury that looks incredibly painful from my living room couch. The Lakers can offer Howard more money than any other team, and despite possessing an increasingly unassertive personality (the nicest way that can be said), it's difficult to imagine Howard ending up elsewhere after the season.

    The Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks are three teams that will certainly make a push, but unless Kobe Bryant bullies him throughout July or Stan Van Gundy replaces Mike D'Antoni with a 15-year contract, it's highly unlikely Howard signs elsewhere or informs Los Angeles that he'd like to finagle a sign-and-trade.

    To get into specifics, the difference in guaranteed money the Lakers can offer as opposed to everybody else is approximately $30.4 million. A large chunk of that is due to the final year, but also the three percent annual bump that comes along with Los Angeles owning Howard's Bird Rights. He isn't going anywhere. 

    Projected Contract: Five-years, $117.9 million