2013 NBA Free Agents: Looking Ahead to Players Destined for Max Contracts

Ethan Grant@DowntownEGAnalyst IApril 11, 2013

Apr 3, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks small forward Josh Smith (5) posts up against New York Knicks shooting guard J.R. Smith (8) in the third quarter at Philips Arena. The Knicks won 95-82. Mandatory Credit: Mike Muszynski-USA TODAY Sports
Mike Muszynski-USA TODAY Sports

Taking a look ahead, the 2013 NBA free-agent class is not a pretty sight. 

While littered with talented players, there's a general feeling that the "marquee" player won't be available this offseason, particularly because both Dwight Howard and Chris Paul leave money on the table by leaving their Los Angeles franchises. 

Heck, Andrew Bynum makes more money staying in Philadelphia. 

With that in mind, there's a good chance NBA general managers are going to get over-eager during the summer free-agent flurry. The new CBA has curbed some of the excessive spending, but you see it without fail every offseason—someone is getting a max contract. 

Expect the zeros to start piling up when contract talks begin with the 2013 class of NBA free agents. Here's a look at several guys that are automatic candidates to receive a max contract from a hungry NBA GM—whether they deserve it or not. 

Max Contract Locks

Dwight Howard/Chris Paul

We'll group Howard and Paul together in this list of max free agents for one reason—both would be putting a lot of uncertainty on their long-term careers by leaving Los Angeles for a new city this offseason. 

Paul would surprise us all by leaving the Clippers. 

The best point guard in basketball (yes, I said it) is one of the biggest reasons why the Clippers are celebrating a 50-win season in 2012-13, along with young stars Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and the rest of the role players that chip in for the Clips on a nightly basis. 

The Clippers are quietly building a new future, and CP3 is at the center of that building effort. There's little doubt the team will pony up whatever it takes to keep him in town, and if they don't, another team will. 

Same goes for Dwight Howard, going about his business with double-digit point and rebounding totals in another season. The Lakers are thirsting for a playoff spot in the Western Conference, but Howard is the future of this franchise once Kobe Bryant decides to retire (which might not be anytime soon, granted). 

For Howard and Paul, who already two of the league's highest paid players (via HoopsWorld), leaving money on the table doesn't seem like a smart business decision. By the same token, the uncertainty of the free-agent process these days also avoids any talk of re-signing being a forgone conclusion. 

One thing is clear—both are free agents, and both will drain every penny out of management for their services when the time comes. 

Brandon Jennings

Jennings is near the end of his rookie contract, and the Bucks will have a chance to match any offer that any other team throws his way. 

However, Jennings is the best free agent point guard on the market besides Chris Paul, and teams will have a chance to do something similar to what the Houston Rockets did with Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik's contracts in the summer of 2012. 

By offering a contract that has less money in the first two years and then has closer to $15 million or more in the final two seasons, any team looking to secure Jennings long-term could dissuade Milwaukee from matching this kind of "poison pill" contract. 

While those possibilities exist, and Jennings is certainly a candidate to receive max money (somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million per season), there's a good chance he could re-up with the Bucks and become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2014 (via Yahoo! Sports). 

By doing so, the Bucks would lose all leverage in negotiations, and at the same time be in the position to make Jennings a trade candidate at the deadline next year. It's a precarious position for both sides, but with a limited market (especially at guard), expect Jennings to get max money. 

Max Contract 50-50's

Josh Smith

This tweet should tell you all you need to know about the Josh Smith max contract situation (via Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News). 

Bondy's sentiments likely fall in line with a majority of folks, but there's a good faction of people (including GMs, as Bondy suggests) that want to make Smith the face of their franchise moving forward. As we've discussed, the market is going to be thin, and if you couple that with a somewhat "weak" draft, the potential for a max deal for someone that doesn't deserve it is high. 

Upon closer look, though, Smith has played in 73 games for the Hawks this season, avoided injury yet again and is averaging 17.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists in over 35 minutes per game in Atlanta. 

The Hawks tried to move him at the deadline to no avail, instead opting to keep the salary cap space that will be accrued when free agency opens this summer. Smith has been quoted as saying he's looking for a max contract (via Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution), and that will probably be the basis for any and all negotiations. 

Despite your personal opinions on Smith's ability to live up to a max deal, he's likely getting it. 

J.R. Smith

We all know what J.R. Smith is—he's a volume shooter. 

Unfortunately for the free-agent market, Smith is also having the best season of his eight-year career with the New York Knicks, averaging over 17 points on close to 42 percent shooting from the field. 

With the shooting guard market set to include O.J. Mayo, J.J. Redick, Kevin Martin and Nick Young, there are going to be options out there. Smith also holds a player option with the Knicks—something he might not want to give away after a great season both from an individual and team perspective in the Big Apple. 

However, Smith won't get a chance like this again. 

He's 27 years old. He doesn't have an added amount of NBA mileage (despite being a high school draft pick) due to coming off the bench for most of his NBA career. And he is in the best offensive period of said tenure in the league. 

Smith probably won't ever get the chance to cash in again, even less so if he waits until other free agents can opt out (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Danny Granger, Evan Turner, among others).

While certainly an off-the-wall name based on shooting percentage and value, Smith's ability to be clutch down the stretch and get hot at any time could be worth up to $11 million a year for some folks. 

Max Contract Dark-Horse Candidates

Utah Jazz PF Paul Millsap

Utah Jazz C Al Jefferson

Sacramento Kings G/F Tyreke Evans

Philadelphia 76ers C Andrew Bynum (injury)

Milwaukee Bucks G Monta Ellis 

Dallas Mavericks G O.J. Mayo

For a complete look at the players scheduled to be free agents in the summer of 2013, check out this piece from ESPN.com


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