Top Destinations for 2013 Free Agent Al Jefferson

Sean Hojnacki@@TheRealHojnackiFeatured ColumnistMay 18, 2013

Top Destinations for 2013 Free Agent Al Jefferson

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    Al Jefferson will hit free agency this offseason, and the somewhat unsung talent has frontcourt-hungry teams licking their chops.

    Though he has never made an All-Star team, Jefferson has averaged 16.4 points on 50 percent shooting and nine rebounds per game in his nine-year career. He's sure-handed, has phenomenal footwork and keeps the turnovers down while still averaging a couple of assists a night.

    Some have lamented Jefferson's defense, and he can play like a tweener who is too big and slow to defend opposing 4s, yet too undersized to match up against many 5s.

    He also lacks the physical edge on the interior, avoiding fouls and contact like an allergy. Jefferson averaged just 2.2 personal fouls per game this season, ranking him 24th among all centers.

    While Jefferson is hardly a defensive dynamo, he racks up double-doubles with regularity, and that will be his primary selling point to teams in need of a big.

    Jefferson finished ninth in the league this year with 37 double-doubles. And among the players who tallied at least 35 of those, only Jefferson, Al Horford and Dwight Howard averaged better than 17 points, nine rebounds, a steal and a block per game (via ESPN).

    There's no doubt that Jefferson is one of the biggest prizes in the coming offseason, so who are the five most likely suitors for his services? Click on, Macduff.

5. Boston Celtics

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    In 2004, the Boston Celtics selected Al Jefferson with the 15th overall pick of the 2004 draft. Then they shipped him to the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2007 as part of the bonanza to acquire Kevin Garnett.

    According to salary cap guru Larry Coon, the Celtics are in that awkward territory where they will have to pay the harsh new luxury tax, but they're still below the cap apron (via, subscription article).

    There's a lot of uncertainty surrounding the C's frontcourt, as both Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are diminishing with age, but still signed on for $28 million next year (per HOOPSWORLD).

    Danny Ainge would have to buy out Pierce (which is a stipulation in his contract) and Garnett (solely to convince him to retire) and deal with the blowback, or manage to trade at least one of his remaining "Big Two" to make some wiggle room.

    And even if Ainge could execute those acrobatics, it's unlikely that they would hamstring themselves with another big contract like the one Jefferson would receive. But the Celtics could still decide to make a splash for their former draft pick if they can create the room.

    Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green are owed $21 million next season, so Boston will likely have to try for one more run with Pierce and KG alongside Rondo. The Celtics also have a promising young player in Jared Sullinger, so they could try to groom him for the future instead of targeting a pricey free agent.

    But signing Jefferson would make for a fun reunion.

4. Utah Jazz

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    Sometimes the status quo is status quo for a reason, and the Utah Jazz have tremendous flexibility heading into this offseason, which they could use to revamp their roster. Heading into the summer, the Jazz are saddled with a tiny salary commitment of just $26 million (per HOOPSWORLD). 

    This year, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap formed one of the better frontcourt duos in the league, but the Jazz still finished outside of the playoffs looking in.

    Since both players are set to become free agents, the Jazz could choose to target Millsap (14.6 points, 7.1 rebounds) and get almost similar production to Jefferson (17.8 points, 9.2 boards) at a lower price, or merely let both players walk and rely on the younger talent in their deep frontcourt.

    Utah has the luxury of players like Derrick Favors (age 21) and Enes Kanter (age 20) to fill the void if they choose. Both posted player efficiency ratings in the top 25 at their position, with Favors besting Carlos Boozer and Kanter edging the likes of Roy Hibbert.

    While it will be hard for the Jazz to watch both Jefferson and Millsap walk, they could let precisely that happen if they opt to go for the youth movement. 

3. Dallas Mavericks

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    Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News observed in April that the Dallas Mavericks need to target a big man in free agency to become contenders again.

    Though Chris Kaman is competent in the middle, they need to pair Dirk Nowitzki with a big who can score, and Al Jefferson fits that bill to a T.

    Though veterans Shawn Marion and Vince Carter did an admirable job of filling out the Mavs' rotation, they lacked the weapons to get past above-average competition and relied far too much on O.J. Mayo to provide their offense.

    Dwight Howard and Nikola Pekovic are the only other bigs on the free-agent market who can produce like Jefferson can, and only Jefferson boasts a proven track record without the copious headaches of a diva temperament (we're looking at you, Superman). 

    The Mavs are on the hook for just $28 million in guaranteed money next season, so they certainly have the scratch to pursue at least one marquee free agent, if not two (per HOOPSWORLD). And Mark Cuban's bravado could be just the impetus they need to pull the trigger.

2. Houston Rockets

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    General manager Daryl Morey has fast developed a reputation as a gunslinger. He pulled off a trade just prior to the season that netted the Houston Rockets James Harden, and now they look like one of the best young teams in the NBA.

    Morey also landed promising rookie power forward Terrence Jones in a midseason trade as he continues to try and beef up his bigs.

    They have Omer Asik in the middle, and the tenacious Turk gives them excellent size and rebounding. But the remainder of their frontcourt is a yawning chasm of unproven power forwards like Thomas Robinson, Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones. 

    They're on the hook for $55 million next season, but only $39 million of that is guaranteed, so the world is Morey's oyster as usual (per HOOPSWORLD). And Jefferson could very well become the beneficiary of that.

1. Atlanta Hawks

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    The Atlanta Hawks nearly pulled off a blockbuster trade at this year's deadline, but they couldn't come to terms with the Boston Celtics before the clock ran out.

    The proposed framework would have sent Paul Pierce to the Dallas Mavericks as part of a three-team deal which would have netted the Celtics Josh Smith from the Atlanta Hawks (per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports). The Hawks would have received several young players from the Mavs, but the deal collapsed when Boston refused to give Atlanta its first-round pick.

    Now the Hawks look poised to get absolutely nothing for Josh Smith, but they will have the cap room to make some serious moves this offseason.

    Jefferson could form a potent tandem with Al Horford. (I can already picture the beat writers reveling in the "You Can Call Me Al" frontcourt.) And with Zaza Pachulia also entering free agency, Jefferson could be the perfect cornerstone for ATL to build around.

    The Hawks already have good, young talent in the backcourt with Jeff Teague, Devin Harris and Lou Williams, so their greatest need by far is up front.

    And Danny Ferry has a ton of money to play with, as their current guaranteed salary is less than $19 million next season (per HOOPSWORLD). And Jefferson would make for a very jazzy Hawk.