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Predicting Which 2013 NBA Free Agents Will Bolt Current Team

Bryan ToporekFeatured ColumnistMay 26, 2013

Predicting Which 2013 NBA Free Agents Will Bolt Current Team

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    The 2013 NBA free-agent class has the potential to reshape the league.

    With Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and a slew of other stars set to hit the market, the NBA landscape could look considerably different between now and the start of the 2013-14 season.

    CP3 appears likely to re-sign with the Los Angeles Clippers, but Howard's future with the Los Angeles Lakers is considerably less certain. He's already given indications that he won't rush the free-agent process, according to CBSSports.com's Ken Berger, much to the Lakers' chagrin.

    Howard also reportedly voiced his frustrations about coach Mike D'Antoni with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak at the end of the season, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com. The big man reportedly felt marginalized by D'Antoni, which doesn't appear to bode well for a continued relationship between the two.

    Kupchak told reporters in April that D'Antoni would be back as the Lakers' head coach in 2013-14, making Howard's impending free agency that much more interesting. He'll have no shortage of suitors stacked with available cap space, to say the least.

    Howard isn't the only free agent who could be on the move this summer. The six players featured here (in alphabetical order by first name) stand out as those most likely to depart for greener pastures in free agency. 

Al Jefferson

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    The Utah Jazz are poised to lose Al Jefferson in free agency and receive nothing in return.

    Worse yet, the Jazz only have themselves to blame.

    Utah held firm at the 2013 trade deadline despite having a glut of big men, two of whom (Jefferson and Paul Millsap) were set to reach unrestricted free agency on July 1.

    Instead of punting on a playoff spot and transitioning to their frontcourt of the future (Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors), the Jazz decided to make a late charge at one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.

    It wasn't enough, however. They finished two games behind the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets and failed to qualify for the playoffs.

    It's difficult to imagine the Jazz shelling out enough money to retain Jefferson this summer when they've got Kanter waiting in the wings. Jefferson is a strong player offensively, but his foot speed and pick-and-roll defense qualify as major negatives.

    With that said, big men who average nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds per game tend to get handsomely rewarded come contract time, no matter their shortcomings. Whichever teams whiff on the Dwight Howard chase will likely turn their attention to Jefferson next.

    Likely landing spots: Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks

Andrew Bynum

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    Andrew Bynum's upcoming free agency presents a major conundrum for the Philadelphia 76ers.

    If the Sixers decide to re-sign the oft-injured big man, they'd run the risk of having a repeat of the 2012-13 season, where Bynum failed to play a single minute due to a litany of knee injuries. 

    Letting Bynum walk after trading away three quality rotation players to obtain him isn't a very appealing option for Philadelphia either. In essence, the Sixers are damned-if-they-do, damned-if-they-don't.

    The Sixers should ultimately attempt to re-sign Bynum, but they should load their contract offer with prior injury exception language that would allow for an early exit if his injury woes continue.

    The Phoenix Suns attempted to do the same with Amar'e Stoudemire in 2010, only partially guaranteeing the fourth and fifth years of his five-year, $96 million proposed deal.

    If another team is desperate enough to offer Bynum a fully guaranteed long-term deal (the Charlotte Bobcats?), the Sixers shouldn't hesitate to cut ties with him. There's no sense in prolonging their Bynum-induced agony by having him turn into a four-year albatross.

    With new general manager Sam Hinkie at the helm, the Sixers won't be pressured into a high-risk contract offer for Bynum. A sign-and-trade to a team such as the Bobcats or the Suns may be best for both Bynum and the Sixers.

    Likely landing spots: Phoenix Suns, Charlotte Bobcats

Dwight Howard

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    After trading for Dwight Howard in August 2012, the Los Angeles Lakers were the presumptive favorites to re-sign him to a long-term contract after the 2012-13 season.

    Given the way the season unfolded for the Lakers, they now have legitimate reason to sweat out Howard's free agency.

    The oft-maligned big man has privately indicated that "he plans to give strong consideration to multiple teams," according to CBSSports.com's Ken Berger—with the Houston Rockets at the top of the list.

    The Dallas Mavericks also "intrigue" Howard, according to Berger, and both franchises could finagle their way into having enough cap space to offer him a maximum contract.

    The Lakers can offer Howard a longer contract (five years versus four years) with higher annual raises (7.5 percent versus 4.5 percent) than any other team because they possess his Larry Bird rights. The marketing opportunities with one of the NBA's most storied franchises also presumably qualify as an advantage over smaller-market teams like the Rockets.

    The financial scales aren't necessarily as tipped against the Rockets as it might appear, however. The combination of no state taxes in Texas and a significantly lower cost of living in Houston compared to Los Angeles should make the Rockets that much more appealing to Howard.

    That's not even to mention the basketball side of things. With a budding superstar in James Harden, a young, cap-friendly core to build around and an intelligent general manager in Daryl Morey, the Rockets are poised to become one of the most terrifying teams in the NBA with the addition of Howard.

    The more you think about it, the more you realize what a perfect fit Howard and the Rockets could be. Assuming that he cares more about winning championships than earning money, signing with the Rockets makes far more sense than him re-signing with the Lakers.

    Likely landing spots: Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks, Dallas Mavericks

Josh Smith

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    After nine years together, Josh Smith's time with the Atlanta Hawks could soon be coming to an end.

    Back in January, Smith told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he felt as though he deserved a maximum contract. Based on talent alone, there's a legitimate argument to be made in his favor.

    Unfortunately for Smith, teams won't be considering his talent in a vacuum when deciding how much money to offer him during free agency. He'll have two major factors working against his max-contract crusade: his questionable-at-best shot selection and the league's latest collective bargaining agreement.

    J-Smoove's Achilles' heel has long been his affinity for mid- and long-range jumpers. He attempted 2.6 three-pointers during the 2012-13 regular season and 3.3 threes in the playoffs despite only being a 28.3 percent shooter from downtown throughout his career.  

    Matt Moore of CBSSports.com came up with a rather ingenious contract idea for Smith: Offer him a max deal, but penalize him $7,500 for every shot taken outside the paint that he misses. There's no way such an offer actually comes to fruition, but it would address Smith's most glaring weakness in a creative way.

    The league's latest CBA also contains stricter penalties for luxury-tax-paying teams, which means that most teams won't be able to afford more than two max players at any one time. Given the Hawks' familiarity with Smith's inconsistency, it's unlikely that they'll be willing to make him one of their few max players.

    Likely landing spots: Dallas Mavericks, Cleveland Cavaliers

Monta Ellis

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    After nearly coming to blows with a teammate during the 2013 playoffs, according to CBSSports.com, it's difficult to see Monta Ellis returning to the Milwaukee Bucks in 2013-14.

    Ellis holds an $11 million player option for the 2013-14 season but plans on opting out of his contract, as reported by the Racine Journal-Times in April. Despite his flaws, he's likely to be one of the more sought after free agents in the 2013 class.

    At this point in his career, you know what you're getting with Ellis. He's averaged nearly 20 points per game through eight years in the NBA, but shooting efficiency isn't necessarily his strong point.

    For teams in desperate need of a backcourt scorer, Ellis will be one of the top options available this summer. Those teams will also need to reconcile with his sometimes questionable shot selection and his often subpar defensive effort if they're serious about signing him, however.

    Due to those shortcomings, it's difficult to imagine a team handing Ellis a long-term contract worth $11 million or more per year in free agency.

    It only takes one gullible general manager, however, to make his free-agency gamble worthwhile.

    Likely landing spots: Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks

O.J. Mayo

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    By the end of the 2012-13 season, Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle sounded ready for a divorce from O.J. Mayo.

    During an April 15 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Carlisle called a timeout during the fourth quarter and told Mayo that it was "just to get [him] out of the game," according to ESPNDallas.com. After the loss, Carlisle said Mayo "didn't compete," which sent the coach into a white-hot rage.

    Three days later, Carlisle said that he was "like a little-league dad" with Mayo, "want[ing] him to do well so badly that sometimes it would get the better of me," the Dallas Morning News reported. That same day, Mayo announced his intention to decline his $4.2 million player option for the 2013-14 season to instead become a free agent.

    In the first month of the 2012-13 season, with Dirk Nowitzki sidelined by arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, Mayo stepped up as the Mavericks' de facto star. He averaged 20.9 points per game in November while shooting 49.3 percent from the field and an incredible 50.7 percent from three-point range.

    After Nowitzki returned to the lineup, Mayo began struggling considerably, never managing to find his early-season groove again.

    Between his subpar play alongside the big German and his coach's less-than-kind words about him, Mayo's days in Dallas appear numbered. The Minnesota Timberwolves reportedly have expressed interest in signing Mayo in free agency, and they likely won't be the only team pursuing him this summer.

    Likely landing spots: Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trail Blazers

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