Wherever Chris Paul goes, wins will follow.
During the 2013 NBA free-agency period, teams will make plenty of moves as they look to position themselves for success leading into the ensuing 2013-14 campaign. Only a few moves qualify as blockbusters and have the ability to reshape the league, though.
When a superstar makes a move, that's when the landscape of the league suddenly shifts. Think back to 2010 when LeBron James and Chris Bosh decided to come to Miami. All of a sudden, there was a dominant team in South Beach.
Three years earlier, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett joined forces in Boston, then immediately won a championship in their first year together.
Landscape-altering moves happen every year, and this offseason, there are eight possibilities. Not all of them will happen, but things would change rather dramatically if any of them does.
There are only a handful of players who can single-handedly convert a team from a bottom-feeder into a playoff squad, and a healthy Dwight Howard is one of them. Just look at what he did with the Orlando Magic, despite being surrounded by a relatively lackluster supporting cast.
When healthy, Dwight is the class of his position and a top-five player in the NBA. Before his back injury, one that coincided with some disinterest in playing for Stan Van Gundy and the Magic, D12 had established himself as the No. 3 player in the league.
Wherever Howard decides to go, that team will make the playoffs. And yes, that's assuming that the big man remains healthy.
But if he does, even the Charlotte Bobcats would be a postseason squad in the Eastern Conference with Howard patrolling the colored area of the court. Given the amount of attention focused on Howard in the paint, Kemba Walker would suddenly start looking like an All-Star. The same can be said for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Obviously, Howard isn't going to the Bobcats. He has better options than that.
However, the league's best center—again, when healthy—will make a ginormous impact wherever he signs. If it's the Los Angeles Lakers, things will go more smoothly; there can't be as much turmoil or as many injuries as there were during 2012-13. If he joins the Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks or Atlanta Hawks, we'll immediately begin discussing that squad as a true contender.
There's a reason we follow every single update that centers around this big man: Each and every piece of the puzzle matters because his signing will inevitably impact the entire league in a major way.
Dwight Howard may have been the league's third-best player before he hurt his back, but Chris Paul has taken up that spot in D12's absence.
The NBA's best point guard is the only other player who can reshape the league no matter where he goes. Regardless of his destination, CP3 will immediately have a major impact on that team. It's harder for a point guard to create a one-man turnaround, which is why Paul didn't get the first slide, but he still joins Howard in that exclusive category.
Throughout his career, Paul has been one of the most efficient players in NBA history. According to Basketball-Reference.com, he has the sixth-highest career PER of all time. Only Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Shaquille O'Neal, David Robinson and Wilt Chamberlain are ahead of him in the category, meaning that he's in front of every single point guard in the history of this wonderful sport.
In fact, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson are the next two, and they come in at No. 13 and No. 20, respectively.
If that's not enough proof for you, let's look at career win shares per 48 minutes. Now CP3 is even more impressive, trailing only Jordan, Robinson and Chamberlain. Magic and John Stockton are the next two point guards, ranking eighth and 15th, respectively.
Paul is an absolutely incredible point guard, stellar enough to even turn around the Los Angeles Clippers, one of the sport's more historically inept franchises.
Wherever he goes, the wins will follow.
I don't mean to spend an inordinate amount of time and space discussing Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, but the possibility of them joining forces in Atlanta is too much to ignore.
With D12 and CP3 coming together in Dwight's hometown and joining Al Horford, the Atlanta Hawks would have a Big Three that rivals any other in the NBA. Especially with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade looking like they're well past their primes—inexplicable as that may be—this trio would reign supreme.
As Howard continues to act noncommittal and CP3 grows angrier with the Los Angeles Clippers, the possibility of this hypothetical turning into a reality is only growing.
If the Hawks don't pick up the non-guaranteed contracts of DeShawn Stevenson and Mike Scott, they'll have $18 million committed to Horford, Lou Williams and John Jenkins. Seriously. That's it.
Danny Ferry has done an incredible job ensuring that he has the financial means necessary to go after any two free agents of his choosing, and what better choice than the two best ones on the market?
It would be a big deal if either Paul or Howard left the City of Angels behind in favor of a new locale to ply their trade. That said, it would be an even more massive deal if they both left and joined together in the same uniform.
The pick-and-roll combination would be absolutely insane, and the inside-outside defense would be nearly unmatched across the ranks of the Association.
We're talking about blockbuster moves that would reshape the league in this article, and no set of moves fits the billing more than this one. The Hawks would suddenly morph from a team with an uncertain future into a squad that would almost certainly advance deep into the postseason.
Even though he's 27 years old and has spent nine years in the NBA after leaving behind the halls of Oak Hill Academy, Josh Smith still has an incredible amount of potential left unrealized.
He's an insane physical talent capable of dominating a game in a variety of ways and leaving every column in the box score full of numbers, but he has yet to put it all together. Smoove might bring the ball up the court one game, distributing it effectively while maintaining his shot-blocking presence on the other end, but he's probably going to do something negative as well.
More often than not, that negative aspect will result from his shot selection. Smith is a notoriously poor jump shooter, and everyone in the Association but him seems to realize it. That's the only explanation for his insistence on jacking up brick after brick, year after year.
In fact, Smoove is one of the few players who can inspire groans from a home crowd after making a shot. Even though the ball dropped through the net for points, those fans are conditioned to believe that it'll only lead to more shots, and thus more bricks.
Here's the thing, though. Smith can still put it all together.
The thought of him joining a disciplined team with a standout coach is absolutely terrifying. What if Kevin McHale got his hands on him with the Houston Rockets? What if Smith signed on with Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs?
In the right system, this combo-forward is an MVP-caliber talent. That's really not an exaggeration, as few players have the ability to affect a game in so many positive ways.
Screwing on Smith's head and keeping the space between his ears engaged and focused is a frightening prospect for the rest of the league.
Between the Toronto Raptors buying into the SportVU player-tracking technology, the Memphis Grizzlies bringing John Hollinger into the front office and teams like the Houston Rockets starting to buy into systems that maximize efficiency, analytics are on the rise in the NBA.
The popularity of advanced stats has never been greater, and with that trend has come a more realistic evaluation of defensive ability.
Defense is half the game in the NBA, but you'd never guess that based on salaries. Let's say, just for the sake of argument, that you can quantify players' offensive and defensive contributions onto the 1-to-10 scale. Bear with me here.
Now, let's say that Player A is an 8 on offense and a 1 on defense. Meanwhile, Player B is a 1 on offense and an 8 on defense.
Technically, both players have equal value to their teams, but you and I both know which player is going to earn a larger paycheck in free agency: Player A. Offense may not technically be more valuable, but it's certainly more glamorous.
Tony Allen could change that.
The Memphis Grizzlies defensive ace is both the best perimeter defender in the Association and an unrestricted free agent. He could very well earn a massive contract, one bigger than any pure defensive specialist before him, and set a trend.
Any move involving Allen isn't going to seem like a blockbuster deal that reshapes that league in the present, but it certainly could a few years down the road.
It's always a big deal when an era comes to an end, and that's exactly what could happen if the Boston Celtics decide to buy out the contracts of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, thereby jump-starting the rebuilding process.
The same argument could apply to the San Antonio Spurs, but only if Tim Duncan retires after his latest foray into the NBA Finals. That wouldn't be a free-agency decision; hence its lack of a featured spot in this article.
Ever since KG joined forces with Ray Allen and Pierce prior to the 2007-08 campaign, the C's have been nothing if not competitive. Before the trio came together, it had been four years since they made it past the first round of the playoffs, and they missed the postseason entirely in both 2006 and 2007.
During the first year in which they all wore Celtic green, Boston won a title, taking down the Los Angeles Lakers in six games and prompting Garnett's famous "anything is possible" scream that may still echo around the rafters.
KG missed the 2009 postseason, and the Celtics were knocked out by Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic in the second round, but they rebounded nicely after that. 2010 saw a return to the NBA Finals, but the team was ultimately defeated by the Lakers in seven games as Kobe Bryant and Co. exacted a little bit of revenge.
Since that Game 7 defeat, the Celtics were eliminated from contention by the Miami Heat in back-to-back postseasons, then the New York Knicks beat a Rajon Rondo-less squad in the first round this season.
It's been a largely successful era, one that has seen the Pierce/Garnett/Allen trio establish itself as the 10th-best playoff triumvirate of all time.
Allen broke up the trio by joining the Heat before the 2012-13 season began, and the departures of Pierce and Garnett would firmly signal the end of an era in Beantown.
Andre Iguodala certainly has the defensive skills necessary to reshape a team and create a new contender in either conference. However, he has to use his early termination clause first in order to do so.
If Iggy chooses to turn down the $16 million he's due to earn during the 2013-14 campaign with the Denver Nuggets, he'll become an unrestricted free agent, and he'll have a chance to cash in with one more big contract before he hits the dreaded three-oh.
Whichever team he joins will enjoy the versatile contributions that he brings to the table. During his first season playing home games a mile above sea level, Iguodala made a positive impact on both ends of the court.
According to NBA.com's statistical databases, the Nuggets scored 107.9 and allowed 100.5 points per 100 possessions when Iguodala was on the court, good for a margin of 7.4. When Iggy sat, though, those numbers changed to 107 points scored and 105.3 points allowed per 100 possessions, giving a margin of just 1.7.
It's clear that he's a massive difference maker, especially when his shot is falling.
If Iguodala does choose to join a different squad, he'll immediately vault into the starting lineup and have a profound two-way impact. And if he remains put in Denver, he'll be a part of a team that should truly contend for a championship in 2013-14.
Remember, Denver was in position to make a run through the Western Conference gauntlet before Danilo Gallinari tore his ACL and was lost for the season. That won't change next year if Iggy returns.
Let's not forget the level of impact that Andrew Bynum can have on a basketball game.
We were distracted from that by his struggle to return from knee injuries, his increasingly ridiculous hairstyles and his penchant for throwing strikes in the bowling alley, but that's part of the past now. Bynum is a free agent, and he could certainly return to form for the 2013-14 campaign.
During the 2011-12 season, the last in which Bynum played, he put together a larger gap between his PER and PER allowed than that produced by any other player on the Los Angeles Lakers, including the legendary Kobe Bryant.
According to 82games.com, Bynum's individual PER was 23.5, and he allowed opposing centers to post a PER of 14.2. That's a phenomenal set of numbers, one that accurately portrays just how valuable he was to L.A.'s cause when healthy.
Again, let's not forget that when this season ends and he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Signing a dominant big man is the easiest way to suddenly vault into the realm of competitive teams, and IF Bynum is healthy, that's exactly what will happen when he signs on board with a new squad. Unfortunately though, the capital letters of "IF" are necessary because it does indeed remain a huge hypothetical.
Realistically, we don't know what to expect from Bynum. And that applies to two different parts of his free agency.
First, we don't know where he'll sign. He could return to the Philadelphia 76ers—well, kind of return—but he could just as easily sign with one of the other teams in the Association. We just don't know.
After he signs, he could either work his way back into his L.A. form, or he could remain doomed to never play again. Again, we just don't know.
Bynum's free agency is filled with mystery and intrigue, but it certainly has the potential to reshape the league.