With such big names up for grabs this offseason, you can be sure there will be a frenzy of activity as teams attempt to change their fortunes with the stroke of a pen.
Teams can't start officially talking to players until July 1 and can't sign them until July 10, according to cbafaq.com. That said, there is no shortage of rumors floating around the web about which teams are interested and where players might land.
Here's the latest buzz surrounding the top three unrestricted free agents heading into the 2013-14 NBA season.
Houston Rockets Making Strong Push for Dwight Howard
There's no doubt that Dwight Howard is the biggest free agent on the market this summer. He's the best center in the NBA right now, and he'll be fully healthy for the 2013-14 season, provided he doesn't injure himself in the meantime.
While it's true that the Los Angeles Lakers would love to have Howard re-sign (h/t Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times), he's already being seriously courted (on the sly) by the Rockets.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports (as of May 30), the Rockets are "determined" to trade Thomas Robinson (whom the team just traded for this past season) in order to clear up cap space to offer Howard a max contract.
Additionally, ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported that sources tell him Howard has "conveyed his rising interest" to James Harden recently.
Obviously, Houston isn't the only franchise interested in stealing Howard away from the Lakers.
But at this time, it seems the Rockets have first dibs on impressing the superstar center enough to get him to sign on the dotted line.
Atlanta Hawks Want Chris Paul and Dwight Howard in a Bad Way
One of the other franchises interested in Howard is Atlanta, which also wants to bring Chris Paul on board this summer.
ESPN.com's Chris Broussard recently reported Paul as "angry" with the Los Angeles Clippers as an organization. In the same article, Broussard mentioned Atlanta as a potential landing spot, though he was speculating at that point.
After a recent report from Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, however, it's clear that Broussard was on to something. According to Vivlamore, Atlanta sent out a letter to ticket holders hyping up this year's free-agency period and mentioned Howard and Paul by name:
The buzz around our offseason is more than heating up. With massive cap space, 4 draft picks, and free agency rapidly approaching, we sit in the best position in the NBA. Player interest is skyrocketing as the possibilities of landing Chris Paul & Dwight Howard become more and more of a reality.
Vivlamore rightly points out in the article that Atlanta may be facing tampering charges after publicly announcing intentions before the July 1 date when teams can talk to players.
One thing's certain: Atlanta wants Howard and Paul badly.
Whether or not the two players are interested in signing with the Hawks is a story for another day, but Atlanta does have the cash to make big waves come July.
Philadelphia 76ers Could Make a Push For Josh Smith
After Howard, Smith is the next-best big man available this summer.
According to Peter Vecsey of Hoop Du Jour, should the Rockets strike out in the Howard sweepstakes, Smith would be the team's next target. Vecsey also mentions the 76ers as a team that will target Smith this summer:
At this point, there hasn't been much else in the way of rumors regarding Smith. But as the time to sign draws near, you can be sure he'll receive plenty of interest from a few teams.
The problem, as far as Smith is concerned, is that he's such a step down from Howard that he won't likely be a huge target until things start settling down on the Howard front. Once teams know where Howard will land (or is likely to land), Smith will be pursued with more fervor.
Philadelphia is a team that desperately needs a superstar player like Smith. The franchise has only had one winning season since 2004-05, and the club ranked dead last in points scored last season.
Adding an offensive-minded power forward like Smith would certainly be a boon to Philly, but will he want to go there?
Stay tuned. These rumors are just the foreshadowing of things to come, and this summer's free-agency period will be fascinating to watch.
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