The 2013 NBA finals are far from over, but that doesn't mean it's too early to look at what the summer holds in store for players in search of new contracts, as well as general managers on the lookout for top-flight help via free agency.
As always, there will be big names who receive too much money, role players who don't receive enough and high-profile stars that keep the sports world waiting with anticipation to see where they'll take their talents next.
Heading into the final weeks of the 2013 postseason, executives from every team are drawing up their offseason game plans, and though it's impossible to know exactly who will be up for bidding when free agency on July 10th, here's an early look at where the best available targets will land.
As has been the case for months, much of the talk surrounding free agency continues to center upon the future of Lakers star Dwight Howard, who hasn't committed one way or another to remaining with the team that gave up Andrew Bynum to get him from the Magic a year ago.
Theoretically, if Howard wants to return, the Lakers would almost certainly offer him the five-year contract only they're capable of giving, but it remains unclear whether he's keen on sticking with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash.
If he isn't, according to ESPN's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne, the Lakers wouldn't hang up the phone if the right offer for a sign-and-trade offer came about:
If the Clippers do indeed decide to formally offer Griffin and Bledsoe in a sign-and-trade package for Howard, indications are that it's a proposal the Lakers will certainly not dismiss outright.
The threat of the James Harden-led Rockets signing Howard away from L.A. is very real to the Lakers, sources said, which means the Lakers will eventually be getting a sign-and-trade pitch from Houston as well.
Personally, I believe that the Clippers have a much better shot at landing the seven-time All-Star because of what they can offer in return. As Stein and Shelburne point out, the Rockets' hypothetical offer of Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin simply pales in comparison to the Clippers' proposed package of Eric Bledsoe and Blake Griffin.
Whether or not the Lakers can get Howard's name on a new deal is up to the player, but at least from a management standpoint, the Lakers would be smart to do what's best for the organization and ship him to the team that offers the most in return.
Prediction: Clippers. I'm not even sure who gets the better return if Howard leaves the Lakers to stay in the Staples Center with the Clippers, because Bledsoe and Griffin are both building blocks almost any team would love to have.
To recap, since being dealt by Philadelphia as part of the four-team trade that also included the aforementioned Howard and Bynum, Iguodala has helped the Denver Nuggets to a 57-win season, won an Olympic title and put together another all-around solid season.
Needless to say, he'll be a sought-after commodity on the free agent market now that he's reportedly told the Nuggets of his plans to opt out of his current contract. As Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports:
"We are fully aware of Andre's intentions and he's well aware of how much we want him back," Kroenke told Yahoo! Sports Friday afternoon. "Andre is a huge priority for our organization."
Iguodala will bypass the $15.9 million owed him next season and will be eligible to sign a new four-year deal elsewhere or sign an extension up to five years with the Nuggets.
Assuming Iguodala is only opting out in order to get the five-year contract he's virtually certain to get, it seems logical that he'll remain with the Nuggets, but if Denver isn't prepared to cough up a max deal, there are more than a handful of teams that would be happy to make a hefty offer to either the player or team via a sign-and-trade.
Prediction: Denver. He's the heart and soul of the team, and with a new coach on the way, too much change would not be good for the franchise or its fans.
Like Howard, Chris Paul's true intentions aren't exactly public, but it's common knowledge that he hasn't been happy with the Clippers since the team was upset in Round 1 last month.
Earlier this week, ESPN's Chris Broussard reported that Atlanta was a potential destination, and went as far as to say that he and Howard may be coordinating to form yet another super-team with the Hawks.
But leaving a team that is committed to developing a perennial contender isn't easy, and if possible, Paul would almost assuredly remain a Clipper if the team can aid him by acquiring championship-caliber pieces.
And that entails either pulling off a sign-and-trade for Howard, even if it's for the most part to demonstrate to CP3 that the organization is intent on winning.
Prediction: Clippers. He knows this is his team (and not necessarily Griffin's), and he won't leave them for the Hawks, or anyone else.