The One 2013 Free Agent Each NBA Team Is Most Hotly Linked to

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 18, 2013

The One 2013 Free Agent Each NBA Team Is Most Hotly Linked to

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    Even while the NBA Playoffs rage on, the 30 teams in the Association have been positioning themselves for the offseason. Focusing on the 2013 NBA draft and the ensuing free-agency period, each team is interested in maximizing the strength of its roster. 

    Although teams can't officially comment on free agents—or else they face potential tampering charges—certain franchises and free agents are already starting to be linked together. In most cases, one particular free agent has emerged as the one a team is most hotly linked to. 

    That said, there are seven teams who legitimately have generated no free-agent rumors whatsoever: 

    • Boston Celtics: The Doc Rivers/Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce distractions have prevented any rumors from surfacing. 
    • Miami Heat: They've had more important things to focus on. You know, like the NBA Finals.
    • Orlando Magic: With the No. 2 pick in the draft looming, that's been the primary concern for general manager Rob Hennigan. 
    • Phoenix Suns: In this case, nothing has surfaced yet. It defies explanation, other than the fact that Phoenix isn't the most attractive destination right now. 
    • San Antonio Spurs: See: Heat, Miami. 
    • Utah Jazz: It's too tough to pick out one player since the entire roster seems to be hitting unrestricted free agency. 
    • Washington Wizards: The debate between Otto Porter and Anthony Bennett rages on and prevents any hot rumors from boiling over.

    The other 23 teams have taken part in the rumor mill, so let's see what's been churned up. 

    Note: All contract information comes from Spotrac.com. 

Atlanta Hawks: Monta Ellis

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    The Atlanta Hawks have more money to play with than any other team in the NBA, so they're naturally linked to many free agents. 

    Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, in tandem, have been mentioned ad nauseum, but that's more speculation than anything else. Lately, the primary rumor centers around Monta Ellis, the divisive shooting guard who recently opted out of his contract with the Milwaukee Bucks. 

    As ESPN's Chris Broussard reported, the Hawks are one of several teams interested in the high-scoring guard: 

    Sources say the Atlanta Hawks, Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers have interest in Ellis, although the Lakers could get Ellis only via an unlikely sign-and-trade deal.

    Personally, I'd like to see Ellis go to a team that would use him as a sixth man, allowing him to serve as the bona fide sparkplug off the bench. But, that appears to be far from happening. He's a talented offensive player, and he knows it. 

    It's tough to say whether or not this would be a good fit, simply because Atlanta currently has such a threadbare roster.

Brooklyn Nets: Andray Blatche

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    As ESPN's Jared Zwerling reports on Twitter, Reggie Evans believes that Andray Blatche will be returning to the Brooklyn Nets for the 2013-14 season. 

    Evans doesn't have any inside information here, but it does seem like a likely move since the big man was productive during his first season in Brooklyn. Additionally, the Nets are completely devoid of any cap space, so there best free-agent chances come in-house. 

    During the 2012-13 campaign, Blatche averaged 10.3 points and 5.1 rebounds per game with a stellar 21.9 PER. He was a valuable bench commodity and a constant source of offensive production. 

    There isn't much of a reason to let him walk away, and Brooklyn, quite frankly, doesn't have many other appealing options.

Charlotte Bobcats: Jarrett Jack

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    It's tough to find a legitimate rumor involving free agency and the Charlotte Bobcats. 

    For one, the team is currently focused on making the right selection in the 2013 NBA draft. That trumps everything else right now. Additionally, Charlotte still isn't an attractive free-agent destination and won't be until the Bobcats start winning more games. 

    But if you dig all the way back to early May, you can find a little tidbit about how the Bobcats might be interested in Jarrett Jack. The following comes courtesy of the Contra Costa Times' Marcus Thompson: 

    He is expected to be a fairly well sought after this offseason, especially with the postseason he’s having, as multiple teams are looking for a point guard. Multiple teams are looking for point guards—including Utah, Charlotte, Toronto and possibly Milwaukee (since Brandon Jennings is a restricted free agent). Plus, Jack has proven to be a difference-maker off the bench, which has intrigued multiple teams that already have a point guard, such as the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs.

    Before you get your hopes up, Bobcats fans, let me go ahead and burst the burgeoning bubble. This isn't happening. 

    Jack may be the player Charlotte is most linked to right now, but he has so many better options.

Chicago Bulls: Nate Robinson

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    ESPN's Jared Zwerling reported that Nate Robinson has two main options this offseason when he relayed this quote from the diminutive point guard's agent: 

    Nate's first thought would be to remain with the Bulls, but if the Knicks' opportunity presented itself, I am sure he would appreciate an opportunity to play in New York again.

    The Knicks would be foolish to sign Robinson if they continue pursuing J.R. Smith, but he'd be a valuable commodity in Chicago. Although he'd be spelling Derrick Rose off the bench, the Bulls still need more scoring options, and that's Robinson's favorite role. 

    Chicago doesn't have too much money to mess around with at this stage, so they're still looking internally at their own free agents. 

    More interesting rumors will certainly develop later on, but this is the best we've got for now. 

Cleveland Cavaliers: Andre Iguodala

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    Now that Andre Iguodala has opted out of his contract, he has immediately become one of the most highly coveted players on the market. The swingman occupies that tier right below Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. 

    I'd still bet on a return to the Denver Nuggets, but Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reveals that there's a rather lengthy list of suitors interested in the dynamic defender: 

    After superstars Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, Iguodala will be a target for several teams, including the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons and New Orleans Pelicans, league sources said.

    All of those locations are fairly intriguing, but the thought of Iguodala running up and down the court alongside Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters is particularly thrilling. 

    He'd be able to add perimeter defense to the squad while dominating the transition game with the two guards. The Cleveland Cavaliers' biggest weakness is at small forward, and Iggy would certainly fill that void with flying colors (of the wine and gold variety). 

Dallas Mavericks: Dwight Howard

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    Mark Cuban loves nothing more than chasing the NBA's marquee superstars, and this year he has two of them to pursue: Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. 

    Although CP3 should be more of a priority for the Dallas Mavericks, it's D12 that's getting the most buzz. After all, the big man has already revealed a list of teams he's interested in to a "source familiar with his thought process." 

    Assuming we can trust this source, which the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina shares with us, we can glean that the Mavs are indeed on it: 

    A source familiar with Howard’s thought process has said he has currently been considering the Lakers, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors, though nothing remains binding.

    A D12-Dirk Nowitzki combination in the frontcourt would be thrilling and immediately indicative of championship contention. Would teams focus more on Dwight's interior dominance or Dirk's perimeter potency?

    The answer is just "yes."

Denver Nuggets: Andre Iguodala

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    The latest we heard on Andre Iguodala was that he was choosing to forgo his massive contract with the Denver Nuggets for the chance to enter free agency one year earlier. 

    It's worth noting that the move does not prevent him from re-signing with the organization, even if his old head coach is no longer patrolling the sidelines. He can certainly re-up with the Nuggets, signing a longer deal than the one-year one he was currently operating with. 

    Iggy's motivation for opting out wasn't necessarily to leave Denver, but rather to maximize his earning potential by signing one more mega-deal before he turned 30. 

    That could very well still happen with the Nuggets, and I would be more surprised if it didn't happen than if it did. 

Detroit Pistons: Andre Iguodala

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    If you're getting tired of seeing Andre Iguodala, don't worry. This is his penultimate appearance in the article. That's what happens when you're a marquee free agent who only recently became available. 

    Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski's original list of teams interested in Iguodala included the Detroit Pistons, and they haven't made much noise elsewhere. Yet. 

    This team has a lot of money and needs more talent in order to make the jump into the realm of playoff contenders, and Iggy would do a great job of speeding along that process. 

    He could capably play either shooting guard or small forward, allowing Brandon Knight to bounce between guard positions, and his defense and transition game alike could both spark this team. With his jumper threatening from the perimeter, things would inevitably open up for Greg Monroe in the paint. 

    It's unlikely that Iguodala spurns the contenders for an up-and-comer like Detroit, but it is possible. 

Golden State Warriors: Dwight Howard

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    According to the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina, Dwight Howard has the Golden State Warriors on his list of possible destinations: 

    They'll also wait for Dwight Howard to decide whether he will to return.

    He would sign a five-year deal worth $118 million with the Lakers, as opposed to a four-year deal worth $87.6 million with any other teams.Once he becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1, Howard still plans to test the open market and views the Lakers, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and Golden State as possible considerations.

    Of all the options, I'd rank Golden State as the least likely. Smart money is on the Houston Rockets, with the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks clumping together just behind Daryl Morey's team. The Warriors lag behind. 

    That said, D12 is the only player they've been linked to thus far. Surprisingly, the free-agency front has been rather quiet for the Dubs thus far. 

Houston Rockets: Dwight Howard

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    The Houston Rockets have been a leading force in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, so let's use this space to provide a rather humorous update that has flown beneath the radar. 

    CSNHouston's Howard Chen shared this quote from Metta World Peace, one that came from an interview that the...interesting...small forward did with Sportsradio 610: 

    You know how those horses have those little things, ties in a bullfight, you tie those things to their b---- and they go crazy? I've got two of those tied to Dwight Howard's t--------, so he can't move.

    A question about Howard going to Houston prompted MWP's answer, as the destination continues to sound more and more appealing. Well, not so appealing for Howard if MWP is telling the truth here. 

    Something tells me that the man who once thanked his psychiatrist after winning a championship is just joking around here. But knowing World Peace...

Indiana Pacers: David West

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    According to Roy Hibbert, in an interview with Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney, the Indiana Pacers would like to bring David West back and, perhaps more importantly, the power forward would like to return. 

    West was the heart and soul of this team on both ends of the court, and he should be the primary free-agent target during the offseason. If the Pacers don't want to take a major step backward, they can't afford to lose this power forward. 

    Indiana also doesn't have much financial flexibility this summer. With just under $50 million committed, Frank Vogel's squad can't afford to go signing major pieces even if it lets West walk away. 

    Bringing him back is easily the most important task of the offseason.

Los Angeles Clippers: Chris Paul

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    The Los Angeles Clippers have been in the news a lot while the NBA Playoffs have progressed.

    They've made headlines for firing Vinny Del Negro, and then the ensuing search for a replacement. Then there was the mega-trade with the Boston Celtics, one that would have brought Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett to Clipperland had it not fallen through. 

    Throughout those dramas, L.A.'s primary goal has been appeasing Chris Paul and making sure that he wants to re-sign with the Clippers over the summer. That's truly the only thing that matters because with Paul, the Clippers are contenders. Without him, they're doomed for the lottery again. 

    Until CP3 makes a decision, he's the sole focus of this offseason. There's no point in listing anyone else here. 

Los Angeles Lakers: Dwight Howard

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    Just as Chris Paul is the ultimate goal for the Los Angeles Clippers, Dwight Howard is the only free agent who matters for the Los Angeles Lakers. 

    It's all about money. 

    Losing D12 wouldn't necessarily cause Lakers fans to grieve over the departure of a premier basketball talent, but rather because there are no other options. 

    The Lakers are over the salary cap and luxury-tax threshold even before re-signing Howard, so if he spurns them for a more pleasant locale, they can't sign another marquee player. They're stuck using the taxpayer's exception and some veteran contracts. 

    Everything that happens within the Lakers organization this summer will completely revolve around the pursuit of the NBA's best center. 

Memphis Grizzlies: Monta Ellis

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    The Journal Times' Gery Woelfel dropped this bombshell on Twitter in mid-June: 

    As I reported back in April, Monta Ellis planned to bolt Bucks. He has told friends he'd like to join Grizzlies...

    Monta Ellis would likely have to take a pay cut to make this move work, but it would be worth it to play for a contender. The Memphis Grizzlies were a defensive powerhouse during the 2012-13 season, but they often struggled to generate offense. 

    In fact, Basketball-Reference.com reveals that by scoring 104.9 points per 100 possessions, Memphis was in the bottom half of the league's offenses. That's problematic when hoping to win a championship, and that will certainly be the team's goal once more in 2013-14. 

    Ellis would help fix that problem. 

    He's an offensive force, even if he's often inefficient and wild. If he could be corralled and convinced that he's not necessarily the No. 1 option, he'd do a lot of damage for the Grizz. 

Milwaukee Bucks: Monta Ellis

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    Just as was the case with Andre Iguodala and the Denver Nuggets, a player opting out doesn't necessarily mean that he's done with the team. 

    Monta Ellis turned down the last year of his contract with the Milwaukee Bucks, spurning $11 million in the process, but that doesn't mean he won't be returning to the organization once more. He could just sign a longer deal and guarantee his finances well into the future. 

    Milwaukee has made it perfectly clear in the past that it would like to have Ellis back in the starting lineup for at least another season, and there's no reason for that to have changed quite yet. 

    Other than this story, the Bucks have stayed out of the news with respect to free agency. Expect that to change rather dramatically as the months grow hotter, but that hasn't happened quite yet.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Nikola Pekovic

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    The Star Tribune's Jerry Zgoda took some time away from writing about Cody Zeller to discuss the free agency of Nikola Pekovic in one of his recent articles: 

    Saunders did not meet with Pekovic while he was in Europe last weekend for a camp featuring top international prospects, as he had hoped. And he does not expect to visit with him in person before Pekovic becomes a restricted free agent on July 1, but will maintain a dialogue with Pekovic’s agent.

    He knows where we’re at,” said Saunders, who was in Italy less than three days. “Now it’s just a matter of when the time comes, we’ll sit down and deal with things.

    While the Minnesota Timberwolves have yet to make this explicitly clear, re-signing Pekovic must be one of the team's primary focuses over the summer. It's tough to find big men of his caliber in today's NBA, especially without giving them a max contract. 

    In my mind, it's highly unlikely that Flip Saunders lets Pek walk away, especially as he has the ability to match any offer on the restricted free agent. 

    'Wolves fans, fear not. You should get to watch Pek go into bull-in-a-china-shop mode for at least a few more seasons. 

     

New Orleans Pelicans: Andre Iguodala

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    Let's bring that Adrian Wojnarowski report up one more time: 

    After superstars Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, Iguodala will be a target for several teams, including the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons and New Orleans Pelicans, league sources said.

    The New Orleans Pelicans are one of the up-and-coming teams in the Association, and they have money to spend during the 2013 offseason. In fact, they check in at $43,423,423 with only 11 players under contract at the moment. 

    Bringing in Iguodala would be the ideal move for the former Hornets, as he fills the void at small forward. He's the best player available at the position, and his two-way skills would be much appreciated. 

    Money and fit aren't issues here, but NOLA is tasked with the difficult job of convincing Iguodala to join the squad. He has the ability to play with much more competitive teams, after all. 

New York Knicks: J.R. Smith

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    ESPN's Jared Zwerling—yep, him again—has the scoop on the only big-name free agent that the New York Knicks have been linked to thus far: 

    J.R. Smith will not opt in with the New York Knicks, declining his player option of $2.9 million, a league source confirmed with ESPNNewYork.com.

    Smith will officially announce the decision before June 30, making him an unrestricted free agent.

    It was reported by the New York Post last month that Smith was "expected" to opt out. The Knicks can re-sign Smith for $4.9 million using the Early Bird exception, with standard raises over four years.

    Another league source said it's "likely" Smith will re-sign with the Knicks come free agency (starting July 1), putting their roster at eight players under contract for next season. That number could extend to 10 players if New York re-signs Pablo Prigioni and Chris Copeland, who both have qualifying offers of $988,872. If they don't accept the offers by June 30, they will become restricted free agents.

    All together, the aforementioned players are under contract for $77,582,832, and that number included only $2.9 million owed to Smith. As his salary rises, so too will the Knicks' expenditures. 

    Don't think that N.Y. will end up having many big free-agency rumors swirling around this summer. You have to have money free for that. 

Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Martin

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    Serge Ibaka doesn't know for sure what will happen with Kevin Martin, but he surely seems to want the sixth man to return to the Oklahoma City Thunder (via NBC Sports' Brett Pollakoff): 

    “I definitely don’t know nothing about it,” Ibaka told NBCSports.com confidently, in English through his usually thick accent. “I’m a player like him, so we just go play. That’s the kind of question you need to ask the (general) manager.”

    Ibaka went on to say he liked playing with Martin, and would welcome him back if the Thunder are willing and able to re-sign him this summer.

    “He’s a good guy,” Ibaka said. “He was a good fit for us.”

    The Thunder have three options during the offseason with regard to re-signing or replacing Martin. 

    1. They could sign the 2-guard to a new contract and accept that he's no longer capable of stepping up into a secondary role on a consistent basis. 
    2. They could replace him internally, using Jeremy Lamb's potential and seeing what happens. 
    3. They could sign a minimum player as a replacement or use the exception.

    With over $65 million committed before doing anything with Martin, the Thunder can't replace him with a big name. 

Philadelphia 76ers: Josh Smith

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    According to the New York Post's Peter Vecsey, the Philadelphia 76ers have interest in Josh Smith. That much I can tell you. As for the why, well, let's just say that it doesn't make much sense. 

    Smoove is an off-shooting, über-athlete who prefers lining up at power forward and can slide over and play the 3 as well. He thrives when driving to the rim and struggles shooting jumpers. 

    Sound like anyone already on the Sixers? 

    Having Thaddeus Young and Smith on the same roster is rather redundant, so this rumor will probably fall by the wayside. Smith has teams to go to where his skills will be more valuable. 

    Philadelphia should eventually make some noise in free agency, but Smoove shouldn't ultimately be involved. 

Portland Trail Blazers: Jermaine O'Neal

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    The Portland Trail Blazers are currently focusing on how to use their No. 10 pick in the 2013 NBA drat, but that hasn't stopped one link from surfacing. 

    Jermaine O'Neal told CSNNW's Chris Haynes that he would be open to signing on with Rip City: 

    “Portland is a team I have to look at this summer. That city has always been in my heart because one: Mr. [Paul] Allen gave me my opportunity, and two: that city took me in as their second child,” he explained. “I didn't play for two or three years but you couldn't tell. The organization and the fans really allowed me to grow at my own pace. It's a special place to me. I met my wife in Portland. At this point for me, it's all about competing and winning and the Blazers are doing those things.”

    Not only does O'Neal fit what the Trail Blazers need on the court, he also fits what they need off of it–a mentor to their young big man, Meyers Leonard.

    “I like Meyers,” he said. “He's an athletic talent that is going to get even better in this league. But I think I can help him become a better defender, rebounder, shot blocker. That's part of the job, veterans helping out the younger players. I did that here in Phoenix and that is something I would do in Portland if signed there.”

    O'Neal probably isn't the big-name center that the Blazers are hoping to sign, but he'd be a serviceable backup who could indeed help mentor Meyers Leonard. He'd also come cheap, allowing Portland to continue focusing on its depth across the board. 

     

Sacramento Kings: Monta Ellis

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    There's already been a great deal of speculation about the guard-loving Sacramento Kings bringing in Monta Ellis, and that's being strengthened by the team's interest in Chris Mullin. 

    Now that the team has offered Mullin a front-office role, it seems like signing Ellis would be the next step. After all, the former Golden State Warriors executive was the man who drafted the high-scoring 2-guard back in 2005. 

    Whether this is true or not, the 2013 offseason is an important one for Sacramento. 

    After Vivek Ranadive led the new ownership group in purchasing the franchise, he has turned everything around, picking up the pieces that the Maloof brothers had left scattered around Sac-Town. Optimism abounds right now, and it's the front office's job to keep it that way for the foreseeable future. 

Toronto Raptors: Gani Lawal

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    Gani Lawal certainly isn't the household name that the Toronto Raptors were hoping to see here, but that's what happens when you're already nestled up against the cap. 

    Thanks to Rudy Gay's exorbitant contract and DeMar DeRozan's expanding one, Toronto already has $72,951,259 committed to 12 players. The Raptors and new general manager Masai Ujiri don't have much money to play with, so they'll be signing under-the-radar players like this one. 

    According to ESPN's Jared Zwerling, Lawal is planning on working out with Toronto: 

    At this point, Lawal has three workouts confirmed–with the Magic, Pacers and Raptors–and he's expecting about five more, including the Knicks. 

    With just about zero rumors floating around this organization thus far, this one takes the cake as the "hottest." That said, it's pretty tepid.