With the 2012-13 NBA season officially in the books, all 30 teams are now gearing up for the long offseason.
The 2013 NBA draft is less than a week away. After that, front office big wigs will begin turning their attention to free agency, either looking to re-sign players already on their roster or aiming to bring in coveted talent in order to contend for the title next season.
With the free-agency period drawing closer, we'll highlight the best stars set to become available this summer.
No. 1. Chris Paul, PG
Believe it or not, the NBA's second-leading assist man in 2012-13, Chris Paul, will become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
The 28-year-old point guard is by far the best player available this offseason. Paul averaged nearly 17 points and 10 assists last season for the Los Angeles Clippers. The six-time NBA All-Star also averaged 2.4 steals per game during the regular season and led L.A. to the postseason for the second straight year.
Although Paul's numbers peaked in 2008-09 with the New Orleans Hornets, he's in the midst of his prime and is among the few elite floor generals in the game today.
He's a superstar talent and a player capable of turning around the fortunes of a franchise. His impact on the Clippers thus far has been massive and whatever team he ends up on will without a doubt be a contender next season and beyond.
If L.A. hopes to keep Paul around, as FOX Sports NBA columnist Sam Amico points out, they better find a way to bring in some championship pieces:
The Clippers and Celtics have been discussing a deal that would bring Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett to L.A., but the NBA won't allow such a unique move. Either way, the Clippers must find a way to show Paul that they are determined to win it all in 2013-14.
No. 2. Monta Ellis, PG
Bucks star Monta Ellis has opted to take the path towards free agency this summer instead of returning for another season with Milwaukee, according to ESPN's Chris Broussard.
Ellis, who will turn 28 in October, led the Bucks during the regular season this past year, averaging over 19 points per game to go along with six assists and two steals per night.
According to Broussard, a big reason why Ellis agreed to his original deal with the Bucks was to have an opportunity to opt out and become a free agent in his prime. It's a good move from Ellis, though, considering that the lack of elite talent available this offseason will make him one of the most coveted players on the market.
He played in all 82 regular-season games for Milwaukee this past season, which will inspire confidence in any interested teams worried about the strength of his left ankle, which has been injured in the past.
For a team in need of an offensive punch, the former Lanier High School standout is certainly worth the price tag.
No. 3. Manu Ginobili, SG
If the 2013 NBA playoffs have revealed anything about Manu Ginobili, it's that he is no longer the player he once was. Years of playing an aggressive style for both club and country and several injuries have taken their toll on the 35-year-old sixth man, who will turn 36 in July.
Still, the San Antonio Spurs star offers a lot for a team willing to bring him off the bench for 25 or so minutes per night.
For a team already in championship contention looking to sign a difference-making piece, Ginobili would be an excellent addition. He's not going to be able to offer a whole lot down the road, but right now, his impact is still significant.
In 2012-13, the Argentine veteran averaged 11.8 points, 4.6 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game off the bench for the Spurs, orchestrating San Antonio's second unit and making the occasional eye-popping play.
While Ginobili isn't going to explode for 20 points and 10 assists too often at this stage of his career, his experience, leadership and confidence make him one of the top available players this summer.
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