Predicting Final Landing Spots for the Top 25 2013 NBA Free Agents

Brendan BowersContributor IIJune 28, 2013

Predicting Final Landing Spots for the Top 25 2013 NBA Free Agents

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    NBA free agency begins July 1; where will the NBA's top 25 free agents land by the end of the summer?

    Here we predict free-agent destinations and rank free agents according to who projects to make the biggest impact in 2013-14 with their new teams.

    Predicted final landing spots look at the best fit from a production and financial standpoint, as well as team-player pairings most likely to happen based on what we now know heading into the start of free agency.

25. J.J. Hickson

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    Final Landing Spot: Milwaukee Bucks

    J.J. Hickson is a 24-year-old big man who just averaged 12.7 points and 10.4 rebounds for the Portland Trail Blazers in 2012-13.

    After being bought out by the Sacramento Kings during the 2011-12 campaign, Hickson needed to demonstrate consistent professionalism last season, and he did specifically that.

    As a natural power forward, Hickson appeared in 80 games for the Trail Blazers at center in an effort to best support All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge.

    On the free-agent market this summer, Hickson will have suitors because of that.

    For the Milwaukee Bucks, Hickson can step into the power forward spot alongside Larry Sanders at center and Ersan Ilyasova at small forward and contribute both offensively and on the glass.

    The Bucks will have the cap space available to offer Hickson a deal in the three-year, $15 million range, and that should be enough to get it done.

    As a complement to Sanders' defensive game, Hickson could help form an active young tandem up front for the Bucks for the next few years.

24. Nate Robinson

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    Final Landing Spot: New York Knicks

    Nate Robinson was one of the most compelling players of the 2013 postseason.

    Filling the void left by injured superstar Derrick Rose at point guard, Robinson averaged 16.3 points and 4.4 assists through two rounds of the playoffs for the Chicago Bulls.

    His performance, as an encore to the 13.1 points and 4.4 dimes he averaged during the regular season, improved Robinson's stock dramatically heading into free agency.

    After earning $1.1 million in 2012-13, according to Hoopshype.com, Robinson is now in line for a multi-year deal that could pay him as much as $3 million annually.

    With Jason Kidd retired, the New York Knicks will need help at the point guard position in 2013-14. If New York decides not to pay J.R. Smith this summer, it could be better served by investing those dollars in Robinson to address that position of need.

    In June, Robinson's agent, Aaron Goodwin, also told Jared Zwerling of ESPN New York that the former Knick "would appreciate an opportunity to play in New York again."

23. Tiago Splitter

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    Final Landing Spot: San Antonio Spurs

    Tiago Splitter struggled at times during the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat.

    He was on the wrong end of a LeBron James Fathead, for example, before only earning a combined 12 minutes of playing time in Games 6 and 7.

    But don't expect that series to run the Spurs center, who just averaged 10.3 points and 6.4 rebounds in 2012-13, out of San Antonio.

    As a restricted free agent, there will be a market for the 6'11" Splitter. His best opportunity to succeed, however, remains with his current team.

    Playing alongside Tim Duncan, under the direction of Gregg Popovich, Splitter will continue to have a chance to maximize his skill set with the Spurs. He will realize as much when it comes time to sign a new contract and remain in San Antonio as a result.

22. Jeff Teague

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    Final Landing Spot: Atlanta Hawks

    The Atlanta Hawks selected 19-year-old point guard Dennis Schroeder from Germany with the 17th overall pick of the 2013 NBA draft.

    While Schroeder might be the point guard of the future in Atlanta, I'm not sure he's prepared to be an NBA starter in 2013-14.

    Meanwhile, Jeff Teague just turned in the best year of his career as a member of the Hawks in 2012-13.

    During his fourth NBA season, Teague posted career highs of 14.6 points and 7.2 assists in 80 regular-season games.

    If the Hawks are to remain competitive, signing Teague to assume the starting role while Schroeder is groomed for the position seems like the appropriate move. A deal in the range of $5-6 million per year for Teague should be enough to make that move a reality.

21. Manu Ginobili

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    Final Landing Spot: San Antonio Spurs

    Maybe I have Manu Ginobili ranked too high on this list out of respect for what he's done throughout his career.

    But as bad as he was at times during the NBA Finals, Ginobili still has that unique ability to take over a game—even at 35 years old—that is as valuable as it is rare.

    Appearing in 60 regular-season games, Ginobili averaged 11.8 points for the San Antonio Spurs in 2012-13. His finest hour, however, came in Game 5 of the NBA Finals when he scored 24 points and dished out 10 assists as a starter.

    Due to his age, health concerns and declining quickness, there might not be too many teams interested in Ginobili this summer. Expect the Spurs to bring the band back together one more time, though, which includes inking Ginobili to a deal for 2013-14.

20. Kevin Martin

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    Final Landing Spot: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Kevin Martin earned $12.4 million in 2012-13 as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Despite averaging a respectable 14 points off the bench, he won't be offered anywhere close to that number ever again.

    If he is willing to accept a deal in the two-year, $6 million range, however, Martin would continue to add value for the Thunder.

    This past season, he demonstrated the unique ability to score alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook while also being able to carry the scoring load for the second unit himself at times.

    That type of player could be a critical piece for a team competing for a championship.

    At 30 years old, after making a substantial amount of money in the league already, expect Martin to take that chance to be part of something special in Oklahoma City as opposed to earning more money elsewhere.

19. Jose Calderon

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    Final Landing Spot: Utah Jazz

    The Utah Jazz acquired former Michigan point guard Trey Burke on draft night.

    Burke projects to be the long-term answer at point guard for the Jazz, eventually stabilizing the position like John Stockton and Deron Williams did before him. 

    Bringing in unrestricted free agent Jose Calderon, though, could only help streamline that transition.

    After being traded to the Detroit Pistons midway through the 2012-13 campaign, Calderon seemed to embrace the role of helping Brandon Knight along in his second season.

    If the 31-year-old guard, who's averaged 10.1 points and 7.2 assists for his career, is willing to take a similar approach with Burke, he would be an ideal fit for the Jazz. 

18. Carl Landry

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    Final Landing Spot: Houston Rockets

    Carl Landry opted out of the final year of his two-year, $8 million contract with the Golden State Warriors to become a free agent this week.

    The bruising power forward comes off a season where he averaged 10.8 points and six rebounds in 23.2 minutes off the bench for the Warriors.

    While the Houston Rockets will make an offseason run at Dwight Howard, I expect them to come up just short. As a consolation prize, however, Landry is a likely target to return to the team he began his career with.

    The Rockets are in a position to offer Landry a pay raise without breaking the bank. In the process, they could help surround Omer Asik with a rebounder to help bolster the front line on both ends of the floor.

    Doing so would only work to make James Harden more dangerous on the perimeter and the Rockets even more of a threat in the Western Conference.

17. O.J. Mayo

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    Final Landing Spot: Phoenix Suns

    As the new era of Phoenix Suns basketball begins under coach Jeff Hornacek, O.J. Mayo could have an opportunity to build on the steps he made to improve his game in 2012-13.

    In more of an expanded role, Mayo could be the go-to scorer for the Suns as they begin to develop and acquire young assets moving forward.

    Playing in all 82 games for the Dallas Mavericks as a starter last season, Mayo averaged 15.3 points on 44.9 percent shooting, 4.4 assists and 3.5 rebounds.

    He would join a Suns team without a defined leader in the scoring department. Heading into his seventh NBA season, the 25-year-old Mayo may have the opportunity to be specifically that.

16. Jarrett Jack

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    Final Landing Spot: Golden State Warriors

    Jarrett Jack's ability to create scoring opportunities for himself and others is such an ideal fit in support of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson off the bench that I cannot envision a scenario where the Golden State Warriors allow him to walk.

    If the free-agent debate in the Bay Area comes down to re-signing Carl Landy or Jack, expect the 29-year-old guard to remain with the Warriors. 

    Averaging 12.9 points and 5.6 assists per game, Jack earned $5.6 million with Golden State last year, according to Hoopshype.com, and will command that kind of salary again on the free-agent market.

    With Landry opting out of his $4 million deal for next season, though—and less than $30 million being on the Warriors' books for 2014-15 at the moment—the team should have the salary-cap room necessary to make something work with Jack.

15. Andrei Kirilenko

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    Final Landing Spot: Minnesota Timberwolves

    Andrei Kirilenko has until June 30 to decide on his $10.2 million player option for 2013-14.

    Although Kirilenko turned in a better-than-expected year in 2012-13, and he could certainly make a number of teams better around the league, I can't see him turning down that type of money at this point in his career.

    After spending the 2011-12 season playing professionally overseas, the 32-year-old Kirilenko returned to the NBA to average 12.4 points and 5.7 rebounds for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    His consistent production in 64 games proved extremely valuable to the team, which was hit so severely by the injury bug, and he would generate substantial interest in free agency.

    Despite that, Kirilenko is best served to test that market next year after earning the type of money he has the option to make right now.

    Update: Kirilenko declined his option on June 29 and is now an unrestricted free agent.

14. J.J. Redick

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    Final Landing Spot: Milwaukee Bucks

    Monta Ellis opted out of his player option with the Milwaukee Bucks, and I expect that means the end of Ellis in Milwaukee.

    As his replacement, potentially playing alongside Brandon Jennings as a starter, J.J. Redick could serve as an improvement over Ellis in multiple areas.

    While providing more of a defensive presence than people realize, Redick also has the ability to score without being ball-dominant from the guard spot.

    After coming over from the Orlando Magic at the trade deadline, Redick averaged 12.3 points in 28 regular-season games for the Milwaukee Bucks in 2012-13.

    Though there will be interest around the league in acquiring Redick, the Bucks have the cap space to sign him to a multi-year contract valued around $6-$7 million annually, which should be enough.

13. Tyreke Evans

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    Final Landing Spot: Sacramento Kings

    The Sacramento Kings extended a qualifying offer to Tyreke Evans, making him a restricted free agent.  

    Since earning Rookie of the Year honors in 2009-10, Evans' production has declined each of the last three seasons.

    During the 2012-13 campaign, specifically, Evans averaged a career-low 15.2 points and 4.4 rebounds.

    As a result of that production, despite his athletic ability, don't expect the market to be particularly bullish on Evans this summer.

    With the opportunity to match any offer that comes in, expect the Kings to do specifically that and keep him in Sacramento.

12. J.R. Smith

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    Final Landing Spot: Philadelphia 76ers

    After averaging 18.1 points and 5.3 rebounds for the New York Knicks during the regular season, I certainly understand why J.R. Smith would opt out of his contract in search of greener paydays.

    Despite his downturn in performance during the postseason, I expect him to get paid more than the Knicks are able to afford.

    While I'm not sure there's any mutual interest at the moment, trading Jrue Holiday on draft night now creates the desperate need for points in Philadelphia.

    During Holiday's All-Star campaign in 2012-13, he was all of the offense for the Sixers.

    After his trade to the New Orleans Pelicans, though, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, there is no offense left in Philly.

    Insert J.R. Smith via free agency, and all the shots are now his. At the very least, it could be fun to watch for the short term.

11. Monta Ellis

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    Final Landing Spot: Sacramento Kings

    Monta Ellis opted out of an $11 million deal with the Milwaukee Bucks for 2013-14 to become an unrestricted free agent.

    I don't expect him to get that type of money on the free-agent market. As a result of the new collective bargaining agreement, teams are expected to be more prudent in their free-agent signings, and Ellis is going to find that out shortly.

    Despite averaging 19.2 points and six assists in 2012-13, Ellis shot only 41.6 percent from the field. Since shooting 53.1 percent for the Golden State Warriors in 2007-08, he has also shot no better than 45.1 percent in the last six seasons.

    As free agency concludes, however, I see the Sacramento Kings coming in as the highest bidder for Ellis' services. Paired alongside Tyreke Evans in the starting backcourt, it would be compelling for a little while too.

10. Nikola Pekovic

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    Final Landing Spot: Minnesota Timberwolves

    Nikola Pekovic is a restricted free agent who the Minnesota Timberwolves will do everything in their power to retain.

    In his third season with the Timberwolves, the 27-year-old posted career highs in scoring and rebounding, averaging 16.3 and 8.8 respectively. 

    In a league where 6'11" centers who can play with their back-to-the-basket are rare, I don't envision a scenario where Pekovic walks.

    When healthy, his game is a perfect complement to Kevin Love on the block opposite, and Minnesota will match any offer necessary to keep him there.

9. Paul Millsap

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    Final Landing Spot: Utah Jazz

    As teammates Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson both prepare to enter free agency, expect Millsap to be the one who stays with the Utah Jazz.

    Compared to Jefferson, Millsap projects to be the less expensive contract to afford.

    Though he will see offers in the $10 million range annually, he won't be quite the max-level player that Jefferson could end up being at the end of the summer.

    Additionally, the Jazz can move Enes Kanter into the starting center role to replace Jefferson.

    Millsap, then, would remain to provide veteran leadership, scoring and rebounding to a three-man rotation up front for the Jazz that includes Kanter and Derrick Favors.

8. Brandon Jennings

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    Final Landing Spot: Milwaukee Bucks

    It would be extremely interesting to see what Brandon Jennings could do as the point guard for the Indiana Pacers.

    While the fan in me would like to see what that might look like next season, I can't help but believe that Jennings inevitably remains with the Milwaukee Bucks.

    Jennings, a restricted free agent, averaged a career-high 6.5 assists in 2012-13 to go along with 17.5 points.

    His shot selection, as shown by his 39.9 percent shooting percentage, is always a concern, but Jennings is a special scorer in this league regardless.

    The Bucks and Jennings would both benefit from keeping the 23-year-old point guard in Milwaukee by the time free agency concludes.

7. David West

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    Final Landing Spot: Indiana Pacers

    David West meant so much to the Indiana Pacers' success in 2012-13.

    While impacting the game as a scorer, defender and rebounder, West is coming off a season where he averaged 17.1 points and 7.7 rebounds.

    The 32-year-old unrestricted free agent also demonstrated reason to believe that he is capable of posting those type of numbers for at least a couple more seasons. 

    After earning $10 million last year, it might take around that much to keep West in Indiana.

    Despite the cost, however, I'm not sure how this team takes a step forward without paying West what it costs to keep him in a Pacers uniform.

6. Al Jefferson

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    Final Landing Spot: Charlotte Bobcats

    The Charlotte Bobcats left centers Alex Len and Nerlens Noel on the board while selecting power forward Cody Zeller in the 2013 NBA draft.

    They continue to have a gaping hole at the center position along with a desperate need for NBA-caliber scoring. Al Jefferson, for what could approach a max contract, appears a likely fit for the lowly Bobcats.

    The 28-year-old center is coming off a season where he averaged 17.8 points and 9.2 rebounds for the Utah Jazz.

    What Jefferson could do is help the Bobcats compete for respectability on a nightly basis. While that might result in a ceiling of only 30 wins, it's still a start in the right direction.

5. Andre Iguodala

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    Final Landing Spot: Denver Nuggets

    George Karl is out as coach of the Denver Nuggets, and Brian Shaw will now assume the role on a permanent basis moving forward.

    Despite this turnover, however, Andre Iguodala's most likely landing spot in free agency continues to be the Denver Nuggets.

    Iguodala opted out of the final year of his contract, which was set to pay him $16.2 million in 2013-14.

    In doing so, however, he puts himself in a position to sign a four- or five-year deal coming off a season where the 29-year-old averaged 13 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists.

    His veteran presence helped stabilize the Nuggets locker room in 2012-13 as well as solidify the defensive attack. Expect him to have even more of an impact in those areas for Shaw next season.

4. Andrew Bynum

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    Final Landing Spot: Dallas Mavericks

    While the Dallas Mavericks will approach free agency with the goal of landing Dwight Howard or Chris Paul, expect Andrew Bynum to be who Mark Cuban's team is able to grab.

    After losing all of last season to injury, the negatives surrounding Bynum are glaring. Those same health concerns, however, could be the same reason the Mavs are able to acquire Bynum without offering a max contract.

    It would be an interesting experiment to say the least, pairing a healthy Bynum next to Dirk Nowitzki, and it could bring out the best in both players next season.

    The last time Bynum played next to a seven-foot power forward, as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, he turned in the best season of his career.

3. Josh Smith

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    Final Landing Spot: Houston Rockets

    While the Houston Rockets will also enter free agency with the ultimate goal of landing Dwight Howard, Josh Smith appears a more likely landing spot.

    Lined up opposite of James Harden, Smith could bring a dynamic of scoring and rebounding that elevates the Houston Rockets to contention in the Western Conference.

    Smith will be looking for a max contract after averaging 17.5 points and 8.4 rebounds with the Atlanta Hawks. Whether he gets that money or not on the free-agent market, expect the Rockets to eventually come in as the highest bidder for his services.

2. Chris Paul

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    Final Landing Spot: Los Angeles Clippers

    With Doc Rivers now on board as the head coach of the Clippers, Chris Paul's most likely landing spot is Los Angeles.

    Under Rivers, the tandem of Paul and Blake Griffin will remain capable of contending for a conference title in 2013-14 and beyond.

    Just as CP3 did when he first arrived as a player, Rivers adds an element of credibility to the Clippers organization that didn't exist during the Vinny Del Negro era.

    Paul will most certainly recognize as much and ink a max-contract deal this summer to remain with the Clips.

1. Dwight Howard

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    Final Landing Spot: Los Angeles Lakers

    According to Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant asked Dwight Howard to give the Los Angeles Lakers the "final word" in his free-agent decision back on June 4.

    Howard has since responded by planning to do specifically that, according to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.

    Though he will be offered all the NBA world has to throw at him during his tour through free agency, expect that final stop to be with the same team that Howard eventually signs with this summer. 

    Despite the up-and-down season that was the 2012-13 campaign for Howard, he remains the best center of the NBA.

    He can still be that next great Laker to wear the uniform after Bryant retires, and the next step in that development will continue in 2013-14.