2013 NBA Free Agency: Predicting Biggest Winners and Losers of the Offseason
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
The 2013 NBA free agent period is shaping up to be a heck of a ride.
There will be those who’ll come out with huge smiles across their faces. At the same time, there will be those who’ll just want to curl up into a ball inside the darkest of caves, never to return.
That’s the beauty—or ruthlessness, if you will—of a typical NBA offseason.
Free-agency negotiations are set to begin Monday. However, there have already been several transactions that have had a ripple effect across the league.
Since the conclusion of the regular season, there have been an NBA-record 13 head coaching changes. That includes six coaches who led their respective teams to the playoffs—two who just set franchise highs for wins in a season.
Furthermore, several key players have already opted out of player options, choosing instead to test the waters of free agency. In some cases, teams have already started talking about potential blockbuster trades. Trades that could shake up the entire landscape of the league.
And to think we’re only just a little over a week into the offseason.
Better get your popcorn ready.
Loser: Boston Celtics
Probably the biggest news to come out of draft night was the agreed-upon deal between the Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets.
According to ESPN's Chris Broussard, Kevin Garnett will waive his no-trade clause, allowing Boston to send him, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to the Nets for Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans and three future first-round picks (2014, ’16 and ’18). Due to Pierce’s contract, the deal can only be finalized after the lifting of the moratorium on July 10.
So essentially, the Celtics got rid of their heart and soul in favor of an overpriced pile of scraps and three draft choices. Really? Kris Humphries? This has got to be some unforeseen storyline for the upcoming season of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. That’s the only plausible explanation.
But reality TV exploits aside, that wasn’t even the worst blow to Boston’s spirits.
On Wednesday, per ESPN LA's Arash Markazi, Doc Rivers was officially introduced as the head coach and senior vice president of basketball operations of the Los Angeles Clippers. The team will send the Celtics an unprotected first-round pick in 2015 as compensation for releasing Rivers out of the final three years of his contract.
While losing a head coach is never a positive, at least Boston now has a multitude of draft picks over the next few years. Those will be crucial in aiding with the rebuilding process.
During Thursday night's draft, via The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn, the Celtics only added to their misery by trading the 16th pick in the draft along with two future second-round selections to the Dallas Mavericks for the 13th pick. The team then used that selection to grab Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk—a player who would have likely been available at Boston’s original pick.
Sure, the Celtics will have a little more cap space to try to pick up some free agents. But it likely won’t be enough to prevent the team from its first losing season since 2007.
Now, without a coach, the face of the franchise and one of the NBA's most intimidating big men, Boston will have to search for a new identity...again.
Winner: Nate Robinson
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Big-time players step up in big-time situations.
That’s a mantra Nate Robinson hopes will land him a lucrative contract this summer. He certainly deserves it.
Over 12 postseason appearances for the Chicago Bulls, Robinson averaged 16.3 points, 4.4 assists and 2.7 rebounds over 33.7 minutes per game. He also shot 43.6 percent from the field.
But many will remember Robinson for his 34-point performance against the Brooklyn Nets during the Bulls' 142-134 triple-overtime victory in Game 4 of the first round. It was a performance that saw him score all but five of his points after the third quarter.
Keep in mind this is a guy who only made $854,389 last season.
With Derrick Rose set to return next year, the playing time won’t be there for Robinson. That’s a circumstance the 29-year-old doesn’t want to be in.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley, Robinson is not expected to re-sign with Chicago. He is reportedly seeking a multi-year contract and wants to be on a team that could give him extended playing time.
The New York Knicks could be that team.
Earlier last month, agent Aaron Goodwin informed ESPN New York’s Jared Zwerling that Robinson wouldn’t be opposed to a return to the team he played his first five seasons with. In fact, his best year in the league came while playing under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden—he averaged 17.2 points per game during the 2008-09 season.
However, the Knicks are already over the luxury tax and are in pursuit of re-signing reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith. That would only leave the mini-mid-level exception ($3.1 million) available to sign Robinson.
It wouldn’t be the most significant of pay raises, but it would still be a good amount more to play for a contender.
If not, there is sure to be several potential suitors vying for Robinson’s services after free-agency negotiations begin on July 1.
Loser: Manu Ginobili
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
There’s not another player who’s receiving as much criticism and blame for the San Antonio Spurs’ loss in the NBA Finals than Manu Ginobili.
Sure, the 35-year-old had one of the worst postseasons of his career, averaging just 11.5 points per game on 39.9 percent shooting. However, he wasn’t the only one. Tony Parker (9-of-35) and Danny Green (2-of-19) struggled heavily over the last two games of the finals, as well.
But the lasting image of the finals will be Ginobili committing 12 turnovers over Game 6 and Game 7. That includes two costly turnovers in the final 44 seconds of overtime during a 103-100 Game 6 loss and four turnovers during the fourth quarter of the deciding Game 7.
In fact, the Spurs seemed to play better in the finals when Ginobili was off the court.
During the 142 minutes he was on the bench, San Antonio posted an offensive rating of 106.1 and a defensive rating of 95.7. On the other hand, in the 199 minutes he was on the court, the Spurs posted an offensive rating of 103.3 and a defensive rating of 113.4.
That certainly doesn’t help the value of a player who’s an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Originally, there was speculation that Ginobili might call it a career and retire. However, according to a column published Monday in the Argentinian newspaper La Nacion (h/t Dan Devine, Yahoo! Sports), the 10-year veteran wants to return for another season.
But would he be welcomed back?
Spurs general manager R.C. Buford was quick to offer a response to Spurs Nation’s Dan McCarney:
We’ll evaluate the alternatives. But I think all of our hopes are that Manu finishes his career in San Antonio.
However, the chances that Ginobili will make anything close to the $14.1 million he earned last season are slim to none.
In 60 contests, he averaged just 11.8 points on 42.5 percent shooting over 23.2 minutes per game. All three rank as career lows since his second year in the league.
It’s no secret that the explosiveness that made Ginobili such an asset to San Antonio’s offense is gone. Don’t be surprised if the team decides to bring in a true backup point guard, allowing Ginobili to focus more on a supporting role.
Winner: Dallas Mavericks
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Just when you thought it was safe to count out the Dallas Mavericks.
According to ESPN’s Chris Broussard, top free-agent prize Dwight Howard “really likes the Mavericks.” It’s a move that if it came to fruition would make Dallas an early title contender for next season.
It’s also a move that makes a whole lot of sense.
Teamed with Dirk Nowitzki, Howard would be paired with a player who’s been there and done that. Someone who knows what it takes to recover from an NBA Finals’ disappointment and climb back up to the top. The Dallas Morning News’ Eddie Sefko even reports that Nowitzki has already been in contact with Howard.
While the 27-year-old would certainly provide the team with instant production, the Mavericks are still looking for additional pieces to bring in.
Rajon Rondo could be a possible target, according to Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski. The Boston Celtics have long favored Dallas’ first-round selection Shane Larkin, but is he really worth coughing up one of the NBA’s top playmakers?
The only way this works is if the Mavericks agree to take back some of the Celtics’ unwanted contracts (i.e. Brandon Bass, Gerald Wallace and Courtney Lee).
Then again, owner Mark Cuban should never be underestimated.
But if the team’s actions during the NBA draft were any indication, Dallas is looking ahead to next summer’s free agency.
In a class that is highlighted by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, the Mavericks are saving as much cap space as they can to become major players in 2014. If they landed Howard—or a similar big-name free agent—he would be the team’s big draw to potential targets.
Sure, Dallas missed the playoffs for the first time since 2000, but don’t expect that to be a habit moving forward.
Loser: Milwaukee Bucks
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Just when the Milwaukee Bucks thought they had something, it’s right back to the drawing board.
Yes, the team made the playoffs for the first time in three years. But don’t expect similar success next season. In fact, it might be another three years, maybe more, before Milwaukee is in contention again.
Rebuilding will do that to you.
This summer, the Bucks are staring at the daunting possibility of losing Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick all to free agency. In other words, the team could lose 49.5 percent of its offensive production from last season (49 PPG).
That kind of blow would cripple any team.
Ellis is easily a lock to book his ticket out of Milwaukee this season. According to Yahoo! Sports, the 27-year-old recently opted out of his $11 million player option and turned down a three-year, $36 million extension. The chances of making more than that on the market isn’t very good, but that just goes to show how badly Ellis wants a change of scenery.
The other two aren’t so cut and dry.
As ESPN's Chris Broussard originally reported, Jennings has long stated that he would like to explore all options once his rookie contract ends. With the 23-year-old beginning to hit his prime, one would assume that he would favor a team that gives him a chance at an NBA title. The Bucks just can’t offer that quite yet.
Then there’s Redick, who is coming off the best scoring season of his six-year NBA career (14.1 PPG). He will most likely demand a lot more than the $6.2 million he earned last season, and rightfully so. Milwaukee might not be up for paying that much.
There’s no doubt that the frontcourt duo of Larry Sanders and John Henson provides the team with a great foundation to build upon. But even with significant cap space—the team only has an inclusive total of $46.5 million tied up with 10 players—the Bucks don’t have the market to draw in the big-name free agents.
Winner: J.R. Smith
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
Even a subpar postseason probably won’t do much to lower the stock of J.R. Smith.
He was that good during last year’s regular season.
Over 80 contests, Smith averaged 18.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists over 33.5 minutes per game—all four marks serve as career highs. He also shot 42.2 percent from the floor and 35.6 percent from beyond the arc. Deservedly so, Smith brought home the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award for his performance.
Sure, he had a rough postseason—14.3 points per game on 33.1 percent shooting—but so did the entire New York Knicks offense. The team hit the 100-point mark just once in 11 playoff games after averaging 100 points a night during the regular season.
Besides, an 80-game sample against 29 other teams has to hold more weight than an 11-game sample against just two. Easily.
Smith seems to think so.
According to ESPN New York’s Ian Begley, the eight-year veteran will opt out of his contract for next season and become a free agent. He was set to make just $2.9 million next year. So you can’t really blame Smith for trying to cash in following his breakout year.
All things aside, he still remains a top priority for the Knicks.
If the team wants, it still has the Early Bird exception to use. This would allow New York to offer Smith a contract around approximately $5 million per season with standard raises over four years.
If that isn’t deemed good enough, several other teams would certainly love to bring him in.
Yahoo! Sports’ Lucas Bowen could see the Chicago Bulls making a run at Smith. It’s a move that makes sense, especially with sixth man Nate Robinson expressing interest to play elsewhere.
Then there are the Milwaukee Bucks, who are looking to replace Monta Ellis and possibly Brandon Jennings. They have plenty of cap space and could offer Smith the kind of deal he is looking for.
Regardless of where he ends up, Smith is sure to make an immediate impact.
Loser: Andrew Bynum
USA TODAY Sports
It’s a tall order to make an entire fanbase loathe you after just one season. It’s especially difficult to accomplish the same feat without even logging a single minute on the court.
Andrew Bynum, ladies and gentlemen.
Following a season in which Bynum entered as one of the top centers in the league, he now enters this year as one of the biggest gambles. Not to mention, his work ethic and dedication have both come under fire, as well.
But what else would you expect?
This is the same guy who injured his left knee bowling, only a couple of weeks after having Orthokine treatments on both knees. The same guy who six weeks clear of undergoing arthroscopic surgery to both knees was caught flamenco dancing in Spain per Yahoo! Sports' Dan Devine.
Apparently, the Philadelphia 76ers have had enough of Bynum’s antics.
Just a month after new GM Sam Hinkie referred to the 25-year-old as just another free agent, per CSN Philly's Josh Gonzalez, the 76ers made it clear they were ready to move on during Thursday night’s draft. According to CBS Sports' Royce Young, Philadelphia traded away guard Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans in return for center Nerlens Noel—the sixth overall pick of the draft—and a 2014 first-round selection.
Noel, who many felt could have been the top pick of the draft, has the potential to be the big man who can erase the memory of Bynum in Philadelphia. He averaged 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.4 blocks as a freshman for Kentucky last season.
Now, Bynum will need to look for a new home.
There will certainly be teams who are willing to take a gamble. Especially those who might fall short in trying to lure Dwight Howard. The Atlanta Hawks, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks come to mind.
But will he land a contract anywhere close to the $16.9 million he brought in last season? Doubtful.
Last year was supposed to be the season in which Bynum staked his claim as the best center in the NBA. Instead, he’ll have to settle for a significant pay cut and a likely short-term contract.
Maybe a hard dose of reality is just what the young big man needs to finally reach his potential.
Winner: Brooklyn Nets
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Even without making another move this summer, the Nets would still be considered one of the biggest winners of the offseason.
The additions of a new head coach, two future Hall of Famers and a talented big man prospect have Brooklyn poised to make a splash next year. Even possibly leading to the team’s first 50-win season since 2001-02.
It all began on June 12, per CBS Sports' Ken Berger, when the Nets introduced Jason Kidd as the team’s new head coach.
The move surprised many, as Kidd had just announced his retirement as a player nine days prior. However, after leading Brooklyn to two NBA Finals’ appearances in 2002 and 2003, Kidd knows what it takes to win within the organization. Not to mention having former Nets head coach Lawrence Frank on his staff will be extremely beneficial too.
Brooklyn’s next step was to add championship-winning experience.
According to ESPN’s Chris Broussard, the Nets did that by agreeing to a deal that would send Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans and three future first-round picks in return for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry. However, due to Pierce’s contract, the deal can only be finalized on July 10 after the lifting of the moratorium.
Adding Pierce and Garnett to the trio of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez would give Brooklyn one of the most formidable lineups in the league. Terry gives the team a former Sixth Man of the Year and first-round pick Mason Plumlee provides depth in the frontcourt.
The Nets might not be front-runners to top the Eastern Conference, but they joined the conversation with the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks as the top contenders to dethrone the Miami Heat.
Loser: Los Angeles Lakers
Harry How/Getty Images
Just last summer, the Lakers were considered one of the biggest winners of the offseason after bringing in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. They instantly became favorites to win their third NBA title in five years.
Fast-forward one new head coach, several instances of locker room drama and a first-round exit later; Los Angeles is poised to be one of the biggest losers this time around.
It’s funny how things work out.
According to The Los Angeles Times' Eric Pincus, doctors expect Bryant back on the court by November or December at the earliest. But for a player turning 35 in August, recovering from an Achilles tear is no easy feat. Even for a player as gifted and determined as Bryant.
To make matters worse, ESPN’s Chris Broussard reported that it’s highly unlikely that Howard will re-sign with Los Angeles.
That’s an incredibly blow to a team that had hoped Howard would be its drawing point for what’s shaping up to be a loaded 2014 free-agency class.
Without him, the Lakers have just Bryant, Nash and Pau Gasol. That trio will be 36, 40 and 34, respectively, entering the 2014 season.
Then there’s the dreaded topic of Los Angeles’ salary cap.
As it stands, the team already has a guaranteed total of $68,103,755 in payroll tied up to just five players. Bryant’s $30.5 million and Gasol’s $19.3 million lead the way. That leaves the Lakers just under the estimated luxury tax threshold of $71.6 million.
The inclusive total brings the team up to $84,224,930, and that doesn’t include if Los Angeles re-signs Howard.
With just the taxpayer's mini-mid-level exception and the veteran minimum to spend on free agents, don’t expect the team to make a splash via free agency. Only in possession of two first-round picks between now and 2018, the draft won’t offer the Lakers any immediate help either.
If the team fails to re-sign Howard, Los Angeles should just start counting the days down to the start of next summer’s free agency.
Winner: Los Angeles Clippers
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Just like the Brooklyn Nets, the Clippers have the Boston Celtics to thank for their initial offseason success.
Per ESPN LA’s Arash Markazi, Doc Rivers was introduced as the new head coach and Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Clippers on June 27. The team sent along an unprotected 2015 first-round pick as compensation for the Celtics releasing Rivers from his contract.
Coming off the best season in franchise history, Los Angeles now has a coach that can take the team the extra mile.
It also was an acquisition that may have just assured Chris Paul’s return to the Clippers.
According to Chris Broussard of ESPN, Paul is a near lock to return to Los Angeles. His representatives have even gone as far as informing opposing teams that pursuing the 28-year-old would be a waste of time.
It’s a big sigh of relief for a team that feared Paul might give into the temptation of playing alongside Dwight Howard somewhere else.
Now, the Clippers can focus on other matters. More specifically, bringing the team its first NBA title in franchise history.
Loser: Rajon Rondo
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Think Boston Celtics fans have it the worst? Rajon Rondo would firmly disagree.
Just a couple weeks ago, he was preparing to return to a team that featured one of the best coaches in the NBA in Doc Rivers and two future first-ballot Hall of Famers in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Not to mention, a roster that featured several up-and-coming talents.
Surely, Rondo must have figured that the Celtics were a few small acquisitions away from giving the Miami Heat another run at it.
Instead, Rivers is currently situating himself in Los Angeles and Garnett and Pierce are set to make their Boston exits—to the division-rival Brooklyn Nets no less.
Can a team centered around the trio of Rondo, Jeff Green and Avery Bradley be successful? Not likely.
Don’t forget, Rondo seemed to struggle with the opportunity to be the leader on a team that reached the Eastern Conference finals the year before. The Celtics were just 20-23 before the 27-year-old tore his ACL. What makes you think he’s going to succeed in that same role on a team, as it is now, that is bound to lose close to 50 games next season?
Maybe Rondo would be better served with a change of scenery.
According to The Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn, the Dallas Mavericks are interested in acquiring Rondo. It would go a long way in the team’s plan to bring Dwight Howard to Texas.
Teaming up with Howard and Dirk Nowitzki would put Rondo back on a title contending team. However, any such deal would likely include the Mavericks taking back some of Boston’s unwanted contracts. That would make it near impossible for Dallas to sign Howard.
Either way, Rondo seems doomed to play on a losing squad for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
Winner: Dwight Howard
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Was there anyone else who would top this list other than Dwight Howard?
The guy could have one of the worst seasons of his career and still be considered the cream of the crop during free agency. Last year, that’s essentially what Howard did.
Over 76 contests with the Los Angeles Lakers, the 27-year-old averaged 17.1 points and 12.4 rebounds over 35.8 minutes per game. Both his scoring and rebounding marks were the second worst of his career. Furthermore, Howard attempted just 10.7 shots a night—his lowest total since 2010.
However, this summer, the 6’11” center has the attention of every team with available cap space. That includes the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks. But although ESPN’s Chris Broussard is reporting that Howard is unlikely to re-sign with the Lakers, it isn’t over till it’s over. Especially given the big man’s tendency to flip-flop on decisions.
At the same time, Howard also seeks an environment in which he can be the face of the franchise. As long as Kobe Bryant is still in the picture, that place is not Los Angeles.
Both the Rockets and Mavericks present Howard with that kind of opportunity.
With Houston, he would be in a setting similarly built to the Orlando Magic team he took to the NBA Finals. Howard would draw attention down low and have the option of several sharpshooting perimeter players on the outside.
Dallas would align Howard with one of the top players in the NBA, Dirk Nowitzki. With Nowitzki near the end of his career, he certainly wouldn’t mind handing the reins of the team over to Howard. Not to mention, when the 2014 free agency comes along, the Mavericks will have a ton of cap space to bring in players to add to their arsenal.
Even if Howard remained with the Lakers, a team that features him, Bryant and Nash is one that should not be underestimated. Maybe the second time around could be the charm.
Either way, Howard is set to make himself a very, very wealthy man and find a team that will instantly become a contender with his presence.
As Charlie Sheen would say…”Winning!”
Unless otherwise stated, all stats are courtesy of NBA.com's Media Central (subscription required)