Will Chris Paul leave the Los Angeles Clippers?
Now that the NBA draft is behind us, it's time to put the free-agent rumor mill into full swing.
Monday, July 1 marks the first day teams can begin negotiating with players, and deals can be made official on July 10. In other words, the fun is just beginning.
Or maybe it's agony if you can't stand any more Dwight Howard speculation. Just think, once he signs a deal this offseason, it's probably, almost certainly over for a while. Unless he asks for a trade again.
As teams continue to hunt down the Miami Heat, here are the top free agents who could potentially alter the NBA's landscape for years.
Sorry, we're going to talk about Howard one more time.
For all the talk of the center's decline, he still averaged 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks for the disappointing Los Angeles Lakers. While his 19.4 PER represents his lowest mark since he was 20, the 27-year-old still deserves some benefit of the doubt.
With the injured Kobe Bryant's future in question, the Lakers desperately want to preserve their legacy of hoarding dominant big men and keep Howard. The question is: Is the feeling mutual?
Howard did not mesh well in Mike D'Antoni's system, which has never particularly relied on a post presence down low. He could bolt town in favor of another high-powered attack that would better employ his skills.
The Houston Rockets have everything Howard could want. Along with another legitimate star in James Harden, they are deadly from three-point range. Houston could implement the inside-out attack around Howard and long-range shooters that worked well with a less talented group in Orlando.
And most importantly, they have the cap space. Rather than stay with a decaying, chaotic franchise, Howard should join a young, up-and-coming squad that is one big move away from emerging as a legit contender.
Prediction: Houston Rockets
Howard's hypothetical decision to sign with Houston eliminates a realistic chance of the two top free agents joining forces to create their own super team.
Fortunately for Paul he has a darn good one right where he is. All signs are pointing to CP3 remaining with the Los Angeles Clippers.
It's going to be hard to find a team with enough cap space that possesses similar talent to the Clippers. For all of Blake Griffin's shortcomings, explosive 20/10 power forwards don't exactly grow on trees.
While Donald Sterling angered Paul last month by putting the blame on the players for Vinny Del Negro's firing, their current coaching situation will now help the owner maintain his top asset. Whether he directed the move or not, Paul is likely looking at the Doc Rivers hiring as a positive.
Rivers will breathe some defensive toughness into the Clippers. Paul will be more than happy to see Rivers transform Lob City into Fundamental City.
Prediction: Los Angeles Clippers
After Howard and Paul, there are no true max-dollar talents. Let's see if Josh Smith gets a massive payday anyway.
The versatile forward is a menace on the court, swiping 1.2 steals and swotting 1.8 blocks per contest last season. While he can fill up a stat sheet, Smith is not a prolific scorer deserving of operating as a team's first option.
Last year saw Smith attempt a career-high 201 three-pointers, only 61 of which he made. That's what happens when he is tasked with carrying an offense, and that's probably why he'll flee the Atlanta Hawks for a team with the potential for bigger things.
Houston is a possibility if Howard signs elsewhere, but for continuity's sake we'll operate as if Howard inked a deal with the Rockets.
Perhaps the New Orleans Pelicans could make another splash after landing Jrue Holiday. It's interesting, but that's another situation where they have no true go-to offensive threat.
Enter the Dallas Mavericks, who after years of rejection could feel desperate to exit the summer with someone of value.
Assuming they fail to court Howard, Dallas will have money to spend on a complement to Dirk Nowitzki. If Smith stops forcing jumpers and utilizes his athleticism to drive, that's a dynamic duo that can at least propel the team back into playoff contention.
Prediction: Dallas Mavericks