2013 NBA Free Agency Predictions for Top 20 Names on the Market

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistJune 29, 2013

2013 NBA Free Agency Predictions for Top 20 Names on the Market

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    The NBA draft is now behind us, and the next major step in the offseason is free agency. Want to know where the biggest players are going to sign? Here are the top 20 players and where they will land.

    In determining who goes where, a number of things were considered, such as how much cap space each team has, how much players are going to sign for, the other teams competing for each player and what every team's needs are. Bear in mind these are predictions, not actual rumors or reports, though such things were considered in making the predictions.

    What players teams drafted and what their goals are were also taken into account. For example, if a team is likely to push for the playoffs, a later-round draft pick, even if it fills a positional need, wasn’t considered as likely to fill a need as much as if it a team that is “tanking” (allegedly). In other words, if a team is pushing for the title, they may not play there rookies as much as a team building for the future, ergo they might still fill the void  via free agency. 

    All players are ranked according to their quality of play. 

20. Jose Calderon to the Utah Jazz

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    Jose Calderon is Rajon Rondo with a jump shot and really bad teammates. He’s long been one of the most underrated players in the league, and a move to Utah could do him real justice.

    In Utah with a young core of players like Derrick Favors and the vastly underrated Enes Kanter (who, just watch, is going to break out huge) is going to be a big, big plus for Calderon.

    In case you weren’t paying attention, Calderon was also the league’s best three-point shooter last year, knocking down his shots at a rate of .461, which makes for a nice pairing of perimeter shooting and interior passing.

    The Jazz also have Gordon Hayward, who has been steadily developing. He’s on the verge of cracking the top 10 small forwards in the league.

    Yes, the Utah Jazz did trade up to get Trey Burke in the draft, and he is the point guard of the future, but Calderon is a nice player to provide some tutelage to Burke along the way. The Jazz don’t need to go into rebuilding mode. They can win now, but they need a quality veteran point guard to do so. 

19. J.R. Smith to Stay with the New York Knicks

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    Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s going on with the New York Knicks because the hometown reporting can be a tad optimistic.

    Remember when it was a sure thing that LeBron James was going to sign there because he wore a Yankees cap? Or how about when Chris Paul was going to take a $10 million pay cut to come there because he was the best man at Carmelo Anthony’s wedding?

    So when I read about how J.R. Smith is going to take less money to stay in New York, it’s with a grain of salt, but only because it’s not that much less money. Smith isn’t going to get offered that much over the mid-level exception. I don’t see any teams with cap space making a big play for him because most of them are set at shooting guard and he scared them off with his postseason meltdown.

    The one team looking for a 2-guard is Minnesota, and they’ve got their sights set on O.J. Mayo.

    So almost by default Smith will “take less” to play for the Knicks. 

18. Tiago Splitter to Atlanta Hawks

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    The Atlanta Hawks will be the winners of this year’s proverbial booby prize in the center sweeps. Texas is just too income tax-free for Atlanta to get Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum or even Al Jefferson, so they’re going to get stuck with Tiago Splitter (a name I can’t say in my head without spitting it out like a curse word in my best Stephen A. Smith voice).

    He’s actually not as bad as Smith makes him sound, but the whole “Teeeaaaago Spliiiter!” thing has probably cost Splitter about a million dollars a year, if not in reality, at least in the perception of the average NBA fan of what he’s worth.

    But I digress.

    Here’s what’s going to happen to Atlanta. They’re going to pursue all of the big-name free agents and strike out. Then they’re going to try to retain their own player, Josh Smith, but it’s going to be too late.

    Then they’re going to try to land a restricted free agent, but everyone will match, and during that time, the bottom of the barrel is going to get scraped. By the time it all settles down, they’re going to be left with a lot of money and not much to spend it on. And that’s how they lose the center sweepstakes and end up with Splitter, the only center left who’s worth more than a mid-level exception.

    Now, don’t get me wrong here. Splitter is worthwhile, and at least Atlanta will have a quality center; they just won’t have the All-Star center they had hoped to land. 

17. J.J. Redick to Charlotte Bobcats

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    J.J. Redick is one of those players who always seems better in theory, which is why the Charlotte Bobcats will do something to overpay for him. But Redick is not quite good enough to be a starter but just a little too good to be on the bench, so you can never figure out what to do with him. So Charlotte will bite.

    It’s as if Michael Jordan wants to see if Jordan the owner can build a team so bad that even Jordan the player couldn’t win with them. It’s the basketball version of what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.  

    Redick offers decent three-point shooting, though he’s not as lights-out (.390 career shooter from three) as some have made it seem when they compare him to the likes of Kyle Korver (.412). Offensively, that's about it. 

    Generously, he’s an average defender. Both Orlando and Milwaukee gave up more points while he was on the court last year, according to 82games.com. 

    But he played at Duke and has a recognizable name, so he is probably going to get paid more than he should, and if anyone is in the running for offering up desperately bad contracts, it's Jordan. 

    One more log on this inevitable bonfire is that the Bobcats coach, Steve Clifford, is on good terms with Redick, as you can see in this tweet:

    Huge congrats to Steve Clifford on getting the Charlotte head coaching job! Enjoyed working with him for 5 yrs in Orlando. Great hire.

    — JJ Redick (@JJRedick) May 27, 2013

    It’s inevitable.

16. Monta Ellis to Atlanta Hawks

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    Monta Ellis will be the second piece the Hawks reluctantly add to their team this summer. They have an interest in him, according to Chris Broussard of ESPN.  The Dallas Mavericks are also interested in him, but Mark Cuban is going to be spending his money on another player (I’ll keep you in suspense).

    That means that the biggest name the Atlanta Hawks can get is going to be Ellis, who will be yet another gifted scorer who doesn’t play defense

    The problem is that they have no real need there, which is why it’s befuddling, unless deep down they know that after having sent out press releases promising  Chris Paul and Dwight Howard that they’re going to end up with Ellis and Tiago Splitter. 

15. Brandon Jennings Stays with the Milwaukee Bucks

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    This one time, Brandon Jennings passed up a shot.

    OK. No he didn’t. I’m just making that up.

    But if he’s not going to pass up a shot on the court, what makes you think he’d pass up a shot to see if he can make more money to go play somewhere else?

    And he might even get offered something, but the Bucks are going to match it. They have to.

    They have three guards who are free agents, two of whom they traded to get in Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick. With both of them being unrestricted and inevitably lost, the Bucks have no choice but to match any offer extended to Jennings.  

    And C.F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that GM John Hammond insists that it’s “their intention to bring him back.”

    Therein lies the problem. The Bucks' issue is they’ve just been horribly managed for the past several years. Hammond always seems to be reacting to whatever is going on and never forming a cohesive, proactive long-term plan. Sorry, Milwaukee, you’re going to continue to flounder as long as he is running things.

    But at least you get to keep Jennings.

14. Jeff Teague to Stay in Atlanta

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    Jeff Teague, perhaps reluctantly, is going to end up staying in Atlanta. It’s not like Atlanta is that enamored with Teague, and it’s not like Teague just can’t envision himself ever putting on another uni.  

    It’s just economics.

    It’s supply and demand.

    There really aren’t many teams that have the need for a point guard, and there aren’t a lot of point guards available. So there aren't gong to be a lot of bidders for Teague, and there aren't going to be a lot solicitors for Atlanta. 

    There are a couple of teams that are going to be wanting a point guard, but they aren’t going to offer Teague anything that the Hawks aren’t going to match, and because they know the Hawks are going to match it, they aren’t going to offer it.

    That’s not the bad news, though. The bad news, if you’re a Hawks fan, is that’s the highlight of Atlanta’s “big” offseason. 

13. J.J. Hickson to Phoenix Suns

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    J.J. Hickson says he wants to play his “natural” position of power forward. There aren’t that many teams with more than $10 million in cap space that have a need at power forward.

    The Phoenix Suns are one of them, with the Charlotte Bobcats being the other.

    So, of course, they both drafted centers.

    Of the two, Phoenix is the more likely to go after Hickson, primarily because there is a far greater chance of there being a rational thought being produced in Phoenix. After all, the Suns are bad somewhat by design. They are rebuilding deliberately, while the Bobcats have been pretty much “just building” throughout the entire decade of their existence.

    Hickson is not a 20-point, 10-rebound machine, but he’s not far off. He’s a double-double machine who can give you around a dozen points and a dozen boards per contest. Paired with the Polish Hammer, Goran Dragic, the Suns can secure an underrated big-man tandem.

    Sadly, that won’t solve the Michael Beasley problem, though. They're just stuck with that. 

12. Andrei Kirilenko to Portland Trail Blazers

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    LaMarcus Aldridge is going to bail if the Trail Blazers don’t build a playoff contender fast, and who can blame him?

    See, here’s the other side of the LeBron James-in-Cleveland saga. Sometimes players don’t like wasting their careers in small-market teams where no one wants to come to play. And why should they be obligated to, just because it’s where they were drafted?

    So, to keep him from bolting, Portland is going to desperately try to find a free agent who is going to keep Aldridge around, but just like Cleveland, they’re only going to get second-tier stars or guys who are at the tail end of their careers and a shadow of what they used to be.

    That’s just the sad reality of living in small market.

    And the best they’re going to be able to do is Andrei Kirilenko, who will come there on a three-year deal because they’ll give him the third year to sign.

    So they’ll end up with a bad three-year contract, be bad and Aldridge will bolt because they’re bad. And it won’t be anyone’s fault. But people will blame Aldridge for exercising his basic human right to live and work where he wants.

    Anyone ever wonder why out of all of the NBA greats from the past, it was Clyde Drexler who came to James’ defense? But what would Drexler know about playing without help in obscurity and leaving Portland so he could win a title? Oh, wait! Only everything. 

11. O.J. Mayo to Sign with Minnesota Timberwolves

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    O.J. Mayo just has to go to the Timberwolves. The ‘Wolves have been building a solid team for several years now, and this year they have the opportunity to cap it off.

    A starting five of Ricky Rubio, Mayo, Shabazz Muhammad, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic is one that has a lot of potential to win, and in very exciting fashion.  

    In Minnesota, Mayo would have the role of go-to perimeter scorer that he wants to have. He has experience playing alongside fellow stretch-forward Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas, so playing next to fellow SoCal native Kevin Love shouldn’t be an issue.

    Rubio is at his most dangerous when he has more toys to play with, and the one toy he hasn’t had in Minnesota is a true shooting guard. This should be fun. 

10. Tyreke Evans Goes to Indiana Pacers in a Sign-and-Trade

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    This just makes too much sense not to happen. While there’s been nothing reported on it, one of the GMs will read this article and be convinced, and this article itself will become the impetus for the trade.  

    Tyreke Evans will go to the Indiana Pacers in a sign-and-trade, returning the Pacers’ Danny Granger to the Sacramento Kings.

    First, here is a quick primer regarding the rules for a sign-and-trade of a restricted free agent, as some are unclear on the ins and outs. A player can be dealt in a sign-and-trade as long as A) the receiving team is not above the apron ($4 million over the cap), and B) the trading team rescinds their qualifying offer first. This must be done before the receiving team extends an offer to the player.

    In other words, if the teams and player agree to the deal in principle during negotiations, it’s fine. Once they agree in principle, the original team rescinds their qualifying offer to the player, then they work out the sign-and-trade.

    However, if the receiving team extends an actual offer, the original team cannot say, “Hey, let’s do a sign-and-trade.” They must either match the offer or let the player walk. If they match, they cannot trade the player to the team that made the offer for one year.

    This trade works for both teams because both teams have redundancy at the position they’re dealing and a need at the position they’re receiving.

    The Kings have an abundance of guards, and drafting yet another one on draft night, Ben McLemore, only adds to the stockpile. With the Pacers, Paul George’s breakout year has made Granger superfluous. The Kings get a true starting small forward and the Pacers get a guard who can penetrate and break down defenses.

    Both teams also are getting equal value on players who are largely undervalued, Granger because of his recent injuries and Evans because of the way the Kings have handled him and his playing time.

    This trade just makes too much sense to not happen. Go do it. 

9. Nikola Pekovic to Stay with Minnesota Timberwolves

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    This doesn’t require a lot of commentary. There’s a greater chance of it not snowing in Minnesota next winter than the Timberwolves letting Nikola Pekovic walk, period.

    Last year, according to Basketball-Reference, there were three centers who scored 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds a game. They were Pekovic, Dwight Howard and Al Horford. Pekovic is one of those players who come along every now and then and prove the second round of the draft is worthwhile.

    And to think, the Miami Heat could have had him twice. Once when they took Michael Beasley over him in the draft, and again when they traded Beasley to the Timberwolves for picks in 2010. 

8. Paul Millsap to Stay with Utah Jazz

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    The Utah Jazz will let one of their two bigs (Al Jefferson) walk, and they will keep one of them (Paul Millsap) in Utah. Millsap makes more sense for the simple reason that they will have to pay him less.

    Millsap is one of those players who has an interesting history on the overrated/underrated roller-coaster. He was so underrated for so long that people started to notice, and then once people started noticing, he got mentioned on every underrated post—to the point he got borderline overrated—so everyone stopped mentioning him at all, and now he’s underrated again.

    Fortunately, if you’re the Utah Jazz or Paul Millsap, he doesn’t seem to care what everyone thinks about him. He just keeps coming out and producing year after year. Since assuming the full-time role as a starter, he’s averaged 16.8 points and 7.8 boards per game.

    If you want to put things in perspective, think about this: There are two players in the NBA who have 3,500 points, 1,500 rebounds, 500 assists and 300 steals in the past three seasons: Millsap and Lebron James. So yeah, he’s underrated. 

7. Al Jefferson to Sign with San Antonio Spurs

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    It’s not often that you see a that team falls one second short—literally—of winning the NBA title have this much money to spend via free agency.

    The Spurs don’t have max space, but Al Jefferson isn’t going to get a max contract. He’s just going to get a big one, and the Spurs have enough space to offer him something in the neighborhood of a four-year, $65 million deal. They have $26 million in cap holds, but if they waive their rights to Tiago Splitter ($7 million) and quickly reach a far more reasonable agreement with Manu Ginobili ($19 million), then they will have plenty of money to spend.

    Tim Duncan might seem ageless but he’s not. He getting old, and it’s time to groom a replacement. Al Jefferson would be a nice fit and could actually extend Duncan’s career another year or two by taking more of the burden off of him. 

6. David West to Stay with Indiana Pacers

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    The Indiana Pacers were close to getting past the Heat last year. Frank Vogel is arguably the most underappreciated coach in the league right now. He, along with Gregg Popovich and Tom Thibodeau, is one of a very few coaches in the NBA with a system.

    That doesn’t mean that players don’t need to execute the system, though, and the Pacers really need David West for their system to work. To say that West is a blue-collar worker is to elevate the entire blue-collar nation. Dude works hard.

    He’s the perfect fit for the Pacers system. He’s both physically strong and highly skilled. He’s a nice shooter who also plays solid defense. He’s a nice blend of effort, talent and skill.

    All indications are that Indiana wants West back and he wants to come back, so he probably doesn’t even shop. Look for a three-year deal in the neighborhood of $33-35 million. 

5. Andrew Bynum to Sign with Dallas Mavericks

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    If there is one owner in the NBA you can absolutely count on to sign a center with all kinds of upside that he’ll never reach, it’s Mark Cuban.

    Andrew Bynum might not have any knees, but who says you need to have knees to play basketball?  OK, to be paid to play basketball. I mean, just think about all that hard work Bynum put into earning that $17 million he made last year.

    So now there’s this colossal talent in a colossal man with the potential to make a colossal screw-up if you sign him. Would Mark Cuban be so stupid? Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood get to vote, and they both say yes.

    Bynum probably doesn’t get a max deal, even from Dallas, but a three-year, $50 million offering is not implausible. Cuban will be desperate to do something after striking out with Dwight Howard. And there is a chance that this could work.  

4. Josh Smith to Sign with Detroit Pistons

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    Here is the world Josh Smith and the Detroit Pistons are forced to live in. They have to get married.

    It’s not the perfect match, it’s the only match. Smith wants a bunch of money but isn’t worth it. He's a wonderfully athletic player, but he has no sense. If he did, he would learn he just shouldn’t shoot when he’s more than three feet away from the basket, ever.

    The Pistons want to spend a bunch of money, but no one wants to go there.

    Let’s just follow the process of elimination. The Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks will be chasing Dwight Howard. Chris Paul isn’t leaving Los Angeles, and if he did, it sure wouldn’t be for Detroit. Most of the rest of the second-tier stars are power forwards, centers or shooting guards. The Pistons are going with youth to fill those positions.

    That leaves Andre Iguodala and Smith. Cleveland gets the former. That leaves the latter for Detroit.

    And thus, we find a somewhat reluctant partnership. Smith will probably get paid too much to not quite know who he is as a player. And therein lies the problem with Smith and why he’s not worth the money he’s going to get paid but thinks he is worth. He’s too poor of a shooter to be a legit small forward. He’s not quite strong enough to really be a true power forward.

    Still, a frontcourt of Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe should make the already physical Central Division even more physical. 

3. Andre Iguodala to Sign with Cleveland Cavaliers

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    The Cleveland Cavaliers have three big needs: a starting small forward, veteran leadership and perimeter defense. Enter Andre Iguodala.

    Andre Iguodala is the kind of wing player who can impact an entire defense, and let’s not kid ourselves, the Cleveland Cavaliers really need defensive help. They were 27th in the league in defensive rating last season.

    In the draft they added Anthony Benett and Sergey Karasev. That should bring more scoring but not more defense.

    Defense is about mindset, and that mindset largely comes with maturity. Most offensive talents, a la Kyrie Irving, don’t come into the league playing great defense. Sure, you have young defensive specialists, but they are lopsided in the other direction. Iguodala can provide the mindset. He can be the starting small forward they need.

    And while he can do a lot of things to help the Cavs, they can do a lot for him too. Primarily, they offer him a team where he’s not the first scoring option. Through most of his career he’s been a second-tier scorer pushed into a primary scorer's role.

    Kyrie Irving is a nice complement to Iguodala. Iguodala is an underrated passer, and the two would have great fast-break potential.

    Plus, Cleveland is desperate to get any free agent to sign there. So they’ll offer Iguodala more than anyone else.

    Some suggest that Cleveland should hold out for 2014 and make a run for LeBron James. Have you ever heard the expression, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me?” They should have more long-term focus on retaining Kyrie Irving. 

2. Dwight Howard to Houston Rockets in Sign-and-Trade

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    Dwight Howard is going to the Houston Rockets. This just makes the most sense on the most levels.

    From Dwight Howard’s side, he has basically three choices.

    Behind Door No. 1, he can sign with a team, the Los Angeles Lakers, whose star, Kobe Bryant, is a 35-year-old shooting guard.

    Behind Door No. 2, he can sign with a team, the Dallas Mavericks, whose star, Dirk Nowitzki, is a 35-year-old power forward.

    Behind Door No. 3, he can sign with a team, the Houston Rockets, whose star, James Harden, is a 24-year-old shooting guard. Unlike Bryant and Nowitzki, he might not be one of the greatest players ever yet, but his best years are coming over the duration of Howard’s contract.

    Howard hasn’t exactly been notable for being sensible or consistent the past few years, but he will make the right choice on this one.

    As far as the mechanics of the deal, eventually the Lakers will stop groveling and putting up billboards and accept reality. Howard is going away, and they are either going to get something for him or nothing.

    Why not take back Omer Asik and Thomas Robinson?

    As for the Rockets, their incentive is they don’t have to spend $8 million a year on a backup center, and making the deal ensures they can outbid Dallas. 

1. Chris Paul to Stay with Los Angeles Clippers

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    It’s a bad time to be a Boston fan. They lost the Stanley Cup. They lost the chance to see Ray Allen lose in the NBA Finals. They lost Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce (though I think they won the trade.) And they lost their head coach. Cry me a Rivers. It’s about time Boston lost.

    One team’s loss is another team’s gain, and in this case, the Los Angeles Clippers didn’t just get Doc Rivers to coach their team, they also got to keep the cornerstone of the future of their franchise, Chris Paul, by landing a coach whom he respects. And if that seems like a knock on Vinny Del Negro, it’s only because it is.

    The Clippers are actually doing something right, and the Lakers and Celtics are in a downward spiral. Weird, isn’t it?