NBA Free Agency Moves That Will Create Instant Contenders

Brendan BowersContributor IIJuly 1, 2013

NBA Free Agency Moves That Will Create Instant Contenders

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    There are NBA free agency moves available this summer that will create instant championship contenders around the league. 

    With Chris Paul likely off the market, set to re-sign with the Los Angeles Clippers, Dwight Howard remains as the premier prize of the 2013 class. 

    Besides Howard, though, there are also other moves that can be made to solidify a team's chances of competing for an NBA title instantly.

    These moves include acquiring one critical free agent capable of launching a team who finished outside of the playoffs in 2013 into the championship discussion moving forward. They also include dramatically improving playoff teams who struggled to advance, along with rejuvenating the efforts of contenders from a season ago.

    The moves that would create an instant contender are listed according to the chances each team would have of winning a championship by acquiring the free agent highlighted.

Dallas Mavericks: Signing Dwight Howard

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    According to ESPN's Chris Broussard, Chris Paul's representatives informed teams around the league on Sunday that he will be re-signing with the Los Angeles Clippers.

    But while Paul may have eliminated himself as one free-agent move to make the Dallas Mavericks an instant contender, there is one more option still on the market in Dwight Howard.

    As Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas detailed, the Mavericks currently have $17.8 million in cap space available. Assuming the salary cap is set at $58.5 million, they would need to dump approximately $3 million more in salary to offer Howard a max deal. 

    If the Mavs can first accomplish that much—most likely by finding a team willing to absorb the $9.3 million owed to Shawn Marion in 2013-14—they would be in a position to offer the max contract necessary to acquire Howard. 

    Though he struggled at times during his first season with the Los Angeles Lakers, Howard is still the most dominant interior force in the game at both ends of the floor when healthy. With Dirk Nowitzki pulling interior defenders outside of the paint alongside him, Howard would become even more dangerous around the rim.

    On the strength of Howard and Nowitzki up front, the Mavericks—who finished 10th in the Western Conference a year ago—would instantly compete for a championship.

Portland Trail Blazers: Signing Al Jefferson

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    By adding Al Jefferson alongside LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, the Portland Trail Blazers would become an instant championship contender. 

    Jefferson, the unrestricted free agent, averaged 17.8 points and 9.2 rebounds for the Utah Jazz in 2012-13. With Jefferson anchoring the center spot for Portland, Aldridge could continue to play the power forward position his game is best suited for. 

    The interior duo of Jefferson and Aldridge would also consistently take pressure off Lillard on the perimeter, along with creating scoring opportunities for Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and others. 

    According to Hoopsworld.com, the Trail Blazers currently have $44.6 million on the books for next season. This doesn't include the rookie contract of Thomas Robinson, however, who was reportedly traded to Portland on Sunday, according to Sam Amick of USA Today.

    Assuming the salary cap is set at $58.5 million, with the luxury tax threshold being somewhere around $70 million, the Trail Blazers would have an opportunity to make Jefferson a competitive offer.

    If he accepted that offer, Portland would be extremely difficult to beat.

Houston Rockets: Signing Dwight Howard

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    Led by All-Star James Harden, the Houston Rockets were an extremely entertaining team to watch in 2012-13.

    In the event they signed Dwight Howard, though, Houston would instantly transform from the team who finished as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference to an NBA power competing for a championship. 

    According to Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com, the Rockets plan to send a contingent that includes general manager Daryl Morey, coach Kevin McHale, owner Les Alexander, Chandler Parsons, Harden and Rockets' legend Hakeem Olajuwon to Los Angeles to recruit Howard.

    If successful, they would add an All-Star in Howard capable of dramatically improving a defense that ranked No. 28 in the league during the regular season by allowing 102.5 points per game.

    The Rockets would also create a dynamic offensive combination in Harden and Howard that would be nearly impossible to defend in pick-and-roll situations.

    Besides offering a better overall roster than the Dallas Mavericks, the Rockets have the cap space available to offer Howard a max deal, according to Sam Amick of USA Today, after trading Thomas Robinson to the Portland Trail Blazers. 

Indiana Pacers: Signing Brandon Jennings

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    The Indiana Pacers finished the 2012-13 campaign one game away from advancing to the NBA Finals.

    With the continued improvement of All-Star Paul George, it's safe to assume they will return as one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference again in 2013-14. 

    Where the Pacers are weakest, however—despite the regular-season production of 14.2 points and 4.7 assists from George Hill—is at the point guard position. While Hill would be among the best backup point guards in the NBA, he is in the lower third in terms of starters.

    Acquiring point guard Brandon Jennings, for approximately $10 million on an annual basis, would give the Pacers an infusion of offense they lacked last season. Averaging 94.7 points per game, Indiana ranked No. 23 in scoring.  

    Jennings, meanwhile, has averaged 17 points for his career and just dished out a career-high 6.5 assists. He has the ability to create scoring opportunities for himself and others, while also taking pressure off George on the perimeter. 

    To ultimately make Jennings' contract fit under luxury tax restraints, the Pacers may have to move Danny Granger and the $14 million he's owed next season. If Indiana can make it work financially, though, Jennings alongside Roy Hibbert and George would instantly secure the Pacers' position as title contenders for years to come. 

San Antonio Spurs: Signing Josh Smith

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    The San Antonio Spurs advanced to Game 7 the 2013 NBA Finals.

    Heading into 2013-14, however, Tony Parker will be 31 years old, Tim Duncan 37 and unrestricted free agent Manu Ginobili 36.

    Instead of being an aging championship team on the decline, adding Josh Smith would rejuvenate new life into the Spurs' effort to contend for a championship.

    As a member of the Spurs, under the direction of Gregg Popovich, expect Smith to be more focused than he's ever been in San Antonio. As a result, Smith would find himself in a position to maximize his unique abilities as a professional. 

    During his nine-year career with the Atlanta Hawks, Smith averaged 15.3 points and eight rebounds. This past season specifically he posted 17.5 and 8.4 while helping a team who traded perennial All-Star Joe Johnson to qualify for the postseason. 

    For the Spurs, Smith's arrival would move Duncan over to the center position full-time while bidding farewell to free agent Tiago Splitter. San Antonio would also add the athleticism and size required to once again compete with the Miami Heat for an NBA championship.