Best Fits for Top 10 NBA Free Agents

Daniel O'BrienFeatured ColumnistJuly 4, 2013

Best Fits for Top 10 NBA Free Agents

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    A slew of top-tier players in the 2013 NBA free-agent class are still on the market, so let's determine the best fits for each of them.

    For many of the major free agents, the ideal scenario involves the biggest possible paycheck and high basketball productivity. Others would rather be part of a playoff run than have an extra million dollars.

    Where are the best landing spots for each player, and which teams will make them successful and happy?

    Find out as we pick the best fits for the NBA's remaining free agents.

Big-Name Free Agents Already off the Market

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    First off, here are the marquee free agents who have already signed or committed to teams heading into Thursday, July 4:

Honorable (And Notable) Mention—Andrew Bynum: Atlanta Hawks

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    Vitals: Unrestricted free agent, 25, 2012 All-Star

     

    As a two-time world champion and former All-Star, Andrew Bynum will ask for a sizable chunk of cash even though his knee presents a colossal question mark.

    Naturally, front offices aren't going to be inclined to offer lucrative long-term deals, so Bynum might end up mulling over which short-term contract he likes best.

    That's where the Atlanta Hawks' financial flexibility comes in.

    They could offer him something ridiculous in the vicinity of more than $30 million for a two-year deal, which is more than just about any other team would be willing to give him.

    Bynum would earn a nice sum and get a chance to dominate the Eastern Conference to prove that his knee is worth another contract in 2015.

10. Monta Ellis: Chicago Bulls

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    Vitals: Unrestricted free agent, 27, 2007 NBA's Most Improved Player

     

    There aren't any teams ecstatic about the idea of adding Monta Ellis, but this is a match that could work from a basketball standpoint.

    The Chicago Bulls lack dynamic backcourt playmaking to support Derrick Rose, so Ellis' slashing-and-shooting style would be welcomed in the Windy City.

    Would it take a little time for him to adjust to Tom Thibodeau's approach on both ends of the court? Sure, but at this point in his career, Thibs is exactly who Ellis needs as a coach to push him to be a better leader and decision-maker.

    Money-wise, this signing isn't likely to happen unless the Bulls do some serious maneuvering. If it does happen, however, Ellis would find himself in a key scoring role on a competitive playoff team—a situation he hasn't encountered in years.

9. Brandon Jennings: Atlanta Hawks

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    Vitals: Restricted free agent, 23

     

    Before we dive into this one, let's remember that no realistic option is a "great" fit for a player like Brandon Jennings.

    If Jeff Teague departs from the Atlanta Hawks, Mike Budenholzer will need a playmaker to run the show while Dennis Schroeder is groomed to be a professional floor general. 

    Meanwhile, Jennings needs a team with a legitimate big man, solid shooters to pass to and, most importantly, a deep pocketbook.

    The Hawks feature Al Horford, a competent low-post weapon unlike anyone Jennings worked with during his days with the Bucks. They also have nearly two-thirds of their salary-cap space available, ensuring that Jennings would get at least $10-11 million per campaign.

    As inefficient as Jennings is from the field, he did register a career high in assists during 2012-13 and shoot a respectable 38 percent from distance. It makes you wonder what he could do with a star-caliber post player. Also, Lou Williams will be around to help the facilitating periodically.

    It's not a match made by the basketball gods, but it could boost the next phase of Jennings' career.

8. Jeff Teague: Milwaukee Bucks

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    Vitals: Restricted free agent, 25

     

    Hawks coach Larry Drew might have been tough on Jeff Teague last season, but he has surely recognized the point guard's improvement as a floor general over the past two seasons.

    A reunion in Milwaukee would fit nicely for the fifth-year guard, as he would earn $40-plus million and steer the Bucks offense back to a state of efficiency and consistency.

    Through the 2012-13 campaign, Teague's career trajectory was on an upward climb, as he improved his scoring average and assist numbers while maintaining solid shooting percentages from the field and beyond the arc.

    Why not see how much more he can improve by following his coach to Milwaukee?

7. Andrei Kirilenko: New Orleans Pelicans

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    Vitals: Unrestricted free agent, 32, 2004 All-Star

     

    Andrei Kirilenko's wallet and basketball acumen would enjoy the New Orleans Pelicans most out of all his suitors, maybe even more than the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are trying to retain him.

    If the Kings reel Tyreke Evans back to Sacramento, the Pelicans will have plenty of salary-cap room, enabling them to dole out a substantial sum for Kirilenko. That's great news for a 32-year-old hunting for his last contract.

    Basketball-wise, Kirilenko would fit in extremely well with head coach Monty Williams' personnel. He wouldn't be asked to do anything arduous on the offensive end other than letting the game come to him. He'll get touches within the system and enhance the fast break.

    Defensively, Kirilenko would excel as the leading stopper in an already solid unit, as New Orleans ranked in the top half of the league in points allowed in 2012-13.

6. Nikola Pekovic: Dallas Mavericks

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    Vitals: Restricted free agent, 27

     

    Depending on how the Dwight Howard dominoes fall, Nikola Pekovic could be a prized possession for a club like the Dallas Mavericks.

    Ideally for Pekovic, the Mavs would present an exceptionally high offer sheet, one that the Minnesota Timberwolves would be unwilling to match.

    Then Pekovic can earn a contract worth double-digit millions of dollars annually while spearheading the rebuilding process for a franchise bent on winning.

    Returning to the Timberwolves would be great if they would fork over the dough, but if they don't, he might be better off in Dallas' culture. For the next season or two, the Mavericks will feature a promising mix of veterans and youth.

    Shane Larkin is a masterly pick-and-roll player, and Pekovic loves running to the rim. It could be a fun few years.

5. Al Jefferson: Houston Rockets

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    UPDATE: By Ethan Norof, 2 p.m. ET

    Al Jefferson has agreed to sign with the Charlotte Bobcats, according to ESPN's Marc Stein.

    --End of update--

    Vitals: Unrestricted free agent, 28

     

    Like several other free agents on this list, prolific post man Al Jefferson would be an ideal fit with the Houston Rockets.

    This fit is largely conditional, depending on the almighty decision of Dwight Howard. If the Dwightmare takes up residence somewhere other than Toyota Center, Jefferson will immediately be in high demand at Houston's front office.

    The Rockets would show Jefferson their love for him in the form of big money and post-up touches. Houston lacked a true scorer in the paint during 2012-13. Someone as polished and productive as Jefferson would make the Rockets' outside shooting attack even more effective.

    The veteran center would be a highly valued part of a club that's trending upward. What kind of free agent doesn't want that combination of riches and hoops?

4. Paul Millsap: Utah Jazz

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    Vitals: Unrestricted free agent, 28

     

    Most squads are a decent fit for Paul Millsap because he possesses versatility and size, and you can plug him into a host of different lineups.

    The best spot for him, however, might be right where he is in Salt Lake City.

    The Utah Jazz have both the cap room to accommodate him and the building blocks for success around him. At least a couple of Utah's current rotational players (Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward) will be retained long-term, along with Gordon Hayward, Trey Burke and Rudy Gobert.

    Millsap had a down year in 2012-13, but that's partially because the frontcourt of the Jazz got a little too crowded, especially at the power forward spot.

    With a fair contract in hand and a reshaped lineup, Millsap and his familiar Utah jersey could be the one that fits best.

3. Andre Iguodala: Denver Nuggets

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    Vitals: Unrestricted free agent, 29, 2012 All-Star

     

    Even though he would be a tremendous addition for a club like the Detroit Pistons, the best fit for Andre Iguodala individually is the Denver Nuggets.

    Financially, it might be a tight squeeze, but if the two parties can make it happen, it will be well worth it.

    Let's not over-think this. The Denver Nuggets were the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs in his first season as their starting swingman. They would have likely enjoyed a deep playoff run if Danilo Gallinari had been active and Kenneth Faried was 100 percent.

    Throughout the regular season and especially in the playoffs (21.3 PPG, 8.0 APG), Ty Lawson proved he's star material. In the paint, Faried and JaVale McGee are exciting contributors. Meanwhile, new coach Brian Shaw has shown he can get the most out of his versatile small forwards, as evidenced by Paul George's rise to stardom in Indiana.

    Iguodala can hop back onto this squad, excel as a decision-maker and defender and enjoy the team's top-four finish in the West.

2. Josh Smith: Houston Rockets

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    Vitals: Unrestricted free agent, 27

     

    Even though clubs such as the Detroit Pistons and hometown Atlanta Hawks can offer more money, Josh Smith would fit best with the Houston Rockets.

    Regardless of whether the Rockets are able to put together a workable package for both Smith and Dwight Howard, Smith going to Houston is a good move.

    He would become a much more efficient player with the Rockets and more productive within his role. The Rockets don't need him to launch deep shots because they're set in that department. They would rather Smith attack the basket, crash the boards and rock the rim as much as his heart desires.

    Instead of Smith shooting 2.6 three-pointers per night at a 30 percent clip, as he did last year, he could focus on slashing and cleaning up plenty of shots in Kevin McHale's high-volume system.

1. Dwight Howard: Houston Rockets

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    Vitals: Unrestricted free agent, 27, seven-time All-Star

     

    We don't know what was said behind closed doors in the meetings with Dwight Howard's primary suitors, and we certainly don't know what's going on in his mind right now. But we do know what's best for him as a basketball player.

    Los Angeles is offering him $118 million, Hollywood status and the pedigree and winning tradition of the Lakers. The Dallas Mavericks are more intriguing than L.A., with plenty of cap space, a bunch of options for the future and a winning culture commandeered by Mark Cuban.

    However, the Houston Rockets are the best fit for the big man, even if it's only by a hair.

    Co-star James Harden is there, but Howard can still be his own man and no longer have to live in the shadows of a fellow superstar like Kobe Bryant. A plethora of capable shooters and role players surround him, and directing them is the ideal kind of coach in Kevin McHale.

    Howard only hoisted 10.7 shots per night with L.A. In Houston's uptempo style, he should see a minimum of a dozen shots, even with Harden and company taking their fair share.

    The Rockets are simply the best mix of opportunities, known quantities and basketball potential.

     

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