A Dark-Horse Destination for Each High Profile NBA Free Agent

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 3, 2013

A Dark-Horse Destination for Each High Profile NBA Free Agent

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    How do the Charlotte Bobcats, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers and other teams manage to work into the 2013 NBA free-agent conversation?

    They mostly fit in when we talk about dark-horse destinations for each of the high-profile guys on the open market. Here, we'll take a look at the 10 best players still available to the 30 teams making up the Association.

    Chris Paul and David West would be featured here, but not after verbally committing to the Los Angeles Clippers and Indiana Pacers, respectively. 

    The goal here isn't to predict where these standouts will end up—you can find that all over the place this time of year.  Instead, we're looking at the true long shots. They're fits that make sense, even if they don't have a high likelihood of coming to fruition. 

    But hey, you could count on unlikelier things happening

     

    Note: All contract information via Spotrac.com. 

Nikola Pekovic: Portland Trail Blazers

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    Team: Minnesota Timberwolves

    Age: 27

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.8 blocks, 0.7 steals, 20.26 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Restricted

     

    It seems likely that the Minnesota Timberwolves will be matching every single offer that goes Nikola Pekovic's way. Though the Portland Trail Blazers are limited in cap space, if they can somehow manage to push the number up above $13 million per year, Flip Saunders might have some pause about matching the offer. 

    Then again, it's Rip City. When do they ever manage to steal away restricted free agents? Portland added some nice depth during the draft by locking up C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe, but the Blazers are still relying far too heavily on Meyers Leonard at the 5.

    Grabbing Pek would certainly solve that problem, and then some. 

    The physical center is quickly developing into a two-way powerhouse, and Portland could desperately use some defensive help in the frontcourt.

    LaMarcus Aldridge has been shouldering way too much responsibility there, and it's led to declining play on offense and the threat of an eventual trade away from the team. 

Jeff Teague: Dallas Mavericks

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    Last Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Age: 25

    Position: PG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.5 steals, 16.82 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Restricted

     

    The Dallas Mavericks keep trying to land franchise point guards. They also keep failing. Last summer, Deron Williams was the primary target. But after Mark Cuban couldn't even show up to the meeting with him, D-Will spurned the Mavs and signed with the Brooklyn Nets.

    Chris Paul was supposed to be the goal this summer, but that's impossible now that he's agreed to re-up with the Los Angeles Clippers. Jeff Teague isn't on the same level as the two aforementioned floor generals, but he's certainly capable of running the point for a prolonged period.

    He developed into a great pick-and-roll ball-handler during his most recent season with the Atlanta Hawks, and he's now a restricted free agent. Atlanta has more financial flexibility than any team in the NBA, but Dallas won't be far behind if the Mavs fail to land Dwight Howard.

    That gives them the ability to extend the Wake Forest product an offer sheet general manager Danny Ferry won't even think about matching. 

Monta Ellis: Phoenix Suns

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    Last Team: Milwaukee Bucks

    Age: 27

    Position: SG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 19.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 0.4 blocks, 2.1 steals, 16.30 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    The Phoenix Suns already made one major splash in free agency, taking part in a three-team trade that sent Jared Dudley to the Los Angeles Clippers and brought back Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler. 

    That gives the desert-based organization another point guard of the future—one with more long-term upside than Goran Dragic—but it does nothing to address some of the team's main concerns.

    There isn't a go-to scorer—that's definitely not a role for Bledsoe—and the perimeter shooting is even worse after losing Dudley. Finding a shooting guard is more of a priority now, and Monta Ellis would be a natural fit.

    He could literally shoot the ball whenever he wanted on this squad, and no one would complain about the ill-advised three-point attempts. Each clang off the rim would bring the Suns one step closer to Andrew Wiggins. 

    Ellis could be happy getting to play the role of featured scorer, the Suns could employ a legitimate 2 guard, and Wiggins could be closer to Phoenix. 

    Sounds like a win-win-win, right?

Brandon Jennings: Utah Jazz

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    Last Team: Milwaukee Bucks

    Age: 23

    Position: PG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 0.1 blocks, 1.6 steals, 16.20 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Restricted

     

    With reports that O.J. Mayo might soon become a Milwaukee Buck, the franchise can't afford to bring back Brandon Jennings. Financially, they certainly can, but if the Bucks want some of their shots to come from anywhere other than the backcourt, they can't.

    Jennings and Mayo fit together like...peanut butter and mayo. It might work in some weird recipes/lineups, but it won't most of the time. Jennings needs to find a new home, and the Utah Jazz have plenty of money to offer. 

    Trey Burke was drafted to be the point guard of the future, but there's always the slightest of chances that the Utah front office could decide the former Michigan Wolverine isn't ready to hold down the fort in the starting lineup quite yet.

    The Jazz have a knack for drafting young players and then letting them develop on the bench.  The lefty point guard would actually be a fairly nice fit in Salt Lake City. The team needs a go-to scorer, and that's a role that Jennings thrives in. 

Paul Millsap: Detroit Pistons

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    Last Team: Utah Jazz

    Age: 28

    Position: PF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.0 blocks, 1.3 steals, 19.89 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    Can you imagine a Detroit Pistons lineup that featured Brandon Knight, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Paul Millsap, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond? 

    That smells a lot like a playoff-caliber starting five in the Eastern Conference. Assuming Drummond and Knight continue to improve and everyone stays healthy, of course. Millsap hasn't been rumored to Detroit yet, as it's assumed that he'll be staying with the Utah Jazz, but he would bring a nice infusion of energy and versatility to the lineup.

    Plus, they can afford to steal him away from Salt Lake City. The undersized big man, scarily enough, would be one of the better perimeter shooters on the roster, and that's something the team sorely needs.

    Detroit can't afford to rely on KCP as the primary source of points outside the paint during his rookie season. Defensively, Millsap would struggle at small forward, but he's been capable there offensively.

    According to 82games.com, he posted a 20.3 PER while playing the 3 during the 2012-13 season, and allowed opposing small forwards a 19.3 PER.

    Those are worse numbers than the respective 20.5 and 17.4 at power forward, but small-sample-size-warnings abound here. This experiment would be risky, but it could pay off in a big way if Millsap adapts. 

Andre Iguodala: Houston Rockets

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    Last Team: Denver Nuggets

    Age: 29

    Position: SG/SF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 0.7 blocks, 1.7 steals, 15.27 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    Let's say that the Houston Rockets strike out in their hunt for Dwight Howard. Now, imagine the Josh Smith pursuit doesn't go so well either. 

    General manager Daryl Morey has still cleared out some cap room by trading Thomas Robinson and waiving Aaron Brooks and Carlos Delfino, so there's money to spend. And Morey never rests when money can be spent on star players. 

    Andre Iguodala would be an absolutely fantastic fit in Houston, but only if the Rockets were content using a small-ball lineup most of the time.

    Chandler Parsons would need to slide over to the 4 so that Houston could run out Patrick Lin (the hybrid combination of Patrick Beverley and Jeremy Lin) alongside him, James Harden, Iggy and Omer Asik. 

    Iggy, as the new swingman, would bring a defensive presence to the Rockets perimeter, pairing up with Parsons and Asik to form a nice trio on the less glamorous end of the court.

    He'd also mesh nicely with the up-tempo system Houston runs, one that requires assaults on the rim and three-pointers galore. Houston was looking for one more piece, and Iguodala could certainly be the one to complete the puzzle. 

Josh Smith: Charlotte Bobcats

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    Last Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Age: 27

    Position: PF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.8 blocks, 1.2 steals, 17.82 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    Josh Smith moving to the Charlotte Bobcats would give him the ability to finally be the guy on a team, all while taking control of the offense. It would allow coaches to center everything around him.

    Plus he'd form one hell of a defensive trio alongside Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bismack Biyombo. Would Smoove stop taking too many perimeter jumpers in Charlotte?

    Nope, definitely not. But the ones he missed would no longer be impacting a playoff team, and he could listen to (basketball-related) advice from none other than Michael Jordan.

    Charlotte has the money and the hole at power forward necessary to make this a solid match, especially if the Bobcats brass think of Cody Zeller as more of a center than a forward. 

    The Bobcats could also offer Smith as much money as anyone else outside of Atlanta, so that could be alluring as well. He just has to place a low priority on actually winning games. 

Andrew Bynum: Orlando Magic

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    Last Team: Philadelphia 76ers?

    Age: 25

    Position: C

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.9 blocks, 0.5 steals, 23.00 PER (with Los Angeles Lakers)

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    Does anyone understand what's going to happen with Andrew Bynum? 

    He could get a max contract with a team looking to take a chance on a high-upside center, but he could just as easily scare too many teams off and be forced into a seven-figure deal for one season, forcing him to prove himself before earning a long-term deal.

    The options abound for Bynum. If the latter option starts to loom as a strong possibility, the Orlando Magic could pounce in an effort to stockpile assets once again.

    The Magic don't figure to compete for a playoff spot next season, and signing Bynum and gaining the inside track to extend him later on could be too much to pass up. 

    Even with Nikola Vucevic on the roster, general manager Rob Hennigan surely understands that it could be a risk worth taking, given that the former Laker is only a calendar year removed from asserting himself, albeit temporarily, as the second-best big man in the NBA. 

Dwight Howard: Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Last Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Age: 27

    Position: C

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 2.4 blocks, 1.1 steals, 19.48 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    The Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors are the only true contenders for Dwight Howard's services, but let's assume they're all out of the picture for the sake of finding a legitimate dark-horse destination.

    Could the true reason that the Cleveland Cavaliers passed on Alex Len and Nerlens Noel at No. 1 in the draft be that they have bigger plans and fish in mind?

    What if they suddenly jump into the D12 sweepstakes and convince the league's best center that he should come play alongside Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett? The Cavs have the money necessary to make it work. 

    Assuming Carrick Felix signs for the minimum rookie deal ($490,180) and both Anthony Bennett and Sergey Karasev receive their projected salaries of $5,324,280 and $1,467,840, respectively, that gives Cleveland 11 players on the books for around $38 million.

    There's room to give Dwight the $20 million he'll make with a max contract annually, and trading away Anderson Varejao could open up even more room to sign quality roster-fillers while staying below the luxury tax.

    I don't know about you, but I'd love to see a starting five of Irving, Waiters, Bennett, Tristan Thompson and D12.