2013 NBA Free Agents Facing Career-Defining Offseason

Sean Hojnacki@@TheRealHojnackiFeatured ColumnistJune 22, 2013

2013 NBA Free Agents Facing Career-Defining Offseason

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    With an NBA champion crowned for 2013, everyone not elating in the Miami Heat's repeat can now turn their attention to the offseason. 

    There is a lot to offer in the free-agent market running the gamut from superstars to sixth men and from blossoming veterans to competing teammates.

    Those searching for somewhat of a bargain can find help in the backcourt (J.J. Redick, Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Nick Young, Tony Allen, et al.) or the frontcourt (J.J. Hickson, Al-Farouq Aminu, Earl Clark, Matt Barnes, Chris Kaman, Samuel Dalembert, et al.). 

    But what follows are the seven prominent unrestricted free agents, who will have the most valuable seasons of their careers monetized and gambled upon by the highest bidders.

    As this concerns only UFAs, players who exercise their early-termination option (such as Monta Ellis and Andre Iguodala) will not be included. 

    For each of these seven UFAs, ranked in order of significance, their teams allowed them to hit free agency instead of locking up their services in advance or trading for value at the deadline.

    So whether they stay with their current team, sign somewhere else or get swapped in a sign-and-trade (which won't be possible for teams over the cap apron), these players all face an offseason which will determine the close of their prime years.

7. Jarrett Jack, Age 29

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    Golden State Warriors sixth man Jarrett Jack is another player who saw his stock soar on the wings of a strong postseason. 

    Jack finished third in the Sixth Man of the Year voting behind J.R. Smith and Jamal Crawford, receiving 14 first-place votes (via NBA.com). He had proved to be a dangerous spark plug for the Dubs, evidenced by his 30 points and 10 dimes in a stirring victory over the San Antonio Spurs on February 22.

    But like West, Jack really made his mark in the playoffs.

    After David Lee went down with a hip flexor injury in Game 1 of Golden State's first-round series against the Denver Nuggets, second-year coach Mark Jackson elected to start Jarrett Jack instead of a frontcourt player like Draymond Green, Carl Landry or Festus Ezeli.

    Jack dropped 26 points to go with seven assists, as the Warriors took Game 2 and handed the Nuggets just their fourth home loss of the season. Jack played more than 40 minutes and scored 20 or more points in each of the next three games as well, helping Golden State power past the third-seeded Nuggets.

    This potent combo guard will fetch a tidy price this summer, but the sixth man stigma could ding his stock slightly. 

6. David West, Age 32

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    Indiana Pacers small forward David West is an exception on this list. At age 32, he's considerably older than the rest of the pack, but his stock rose sky-high after shining in the playoff spotlight. That will happen when you lock horns with LeBron James and hold your own.

    West spent eight seasons toiling anonymously in New Orleans, but he has made a name for himself with Indy.

    In moving to the Pacers, West saw his usage drop drastically from a height of 39 minutes and 21 points on 17 shots a game in 2008-09. After averaging less than 30 minutes and 11 shots per game in his first season with Indiana, he saw a sharp uptick this season in the absence of Danny Granger.

    West tallied nightly averages of 17.1 points and 7.7 boards, and he can play both in the midrange and around the rim. Though he's not a great defender, his toughness makes up for what he lacks. With his aggression and physicality, West can strike fear in opponents who would entertain thoughts of tangling with him. 

5. Al Jefferson, Age 28

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    Al Jefferson is the $15 million man for the Utah Jazz, and that could very well prove too rich for their blood this offseason. 

    Jefferson will be a coveted commodity in the offseason for his proficiency on the boards, copious double-doubles and fancy footwork on the block. He averaged 17.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 1.0 steals per game this season, even knocking down his foul shots at a 77 percent clip.

    But at 6'10", Jefferson plays a little small for a center, and he lacks the athleticism to defend opposing 4s. Also, his deficiencies on D have been well documented; when playing at power forward, opponents posted a player efficiency rating of 22.6 against him last season, which is equivalent to the league's second-best PER at the position (per 82games.com). 

    The Jazz also have a host of other players in their frontcourt, with fellow free agent Paul Millsap (also 28 years old, though with two less seasons of NBA play on his odometer) chief among them. Even though the team has just $18 million in guaranteed money on the books for next year, they will likely be wary about splashing out for Jefferson. 

    Millsap posted the sixth-best PER among power forwards last year, averaging 14.6 points and 7.1 boards per game and making $6.4 million less than Jefferson in the process.

    And even if the Jazz feel comfortable parting with both Jefferson and Millsap, they have Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors signed up and eager to take their places.

4. Josh Smith, Age 27

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    After the Atlanta Hawks jettisoned Joe Johnson's max contract, the spotlight fell on Josh Smith. He enjoyed a fine season beside a finally-healthy Al Horford, but the Hawks stumbled in the first round of the playoffs for the second consecutive year.

    Smith did a little bit of everything for Atlanta this season, averaging 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. His first All-Star appearance continues to elude him, but this offseason could represent a new beginning. 

    Smith offers the versatility to play the 3 or the 4, though he's merely an average perimeter shooter. He runs well in transition and possesses the athleticism to finish near the rim. Smith can also play very good defense when he puts his mind to it, but he can be mistake-prone when his concentration wavers.

    Smith also shot just 52 percent from the line despite owning a 65 percent average for his career, and committed his highest turnover total since 2007-08, though his agent will point to his pile of creditable stats instead.

    The Hawks already attempted to trade Smith to the Boston Celtics at the 2013 trade deadline, which would also have sent Paul Pierce to the Dallas Mavericks (per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports).

    Considering they have the cap room to do so, the Hawks would be wise to package Smith in a sign-and-trade so they get something for him instead of nothing. 

3. Andrew Bynum, Age 25

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    Andrew Bynum's most athletic move of the year occurred not on a basketball court, but in Madrid at a flamenco dancing session. Yes, those are the same surgically-repaired knees that prevented him from playing a single minute for the Philadelphia 76ers this season, but who can resist those vibrant Spanish rhythms?

    Bynum earned just under $17 million for his lost year in Philly, and his value on the free-agent market is far from certain.

    Going back to the 2011-12 campaign, Bynum posted the career-high averages in points (18.7) and rebounds (11.8). There's no denying that for the last season that Bynum played, he finished with a better player efficiency rating than any center not named Dwight Howard.

    Unfortunately, the Sixers gave up Andre Iguodala for Bynum, getting bupkis in return.  As Hall of Famer Julius Erving said of his former franchise, "what happened to us last year with getting damaged goods hopefully will only happen once. And that's the extent of that learning curve" (per Jason Wolf of USA TODAY). 

    After burning the Sixers, the market for Bynum seems likely to develop slowly, and he probably won't be pleased with his prospective payday.

2. Dwight Howard, Age 27

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    After nine seasons, Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard is still seeking a championship. He compiled what would be considered a stellar season by anyone else's standards, averaging 17.1 points on 57.8 percent shooting, 12.4 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 1.1 steals per game.

    But when you're known as "Superman," much more is expected of you.

    Howard shot just 49 percent from the free throw line and never really seemed to get into an offensive rhythm with Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. His player efficiency rating plummeted from 24.3 last season to 19.5 this season, his worst PER since 2005-06.

    Lingering concerns exist about his achy back and he played most of this season with a labrum injury. According to Bleacher Report columnist Kevin Ding, the injury won't require surgery in the offseason, but his recent history of impairments combined with his big price tag could leave some suitors walking sideways. 

    The Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers and Atlanta Hawks have all been named as teams likely to pursue Howard in the offseason (see B/R's tracker here), but the Lakers will be scrambling to figure out a plan until the ink dries on a contract. 

    Complicating matters somewhat are the $30 million owed to Kobe next season, nearly half of the $68 million in guaranteed money the team already owes (per HOOPSWORLD). Can you say repeater tax?

1. Chris Paul, Age 28

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    Chris Paul fits the mold of a "franchise player." The only question is which franchise he'll be playing for. 

    CP3 led the Los Angeles Clippers to a franchise-record 56 wins and their first Pacific Division title. But they fell flat on their faces in the first round of the playoffs, as the Memphis Grizzlies avenged their loss to the Clips in the 2012 postseason.

    Coach Vinny Del Negro got the ax and suddenly Lob City found themselves on the precipice. 

    Recently, trade talks have swirled about Kevin Garnett heading to the Clippers along with Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers. On June 21 however, after talks stalled again, Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that Rivers had lost interest in pursuing the job with the Clippers.

    That could be a problem for LAC since Paul wanted the deal to go through, as reported by Wojnarowski.

    Much like the sweepstakes for Dwight Howard, the major players for Paul aside from the Clippers are the Mavericks, Rockets and Hawks. Lots of cap room and front offices determined to be aggressive this offseason will keep the pressure on the Clippers to convince Paul he should stay.

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