Thirty names. The best 30 names. The dramatic summer of 2010 crafted the landscape of the NBA, when LeBron James and Chris Bosh landed in Miami, Amar’e Stoudemire joined up with the Knicks and fans everywhere started burning jerseys at an alarming rate. The following two summers lacked the same drama, and honestly, it would be foolish to expect another 2010 summer anytime soon. Those two-to-three months were game-changing.
But we can say this: 2013’s potential free agent class has some real gems. Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Andrew Bynum, Josh Smith and James Harden could all be on the market. I spent the past few weeks going back and forth on some of these rankings. With so many young players hitting restricted free agency, it’s hard to determine who will eventually hit free agency and who will be locked up to extensions. For this list, we stayed away from guys – like John Wall, Kyrie Irving, DeMarcus Cousins, Paul Pierce, etc. – who could conceivably become free agents, but are more likely to randomly pack it up and move to Australia than they are to sign with another team.
With that, here it is: the top 30 free agents to look forward to in the summer of 2013.
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30. LAMAR ODOM (unrestricted)
2012-13 salary: $8.2 million
Now that he’s back in L.A., and back on a beach, there’s just no way Odom repeats his disastrous year in Dallas. At worst, Khloe is happy which means LO should be content. I truly believe playing next to Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups will reinvigorate him, even if he is about to turn 33 and is coming off a single-digit PER season. That’s never a good sign, yet Odom is a special case.
It wasn’t too long ago the man won the Sixth Man of the Year. That was in 2011 as he averaged 14.4 points and 8.7 rebounds. I refuse to believe he simply gave up caring about basketball. Odom never reached his potential, but that had more to do with a desire to fit in than anything else. He gets the No. 30 spot strictly on potential, and if anyone can bring that back out of him, it’ll be Paul and Billups.
29. CHRIS KAMAN (unrestricted)
2012-13 salary: $8 million
Sometimes, it feels like Kaman doesn’t want to do anything other than diss Bill Simmons on Twitter and shoot off fireworks in his backyard. But now that he’s found a kindred spirit in Donnie Nelson, who says the 7-0 center is already hitting him up for hunting contacts, as well as a starting gig, I expect Kaman to have his best year since 2010.
Kaman’s long been a center who puts up solid numbers, but struggles in areas fans don’t always see â€“ shooting garbage numbers for a center, and constantly turning the ball over. But he’s also a big man in the “prime” of his career who’ll probably be looking for a team to make a three-year commitment to him. Kaman bounced from the Clippers to New Orleans to now Dallas during the past three years. It’ll be interesting to see which teams step up to the plate next summer.
28. GERALD HENDERSON (restricted)
2012-13 salary: $3.1 million
I wanted to throw Mo Williams on this list just because I think he’s taken that patented swing from overrated to underrated. In Utah, he’ll get every opportunity to shoot his arms off. But still, what would you rather have: a 6-1, shoot-first point guard who’s about to turn 30 and also has a penchant for shrinking in the playoffs? Or a 24-year-old swingman who can defend, is a super athlete and is coming off the best season of his career? This shouldn’t even be a question.
Henderson will never be great. His ceiling is limited to “solid role player who can defend the other team’s top scorer, and will finish inside.” He can’t really shoot. He can’t really create, and is actually a pretty bad rebounder for someone with his size (6-10-plus wingspan) and his hops (very explosive). Surely some will say he only put up 15.1 points a night because he’s playing on one of the most pathetic teams we’ve ever seen. That’s true. But it shouldn’t outweight everything else.
27. J.J. REDICK (unrestricted)
2012-13 salary: $6.2 million
Amazingly, through six seasons in the NBA, Redick found a way to increase his production every year without making the proverbial “Leap.” Of course, given his physical limitations, and his weak skill set, I’m not sure anyone expects him to be averaging 16-plus points anytime soon. But with his work ethic and the consistency he displayed when given a chance, Redick should command a decent salary once he hits free agency.
Without Dwight Howard in the middle this year, his near 42 percent three-point shooting will probably take a dip. But still, the former Dukie is a shooter and will always be a shooter. One season in Hell won’t stop hopeful contenders from going after him in 2013.
26. EMEKA OKAFOR (early termination option)
2012-13 salary: $13.5 million
Would it be crazy for Okafor to opt out of a deal that will pay him $14.5 million in 2013-14? It depends on how you look at it. By the summer of 2014, he’ll be closing in on his 32nd birthday and based off his current projection (Okafor’s numbers are dropping steadily from his near 15/11 season in 2007), it’s highly unlikely he’d get another substantial multi-year contract.
While I do like Washington’s upgrades in the frontcourt, it’ll be interesting to see how Nene and Okafor fit together. I’m not comfortable with either one of the playing the four full-time (ESPECIALLY Okafor). I wouldn’t be surprised to see the former UConn big man hit the market next summer; I wouldn’t be mad at him if he took the guaranteed money either.
25. TIAGO SPLITTER (restricted)
2012-13 salary: $3.9 million
Huh? Yeah, sometimes I say the same thing. It’s never pretty with Splitter, and he’s felt like more of a liability at times than as a potential top free agent. But the Spurs swear by him, and so do the numbers. His PER (20.51) was identical to Pau Gasol‘s last season, and it was better than players like Kevin Garnett, JaVale McGee, Roy Hibbert and David Lee. Of course, it’s easier to wring that up in only 20 minutes a night rather than keeping up the consistent play during longer stretches. But Splitter is still 6-11 and is just entering his “prime” (if you want to call it that). He’ll be one of this list’s more interesting cases over the next 12 months.
24. DARREN COLLISON (restricted)
2012-13 salary: $2.3 million
That’s twice now in his career that Collison was expected to make the leap and never did. First in New Orleans, he spent much of his rookie season filling in admirably for Chris Paul, and looked like a potential future All-Star. Then, after starting 79 games in 2011 for Indiana, he used 2012 as a way to bring the personal expectations crashing back down to earth. Eventually, he lost his starting job to George Hill and then lost his spot on the Pacers altogether. But things could’ve been worse than ending up in Dallas.
As a Maverick, he should fit in nicely with an older team desperate for some youth and speed. Collison must prove last season was a blip in the road, and gain back the confidence that seemed to abandon him during the Pacers’ second half stretch.
23. TONY ALLEN (unrestricted)
2012-13 salary: $3.3 million
For everyone’s sake, lets hope Trick or Treat Allen stays with the Grizzlies. It’s a perfect match, and with O.J. Mayo now in Dallas, he may have more opportunity than ever before to test his ability to miss layups. Okay, offensively the dude is pretty weak, and his left-to-right crossover is about the only thing saving him from being completely useless. But on the other side? You’ll have a hard time finding anyone who can match him.
Even at 30 â€“ and he’ll be turning 31 before he hits the market next summer â€“ Allen is still one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Outside of Chris Paul, who carved him up in the first round of the playoffs last year, we haven’t seen Allen get worked over yet in Memphis (and CP3 does that to everyone so we’re not sure if that really counts). His offensive limitations put a lid on the amount of money he’s going to make on his next deal. But someone is going to pay the man.
22. JEFF TEAGUE (restricted)
2012-13 salary: $2.4 million
Atlanta gave the keys to their offense to Teague when no one was sure what to make of him, and he responded with a consistently inconsistent season. While his numbers weren’t bad â€“ 12.6 points, 4.9 assists and 1.6 steals a night â€“ it was the way he got them that was worrisome. One night he’d look like a future top-12 point guard. The next, he’d float around the perimeter, wouldn’t attack anybody and then would end the night with four points in 20 minutes. Without Joe Johnson, his role will be bigger than ever this year.
Teague was No. 10 among point guards last year in his ability to get to the rim and finish, and also fancied himself as a deep threat, even if he only made 34 percent on the year. It was everywhere else he struggled, and with virtually no in-between game, Teague still has a lot to improve on. Hopefully the addition of Devin Harris will push him to do that.
21. DAVID WEST (unrestricted)
2012-13 salary: $10 million
After matching Portland’s attempt to steal Roy Hibbert away from them, the Pacers now have $125 million owed to three players over the next five years (Hibbert, George Hill and Danny Granger). That’s a lot of paper, especially for three small-market players who were never and probably won’t ever be perennial All-Stars. Paul George will want his future cheddar as well. Indiana did well in quietly stockpiling talent, but the hardest part is always keeping it.
West is 32 years old and he’s coming off his worst season since he became a regular starter in 2006 (12.8 points and 6.6 rebounds). Indiana needs his Charles Oakley-lite attitude, but it’s also likely he signs with someone else who has less pressing financial concerns.
20. O.J. MAYO (player option)
2012-13 salary: $4.0 million
Was Mayo one of the losers of this summer’s free agency? You could argue that. He overstated his value, held out like a high school kid banking on getting the hottest girl to come to the prom with him, and instead was rejected and left to fly solo. However, the new Maverick can’t be entirely unhappy. He ended up in Dallas with a two-year deal, which includes a player option to test free agency again next summer, otherwise known as “Pulling a Jamal Crawford.”
Crawford went through the same thing last year as an unrestricted free agent, and ended up signing in Portland with everyone knowing full well he was opting out after on season. It worked. This summer, he got the Clippers to give him $26 million over four years.
Mayo’s “Future All-Star Bandwagon” emptied out like a sinking ship over the last two years, but he’s still a very good player who can get you 18 points a night.
19. KEVIN MARTIN (unrestricted)
2012-13 salary: $12.4 million
Can you win with Martin scoring 20 points a night? Probably not. He’s not a very good defender. He also averaged a career-high in assists last year. Unfortunately, that was 2.8 a game.
Martin will be turning 30 in February, and has played in exactly six playoff games in his career, averaging just over 13 a night in an entertaining series with Sacramento back in 2006. We know what he does well â€“ gobble up free throw attempts and hit weird-looking runners â€“ and what he doesn’t. No one will give him a contract worth annually close to what he’ll make this year, but in the right situation, Martin could become a great secondary option.
18. DeMAR DEROZAN (restricted)
2012-13 salary: $3.3 million
DeRozan has as good a shot as anyone of getting overpaid next summer. He fits the bill perfectly â€“ a late-blooming 23-year-old swingman who has incredible length, unreal athletic ability and is overall, just a really nice kid. However, he’s played three years in Toronto, a team desperate for a leader and offensive firepower, and yet looks like he’s stalled as a 17/3/2 player. He fell off his expected learning curve last season because he went the Tyreke Evans route and desperately tried to prove he could fill it up from outside (he took seven shots a game from 16 feet and beyond).
DeRozan will get a big raise because many of his attributes scream future All-Star. And while I don’t think he ever soars that high, he’s still a pretty safe pick for the future.
17. NIKOLA PEKOVIC (restricted)
2012-13 salary: $4.8 million
Say hello to one of last season’s fantasy MVPs. Every year once spring hits, there are always four or five guys who get extra burn, extra opportunities, and end up making the difference in millions of fantasy basketball leagues. Pek was that guy last year, burning everyone for 16.2 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.3 staredowns a night over the season’s last three months. But in fact, contrary to most who find their way onto the Mardy Collins All-Star team (remember when he was throwing up near triple-double numbers at the end of 2007?), this didn’t feel like a fluke. Pekovic took over the starting gig from Darko, and then never looked back. The first few weeks were littered with references to Yorgi From XXX. A couple of weeks after that, everyone scrambled to pick him up off the fantasy wires. Finally, after about a month and half of destruction, we had to take Minnesota’s new center serious.
Twenty-six-year-old 6-11 bangers are hard to come by, which means one of two things: either Minnesota will be smart and lock up the man destined to watch Kevin Love‘s back for the next five years, or someone else is going to swoop in and steal the Wolves’ muscle overnight.
16. TAJ GIBSON (restricted)
2012-13 salary: $2.2 million
With the departure of Omer Asik, Gibson’s importance will never be greater in Chicago. They don’t have their star, they don’t have anyone to provide easy offense, and now because of Houston, they don’t have their best defensive big man. Gibson knows he must step it up, acknowledging as much recently to reporters. The question is, how much more can he do?
He averaged 7.7 points and 5.3 rebounds a game last year, as well as a 16.9 PER, and he did all of that in barely 20 minutes a night. His PT will skyrocket this year, and even if he fails to improve, as some expect, he’s going to get a nice raise next summer. The Bulls will do whatever they need to in order to keep him around, and I expect they’ll lock him in.
15. PAUL MILLSAP (unrestricted)
2012-13 salary: $8.6 million
For someone who’ll be coming off a salary of nearly $9 million and bound for a slight raise, it’s amazing that we still don’t really know who this 27-year-old is. Is he one of the most underrated big-moment players in the league? We think so. Is he a power forward you can build around for the playoffs? Um.. no one’s quite sure.
That’s what’ll make Millsap’s situation one of the most interesting of the entire summer. It’s impossible to say exactly how much is too much, and at the same time, whoever misses out on him will feel like someone just stole their Xbox. He’s a valued commodity: he doesn’t complain about minutes, he can start or come off the bench, he has a complete offensive game even if he does struggle at times against length, and the dude always played hard.
The Jazz offered him the maximum extension â€“ three years and $25 million â€“ and all signs point to Millsap declining it.
14. JRUE HOLIDAY (restricted)
2012-13 salary: $2.7 million
Last October, we ran a Who’s Better on DimeMag.com between Holiday and Brandon Jennings. The reader comments might’ve surprised a few people:
I’m not sure any player in the history of the NBA got so much rep and became so overrated on the basis of a single performance like Jennings did with that 55 point game. I’ll take Holiday.
I’d take Jrue Holiday because he seems to have more control and awareness to his game.
The Bucks get worse as Jennings plays more into his black hole. The 76ers? They’re on their way up the rankings.
Ouch. Holiday was solid last year â€“ 13.5 points, 4.5 assists a night â€“ yet still struggled trying to balance out a roster that featured what felt like 15 swingmen. Now with Andrew Bynum in Philly to finally anchor the Sixers’ lineup, this could be Holiday’s breakout season.
I don’t think he’ll ever reach All-Star status, but 22-year-old point guards who are big enough to guard multiple positions, and strong enough to score in the lane are hard to come by.
13. MANU GINOBILI (unrestricted)
2012-13 salary: $14.1 million
Honestly, putting the Batman on this list doesn’t feel right. Does anyone in the league expect him to even hit free agency, much less leave San Antonio? I can’t see it. I doubt any other GMs can either. Ginobili will be turning 36 years old during next summer, and while his numbers this past season don’t necessarily signal the beginning of the end, they do say one thing: his playing time will have to be managed.
Ginobili’s numbers across the board (less than 24 minutes, averages of 13/3/4) were some of his lowest since 2004. He’s not a Sixth Man of the Year candidate anymore, nor can he match the individual perimeter brilliance of some of the West’s best players. But for stretches he can â€“ as evidenced by his 24.18 PER and his nearly 67 percent true shooting percentage, third in the entire NBA â€“ and the Spurs will manage those stretches better than anyone.
The question comes down to this: do the Spurs try to speed up the rebuilding process, or will they ride out the Big Three until the very end?
12. AL JEFFERSON (unrestricted)
2012-13 salary: $15 million
Three or four years ago, Jefferson was considered one of the best pivots in the league, and a surefire bet to be in the top two or three offensive post threats for the next decade. He has his patented jump hook, which is more like a push shot than anything else, his drop step is McHale-esque, and his pump fake is probably the best out of any big man in the NBA. He can expect to get some big offers once he hits free agency this summer.
Jefferson will be 28 years old by then, and he’s leveled off as a 19/9 player. When your PER is consistently above 20, that’s pretty good. But despite averaging at least 16 points and over nine rebounds in every season as a starter, Big Al has never won a playoff series. That counts, especially when you’re talking about a long-term commitment to a big man who was never known for being much of a defensive stopper. At this point, it’s safe to assume Jefferson will never be a game-changer on that end. But if you have the right parts around him, forking over $50 million (or more) for his offensive services isn’t that bad.
11. TYREKE EVANS (restricted)
2012-13 salary: $5.3 million
Has anyone ever fallen off so fast without a freak injury, without changing teams and without any truly nasty incidents off the court (speeding doesn’t really count)? Somehow, Evans went from Sacramento’s love child to a forgotten man in the big picture. His awful jump shot went from “Oh, he’s young. It’ll improve with time” to “His jumper sucks. No one respects it. It hurts the team.” Last time we checked, Evans is still one of the best young guards in the league at a position that’s never been weaker.
He’s probably not a full-time point guard if you’re trying to win a championship, but who said Sacramento was? In the end, they’ll probably have to trade him or let him walk so Evans and DeMarcus Cousins don’t try to kill each other.
10. STEPHEN CURRY (restricted)
2012-13 salary: $4.0 million
If Curry’s ankles weren’t made from threads of yarn, then we’d be talking about a potential top-five player on this list. Despite his physical limitations â€“ weighing about a buck-eight five soaking wet and looking like a teenager on the way to his first prom â€“ he’s answered every critic so far throughout his career. Curry can shoot it at a high percentage, he’s shown the ability to create for others, and amazingly, he’s not a defensive liability. Plus, Golden State has every motivation to keep him in the fold. They traded Monta Ellis in part because they believed in Curry, even as his medical bills grew larger.
As long as Curry shows he can stay healthy for a time, the sharpshooter will be looking at a minimum of $9 million a year.
9. MONTA ELLIS (early termination option)
2012-13 salary: $11 million
The only thing Monta Ellis chases more than shots is new ink, and while he’s averaged at least 20 points a night four times in his career, it’ll be virtually impossible for him to do that with the Bucks. Too many mouths to feed.
We wish there was a way we could right a wrong, give Ellis a contract starting around the mid-level exception, and turn him into a sixth man on a playoff team. If you’re paying Ellis $11 million a year to hurt you defensively, launch pull-up jumpers with 20 seconds left on the shot clock and turn himself into a one-man wrecking ball on offense, then chances are you’re probably not in the playoffs. He’s not a bad player. But he’s a very good player who will ultimately be paid like a star.
Does he opt out and test free agency? We doubt it. He has $11 million reasons not to.
8. BRANDON JENNINGS (restricted)
2012-13 salary: $3.2 million
Between Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving, Brandon Jennings was lost in the shuffle, and you can look at that one of two ways for Milwaukee. First, his career averages (16.8 points, 5.5 dimes, 42 percent shooting) mean he hasn’t lived up to expectations and may end up submarine-ing your financial flexibility if given a mammoth deal. Or you can say this: though not necessarily the plan, his slow start and the fact that Milwaukee is about the furthest place from a major TV market possible is causing a lot of people to forget Jennings even exists.
Jennings feels the pressure, and does plan on making the playoffs this year. But when was the last time anything he planned on came true? The last prediction we heard from him, he said it was time to become an All-Star. That was in the summer of 2011. Now, it’s a year later and even at just 23, he still doesn’t look like a max salary player. The Bucks are hesitating on a contract extension, and if they allow their point guard to get to restricted free agency, who knows what’ll happen?
7. TY LAWSON (restricted)
2012-13 salary: $2.5 million
There’s no better place in the league for Lawson than in Denver, where the thin air takes him from one of the fastest players in the league to a damn cheetah. Hopefully, and this entails the Nuggets’ brass being smart, they lock him up before he can find his way into restricted free agency. Point guards are always worth a lot of money, especially in the modern game where having a spectacular lead general is like flopping a Royal Flush. But point guards who can score at a high efficiency (16.4 points a night on 49 percent shooting) while finishing with a 2.69 assist/turnover ratio are like hitting the jackpot.
The 24-year-old Lawson is coming off a playoff series against the Lakers where he averaged over 20 points a game on nearly 52 percent shooting. You don’t think the rest of the league noticed? Denver knows that, too.
6. ANDRE IGUODALA (early termination option)
2012-13 salary: $14.7 million
Philadelphia went out of their way to prove it’s not possible to win in the NBA when Andre Iguodala is your best player. They cemented the truth of that year after year â€“ for six years, Philly fans left the arena every night thinking, “God I wish I could love Iguodala’s game.” Okay, so Iguodala isn’t a great shooter. He’s been so average for so long it’s hard to put faith in his 39 percent three-point shooting last year. But did you watch the Olympics? Did you watch the NBA Playoffs? No one is better suited to play the ball-hawking, slashing, new age Scottie Pippen role than Iguodala.
In January, Iguodala is turning 29, so this’ll probably be his final opportunity at a big, long-term deal. If he rejects the $15.9 million he’s owed in the final year of his current deal, the NBA’s preeminent perimeter shutdown man can choose his own destiny. But George Karl is the perfect coach for him, and Denver seems like the perfect place. Hopefully it stays that way.
5. JOSH SMITH (unrestricted)
2012-13 salary: $13.2 million
How good is Josh Smith? Well, we really don’t know. He’s never played in a system that could best utilize his talents, and he’s never played with a point guard capable of throwing him three or four lobs a game. Instead, he’s been left to fend for his own numbers in Atlanta, and when that happens, you know what it means. Long jumpers. Overdribbling. A lot of bitter bloggers.
In the right situation, J-Smoove is one of the most unique players in the league, capable of getting 20 on one end without any plays called his way, and locking down the paint on the other. Someone is going to give him max money, but we’re not sure it’ll be Atlanta. New GM Danny Ferry made it clear with the Joe Johnson trade that he’s looking for more flexibility to improvise. In the short term, that probably means less wins. It could also mean Smith finds his way to another team through free agency or a trade.
4. JAMES HARDEN (restricted)
2012-13 salary: $5.8 million
After seeing Serge Ibaka sign a four-year, $48 million extension in OKC this summer, the writing may not be on the wall, but someone is reaching for the chalk. We’re not even sure Sam Presti can get creative enough to keep Harden around while navigating the ugly luxury tax line between “Robert Sarver” and “the Lakers.” A best case scenario would still see the Thunder paying upwards of $15 million in luxury tax. But Presti is no dummy. If he can’t keep Harden around, he’ll trade him for assets â€“ like he nearly did to get the No. 2 pick in this summer’s draft.
One way or another, the Beard will get his money. From there, things get tricky. If he goes somewhere like Phoenix – who is going after every hot young shooting guard in the league lately – he’ll be the featured player on a garbage team. He’ll be an All-Star. Every year. But if he stays with the Thunder, he’ll be the league’s best sixth man, possibly win titles and definitely get to play lots of video games.
3. ANDREW BYNUM (unrestricted)
2012-13 salary: $16.1 million
Bynum may be the most entertaining player in the league. He’s one of the few who clearly avoids being P.C. At the press conference introducing him as the newest 76er, Bynum basically said he can’t wait for the season this year. Why? Well now that he doesn’t have to share the ball with anyone, he’ll get more shots and everything will run through him. Okay then.
Bynum might be the most immature mature player in the league (he fixes cars and builds computers in his free time), and he’s easily the second-best center in the league (still only 24 years old). But he’s also missed at least 17 games in five of his first seven years in the NBA. For a 7-footer, that’s not good. But he’s the first franchise player Philly has had since Allen Iverson. He grew up an hour away. He will also get every opportunity to break both his arms from shooting so often. He’s not going anywhere.
2. CHRIS PAUL (unrestricted)
2012-13 salary: $17.8 million
The best point guard in the world is doing what any smart, cerebral man would do in his position: make the Clippers prove themselves. Remember, this is the same franchise who watched Bill Walton‘s body turn into Silly Putty the minute they acquired him, and had 22 games of No. 1 pick Danny Manning before he blew out his ACL. This is the same franchise who traded Moses Malone for virtually nothing. This is the same franchise who drafted Michael Olowakandi No. 1. Even Blake Griffin is not a lock to stay healthy. Paul will get max money wherever he goes â€“ Dallas has to be considered his top destination if he were to leave L.A. â€“ but we’re guessing he ultimately decides to stay with the Clippers.
1. DWIGHT HOWARD (unrestricted)
2012-13 salary: $29.5 million
Fresh of the Dwightmare saga where Howard attempted to do to his rep what an iceberg did to the Titanic, we can probably expect a career year from him in Los Angeles. Sure, his numbers may not be as high â€“ Kobe goes after shots like Charles Barkley goes after Krispy Kremes â€“ and he still isn’t fully recovered from his back surgery. But unless he’s a zombie, Dwight must know he needs to go deep in the playoffs.
The Lakers are banking on the extra money they can offer, the franchise’s center legacy, the beautiful women and the lure of Hollywood to keep Howard around. Their only competition to keep the best big man in the game might be Dallas, which still harbors dreams of bringing Howard and Chris Paul together in Texas.
Which players are most likely to leave their current teams?
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