Each summer’s NBA free agency crop is usually headlined by one or two marquee names. This year is no different. The NBA world will be waiting for the decisions of Dwight Howard, Chris Paul (reportedly will re-sign with the Clippers) and Andrew Bynum this summer. Typically the bigger dominos must fall first to set the market for the remaining players available.
Al Jefferson sits idly by as teams prepare their pitches for Howard and Bynum, yet Jefferson might be the most skilled big man available this summer. He was the fifth-highest rated center in efficiency last season at 21.3, just a shade below Howard’s 22.2. He and the Utah Jazz were unable to reach an agreement for an extension last season and while he could re-sign, most experts believe the Jazz are looking to give their young bigs the keys to the franchise. Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter could potentially send Jefferson packing to another franchise as largely a matter of economics for Utah.
So where can Jefferson take his 17.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.1 blocks next season? A few teams have the cap space and a need for the underrated center.
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This is a franchise that seems to get everything, wrong especially when it comes to the NBA Draft. Adding Jefferson could be the first smart thing they have done since trading Adam Morrison. The team is without a legitimate NBA-ready starting center and Jefferson could bring stability to the position and franchise. The Bobcats have a plethora of 6-10-and-above players ( Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood and Byron Mullens), but none have the skill-set that compares to Jefferson.
Charlotte has the financial flexibility to sign Jefferson outright and could offer him a pretty lucrative deal right below the max. However, there are a few problems. While there are reports the two sides have interest, Charlotte has been traditionally cheap in spending on free agents, and after drafting Cody Zeller, they may feel adding Jefferson would stunt his growth. Even with as good as Jefferson is statistically, he also lacks that special charisma that fills seats. From all accounts, Jefferson is a high-character guy but might not be exciting enough for a traditionally cheap team, like the Bobcats, to take a chance on.
After shocking most of the free world with their No. 1 selection of Anthony Bennett in the NBA Draft, the Cavs still have the ability to turn more heads this summer. Cleveland is well below the cap and could sign Jefferson without complications. More importantly, they could sign him and still have cap flexibility to sign another big name free agent from next year’s star laden crop of talent — LeBron James anyone?
Jefferson and Kyrie Irving could be a great one-two combination for years to come. Jefferson’s ability to play in the post and still step back to hit jumpers makes for a great complement to Irving’s style. Cleveland still has Anderson Varejao and could keep him as talented and expensive insurance to Jefferson, or they could continue to shop him. The Cavs could easily move Varejao for a draft pick, a small forward or bench depth in the backcourt (Kyrie still needs a backup).
One variable to consider is understanding what the Cavs want to do this season. Do they feel it’s time to take the leap and rejoin the playoffs next season and become more attractive to would-be free agents? Or do they want to enter the lottery one last time for a better spot in the loaded 2014 NBA Draft?
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
The Pelicans seem to be making a serious push towards respectability. A new name sparking a new philosophy? Perhaps. But whatever the reason for the new focus, the Pelicans could surely use the services of Jefferson. The Pelicans have some great young talent with the recently acquired Jrue Holiday, as well as Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis. Adding Jefferson, who is only 28 years-old, would give the team a skilled veteran that could help usher New Orleans back into the playoffs.
Once again, the Pelicans are a team with the cap space to sign Jefferson without paying exorbitant penalties via the luxury tax. With Robin Lopez as the incumbent starting center, Jefferson would provide a significant upgrade, pushing Lopez to a more suited backup role. New Orleans has nothing to lose by pursuing Jefferson in free agency. They have everything to gain.
One of the worst-kept secrets in the league is Houston’s interest in acquiring Howard. They were the first team to meet with Howard when free agency began and are a good fit for the All-Star center. However, if for some reason things don’t work out, Jefferson is an excellent plan B.
Houston doesn’t have a significant post-up threat to speak of and Jefferson could fix that pretty easily. According to Synergy Sports, Jefferson scores 45.7 percent of his points in the post. He would be a great complement as a second option behind James Harden and could carry the Houston offense when Harden needs to rest. Furthermore, if the Rockets signed Jefferson, they would be able to keep him on the floor during close games to actually make free throws, something their prime target this summer is ill-equipped to do.
Mark Cuban, the Mavs owner, is desperate to make another championship run while Dirk Nowitzki is still capable of shooting one-legged jumpers. They are also in the Howard sweepstakes and indicated that Bynum is also on their radar. But why not Jefferson?
The Mavericks would need more than Jefferson and Nowitzki to become contenders again, but it would be a step in the right direction. Dirk has never had the opportunity to play with a scoring center and he would probably welcome the help from someone like Jefferson. Dallas finished just 18th in points in the paint last season and will need to manufacture easier baskets going forward.
The main reason why teams are targeting Howard and Bynum over Jefferson is because of their potential impact defensively. While Jefferson doesn’t clog the lane and isn’t nearly as physically imposing as those two, he still does a nice job as a help defender and shotblocker.
Jefferson hasn’t made a mockery of the free agent process. He hasn’t changed his mind 1,000 different times, causing confusion for his organization. He hasn’t hurt himself bowling, missed the entire season with knee injuries only to be spotted dancing the Flamenco in Spain. No. Jefferson just comes to work night in and night out and patiently waits for someone to take notice.
Where will Jefferson play next year?
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