While folks are getting their Fourth of July cookout plans ready, at 12:01 ET on Monday morning, NBA general managers stepped out of the kitchen and started shopping for their championship ingredients. None of the max players in the 2013 free agent class are talented enough to individually cook up championships on their own. They’re more like Old Bay seasoning and condiments.
Chris Paul is the ketchup on the table and Dwight Howard is the mustard. The pair entertained the possibility of joining forces in either Atlanta or Houston, but realistically, those hopes ended when the Clippers hired Doc Rivers. Just so we’re clear, Josh Smith is the relish nobody’s paying much attention to.
The best franchises are prudent with their free-agent spending sprees; they eat to live instead of living to eat.
Dwight Howard (Unrestricted)
Every four years, Dwight Howard is reminiscent of one of those swing voters who remain undecided until a week before the election. Nobody knows what Howard is after. It’s impossible to tell if Howard is more concerned with vying for a championship or being “the man” in a major market. If it’s the latter, Dallas is his spot, but Houston is actually the best fit for Howard.
L.A. can offer him $30 million more than any other franchise because they retain his Bird Rights; however, that figure is a misnomer. If you go by annual salary, Howard will make roughly $22 million over four years in Houston compared to $23.6 per over five years in Los Angeles. Because Texas has no state income tax, Howard would also save $3.75 million per year during the 49 games a year he plays in states without one.
Hopefully, this is the last time we have to deal with the vacillating giant.
Josh Smith (Unrestricted)
The Hawks 27-year-old forward is arguably the most overrated player in the field. Smith is reminiscent of a young Shawn Marion. Not only do they share the same skillset, but their mindsets are similar. Marion overestimated his value and came to believe he was an MVP-caliber player in Mike D’Antoni’s Seven Seconds Or Less Offense.
Smith has a 40-inch vertical, but he lives with his head in the clouds. He was an integral part of an ensemble cast in Atlanta that peaked as a 53-win team three years ago, and one day he may be the third-best player on a championship team. Most likely he’ll have to settle on being the second-best player in Dallas or latch onto a lottery-bound Detroit squad before crashing down to Earth.
David West (Unrestricted)
In a league that’s gone vegetarian, the Pacers were on an all-meat diet, and West was their traditional A1 sauce at the 4. There’s no way Indiana allows their pick-and-popping, steak-devouring bruiser to walk in the offseason. However, economics may require the small-market Pacers to make some difficult decisions. Paul George and Lance Stephenson will be restricted free agents in 2014, while the 33-year-old West is looking for what is likely his last big payday.
Al Jefferson (Unrestricted)
While everybody was watching the Lakers down the regular season stretch, Jefferson quietly averaged 21 points and 10 boards, and nearly snuck Utah into the postseason. His offensive skillset is more complete than Howard’s, but playing in the shadows has been the tale of his entire career. Jefferson’s currently part of the Rockets backup plan if Howard signs elsewhere, but apparently Jordan’s Bobcats are throwing their weight behind courting Jefferson and linking him with Cody Zeller.
Andrew Bynum (Unrestricted)
Bynum was empty calories for the Sixers last season. Despite all the pre-season hoopla and marketing, Bynum’s knees kept him off the court, bloated the Sixers salary cap and doomed their season. The only thing Philly is going to miss about Andrew Bynum is his ridiculous hair. He’s the wild card of this whole free agency fiesta. He’s the only player in the top 15 free agents with a ring, but he’s also the only one to miss all of last season.
Andre Iguodala (Unrestricted)
Iguodala followed his clean break from the Sixers by escaping the Nuggets sinking ship. The Jazz, Mavericks, Cavaliers and Houston could use his versatility and defensive toughness, but San Antonio would benefit the most from Iguodala at shooting guard. He’s the perfect player to implement into Pop’s up-tempo system. Unfortunately, the Spurs won’t provide Iguodala with a contract that matches the $16 million salary he was set to receive next season before opting out.
Tyreke Evans (Restricted)
Evans reached his peak too quickly. Like the life of a meteor, the swift decline of Evans from a historic Rookie of the Year campaign living on cloud nine, to obscure starting guard on an abominable team in just three years has been depressing to watch. Evans is just a restricted free agent, meaning the Kings can match any offer he receives, but the Kings’ pick of Ben McLemore doesn’t bode well for his future in Sac-Town.
Paul Millsap (Unrestricted)
Millsap likely won’t cause much of a ruckus when he’s signed, but word is that the Celtics and Jazz are the top two contenders negotiating for his signature. However, keep an eye on the Indiana Pacers if they decide to ditch West for a younger power forward.
OJ Mayo (Unrestricted)
The Mavericks guard was a one-year rental in Dallas, but now cole slaw with a side of Mayo is on the menu for several teams including the Jazz, Bucks, T-Wolves, Clippers, Trailblazers, Bobcats and Bulls.
Meanwhile, unrestricted free agents J.R. Smith, Nate Robinson, Monta Ellis and Jarrett Jack are 2013’s microwave players. You never know when they’ll be hot or cold. Smith’s frigid shooting in the playoff occurred at the worst possible moment, and as a result, his value was driven into the ground. On the other end of the thermometer is Robinson, who is garnering interest from the Wizards and Mavericks after his blazing run through the postseason.
Ellis is a shrimp that believes he’s a lobster. Last month, he opted out of his $12 million contract with Milwaukee; however, he probably won’t get a contract that matches those astronomical numbers.
Jack has a tendency to overload his plate, over-dribble and waste possessions, and is coming off a breakout season at the age of 29. However, contract years can be deceptive. Golden State should consider that re-signing Jack would help to maintain their backcourt depth but it’d remain too undersized to challenge for a title.
These are the cats wise general managers may want to treat like Paula Deen and keep them at arm’s length.
Last, are the lowest tier of free agents. The chips-and-dips situational players don’t play big minutes, but every great playoff team needs these players peppered around their rotations.
The Jeff Teague, Carl Landry, J.J Hickson, J.J. Reddick, Kevin Martin and (at this career stage) Manu Ginobili-types won’t be given the same priority, but keep your eyes peeled for their movements. Superstars win titles, but identifying those is the easy part. The reigning Western Conference champs have proven that having role players who play their parts is just as important. Time to start cooking.