Ranking the 2013 NBA Free Agents
A lot can change between now and next summer, but teams are already looking at next year’s free agent crop and some of them are even structuring this year’s contracts to be able to get in on the action. Free agents come in the preferred unrestricted (UFA) availability, restricted (RFA), and to be determined early termination option (ETO), player (PO) or team option (TO).
The full force of the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) comes into effect next summer and luxury tax teams will be facing the punishing costs of the new system and new restrictions in their attempts to acquire free agents, but like the surprising number of RFA acquired this year using back-loaded contracts, we will not know the full effect of these changes until owners and general managers show what they are willing to do.
One unexpected impact of the new CBA has been a reluctance of pending free agents to discuss extensions in order to keep the possibility of a maximum five-year contract available. It is even harder than usual to get a read on if players will re-sign with their current team.
There are a number of highly desirable players expected to be available in free agency, including:
1. Dwight Howard, UFA – 20.6 points, 14.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 2.1 blocks
One of the few players in the game that can take a weak team into the playoffs and turn a good team into a contender, Dwight Howard will be this year’s most sought after free agent. The only blemish on Howard’s prospects is last year’s season-ending back surgery, but that is supposed to be okay for next season.
2. Chris Paul, UFA – 19.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 9.1 assists, 2.5 steals
Another All-Star that is playing out his contract to test free agency or possibility to just get a maximum five-year deal, Chris Paul has been an impact player and a top-five point guard for nearly his entire NBA career. There are few teams where Paul wouldn’t be a huge upgrade at point guard.
3. Andrew Bynum, UFA – 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 1.9 blocks
At just 24-years-old, Bynum still has room to improve his already over-powering offensive game and overcome the immaturity label that is most likely the result of having abilities beyond his years. Bynum is one of the few true dominate game-changing centers in a game where the phrase dominate-center is not often used.
4. Josh Smith, UFA - 18.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 1.7 blocks
In many people’s minds, Josh Smith should already be a multiple-time All-Star. There are few players in the league with Smith’s size, athleticism and ability to impact the game at both ends of the court. At 26-years-old, Smith is just coming into the prime of his NBA career.
5. Serge Ibaka, RFA – 9.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 3.7 blocks
On a stacked Oklahoma City team, Serge Ibaka averaged just 27.2 minutes a game, but few players had a bigger impact at the defensive end of the floor. Add in a developing jump shot and Ibaka looks like a prime candidate for a huge poison-pill offer sheet next summer that could cost the Thunder more in future luxury tax than that team can afford.
6. James Harden, RFA – 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.0 steals
James Harden was a sixth man in Oklahoma City, but he would be a first or second option in the starting unit of many other teams. This young developing guard is another Thunder player that should be anticipating a big poison-pill offer sheet next summer.
7. Paul Millsap, UFA – 16.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 0.8 blocks
As a RFA, Paul Millsap received a lucrative offer sheet that the Jazz wisely decided to match and after proving he was worth every penny on that deal, Millsap heads into UFA as a proven impact player.
8. Taj Gibson, RFA – 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 0.4 steals, 1.3 blocks
Stuck behind the massive contract of Carlos Boozer on the Bulls, Taj Gibson came off the bench for 20 effective minutes a game last season and was often the better power forward in the game. The Bulls might be hoping the rest of the league hasn’t noticed Gibson’s performance, but that isn’t likely and this is another RFA who should receive the dreaded poison-pill offer that is designed to steal young talent off luxury tax challenged teams.
9. Tony Allen, UFA – 9.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 0.6 blocks
Tony Allen has been an important two-way player for the Grizzlies and if he can keep newcomer Jerryd Bayless from taking too many of the minutes that used to belong to O.J. Mayo, Allen is in for a big season. There are not a lot of guards that can impact the game defensively and Allen will be in demand next summer.
10. Al Jefferson, UFA – 19.2 points, 9.6 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 1.7 blocks
It seems Al Jefferson can never do enough to satisfy his critics, but there are few centers that can consistently put up the big numbers Jefferson does. Not a franchise player, but definitely an impact player, Jefferson is a very good consolation prize for those teams who miss out on Howard and Bynum.
These are not the only free agents expected to draw a lot of interested next summer. The list next year is long and enticing and offers many teams an opportunity to upgrade their talent if they can attract one of these free agents.
RFA: Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague, Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Nikola Pekovic, Tyler Hansbrough, Tiago Splitter
UFA: Manu Ginobili, David West, Kevin Martin, Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, Mo Williams, Jose Calderon, Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo (PO), J.J. Redick, Samuel Dalembert
There are a handful of players who would generate significant interest as free agents if they gave up the guaranteed money they have for next season and opt out of their current deals. With the uncertainty of the impact from the implementation of the new rules in the CBA next summer, giving up lucrative guaranteed money is probably a big mistake.
1. Andre Iguodala, ETO – $16.15 million in 2013
2. Monta Ellis, ETO – $11 million in 2013
3. Emeka Okafor, ETO – $14.5 million in 2013
4. Trevor Ariza, PO – $7.7 million in 2013
5. Marvin Williams, ETO – $7.5 million in 2013
It is a long time before next summer rolls around and these pending free agents have a lot of work to put in if they want to remain in demand. Individual performances, trades, injuries, team needs, future amnesty candidates and possibly mid-season drama could all potentially impact the perception of a free agent’s worth by the time teams can actually put together an offer. This moving target should keep the pending free agent market interesting right into next July.