March 19, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Bobcats center Byron Mullens (22) controls the ball during the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Time Warner Cable Arena. The 76ers won 105-80. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-US PRESSWIRE
We begin our countdown of the top NBA free agents of 2013 with ... Byron Mullens.
The 2012 NBA free agency period was rather muted. Once Chris Paul and Dwight Howard pulled themselves out of contention, Deron Williams became the only true superstar available. He ended up staying with the Nets as they moved to Brooklyn; the best player who changed teams as a free agent was either Steve Nash or Ryan Anderson, and very few restricted free agents (outside of Anderson) ended up with a new club. The max contract winners were Williams, Roy Hibbert, Eric Gordon and (eventually) Brook Lopez. The only real stunners other than Nash (which was a stunner) were Jeremy Lin to the Rockets, Andrei Kirilenko to the Timberwolves and Jason Kidd to the Knicks.
Trades, however, provided the remainder of the drama. Dwight was finally dealt in a four-team blockbuster that also moved Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bynum. The Nets took on Joe Johnson, and Atlanta also moved Marvin Williams.
Will the 2013 free agency period get anyone excited? Well, it has the potential to ... if players cooperate and put themselves out on the market. This week in The Hook, we'll count down the top 50 prospective free agents in the class of 2013. Some of the players have early termination options or team options -- we've done our best to determine who has a decent possibility of being on the market. We also included restricted free agents, even though they play by a slightly different set of rules. Some of those players could reach extension agreements before Oct. 31, taking them out of the running. (See our breakdown of the most likely early extension signees.) We'll reboot this list once those decisions have been made.
On Monday, we'll present Nos. 41-50 on our 2013 free agent list. We'll arrive at our top 10 on Friday. It's only fitting that we begin with ...
50. BYRON NOT B.J. MULLENS
There was a spell last season during which Byron Mullens was actually ... good? Promising? It was something, even if we can't quite but our finger on it. In January, he started nine of 19 games for Charlotte, and averaged 11.5 and five rebounds in 24 minutes per game. But as this point, at age 22, he's a below-average scorer and a truly painful rebounder at a big man. His saving grace is youth and size: honestly, Spencer Hawes wasn't much better until one glorious stretch last season, and he signed a two-year, $13 million contract last season. Mullens is restricted, so a one-year deal in Mullens (maybe through the qualifying offer) could delay true free agency until Mullens can prove himself.
49. TIMOFEY MOZGOV
The Russian center started more than half of Denver's games last season, but played few minutes as George Karl had a quick hook and a structured, effective bench unit. He should play even fewer this season as the Nuggets committed heavily to JaVale McGee. Mozgov is a good rebounder and shotblocker, but invisible as a scorer and, because of his low usage, commits a disproportionate number of turnovers. At age 26, expecting much development is expecting too much, but rotation bigs who can start in a pinch are valuable in the NBA. Another multi-year contract once he hits free agency seems likely.
48. LAMAR ODOM
I'll be honest: there are a couple of players on this list who completely confound me. They could be out of the league by this November, or they could bound back into our consciousness. The Clippers traded for Odom on draft day and kept his contract on the books instead of waiving him, a minor shock after the dramatic season he had in Dallas. Let us not forget that just a year ago, Odom was the reigning Sixth Man of the Year. If he gets his head and heart straight -- a real question mark, given the family he's attached himself to -- he can be an incredible asset for Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the Clips. That'd make him valuable as a 33-year-old veteran entering 2013 free agency.
47. DAEQUAN COOK
The Thunder's designated shooter will wrap up his second contract in 2013, hitting free agency as James Harden and Eric Maynor do. Because of those two other names, expecting Cook to be a priority is dicey. But other teams see the value of a one-trick pony when that trick is shooting threes. However, Cook's just a career 36.5 percent shooter from deep; he was incredible in 2011-12 (42 percent) but reverted to mediocre at 34 percent last season. That's not Kyle Korver shooting. That's, like, Damon Jones shooting. He needs a bounceback season to earn another multi-year deal.
46. KYLE KORVER
Speak of the devil. Korver continues to do what he was born to do: shoot threes well. He's a total minus on defense (Cook has the advantage there) and does little but shoot and decoy on offense, but he shoots really, really well: 41 percent from deep on his career, and at this point well more than half of his attempts are three-pointers. The one thing that could hurt Korver in free agency is that there are more shooters hanging around the fringe of the league, which should drive down demand across the board. We'll discuss new Korver on Tuesday.
45. C.J. WATSON
Korver's old Chicago teammate Watson became an unlikely hero as Derrick Rose struggled with injury in 2011-12; he'll be vital again this season as Deron Williams' back-up in Brooklyn. As a starter during Rose's absences last season, Watson averaged 11.3 points and 4.6 assists in 29 minutes. More importantly, the Bulls won ... a lot. If he ends up performing that well in a bench role in Brooklyn, Watson will end up higher on this list. He's pretty proven now.
44. BENO UDRIH
I too am stunned Beno didn't decline his $7 million option for the 2012-13 season ... Udrih is in Milwaukee backing up Brandon Jennings; with the indestructible Monta Ellis at shooting guard, there's precious little time for Beno to do what he did best in Sacramento, which is play off a shoot-first point guard as a combo partner. Udrih's great in the pick-and-roll, which might work with Samuel Dalembert, a former teammate with the Kings. But he's a drain on defense and shot awfully last season.
43. JOSE CALDERON
Calderon's 17-year contract with the Toronto Raptors finally ends in 2013. It seems Calderon has been either an albatross or a trade chip since he defeated T.J. Ford and won the contract in 2008. The dollar amount should be smaller when Calderon hits the market in July, but the Spaniard will still get paid a good bit -- he's a credible starting point guard who can dish (8.8 assists per game last season) and shoot (career 38 percent from three). He's just an awful defender. Like Mike Bibby in Atlanta bad. That's a huge burden in today's NBA.
42. MIKE DUNLEAVY
Another Buck. Unlike Udrih, Dunleavy boosted his stock in 2011-12, serving as a supplemental scorer and one of the team's few reliable options off the bench. With a slightly larger profile and some luck, he could be a legit Sixth Man of the Year candidate in 2012-13, which would obviously boost his free agent profile (even though he'll turn 33 before opening night in 2013-14). Lil' Fun didn't revert to his peak Indiana performance last year, but showed shades of that level of really solid production. Let's see if he can do it again.
41. ZAZA PACHULIA
A mix of Al Horford's injury and Larry Drew's desire for a big lineup led to 44 starts for Zaza last season in Atlanta. The Georgian center is a good rebounder, and doesn't make a whole lot of mistakes on offense. He defends well and moves, and he refuses to be intimidated by better foes. (Ask Kevin Garnett.) Also, his name is Zaza. And he's incredibly stylish. And has one of the more hip restaurants in Buckhead. Who doesn't love Zaza?
We'll be back Tuesday with Nos. 31-40. SPOILER ALERT: Stephen Jackson is involved.
The Hook is a daily NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.