NBA free agency began at midnight Monday. There are two obvious stars -- only one of which may be on the move -- a pretty intriguing restricted class, a number of "stars" who will pick up big contracts and a score of role players who can be difference-makers in the right situation. In addition, new salary cap rules are coming into effect that will make the whole shebang more complicated and, yes, money-driven.
Here's a ranking of the top 19 free agents of the class, followed by brief vignettes on another 71 rotation players. Enjoy!
THE SUPER DUO
Howard had a rough 2012-13 season. He was still a legit All-Star and All-NBA player. He earned it.
That's how valuable a player like Dwight has become: even in a disastrous season in which his coach can't properly use his talents, in which he seems to be at open war with his teammates, in which he's recovering from back surgery while dealing with a shoulder injury, he's still good enough for 17 points and a league-best 12.4 rebounds per game. In his worst season in years, he finished No. 6 in total rebound percentage, No. 10 in block rate and No. 5 in effective field goal percentage.
UPDATE: Howard has agreed to a maximum contract with the Rockets for 4-years and $88 million. Here's Mike Prada's analysis of how the Rockets remade their roster to lure Dwight to Houston.
2. Chris Paul
You almost got a cop-out with Dwight being deemed 1a and CP3 coming in at 1b. But Paul -- while an extraordinary player and someone who could definitely win an MVP award in the next few years depending on circumstances -- will fight chronic knee issues potentially for the rest of his career. In addition to that, Howard's position is tougher to fill with quality. There are plenty of really good centers these days, but they are all locked up for the foreseeable future. Excellent point guards seem to move around a bit more freely.
Enough about that: with CP3, you're getting the best point guard in the game, a deft shooter and incredible passer who knows how to manage a game, gets teammates involved and be a leader on defense. He's also a little (err, a lot) dirty, has a permanent scowl and isn't known as a coach-killer. There is no record of him not getting along with teammates. There is no record of him half-arsing it. He's a gem.
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THE BIG NAMES
3. Andrew Bynum
We know Philadelphia will have no problem with this high ranking, right?
Bynum has the distinction of being the only free agent other than Dwight to have recently been the best center in the NBA. He's also one of the few on this list to have missed all of last season. Questions remain about how much Bynum actually cares about the sport, about being great, about winning. But we've seen Bynum at the top of his game and we know how incredible he can be. The so-called intangibles matter, but so does the talent and the production. I'm more inclined to bet on the latter, though signing Bynum to any major contract is obviously a huge risk.
Ideally, Bynum would be getting a high-dollar one-year deal. That's not going to happen. His agent will be pushing for a multi-year guarantee, and some team will give it. Possibly a team that strikes out on Howard. Possibly the Sixers -- though this is remote after they dealt Jrue Holiday for Nerlens Noel. Either way, he'll have a huge impact -- positive or negative -- on whatever team does ink him.
Iguodala chose to become a free agent, as he's looking for a long-term deal. He should get one: he's one of the league's best defenders and most versatile offensive players. He was an especially nice fit for Denver in 2012-13, but it's unclear if the Nuggets will even keep that style given the dismissal of George Karl. (The presence of Ty Lawson, JaVale McGee and eventually Danilo Gallinari would suggest fast-paced remains the way to go, but we'll see.)
Iguodala isn't much of a featured scorer -- consider him a bigger, less likely to shoot, defensively superior Tyreke Evans.
5. Josh Smith
Smoove is quite possibly the second-best current NBA player without an All-Star appearance to his name. (Let's give the nod to Stephen Curry.) Only 12 players in NBA history have averaged four assists and two blocks per game in a season; Smith is one of them. He hasn't done that in a few years, however -- his block numbers have trailed off, and his career per-game averages are now 15 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
The versatility of his game has never been in question; the downside has always been scoring efficiency. He is both fond of taking long jumpers and poor at making long jumpers. That's a nasty combination. He's also an absurdly bad free throw shooter for a player who spends a good deal of time on the perimeter. In the right offense, he could be a great asset and he'll always have some spectacular individual defense mixed in with some, well, uneven team defense.
For Smith, perhaps more than for any other top-10 free agent, fit is the absolute key to setting his value.
UPDATE: Smith has agreed to a 4-year deal with the Pistons that's worth between $54 and 56 million. Here's Prada's analysis.
6. Tyreke Evans (restricted)
Hey, it's the smaller, more likely to shoot, defensively-inferior Andre Iguodala!
If you haven't checked in on Tyreke since his major fall from Rookie of the Year to small forward on an awful team, note that he's found his groove and is becoming a real solid NBA player. The 20-5-5 days may be gone (or not!), but his defense has improved mightily, he can actually shoot the ball now and he's still one of the better off-ball passers and two-guard rebounders in the game. He's also six years younger than Iguodala.
The Kings will likely match any reasonable offer sheet Evans signs, though, as he's quite possibly the team's best asset.
7. David West
West has somehow gotten better in his 30s. He was extraordinary for Indiana in 2012-13, helping lead that team to within a game of the NBA Finals. He is, however, nearly 33 and it's unlikely the Pacers will let him get too far away from Indianapolis before re-signing him to a respectable short-term deal. He provides stout defense, efficient shooting, few turnovers and superlative leadership. Indiana really cannot afford to lose him.
8. Nikola Pekovic (R)
The Monster of Montenegro hits the open market for the first time this summer at age 27. He's a restricted free agent, so in all likelihood Minnesota -- painfully thin up front -- will make every effort to match any offer sheet Pekovic signs. But the opportunity to steal Pek away has to intrigue any number of teams. Pekovic has a rare, vital combination for a center: he can score frequently (16 points per game last season) and efficiently (.572 True Shooting) and doesn't turn the ball over (10 percent turnover rate). He's also a nasty defender in the pivot, a brilliant offensive rebounder and quite possibly the scariest guy in the NBA. (In 2012, we ranked him behind only Jerry Stackhouse and Ivan Johnson for that title.)
Andrei is similar to what Iguodala brings, but in a bigger body with more shooting efficiency. The rub? Kirilenko is often injured, and, at 32, is three years older than Iguodala. A multi-year contract would be dangerous business, despite Kirilenko's obvious gifts and talents. Kirilenko opting out of his $10 million contract for 2013-14 isn't a good sign for him becoming a bargain this offseason, either.
10. Tiago Splitter
Splitter didn't have the best NBA Finals debut, but his improvement in 2012-13 was a big part of the Spurs getting there. Now 28, the Brazilian has put together two solid seasons for San Antonio. He won't be a featured scorer anywhere in all likelihood, but he can score more than his per-games indicate: he's at 15.5 points per 36 minutes for his career. His defensive rebounding numbers are strong, and he's not a turnover or foul machine at this point. And he's really efficient with a True Shooting percentage above .600. He's also the second-best big man defender among free agents (behind Howard -- West, who is much smaller, may beat him, too) and he's learned how to defend the San Antonio way, which is pretty much the best way.
11. Paul Millsap
Millsap is the power forward version of an elite bench scorer, only he's probably going to be paid like a starter. Just 28, he's good for 17+ points per 36 minutes on efficient shooting, plus solid rebounding, few turnovers and surprisingly decent passing. Consider him a more affordable David Lee, assuming he comes in affordable. (Remember that David Lee was an All-Star last season.)
12. Tony Allen
One of the very best perimeter defenders in the league. His offense is the problem -- he's a poor shooter and has a career assist-to-turnover deficit. But he's pretty effective cutting off of the ball, really athletic and ... did we mention the defense? He's a defensive nightmare for opponents. He haunts opposing wings. Haunts them.
13. Jeff Teague (R)
In a couple years' time, Teague may end up looking like a steal if he's paid like the No. 13 free agent from this class. His per-36 numbers are lovely: 16 points and eight assists on .496 effective field goal percentage. But he also turns the ball over quite a bit (17.6 percent turnover rate last season), isn't a great three-point shooter -- Evans, for example, was
better pretty close to even with him from beyond the arc last season -- and doesn't have a strong defensive reputation. That's what holds him back from the otherwise (fairly sensible) Mike Conley comparisons.
If Teague cleans up on defense and gets better on long jumpers, though, he could be a Conley-esque steal as a restricted free agent.
UPDATE: The Hawks matched the Bucks' four-year, $32 million offer sheet to Teague.
14. Brandon Jennings (R)
Because any number of people will consider this low for Jennings, I'll just present my rationale:
A. Four seasons in the NBA, three of them under 40 percent shooting from the floor. Basic field goal percentage is an inarticulate weapon, but that's just a plain, simple indication of how poor his shooting efficiency has been. His career-high True Shooting percentage is .514, which is well below league average.
B. His 6.5 assists per game look nice until you consider them holistically as he's a player who has the ball in his hands a lot. His assist rate is sub-30, which is firmly in combo guard territory. "Combo guard" isn't a bad word, but you need to be able to be at least a little efficient to pull it off without tanking your on-court value.
C. Scorers get paid more than non-scorers in the NBA. Jennings is a scorer. He's going to get paid more than he probably should given his value so he's an early favorite for Worst Contract Signed In The 2013 Offseason.
It's really too bad he's so inefficient; I really enjoy watching him play. He and his teammate Monta Ellis are really charter members of the I Wish I Never Met Advanced Metrics So I Could Enjoy These Guys All-Stars.
15. Al Jefferson
Scroll back up, read Paul Millsap's blurb, boost the scoring rate, slash the shooting efficiency, boost the rebounding and forget all that noise about decent passing ... and you have Al Jefferson. Maybe add a few million per year, too. The efficiency difference is what makes Millsap such a better play than Jefferson, in my opinion, but a team in desperate need of rebounding may swap them.
16. Kevin Martin
You get one thing with Kevin Martin: floor-spreading, highly efficient scoring. Well, you also get poor defense, but beggars can't be choosers. Martin's 30, but has never shot better than he did on weapon-filled Oklahoma City.
17. J.R. Smith
J.R. can be a much better defender and all-around player than Martin, but at a fraction of the efficiency. (Martin will score roughly 1.2 points per shooting possession. Smith will score about 1.00 to 1.04.) He's also a bit of a hot head and has no shooting conscience whatsoever. He can be valuable, but only to a point.
18. Manu Ginobili
There's little chance the Argentine leaves the comfort of San Antonio. There's an increasingly strong argument that the Spurs shouldn't pay much to keep him, though. While he's a far better playmaker than Smith or Martin, he's also much more turnover prone and in the middle of the pack in efficiency. The trend isn't pretty, though: he's been getting worse within the past two years and, at nearly 36 years old, there's not much left in the tank for him.
19. Monta Ellis
A great joy to watch ... as long as he's not playing for your team. Ultra aggressive with the ball, extremely inefficient, in his prime and ready for an eight-figure salary. What's not to love?
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(ALMOST) EVERYONE ELSE, IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
(R) denotes a restricted free agent.
Gerald Henderson (R): Most teams would rather have Henderson than a number of guys on the above list. He's a surprisingly decent scorer on a per-minute basis, but needs to get more efficient and defend well to make a dent in the league.
Ivan Johnson (R): Still terrifying.
Devin Harris: Devin Harris is 30 years old. Aaahh! He was also once an All-Star, which now seems shocking. (UPDATE: Harris agreed to a 3-year, $9 million contract with the Dallas Mavericks, but the deal was mutually scrapped because of a toe injury).
Zaza Pachulia: The Georgian is only 29. He offers rebounding, defense and awesome spirit. He can't score at all, though. (UPDATE: Pachulia is going to Milwaukee, agreeing to a 3-year, $15 million deal with the Bucks).
Andray Blatche: Blatche averaged almost 20 and 10 per 36 last season. He was legitimately one of the most effective bench players in the league. Alas, he is Andray Blatche, and numbers are not to be trusted. (UPDATE: Blatche has agreed to a two-year deal with the Nets that starts at $1.4 million. Here's Mike Prada's take)
C.J. Watson: Watson turned down a $1.1 million option to stay with the Nets. Now they may end up needing to re-sign him with Bird rights to have a decent backup for Deron Williams. (UPDATE: Watson will sign with the Pacers for the bi-annual exception)
Byron Mullens: Charlotte surprisingly withheld a qualifying offer from Mullens this week, making him an unrestricted free agent. That means the Bobcats might be trying something big, want to throw Cody Zeller into the fire or just don't like Mullens much. And when the Bobcats don't like you ...
Josh McRoberts: McBob was really good for Indiana two years ago. But as it remains his only decent season, it looks more and more like a fluke. (UPDATE: McRoberts has agreed to a 2-year, $5.5 million deal with the Bobcats.)
Reggie Williams: In 2010-11, Williams went 102-of-241 (.423) on threes. In the two years since, he's 55-of-179 (.307). He needs to prove he can shoot again, soon, or he's going to be stuck on minimum contracts. (UPDATE: Williams has agreed to a two-year, $5 million deal with the Rockets.)
Marco Belinelli: This guy doesn't produce enough to get 1,800 minutes a year. But hey, he's had three straight years with more than 1,800 minutes. He's doing something right. (UPDATE: Belinelli has agreed to a 2-year, $6 million deal with the Spurs. Here's Prada's analysis.)
Daequan Cook: He averages more than seven three-point attempts per 36 minutes. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to shoot them all that well anymore.
Nate Robinson: I would pay Nate Robinson before I'd pay J.R. Smith. In a heartbeat.
Daniel Gibson: A career 40 percent three-pointer shooter. He's useful!
Rodrigue Beaubois (R): It remains unclear whether Beaubois has or will get a qualifying offer. If not, someone will take a flyer on him based solely on the promise he showed in brief flashes early in his rookie deal.
Darren Collison (R): A solid backup point guard. Nothing more, nothing less. (UPDATE: Collison took less -- the remainder of the Clippers' mid-level exception after Matt Barnes' 3-year, $11 million deal, to be exact -- to be Chris Paul's backup)
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O.J. Mayo: If a team offers Mayo a fat contract, you can tell they don't pay attention to advanced stats. No advanced metrics like Mayo. At all. (UPDATE: Mayo has agreed to a 3-year, $24 million deal with the Bucks. Here's Prada's analysis.)
Brandan Wright: If a team offers Wright a solid contract, you can tell they do pay attention to advanced stats. Wright has quietly become quite a solid player, somewhat like a poor man's Millsap.
Corey Brewer: Now whether Denver retains Brewer, who finally became an NBA player under George Karl, will be interesting. A run-and-D type will only fit on certain teams. (UPDATE: Brewer has agreed to a three-year, $15 million deal with the Timberwolves.)
Jose Calderon: Calderon could start for select teams that desperately need passing. But he's nearly 32 and a famously poor defender, so it has to be the right situation. (UPDATE: Calderon has agreed to a 4-year $28 million deal with the Mavericks.)
Jason Maxiell: Not gonna lie: I have no idea if Maxiell can still defend at a high level. Other than dunk, then, he might not do much else.
Jarrett Jack: Jack will be a very popular free agent who really should not be more than a backup point guard. A very good backup point guard. The Rolls-Royce of backup point guards. But please, no one try to make him a starter, okay? (UPDATE: Jack has agreed to a 4-year, $25 million deal with the Cavaliers.)
Carl Landry: Landry's always been a solid, fairly efficient scorer best suited for a bench big man role. But in 2012-13 he became a solid rebounder and got really efficient, possibly because he had teammates to spread the floor. It'll be interesting to see whether teams put more stock in his last season or rather his career as a whole. (UPDATE: Landry has agreed to a 4-year, $27 million deal with the Kings.)
Francisco Garcia: El Flaco found a solid role with a playoff team after the Kings finally traded him at midseason. He's a good shooter, decent defender and impeccable teammate. Don't let all that losing in Sacramento sully his name. (UPDATE: Garcia has agreed to a 2-year, $2.6 million deal with the Rockets.)
Tyler Hansbrough (R): If the question is ever "Is ____ worth his qualifying offer?" the answer is not a good sign for that player's free agency, restricted or otherwise. (UPDATE: Hansbrough agreed to a two-year deal with the Raptors.)
D.J. Augustin: So that whole "take a one-year deal for a good team to prove my worth" gambit didn't really pay off. Augustin was bad in Indiana, but it turned out to be a poor fit. He'd probably need another one-year deal in a better location to set himself up for a future decent deal.
Ronny Turiaf: A Kendrick Perkins All-Star. (Also, Ronny Turiaf is now 30. Uggggggh.)
Devin Ebanks: The Lakers totally need to bring Ebanks back. Someone's gotta run their D-League team!
Andrew Goudelock: See above.
Darius Morris: See above. And note that the Lakers did not extend QOs to any of the three after reports had suggested Ebanks and Morris would get them.
Robert Sacre (R): Sacre got his QO, though! #StayBobSacre
Jodie Meeks: Meeks' shooting aptitude will keep him in play for good teams.
Austin Daye (R): A fella always right on the cusp of a breakout. He's still young enough that it could happen, but teams have to be growing weary waiting for it.
Chris Andersen: The Birdman can't leave Miami at this point, can he?
Samuel Dalembert: Is Dalembert at the point in his career where he's okay with taking a dirt cheap deal to win? If so, he can be a great value because he's still a superb rebounder and shot blocker.
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J.J. Redick: Redick should probably sue Dwight Howard for derailing his route to a strong third contract. Redick will still make some decent coin, but he could have been on a fat deal. Alas. (UPDATE: Redick was dealt to the Clippers in a three-team trade involving Eric Bledsoe and Jared Dudley. He will sign a four-year, $27 million contract. Here's Prada's take on the trade).
Chase Budinger (R): Budinger missed most of last season due to injury, but Rick Adelman loves him so it'll be interesting to see whether the Wolves pay much to keep him. Bud taking the QO might be the best result for everyone. (UPDATE: Budinger will sign a three-year, $16 million deal to stay with the Timberwolves. Here's Prada's analysis).
Al-Farouq Aminu: An unrestricted free agent because the Pelicans declined the final year of his rookie deal before last season. He's only 22, so someone will and should take a flyer on him with development on the table. (UPDATE: Aminu agreed a 1-year, $3.7 million deal to stay with New Orleans).
Jason Smith: Jason Smith is a poor man's Carl Landry. That's not a bad thing.
Chris Copeland (R): Ah, Cope. He's either going to be really popular or will really quietly return to New York on a small, fair deal. We're talking about the Knicks, so I'm guessing this will be loud and messy. (UPDATE: Copeland has agreed to a 2-year, $6.1 million deal with the Pacers. Here's Prada's analysis.)
Kenyon Martin: Has he re-re-retired yet?
Ronnie Brewer: Slowly slipping into fringe NBA player territory, which is shocking. He started 34 games last season, but other than some solid defense, he offers little.
Dorell Wright: A pretty solid small forward who gives you the same effort and numbers starting or coming off of the bench, including frequent and effective three-point shooting. (UPDATE: Wright has agreed to a 2-year, $6 million contract with the Trail Blazers.)
Jermaine O`Neal: Hey, a useful big man! Who cares that he's 74 years old?
Eric Maynor: The Blazers surprisingly declined to offer a QO to Maynor after picking him up midseason, but frankly his reputation is far greater than his production. He's firmly on the NBA fringe at this point. (UPDATE: The Wizards agreed to a two-year deal with Maynor for the bi-annual exception. Here's Prada's analysis).
Toney Douglas: You can do worse for a backup point guard. #FaintPraise
James Johnson: In the right role, as a defender and rebounder only with no opportunities to take bad shots or otherwise muss up the offense ... James Johnson would probably still find a way to take bad shots and muss up the offense.
Cole Aldrich: Rebounds and blocks are what you'll get.
Gary Neal (R): Mini-Manu finally hits free agency. Someone should make a choice offer just to derail the Spurs a little.
DeMarre Carroll: Carroll was pretty solid for Utah last season, but with only 1,100 minutes played it's tough to put a whole bunch of stock into it. He could be a nice bench option at the two forward spots, a poor man's Jeff Green. (UPDATE: Carroll has agreed to a 2-year, $5 million deal with the Hawks.)
Randy Foye: God bless the three-pointer, which has turned Foye from draft bust to solid pro. Foye hasn't shot 40 percent from the field since 2009-10, but more than half of his shots these days are three-pointers so his overall efficiency is much better than you'd think. Unfortunately, he's not much of a passer or defender these days. (UPDATE: Foye will play for the Nuggets on a three-year, $9 million deal).
Jamaal Tinsley: I'm not sure he has another season left in him. Sign accordingly.
Mo Williams: Williams has reportedly declared that he will not re-sign with Utah if they intend to bring him off of the bench behind Trey Burke. Utah has declared that the exits are on the south side of the building. Williams, now 30, is a decent scorer and good passer who can play both backcourt positions offensively and neither defensively. His shooting efficiency has really dropped off since he was ditched by LeBron.
Leandro Barbosa: The firebolt scorer is clearly losing his quickness advantage and should likely be a midseason signing as he recovers from injury. He's not likely to get more than the vet's minimum.
Martell Webster: A good shooter and defender who fits a role as a low-usage starter or bench option. Not worth much of a contract, but could be a nice pickup in the right situation -- including Washington. (UPDATE: Webster ended up getting a decent-sized deal, agreeing to a four-year, $22 million contract to stay in Washington. Here's Prada's analysis).