This summer’s free-agent class certainly consisted of some names worth knowing. Deron Williams, Steve Nash and Ray Allen possess the type of talent and experience that can offer considerable help to your team.
But next summer, man. That’s when the available talent gets a lot bigger — both in height and reputation. And Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum and Chris Paul are just the beginning. Plenty of others fit the bill of borderline All-Star or starter-worthy role player.
Let’s take a look at some of the unrestricted types, free to sign anywhere after the season:
1. Dwight Howard, C, Lakers – After a year of on-again-off-again wrangling with Orlando, Howard finally ended up in a place that has a tendency to keep its brightest stars. Especially since Howard can get more money (and endorsements) with the Lakers than elsewhere.
But a lot will depend on how the season plays out, how Howard adjusts to being second fiddle to Kobe Bryant, how Howard’s surgically repaired back holds up. Mostly, a lot rides on how well Howard adapts to taking the game as seriously as the Lakers demand.
If everything comes together, and it should, Howard will re-sign and say something about being “a Laker for life.” No better way to restore your blemished image than that.
Bynum owns two championship rings and is now seeking something many pro athletes consider to be nearly as valuable — a chance to be considered the top option. He’s already hinting he’ll stay in Philly, but it’s much easier to say now than after spending a season under always challenging coach Doug Collins.
Like Howard, Bynum’s status can’t really be determined until he experiences the season. But unlike Howard, Bynum is practically guaranteed to get more shots, and therefore, more adoration from the media and public. Throw in more money, and it’ll be tough to leave.
Chris Paul, PG, Clippers
Gone are the days when players thought of the Clippers as L.A.’s junior varsity team and split the second their contracts expired. At least, we think.
Paul’s decision will go a long way in either proving or refuting that theory — although you have to figure that teaming with Blake Griffin long-term and forming a Stockton-and-Malone like duo has to be appealing.
Again, throw in the extra cash, the Clippers’ willingness to land several key offseason pieces, and the new collective-bargaining agreement taking full effect, and Paul is likely to re-up and spurn starting over with the fickle Knicks.
Josh Smith, PF, Hawks
Smith is the best of the bunch in a bevy of expiring contracts orchestrated by new Hawks GM Danny Ferry (with Devin Harris, Zaza Pachulia and Kyle Korver among the others). In other words, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Hawks barely pursue Smith, an explosive-if-inconsistent athlete who’s likely seeking a large payday.
That’s particularly the case with the Hawks expected to be worse than No. 4 or 5 playoff seed they’ve been for the past 217 years. With all that in mind, it seems more likely Smith will find a new home rather than return to Atlanta.
Al Jefferson, PF/C, Jazz
When you’re a focal point on offense for a franchise that values the idea of competing, rushing off to the second-highest bidder wouldn’t make much sense.
Still, Jefferson is likely to be heavily recruited, simply because of his overall level of skill, size, and consistency, as well as his pleasant demeanor and willingness to defer. On the bright side for Jazz fans, a sweet deal in a super-sized market has never appeared to be a priority for Jefferson.
David West, PF, Pacers
Remained healthy and lived up to expectations as a key piece to an up-and-coming team that gave the eventual champion Heat fits for part of the second round. The fact the Pacers were able to keep Roy Hibbbert by matching the Trail Blazers’ maximum offer bodes well.
That’s assuming, of course, the Pacers will now have enough money left to match offers for West. He’s not an All-Star, but he’s close. And the Pacers need him.
Best of the Rest
Paul Millsap, F, Jazz: Does enough of everything well to make an impact wherever he goes. And being the ultimate role player capable of big nights usually means getting even more money than you deserve. Read: Jazz better plan on spending big to keep him.
Devin Harris, PG, Hawks: Everything hinges on how well he blends in with Jeff Teague, the returning starter. Interestingly, Teague will be a restricted free agent at season’s end. Only one will be around in 2013-14.
Ray Allen, SG, Heat: Will he have anything left after this season? If the answer is yes, he has a player option to return to the Celtics. OK, anywhere but there.
Emeka Okafor, C/PF, Wizards: A season running the floor with John Wall could improve his status as something more than a cleanup man. But since he only owns an early-termination option, chances are he’ll just stay the course.
Kevin Martin, SG, Rockets: Fills it up with funky form, but offers little else. Rockets are likely leaning toward Jeremy Lamb at his position, meaning Martin is strong candidate to be shipped out before the trading deadline.
Daniel Gibson, G, Cavaliers: Once a dead-eye shooter, he’s now mostly known for his defense off bench. Another highly tradeable commodity.