The summer of 2013 is going to be about the big men; the centers heading into free agency, with some of the league’s best entering the final year of their contracts. Along with them, with Dwight Howard being the obvious headline grabber, there’s Chris Paul to steal a bit of spotlight in the same city as the best players on the 2013 free agency.
Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks
Josh Smith isn’t the only player who’ll go out into the market when the season ends. Kyle Korver, Devin Harris, Anthony Morrow, Zaza Pachulia and Johan Petro are all entering the final year of their contract, which might mean a bit more in terms of starts from all of them, as players tend to do on contract years. Still, Smith, who averaged career highs in points (18.8) and rebounds (9.6) last season is one of the biggest names around the league to test the market next summer.
Dallas Mavericks – Half the Team
Seven guys have a chance to slip away next season on the Mavs – Elton Brand, picked up through amnesty; Dahntay Jones, who was traded to Dallas from Indiana; Chris Kaman, another one-year pickup for $8 million; Shawn Marion, with the team having an early termination option; O.J. Mayo who has a player option to leave; Delonte West and Brandan Knight.
It’s never about the future in Dallas, always about making a run and picking as many expensive pieces as possible along the way. They tried it last year with Odom and Vince Carter, but it didn’t work. This season, Elton Brand and Chris Kaman, alongside what might turn out to be a great pickup in O.J. Mayo, the Mavs will have plenty of option to mess around with, especially with their big men – going twin tower style, going German style or trying small ball in a way. But this is an old team, with plenty of guys entering a one-year stint.
It seems like an end of an era in Atlanta, if you can actually call it that, which was pretty much about not making it past the Eastern Conference semifinal three consecutive season on their five-straight playoff run. Smith is now the best player on this team without any shadow of a doubt, Joe Johnson gone to New Jersey.
While it’s not unreasonable to think the Hawks make the playoffs once again, and Smith probably playing his brains out on a contract year (20-10 season?), the rumors around trade requests last season might suggest he won’t be playing for the Hawks after this season or maybe even traded midway through it if things don’t click.
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
A make or break for the Clippers in their goal and attempt to become the team in Los Angeles, a serious team, maybe even a contender. The last time this franchise had two consecutive playoff seasons was in 1993, and last year was only their second conference semifinal appearance since moving to LA and becoming the city’s second, forgotten at times team.
And Paul, even more than Blake Griffin, signaled a change. Because Griffin was a draft pick, and the Clippers have had plenty of those promising young coming to the team and not mounting to much. Chris Paul got there via trade, and seemed happy to be there, becoming the immediate leader and star, averaging 19.8 points and 9.1 assists on his debut season for the team.
Now, the Clippers need to show Paul this is a place worth staying at. A good season, meaning another conference semifinal at least, might give them a shot at keeping Paul as a franchise player, alongside Griffin, for years to come. Problem is it’s mostly up to him and how far he can take this group.
Matt Barnes, Chauncey Billups and Lamar Odom also become free agents at the end of the season.
Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers
It’s still uncertain when Howard begins the season for the Lakers, but everything indicates early on that he’s here to stay for more than a season. The Lakers never had a problem convincing a player to stay with them, and Howard shouldn’t be any different. Some point out the huge salary cap the Lakers have, but when you make $250 million off the TV rights alone, that issue doesn’t seem as big if you have a GM who knows how to work around the limitations.
Andrew Bynum, Philadelphia 76ers
After the best season of his career, half of it coming just by staying healthy all year, Bynum got shipped away to Philly. Despite being the future of the Lakers, when there’s an option to sign Dwight Howard, that future doesn’t look as bright anymore and gets traded. He averaged career highs in point (18.7) and rebounds (11.8).
The Orlando Magic didn’t really interest him, and they feared him. Knee problems, maturity issues that keep coming up and him announcing that he won’t re-sign for them after the season. In Philly, Bynum might be a bit happier, but if he doesn’t solve his attitude and toughness issues, Philadelphia might only be another stop on the road.
Al Jefferson, Utah Jazz
Pretty much a similar conundrum to the Bynum one. Al Jefferson will post impressive offensive numbers – 19.2 points last season, adding 9.6 rebounds. The issue is his defense, and his mediocrity in protecting the rim make him worthy of being a max contract kind of player, which is the kind of money he and agent will obviously be expecting once the 2012-2013 season is over.