NBA Free Agency 2013: 6 Transfer Predictions For Top Targets


The 2013 Draft class was comparatively weak. The free agent market, however, is a totally different story.

One of the densest seasons in recent NBA history is fittingly matched with a frenzied free agency period that's set to begin on July 10. While Dwight Howard will find a landing spot by that first day, just where the maligned center is headed is anyone's guess.

From D12 to Chris Paul and all the stars in between, let's take a preliminary crack at where the league's top available players will end up.

1. Josh Smith

Teams are allowed to contact free agents as soon as Monday, and you can bet that a solid handful will be reaching out to Smith, the athletic eighth-year forward that averaged almost 18 a night with Atlanta last year. Sources say that Smith has around five or six suitors, including the Detroit Pistons.

Smith seeks a max contract, but his value on the market is contingent on where Dwight Howard ends up. Teams likely won't inflate his stock too high until Howard settles first. Atlanta has Smith's Larry Bird rights, meaning they can offer him a five-year deal with a more enticing annual increase in salary, but it seems that the Hawks are largely disinterested in bringing him back.

Smith's habit of chucking up low-percentage jump shots is worrisome, but the athleticism and ability to get near the rim seem to make him a worthwhile investment at 27.

The Pistons have a promising young core of players and, if they amnesty Charlie Villanueva, around $30 million in salary cap room. But Joe Dumars doesn't look eager to spend much money this summer with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe expecting big deals next year.

The best bets right now figure to be the Utah Jazz or Boston Celtics. The Jazz will have about as much cap space as the Pistons, and with Paul Millsap perhaps on his way out, they'll need a new small forward. The Celts, meanwhile, dealt half their starting rotation Thursday and will have plenty of room for a big signing. They're not shying away either.

Prediction: Boston Celtics

2. Monta Ellis

The enigmatic point guard Brandon Jennings is a restricted free agent, and it's likely that he'll wait it out a year in Milwaukee before exploiting the market in 2014. The Bucks are interested in bringing him back.

That leaves Monta Ellis, the Bucks' unrestricted star guard, at a crossroads. After opting out of his contract earlier this month and previously rejecting an extension, it looks like Ellis will find a new home this summer.

The Bucks have expressed interest in J.R. Smith, perhaps an equally-inefficient replacement. Ellis makes sense in Dallas, where the Mavs have a world of cap room and a need for a second option to give Dirk Nowitzki one final run. The Kings have been linked to Ellis as well, but shooting guard Tyreke Evans is a restricted free agent who could clog Ellis' niche in Sacramento. Evans has received a qualifying offer.

Ellis will force up a lot of shots, and he'll need a team that lacks wings or a backcourt to take over. Dallas works in that regard.

Prediction: Dallas Mavericks

3. Andre Iguodala

Iguodala gave up a lot of money to hit the market. $16.2 million to be exact. The defensive-minded All-Star will be pursued by plenty of teams, but one fit stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Detroit was mentioned as being stingy this summer, unlikely to shell out much money with two big resignings coming next year. But it sounds like the Pistons would go all in on Iguodala, who would make the team legitimate contenders as early as this season. Though Iguodala's shooting paucity is bad for a top scoring option, he would have plenty of help with Drummond and Monroe down low and Brandon Knight at the point.

The New Orleans Pelicans could be an option, having just acquired Iguodala's former Sixer teammate Jrue Holiday. But the Pistons offer more than what the nascent Pelicans do, and this has the potential to be a perfect fit.

Prediction: Detroit Pistons

4. David West, Manu Ginobili and Chris Paul

An unusual grouping, but all three of these stars are staying with their respective teams. West is adamant about staying with the Pacers, where he averaged over 17 points and seven boards a game. With Danny Granger returning, Indiana could be one of the NBA's best next season.

Ginobili could retire, but it sounds like he still has some desire to play and repent for his disastrous Finals. The Spurs would all but likely cut a deal with him for cheap.

Then there's Paul, who's rumored to be joining another superstar in another city every summer. But CP3 has brushed off any possible suitors already: he's staying in Los Angeles. Paul will be coached by newly-acquired Doc Rivers.

5. Al Jefferson

Jefferson and Millsap will be linked to plenty of rumors as the Jazz sort out their financial priorities, but there's a good chance the budding center Jefferson gets a shot on the market. The Jazz will let him test free agency, and with so many revolving pieces, he may find another home.

The Hawks desperately need a man in the middle, and they'll have plenty of money to spend on one. Jefferson makes sense for Atlanta, who could anchor their refurbishing project this summer with a talented center. The Houston Rockets will need some help in the paint alongside Omer Asik, but Atlanta makes the most sense still.

Prediction: Atlanta Hawks

6. Dwight Howard

The big one. It's Dwightmare 2.0 this summer, and nobody knows where the talented but troublesome center will land. Five clear targets have emerged thus far in the incumbent Lakers, the Hawks, Rockets, Mavericks and Golden State Warriors.

It's hard to see Howard returning to the Lakers. Many analysts and executives around the league think Los Angeles would be better off without Howard, and Howard's playing style doesn't mesh well with head coach Mike D'Antoni. With Kobe Bryant still in lingo, this is a tricky situation. General manager Mitch Kupchak believes the Lakers will resign Howard.

Howard could start new at one of the four other destinations, and the deciding factor is which team gives him the best chance to win a championship in the immediate future. D12 will be wooed by Houston Sunday night before making visits throughout the week.

The billboards littering L.A. may encourage Howard to stay with the Lakers, but some say that James Harden and the Rockets are frontrunners because of their potential next season.

Staying in L.A. could net Howard more money because of Larry Bird rights, but at the end of the day, Howard's never really been happy anywhere throughout his wild career. He'll seek a new start with the Rockets.

Prediction: Houston Rockets