By Jonathan Hartzell, NBA.com
The 2013 free-agency period is nearly complete, which means we’re now less than a year away from 2014′s open market, and I guess that means it’s time to get excited. Pop the bubbly and get ready for a mid-summer free-agency ranking!
(Note No. 1: The following ranking does not include the five players (LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Amar’e Stoudemire) who have early termination options in their contracts. All of these players could become unrestricted free agents if they invoke the option before June 30th, 2014. None of these players have invoked the option yet, so to me they’re not upcoming free agents. Let’s move on.)
(Note No. 2: Teams with restricted free agents have until October 31 to agree to a contract extension. Many of the players on this list will be extended before the deadline and, thus, not free agents next summer. But none of these players has been extended yet, so to me they’re all still upcoming free agents. Let’s continue to move on.)
10. Andrew Bogut, Golden State Warriors
2012-13 Regular Season Stats: 5.8 PPG (.451 FG%), 7.7 RPG, 1.7 BPG
The former first overall pick is still battling back from a devastating arm injury suffered in 2010 and lingering ankle and back issues. But he seemed to hit his stride at points for the Warriors last season as his elite defensive play makes him a valuable commodity. He was arguably the second-best center in the league before his injury in 2010 and the former All-NBA third team selection should have plenty of suitors next summer if he stays healthy.
9. Luol Deng, Chicago Bulls
2012-13 Regular Season Stats: 13.8 PPG (.426 FG%), 6.3 RPG, 3.0 APG
This may be the last season in Chicago for the Bulls’ defensive stopper. Deng played major minutes last season (38.7 per game) but the emergence of Jimmy Butler may cause his role to be reduced. The former Duke Blue Devil has seen his shooting percentages dip over the last two seasons and those will need to improve if the 28-year-old hopes for lucrative offers next summer. But even if they don’t, he should receive significant interest for his defensive ability alone.
8. Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz (restricted)
2012-13 Regular Season Stats: 9.4 PPG (.482 FG%), 7.1 RPG, 1.7 BPG (in 23.2 minutes per game)
Favors spent his first 2 1/2 seasons in Utah stuck behind veteran big men Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. But this will no longer be a problem for Favors as both players left the Jazz during free agency. Increased playing time will benefit the third overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft as he has shown incredible skill during limited minutes. It seems likely the Jazz will do whatever it takes to retain their 22-year-old franchise building block.
7. Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers
2012-13 Regular Season Stats: 13.7 PPG (.466 FG%), 8.6 RPG, 4.1 APG
The four-time All-Star has been limited by injuries and a tumultuous situation in Los Angeles over the past two seasons. He has talent, and at only 32 years old, he could still play a significant role on a championship contender. His recent dip in production could be attributed to an adjusted role in the Lakers’ offense which has moved him away from areas he’s historically been successful. If these problems can be fixed by coach Mike D’Antoni, then Gasol should see increased value next summer.
6. Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons (restricted)
2012-13 Regular Season Stats: 16.0 PPG (.486 FG%), 9.6 RPG, 3.5 APG
The 23-year-old Pistons’ big man has shown a lot of promise on offense but his below-average defense stunts his contract potential. His value also may be negatively affected by his likely reduced shots next season due to the Pistons’ high-volume free-agent additions of Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith. But Monroe has clearly displayed immense potential during his first three seasons in Detroit and he will receive heavy interest during the 2014 free-agency period.
5. Larry Sanders, Milwaukee Bucks (restricted)
2012-13 Regular Season Stats: 9.8 PPG (.506 FG%), 9.5 RPG, 2.8 BPG (in 27.3 minutes per game)
The Bucks are reportedly close to a contract extension with Sanders, but if that deal somehow falls through then he would be one of the best free agents available. Last season was a breakout year for the 24-year-old center out of VCU and he showed elite defensive skills once he secured playing time. Sanders could become an All-Star in the next few seasons if he is able to control his fouls and temper.
4. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings (restricted)
2012-13 Regular Season Stats: 17.1 PPG (.465 FG%), 9.9 RPG, 2.7 APG
Most people want to believe in the potential of Cousins, but it’s hard when he expends such little effort on defense. New Kings coach Michael Malone believes he can reach the 22-year-old center. If he can, the Kings will have themselves an elite big man. The potential of Cousins makes it likely Sacramento will try to secure him with a new contract before free agency starts. However, the potential he never puts it together mentally may make it difficult for any team to offer him a max contract.
3. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
2012-13 Regular Season Stats: 17.3 PPG (.471 FG%), 6.8 RPG, 2.5 APG
The Mavericks’ roster moves over the past three seasons make it easy to forget that Dallas won the championship in 2011. The Mavericks struggled last season as Nowitzki battled early-season injuries and the lack of talent on their roster proved to be a problem. But Nowitzki’s desire for another championship remains high and he may seek a title shot elsewhere should the Mavericks struggle again. He’d find plenty of suitors, too, because which championship contender wouldn’t want to add one of the best scorers in league history?
2. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
2012-13 Regular Season Stats: 27.3 PPG (.463 FG%), 6.0 APG, 5.6 RPG
Take a moment to imagine Bryant in any other jersey than the Lakers. Any other team. Maybe the Bulls. Or Jazz. Or Bobcats. It looks weird no matter which team you choose and it seems likely he’ll never leave the purple and gold. But if he did leave he’d cause chaos in the basketball universe and force us all to reconsider what life really means. None of this will matter, though, if he is unable to return from the Achilles tendon injury he suffered late last season.
1. Paul George, Indiana Pacers (restricted)
2012-13 Regular Season Stats: 17.4 PPG (.419 FG%), 7.6 RPG, 4.1 APG
The 23-year-old George fully embraced his new role as the lead man in Indiana last season and soon he will be rewarded with a giant new contract. It’s hard to think of any reason the Pacers would let the future of their franchise leave and they’ll probably lock him up before the October 31 deadline. But if he hits the open market (like Bryant), then we may experience a summer crazier than the one we just finished.
Honorable Mentions: Paul Pierce, Brooklyn Nets; Marcin Gortat, Phoenix Suns; Greivis Vasquez, Sacramento Kings (restricted); Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers; Ed Davis, Memphis Grizzlies (restricted); Thabo Sefolosha, Oklahoma City Thunder; Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors; Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz (restricted); Ray Allen, Miami Heat; Vince Carter, Dallas Mavericks; Ben Gordon, Charlotte Bobcats; Kirk Hinrich, Chicago Bulls; Ramon Sessions, Charlotte Bobcats