In Part One of our countdown of the NBA’s top movers this summer, we reviewed the likely impacts of the arrivals of Carl Landry, Jose Calderon, JR Smith and others in their new (or old) destinations.
While each of those players brings an impactful signing to their new club, the men we have left on the list are all potential season-altering deals. Here are the top ten free agents most likely to shape the 2013-14 NBA season…
10. West re-signs with Pacers
It seems that every season, the Indiana Pacers have a near-franchise defining free agent who briefly flirts with free agency before opting to stick with the squad. Last year? Roy Hibbert. Next year? Paul George. This year was the turn of David West.
The smooth veteran forward actually aimed to sign with the Boston Celtics last time he was a free agent, but Indiana’s offer was better. That match didn’t figure to be long-term, but the Pacers are so incomparably better now than they were three years ago that sticking in Hoosier territory was the natural choice. The Pacers are on an upward trajectory. West’s return continues that pattern.
Why is he no higher? Apart from one obvious exception, West is the highest returning player on this list. Most of the other players on the list are also younger than the almost 33-year-old, who is probably entering his final big contract. But West still has plenty to offer.
9. Mayo heads north to Bucks
It’s tough to say outright that OJ Mayo had a brilliant year last year, but the fifth-year USC alum did arrest the career slide that saw him exit Memphis last summer. An ever-present in Dallas’ albeit disappointing campaign, Mayo returned his best scoring figures in three years, upped his free-throw percentage and posted a career-high in assists.
His reward, though, is a strange new challenge. Milwaukee is a team in transition, still unsure of their starting point guard for next season (Brandon Jennings remains a free agent at the time of writing) and reliant on the rapid development of two relatively inexperienced if undoubtedly talented young big men. Mayo’s three-year contract may have been a gamble.
Why is he no higher? Mayo figures to be at worst the second option in Milwaukee’s offense. Of course, if there’s no-one throwing you the ball, then being first, second and third option still doesn’t guarantee you shots.
8. Ellis joins Mavericks’ rebuilding programme
Monta Ellis found himself in a bizarre situation this summer. Along with former teammate Brandon Jennings, he hovered in uncertainty while the Bucks cast about to come up with backcourt alternatives. As the less convincing point guard, the writing was on the wall for Ellis when OJ Mayo signed with Milwaukee.
In return, Ellis gets an opportunity for another big payday with a big-market team rebuilding to get back to the playoffs, and to play with an All-Star teammate for the first time in Dirk Nowitzki.
Why is he no higher? Ellis’ arrival isn’t going to transform the Mavericks back into a contender, and Nowitzki, great as he remains, does not have much time left in the NBA. Soon, Dallas may be Monta’s team – is he ready for that this time?
7. Martin chooses to dance with Wolves
Here’s the track of Kevin Martin’s career so far: drafted as the revival of a still fairly good Sacramento squad, transitioning to the star player on a pretty awful Sacramento squad (see Carl Landry); lands in Houston just as the Yao-Tracy team is broken up, entering a rebuilding programme; as part of the James Harden trade, arrives in Oklahoma City with the impossible job of replacing Harden.
You can’t blame the 9-year veteran for wanting a slightly easier gig. Minnesota needed a shooter/scorer to compliment their strong inside presence and emerging, super-talented point guards. It seems an ideal fit.
Why is he no higher? Martin’s good, but he’s arriving as a third option behind Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love. That can’t be said for anyone the rest of the way up this list.
6. Iguodala joins budding Warriors
You can’t help but be excited by the Warriors’ prospects right now. Andre Iguodala’s arrival guarantees a genuine sixth man for Golden State (even if we’re not sure who that will be yet – Iggy, Harrison Barnes or Klay Thompson), who must now be fancying their chances as a legitimate title contender.
Pair Iguodala’s arrival with the Warriors’ other new faces – Toney Douglas, Marresse Speights, eventually Jermaine O’Neal – and you’ll see the ambition this team is displaying. The expensive contracts of Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson have been trimmed. Now the Warriors, all cap space working in their favour, are ready to roll.
Why is he no higher? Good question. I have a small, nagging concern that Golden State’s chemistry may be affected by the departure of key reserves Jarrett Jack, Brandon Rush and Carl Landry. I hope I’m wrong.
5. Millsap heads east, signs with Hawks
Paul Millsap has been living in the shadow of more experienced power forwards his entire career. After starting out as an understudy to Carlos Boozer, he was then joined in Utah by Al Jefferson, and while the pair managed to co-exist quite comfortably, the subsequent arrivals of Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter has left the Jazz with a somewhat congested frontcourt rotation.
At last, Millsap is on a squad where he can make the power forward position his own. In Atlanta, he’ll team with Al Horford, Jeff Teague and a Hawks squad in transition for what could be Millsap’s coming out season.
Why is he no higher? I don’t think the Hawks can get beyond the first round this year. Even so, Millsap finally has a chance to get the minutes required to post some All-Star numbers.
4. Smith aims to re-start Pistons
Millsap, of course, fills the void left by Josh Smith, who after perhaps briefly entertaining the idea of joining old friend Dwight Howard opted for the four-year, $56m option presented to him by Detroit.
The Pistons are a team determinedly rebuilding in the face of their city’s current dire financial situation. The four major league teams in Motor City – the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons – are probably going to have to compete more than ever for season ticket holders. That’s why the high-flying, explosive Smith is such a massive capture for this squad.
Why is he no higher? Even with the presence of Smith to compliment Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit will do well to sneak into the Playoffs. It’s more the off-court implications that have this move so high on the list.
3. Jefferson signs up Bobcats’ last hurrah
Al Jefferson will become, once the season starts, one of the two best players (with Gerald Wallace) ever to play for the Charlotte Bobcats, who next year will revert to the iconic Hornets moniker. But why is a 28-year-old with questionable defensive abilities joining a team who might just make the Playoffs this high on our list?
Simple – this is the first time in the club’s history that Charlotte have attracted a premier free agent to join them. Along with Charlotte’s budding young core of Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and now Cody Zeller, Jefferson’s arrival is a rare statement of intent by Bobcats management.
Why is he no higher? It’s the Bobcats – even I can’t be that biased.
2. Paul gets deal done early, stays with Clippers
Los Angeles has long been a city of one and a half teams; while the Lakers are one of the most storied franchises in NBA history, the Clippers have long been the afterthoughts, the also-rans, the laughing stock of the Western Conference.
Not any longer. Last year saw the Clippers post one of the league’s best records in the regular season before revealing a worrying lack of mental toughness in their first round exit to the Grizzlies. Without Paul, it was clear this team would never maintain the level it had reached. Well, now we get to see what they get to do building around arguably the league’s best point guard for another five years.
Why is he no higher? This was a vital re-signing for the Clips, but per my own rules about re-signings versus new arrivals, Paul gets bumped into second place by…
1. Dwight-mare mark two ends with a blast for Rockets
Of course Dwight Howard is top of the list. The 27-year-old failed to gel with teammates or coaches last season in Los Angeles, and burned the Lakers in the biggest way imaginable by backing out and splitting for Houston. Does anyone in their right mind believe that Los Angeles would have made the deal to get Dwight last summer if they didn’t think he would stay?
The consequences of Howard’s decision have already hit Houston, too, with a disgruntled Omer Asik quietly requesting a trade. For Daryl Morey and Kevin McHale, though, this arrival makes perfect sense. Houston has a proud tradition of dominant centers; Howard picks up where Yao Ming and Hakeem Olajuwon left off. And the move finally gives the Rockets an offensive piece in the post that the team can build around.
Howard’s presence immediately improves Jeremy Lin, James Harden and Chandler Parsons on the wings because defences can’t help but get dragged into his orbit once he gets the ball. He’s tough, too – Howard missed six games last season and just three in his first six seasons back in Orlando.
Rockets for the title? Maybe not this season, but after the best part of twenty years in the wilderness, they’re right back in the picture now.
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