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ESPN Insider Top 30 Free Agents

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ESPN Insider Top 30 Free Agents

NBA Free-Agent Rankings 2.0
An updated rank of the 30 FAs in 2013 by average annual value
Updated: June 25, 2013, 4:01 PM ET
By Amin Elhassan | ESPN Insider

USA TODAY Sports
Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Josh Smith are the cream of the 2013 free-agent crop.
Back in April, I unveiled the first iteration of my free-agent big board. Now that the 2012-13 season is over and a champion has been crowned, our attention turns to the draft with free agency close behind. Teams are lining their ducks in a row, trying to project cap space while creating flexibility to put themselves in the best position to go "shopping" on July 1. They all have grocery lists: the top, realistically obtainable free agents on their big boards.

The following is my ranking of the top 30 free agents of 2013, sorted by the average annual value (AAV) of the new contracts I believe each player deserves under the rules of the CBA. To make my contract value estimates, I used many of the same factors that I used as a member of the Phoenix Suns' front office: age, injury history, value of recent comparable player contracts, irreplaceability of skill set, contribution to winning, history of production, fit with style and culture, marketability and current cap situation, among other things.

Please note that the 2013-14 AAVs listed below represent my estimation of the approximate value of each player, not a prediction of what the player will receive on the market this summer. (Values denoted in millions of dollars.)

UFA: Unrestricted free agent; RFA: Restricted free agent

1 Dwight Howard | C | UFA
2012-13 team: L.A. Lakers'12-13 AAV: $19.5'13-14 AAV: $23.6
AGE: 27PPG: 17.1RPG: 12.4BPG: 2.5

Nothing has changed with Howard's market value; he's still due to make the maximum allowable deal. But the definition of "maximum allowable" differs depending on where he wants to end up. There have been numerous media reports linking Howard to Houston, Atlanta and even across the Staples Center hallway to the Clippers. If Howard decides to sign with a team other than the Lakers, then his AAV drops to $21.85 million per year based on a four-year, $87.4 million deal.

PLAYER CARD

2 Chris Paul | PG | UFA
2012-13 team: L.A. Clippers'12-13 AAV: $17.8'13-14 AAV: $21.5
AGE: 27PPG: 16.9APG: 9.7RPG: 3.7

Similar to Howard, Paul's value remains constant, but the amount he's eligible to make varies based on where he ends up. Both Dallas and Atlanta have been mentioned as destinations, but it's hard to imagine Paul ending up anywhere with the institutional control he wields with the Clippers. If he does choose to give that up, it will cost him: His AAV drops to $19.95 million per year based on a four-year, $79.8 million deal.

PLAYER CARD

3 Josh Smith | SF/PF | UFA
2012-13 team: Atlanta Hawks'12-13 AAV: $13.2'13-14 AAV: $14.0
AGE: 27PPG: 17.5APG: 4.2RPG: 8.4

No movement for Smith, whose fate lies with the destinies of the two men listed above. If Atlanta decides to renounce Smith in order to clear his cap hold, it loses his Bird rights and he loses his right to 7.5 percent raises and a fifth year. I never thought he'd return to Atlanta, so his value remains constant at a four-year, $56 million deal with a player option on the fourth year.

PLAYER CARD

4 Andrew Bynum | C | UFA
2012-13 team: Philadelphia'12-13 AAV: $16.9'13-14 AAV: $13.3
AGE: 25PPG: DNPRPG: DNPBPG: DNP

The shakeup in the Sixers organization does not bode well for Bynum's chances of staying in Philly. The man who pushed for his acquisition, Doug Collins, is no longer the head coach, and new president of basketball operations Sam Hinkie has already come out and labeled the deal a disaster. However, the NBA is a copycat league, and the strong performances by traditional big men this postseason will create a market for Bynum, who (when healthy) is an elite center. I'm sticking to my original AAV of $13.3 million, based on a three-year, $40 million deal with language that basically allows the team to exit the contract with minimal exposure if the player experiences serious injury to contractually specified body parts (in this case, knees).

PLAYER CARD

5 Andre Iguodala | SF | UFA
2012-13 team: Denver'12-13 AAV: $15.0'13-14 AAV: $11.5
AGE: 29PPG: 13.0RPG: 5.3APG: 5.4

As I expected back in April, Iguodala exercised his early termination option and tore up the last year of his deal, which would have paid him $16.2 million. If you're wondering why he would turn down that much money, it's to strike while the iron is hot and secure another big payday of guaranteed dollars; even though his annual salary will drop, his total upcoming salary will increase. Unfortunately for him, the recent departures from Denver have left the franchise in a state of flux, with no guarantee that the present incarnation of the team will even have an opportunity to come back. Iguodala has a very particular skill set that benefits teams that have multiple scoring threats, which limits his free-agent options. This shrinking of alternatives results in a reduction in his AAV to $11.5 million, based on a four-year, $46 million deal.

PLAYER CARD

6 David West | PF | UFA
2012-13 team: Indiana '12-13 AAV: $10.0'13-14 AAV: $11.1
AGE: 32PPG: 17.1RPG: 7.7BPG: 1.0

The playoffs all but cemented the Pacers' future being built around Paul George and Roy Hibbert, and everyone else on the roster represents a complementary piece to those two cornerstones. However, some pieces are more "complementary" than others, particularly if they bring an irreplaceable element to the table. West fits that bill, as a guy whose game fits perfectly as the counterpoint to Hibbert's, and even more importantly, as the enforcer of the team's culture. Soon Hibbert will take that mantle as well, but until then, West's contributions on and off the court are still needed. As such, his AAV -- based on a three-year, $33.3 million deal with partial guarantees in Years 2 and 3 -- remains the same.

PLAYER CARD

7 Nikola Pekovic | C | RFA
2012-13 team: Minnesota'12-13 AAV: $4.8'13-14 AAV: $11.0
AGE: 27PPG: 16.3RPG: 8.8BPG: 0.8

Pekovic finished the season strong, solidifying his status as an excellent scorer on the interior and a force on the offensive glass. Some readers previously asked whether giving a five-year deal to Pekovic would cause Minnesota to use up its "designated player" assignment -- the provision that allows teams to offer only a five-year rookie extension to one player on the roster -- and the answer is that it wouldn't, as this represents an entirely new deal rather than an extension.

PLAYER CARD

8 Al Jefferson | C | UFA
2012-13 team: Utah Jazz'12-13 AAV: $15.0'13-14 AAV: $10.0
AGE: 28PPG: 17.8RPG: 9.2BPG: 1.1

Jefferson is another victim of the whims of greater free agents, as where he lands is predicated greatly by where Paul and Howard end up. In that sense, Jefferson might serve as a consolation prize of sorts: He's not a defensive presence, but he can provide low-post scoring and defensive rebounding. I previously wrote about how he'd be a good fit with a team like San Antonio as a "bridge to the future" playing alongside Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.

PLAYER CARD

9 Paul Millsap | PF | UFA
2012-13 team: Utah Jazz'12-13 AAV: $8.6'13-14 AAV: $8.0
AGE: 28PPG: 14.6RPG: 7.1BPG: 1.0

I think Millsap actually stands a better chance of being retained by Utah than Jefferson. For one, he's a lot more versatile, able to play alongside either of the Jazz's young bigs (Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors) or alongside both of them in a jumbo lineup. Also, much like West, Millsap has been one of the vocal leaders in the locker room, and defines much of Utah's blue-collar culture. Still, should he choose to relocate, he'll be coveted on the market as a skilled, versatile forward. His AAV drops slightly, but I'd give him a player option at the end of his deal to give him the opportunity to chase one more payday should he outplay his deal.

PLAYER CARD

10 Tyreke Evans | SG | RFA
2012-13 team: Sacramento'12-13 AAV: $5.3'13-14 AAV: $7.75
AGE: 23PPG: 15.2APG: 3.5RPG: 4.4

The sale of the Kings and the subsequent house cleaning of the front office and coaching staff changes very little for Evans. He needs a fresh start, and to play around new people so that he can redefine who he is as a player and recapture some of that magic he had as a rookie. The trick is to get an offer sheet that Sacramento won't be inclined to match, without breaking the bank. I dropped his AAV slightly but added a fourth year to the deal, so that he can opt out but still retain full Bird rights.

PLAYER CARD

11 O.J. Mayo | SG | UFA
2012-13 team: Dallas '12-13 AAV: $4.0'13-14 AAV: $7.5
AGE: 25PPG: 15.3APG: 4.4RPG: 3.5

As I stated in Version 1.0, Mayo declined the second year of his two-year deal in order to test free agency. His numbers were solid, and he posted career-high efficiency numbers; however, it's obvious that he's best suited as a third option on a very good team. While he may seek "DeRozan money," I'd hesitate to commit that much money to a player I don't see as having the potential to be a cornerstone to my franchise. I like Mayo, but ultimately he's replaceable, so I dropped his AAV to $7.5 million, based on a four-year, $30 million deal.

PLAYER CARD

12 Jeff Teague | PG | RFA
2012-13 team: Atlanta '12-13 AAV: $2.4'13-14 AAV: $7.5
AGE: 24PPG: 14.6APG: 7.2RPG: 2.3

Like teammate Josh Smith, Teague's fate also depends on Atlanta's free-agency aspirations. A move to clear space could result in the withdrawal of his offer sheet in order to clear his $6.1 million cap hold. Based on the direction of the Clippers' renewed efforts to bolster their roster, Paul is less likely to come to Atlanta, which makes it a more likely scenario that Atlanta will seek to lock Teague in early at an affordable rate. He's not elite, but he's a solid starting point guard if you can bring in other talent.

PLAYER CARD

13 Andrei Kirilenko | SF | RFA
2012-13 team: Minnesota'12-13 AAV: $9.8'13-14 AAV: $7.5
AGE: 32PPG: 12.4APG: 2.8RPG: 5.7

Kirilenko has until June 30 to decline the option on the second year of his deal, when he's owed $10.2 million. Like Iguodala, tearing up that option opens the door for him to sign a longer-term deal with more guaranteed salary.

PLAYER CARD

14 J.J. Hickson | PF | UFA
2012-13 team: Portland'12-13 AAV: $4.0'13-14 AAV: $7.25
AGE: 24PPG: 12.7RPG: 10.4BPG: 0.6

Hickson's 2012-13 season showed all of the signs of classic contract-year inflation, as he shot the ball from the perimeter (56 percent) better than he ever had previously and rebounded the ball at a career-high rate (10.4 RPG). He's not a savior, but he's a solid big when motivated, and keeping the last two years of his deal partially guaranteed should keep the fire beneath him lit.

PLAYER CARD

15 Brandon Jennings | PG | RFA
2012-13 team: Milwaukee'12-13 AAV: $3.2'13-14 AAV: $7.0
AGE: 23PPG: 17.5APG: 6.5RPG: 3.1

Jennings' playoff struggles didn't help his cause, nor do continued rumblings that he is seeking a deal that would make him among the highest-paid PGs of his draft class. A two-year deal with an AAV of $7 million and a player option allows him to play up to his value and then try again next year, when he'll still be only 24.

PLAYER CARD

16 Tiago Splitter | C | RFA
2012-13 team: San Antonio'12-13 AAV: $3.9'13-14 AAV: $7.0
AGE: 28PPG: 10.3RPG: 6.4BPG: 0.8

Splitter's postseason was a roller coaster, as he fluctuated between being Johnny-on-the-spot and having no presence whatsoever. Still, he's a strong low-post scorer and offensive rebounder, and he's been one of San Antonio's best defensive bigs in terms of positioning and rotations. The Spurs will seek to retain his services, and his restricted status will probably scare away most suitors (unless San Antonio looks to drastically upgrade its roster by making a splash in free agency).

PLAYER CARD

17 J.J. Redick | SG | UFA
2012-13 team: Milwaukee'12-13 AAV: $6.2'13-14 AAV: $6.5
AGE: 28PPG: 14.1APG: 3.8RPG: 2.2

Redick's 3-point touch did not travel with him to Milwaukee, where he struggled to fit into then-coach Jim Boylan's vision. Make no mistake, however, he's still one of the premier shooters in the NBA, and brings one of the most complete skill sets of any "designated shooter" in the league. There's a chance he might stay in Milwaukee, but only if the Bucks pay the premium.

PLAYER CARD

18 Tony Allen | SG/SF | UFA
2012-13 team: Memphis'12-13 AAV: $3.0'13-14 AAV: $6.0
AGE: 31PPG: 8.9RPG: 4.6SPG: 1.5

Allen's defensive intensity played a huge part in the Grizzlies' successful season and deep playoff run. On the other hand, his lack of a jump shot (and really his overall lack of reliable offensive production) played a huge part in the end of Memphis' season. The onus is on Allen to show he's not done growing as a player, but can that be expected from a 31-year-old? His AAV of $6 million (based on a four-year, $24 million deal with minimal partial guarantees on the last two years) remains the same, but I'd also explore giving him the option of taking less money with an earlier player option so that he can retest free agency as an improved commodity.

PLAYER CARD

19 Monta Ellis | PG/SG | UFA
2012-13 team: Milwaukee'12-13 AAV: $11.0'13-14 AAV: $6.0
AGE: 27PPG: 19.2APG: 6.0RPG: 3.9

As expected, Ellis exercised his ETO and is an unrestricted free agent. While the old adage of "it only takes one" would suggest some team will take the chance and pay him a big deal, I still hesitate to sign Ellis for anything other than a sixth-man role.

PLAYER CARD

20 Kevin Martin | SG | UFA
2012-13 team: Oklahoma City '12-13 AAV: $12.4'13-14 AAV: $5.5
AGE: 30PPG: 14.0RPG: 2.3APG: 1.4

Martin's playoff struggles only accentuate the fact that he isn't a second scoring option-caliber talent. Losing Russell Westbrook in the playoffs thrust Martin into that role, and he wasn't capable of taking the pressure off Kevin Durant. Still, during the regular season he excelled in his bench role, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him return to Oklahoma City in that capacity.

PLAYER CARD

21 Timofey Mozgov | C | RFA
2012-13 team: Denver'12-13 AAV: $3.1'13-14 AAV: $4.5
AGE: 26PPG: 2.6RPG: 2.6BPG: 0.4

Denver never broke the glass in case of an emergency for Mozgov, which came as a bit of a surprise, as I expected him to get an opportunity to try to combat Andrew Bogut in the playoffs (especially in the elimination Game 6). New GM Tim Connelly has his work cut out for him, but it still remains highly unlikely that Mozgov will return to the Nuggets. A new AAV of $4.5 million per season -- based on a three-year, $13.5 million deal with $1 million guaranteed in the final year -- gives Mozgov some financial security while retaining some flexibility for the team.

PLAYER CARD

22 Martell Webster | SF | UFA
2012-13 team: Washington'12-13 AAV: $1.75'13-14 AAV: $4.5
AGE: 26PPG: 11.4RPG: 3.9APG: 1.9

Webster, an elite shooter with size, was one of the players I highlighted earlier this season as a "value deal." He ended the season shooting a career-high 42 percent from 3-point range, including a whopping 50 percent from the corners. Webster doesn't have the athleticism he once had as a preps-to-pro prospect, but he's decent defensively and can help out on the defensive glass. He doesn't have the all-around skill set as another shooter on this list (Redick), but Webster definitely will be in demand this offseason.

PLAYER CARD

23 Chris Andersen | C | UFA
2012-13 team: Miami Heat'12-13 AAV: $1.4'13-14 AAV: $4.5
AGE: 34PPG: 4.9RPG: 4.1BPG: 1.0

"Birdman" has proved once again that players maximize their gifts when they find (and in some cases, accept) the right role on the right team. As a less-than-20-minutes-per-game energy big who moves well off the ball and can finish at the rim (shooting a ridiculous 82 percent true-shooting mark in the postseason), he's been an ideal complement for the Miami Heat. His ability to impact multiple playoff games with his defensive rotations, rim protection and offensive rebounding showcased his talents, which inevitably means he'll cash in elsewhere (as the Heat don't have Bird rights, they are limited in what they can offer him). I'd offer an AAV of $4.5 million based on a two-year, $9 million deal with a player option on the second year, but only if I had the right situation (playoff team) and role for him (energy big off the bench).

PLAYER CARD

24 Jarrett Jack | PG | UFA
2012-13 team: Golden State '12-13 AAV: $5.0'13-14 AAV: $4.5
AGE: 29PPG: 12.9APG: 5.6RPG: 3.1

Jack kept Warriors fans on the edge of their collective seats as he seemingly led the league in "no-no-yes" shots during the playoffs. For me, he proved that he is an elite bench player, but not starting caliber, and not someone you'd think of as reliable or a "steady hand." Still, he brings offensive punch off the bench, and can be a vital contributor for a playoff team like the Warriors. Golden State is projected to be a taxpayer next season, so without any creative bookkeeping to remove the salaries of either Andris Biedrins or Richard Jefferson, it is unlikely the Warriors will be able to retain Jack's services.

PLAYER CARD

25 J.R. Smith | SG | Player option
2012-13 team: New York Knicks'12-13 AAV: $2.8'13-14 AAV: $4.0
AGE: 27PPG: 18.1RPG: 5.3APG: 2.7

In the first version of this board, I got a lot of comments from (mostly Knicks) fans who were outraged I could "undervalue" Smith. I'll give them a pass because this was during the unbelievable stretch the Knicks put together at the end of the season. It looked like they couldn't miss. As the playoffs revealed, Smith (to paraphrase former NFL head coach Denny Green) was who we thought he was -- a hired gun brought off the bench for scoring, but not the type of player to commit to long term.

PLAYER CARD

26 Kyle Korver | SG/SF | UFA
2012-13 team: Atlanta Hawks'12-13 AAV: $5.0'13-14 AAV: $4.0
AGE: 32PPG: 10.9RPG: 4.0APG: 2.0

Korver's cap hold of $9.5 million makes him a mortal lock to be renounced by the Hawks this summer. That doesn't preclude him from returning, but it does mean they lose his Bird rights, and there will be no shortage of suitors for the 3-point specialist who last season knocked down 3s at a 46 percent clip, second highest in the league.

PLAYER CARD

27 Jose Calderon | PG | UFA
2012-13 team: Detroit Pistons'12-13 AAV: $11.0'13-14 AAV: $3.1
AGE: 31PPG: 11.3APG: 7.1RPG: 2.4

Pop quiz: Who led the NBA in 3-point percentage this season? While our minds might instantly jump to players like Steph Curry and Ray Allen, the fact is that Calderon quietly shot 46 percent from downtown, including 52 percent after his midseason trade to Detroit. He's been one of the most underrated point guards in the league over the last few seasons, and is finally coming off of the mammoth contract he signed in 2008. The epitome of steady, mistake-free basketball, Calderon's value is in playing for a contender, either as a starter or a backup, although a team like Utah might feel he can be the missing piece for its collection of talent. Either way, you should be able to sign Calderon for the equivalent of taxpayers' midlevel: Three years, $9.4 million, with an AAV of slightly more than $3.1 million.

PLAYER CARD

28 Gary Neal | PG/SG | RFA
'12-13 team: San Antonio '12-13 AAV: $854,000'13-14 AAV: $3.0
AGE: 28PPG: 9.5RPG: 2.1APG: 1.9

While Neal's 3-point percentage suffered a setback this season, he managed to play an integral part in the Spurs' playoff run, showcasing his ability to shoot the ball along with taking some of the ballhandling duties. He shot 48 percent from downtown in the Finals, and had a memorable 24-point explosion in a Game 3 victory. Neal excels as a third guard for an elite team, someone who can come off the bench as a backup ball handler or as a 3-point specialist.

PLAYER CARD
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29 Marco Belinelli | SG | UFA
2012-13 team: Chicago'12-13 AAV: $2.0'13-14 AAV: $3.0
AGE: 27PPG: 9.6APG: 2.0RPG: 1.9

Like Neal, Belinelli is a shooter with some versatility in that he can handle the ball in spells. During his first season with Chicago, he showed that players without a reputation for being defensive-minded can exist and maintain a team defensive scheme (as evidenced here and here). Chicago is far above the tax threshold, but the Bulls have a desperate need for 3-point shooting, and Belinelli fit the bill for them this season.

PLAYER CARD

30 Nate Robinson | PG | UFA
2012-13 team: Chicago '12-13 AAV: $1.1'13-14 AAV: $3.0
AGE: 29PPG: 13.1APG: 4.4RPG: 2.2

Robinson had his best year as a pro this season, showing that "The Nate Show" could exist within the context of a winning environment. For a team that was offensively challenged, Robinson playing his game fit perfectly and he was allowed to be himself. It remains to be seen if the return of Derrick Rose would change the dynamics of the team, lessening its need for Robinson's offensive explosiveness in return for a steadier hand to run backup point guard. In many ways, he's like J.R. Smith in that he's a hired gun that you fill holes with, but don't necessarily want to be married to long term.

PLAYER CARD
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Amin Elhassan
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Video coordinator, college scout, Phoenix Suns
Assistant director of basketball operations, Phoenix Suns
MBA from Arizona State University


Sewok15
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These rankings are iffy to

These rankings are iffy to me....Chris Anderson ranked ahead of Jarrett Jack and JR Smith...they were the top 2 sixth man of the year candidates and he hardly played. Pekovic over Al Jefferson was another head scratcher to me. They seem like very similar players with Jefferson being a better post scorer.

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Most people have given up

Most people have given up hope that Al Jefferson will ever be a solid defender though while Pekovic shows promise on the defensive end. It's crazy they're only a year apart in age, but that's what coming out of high school can do.

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He might be a slightly better

He might be a slightly better defender but Jefferson averages twice as many blocks per game for their careers. Jefferson's blocks were way down this year but he still averaged .3 more blocks than Pekovic. I understand Pekovic is a better individual defender but the slight upgrade in defense isn't as big as the gap offensively in my opinion.

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Ya bird man effin sucks no

Ya bird man effin sucks no one would no him if not for his appearance

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