While we are still putting the finishing touches on the 2012-13 season, it's never too early to start looking ahead. This summer promises to be a busy one on the NBA landscape as teams have already started to get their ducks in a row leading up to the start of free agency, which kicks off on July 1.
There is no shortage of big names in this year's group of unrestricted free agents and the list grows considerably longer once you factor in restricted free agents as well as players who have an early termination, player option or team option in their current contracts. However, for the purposes of this piece we focus on the players who will be unrestricted free agents this offseason.
With 95 players set to become unrestricted free agents in the coming weeks, we have compiled a list of 12 players in this year's class everyone will be watching.
Chris Paul: Paul's two years in Los Angeles have been a success as he has led the lowly Clippers to two straight playoff appearances, including their first division title. While there will be plenty of teams who would love to add the 27-year-old to their roster, Paul seems content on staying with the Clips. There have been numerous reports stating as much and some even suggesting the team will give Paul a significant role in making personnel decisions moving forward. Of course, he could also change his mind between now and then, but based on how things look right now, Paul will playing in the Staples Center for a third straight season next year.
Fantasy Analysis: Paul's scoring took a slight hit this season, but that was mostly a result of him seeing an average of 33.2 minutes per game -- the lowest of his career. Despite missing 11 games with a knee issue, Paul put up more than 40 Fantasy points per week for the second straight year and has averaged 18.8 points, 9.4 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 2.5 steals on 47.9 percent shooting from the field over his first 125 games with the Clippers. Paul's all-around skill set makes him an elite option at his position and a sure-fire first-round pick again next season.
Kevin Martin: Martin will become a free agent over the summer and there seems to be some level of interest from both the Thunder and himself to keep the marriage going moving forward. However, that will likely depend on Martin's willingness to take a pay cut as Oklahoma City will be a bit financially limited this summer. The 30-year-old is still considered a quality scorer throughout the league, which could also drive up the price for teams looking to add or keep him on the roster. It will be interesting to see if Martin is more willing to chase a ring or a big pay day.
Fantasy Analysis: Martin's production has taken a huge hit in his first year with the Thunder as he has been asked to take on a reduced role behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Despite shooting 44.8 percent from the field and a career-best 42.3 percent from downtown, Martin is averaging 14 points per game -- the third lowest scoring output of his career. Fantasy owners should keep a close eye on where Martin lands next season. If he ends up re-signing with the Thunder, Martin will likely post numbers similar to ones he did this season. However, if he winds up singing with a team who is counting on him to a carry the scoring load like he did in his days with the Kings and Rockets, Martin could see his scoring and draft status climb up the ladder.
Josh Smith: Smith was once again the subject of numerous trade rumors at the deadline and looked to have all but one foot out of the door. However, the Hawks apparently didn't think any the offers they received for Smith back in February were worthy enough to pull the trigger on and decided to roll the dice in free agency. While Smith has said numerous times that he would be willing to re-sign with the Hawks, he also has expressed interest in testing the market as he wants a max contract. Whatever team is willing to shell out the max for Smith, will most likely wind up with his services next season.
Fantasy Analysis: While Smith has been unable to match the eye-popping numbers he posted last season, he has still averaging more than 34 Fantasy points per week for the second straight season. The 27-year-old has finished as one of the top 12 scoring forwards, in terms of Fantasy points, in all CBSSports.com standard formats in each of the last three years and that is unlikely to change much no matter where he winds up. Whether he ends up back with the Hawks or down in Dallas or Houston, he should be one the first forwards to come off the board heading into 2013-14.
J.J. Hickson: Hickson proved his late-season production last year was no fluke as he thrived playing alongside LaMarcus Aldridge during the 2012-13 campaign. While there seems to be a great deal of debate about exactly how much money Hickson will command on the open market, there appears to be no shortage of interest from teams regarding the 24-year-old's services. Hickson's name was linked to several teams back at the trade deadline, including the Pistons, Nets and Bobcats. However, the Trail Blazers have also have money to spend this offseason and could make a serious run at re-signing Hickson.
Fantasy Analysis: What a difference a year makes as Hickson went from being considered merely waiver-wire fodder with the Kings last season to a high-end option with the Trail Blazers. He is one of just nine players averaging a double-double on the season and is currently the 12th highest scoring Fantasy center, in terms of Fantasy points in all CBSSports.com standard formats. However, the fifth-year man out of North Carolina State has averaged just 5.0 points and 3.4 rebounds as a reserve compared to 12.3 points and 8.5 as a starter, so he will need to hold down a spot in the starting lineup to stay relevant in Fantasy. As long as that is the case, Hickson would be worthy of a mid-round selection in most formats next year.
Dwight Howard: Fantasy owners should start preparing themselves for another exhausting cycle of Howard headlines as his decision on whether or not to re-sign with the Lakers next year will dominate the headlines over the summer. While Howard has done a good job of dodging questions regarding his impending free agency, most feel the 7-footer will end up re-upping with Los Angeles. However, some feel that will largely depend on whether or not the Lakers get into the playoffs, as the Nets, Hawks and even Mavericks all seem poised to make a run at Howard. Still, the Lakers have come out numerous times over the past few months deeming Howard as the future of the franchise, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out.
Fantasy Analysis: Howard's first season in L.A. has been a turbulent one as he has taken heat from just about everyone under the sun regarding his drop in production as well as his refusal to divulge his plans for next season. However, despite all of the distractions, the 27-year-old is still averaging 16.7 points, 12.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks on 57.3 percent shooting on the year, which isn't too shabby considering he is coming off of back surgery and has been playing with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He also had to adjust his game a bit as most of the Lakers' offense runs through Kobe Bryant rather than Howard as it did when he was with the Magic. In spite of all the criticism he has taken, Howard arguably remains the best big man in the league and he should be one of the first players selected on Draft Day next fall.
Andrew Bynum: Bynum's lone season in Philadelphia was spent in street clothes as the 7-footer continued to be plagued by knee issues and eventually was shut back down after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on both of his knees last month. Despite all of Bynum's health issues -- with his knees -- he is expected to garner a ton of interest from teams this offseason. Still, the 25-year-old said he would be more than willing to re-sign with the 76ers even though he never appeared in a game for them during the 2012-13 campaign. However, the market for Bynum this summer will simply come down to how teams perceive his long and short term health more than his want for a max deal. While the 25-year-old's desire for a max contract could scare some teams off, we still expect him to garner a ton of attention this offseason.
Fantasy Analysis: Bynum's Fantasy value has always come down to his health rather than his production as he has had trouble staying on the court during his eight-year career. In fact, Bynum has only appeared in 60-plus games three times, including last season when he put up 16.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.1 blocks during his last year with the Lakers. After posting an average draft position of 25.9 this year, owners may be a bit more skeptical about spending an early-round pick on the big man next fall and we can't blame them. However, Bynum has proved to be one of the more productive centers in game when on the court, which makes it tough to bypass him. We would label Bynum with a high-risk, high-reward tag heading into the 2013-14 campaign.
Al Jefferson: The Jazz raised more than few eyebrows back at the trade deadline when they opted not to trade Jefferson or Paul Millsap with both scheduled to be free agents over the summer. While there is some debate on whether or not the 28-year-old is worthy or a max deal or not, most are expecting him to garner a ton of interest on the free-agent market. The Jazz are reportedly more open to bringing back Jefferson rather than Millsap, but there have also been reports that the 76ers could make a strong push for Jefferson if they decide not to bring back Andrew Bynum. The veteran has also only appeared in 11 career playoff games, so he could opt to take less money with a contender rather than more money to play with another bottom-tier club.
Fantasy Analysis: Jefferson has been a bit of a disappointment this season based on the fact that he had an average draft position of 19.4. Still, we can't be too hard on a guy who is averaging 17.5 points and 9.1 rebounds on the year and is also the fifth-highest scoring Fantasy center in all standard formats. Jefferson has also averaged 30-plus Fantasy points per week in each of the last six seasons and has proved to be extremely durable as he has only missed 15 games over each of the last four years. While the days of Jefferson putting up 20-plus points a game may be over, the ninth-year man has proved to be one of the more consistent big men in all of Fantasy. Whether he winds up playing for a contender or pretender next season, Jefferson will be worthy of an early-round pick.
David West: West struggled mightily during his first year with the Pacers as he had problems fitting in with coach Frank Vogel's half-court, grind-it-out style of offense. However, he has been much more productive this season, which has sent his stock back on the rise. West has expressed a strong desire to remain with in Indiana and the team also seems to be receptive to the idea of bringing him back. Still, that could come down to West's willingness to take a pay cut as the Pacers may not be too eager to shell out the big bucks to retain the services of a player who will be 33 at the start of next year. West seems to focused more on winning than money at this point in his career and based on the mutual interest the Pacers have, we would be surprised if he landed elsewhere.
Fantasy Analysis: West has put together a solid bounce-back campaign with the Pacers this season as he got his scoring back up to 17 points per game to go along with 7.7 rebounds. While he may be growing a bit long in the tooth, West has proved he still has plenty left in the tank and can be a very productive Fantasy option when he stays healthy. He has averaged more than 30-plus Fantasy points per week in six of his last seven seasons and we don't see than trend stopping -- even if he ends up changing zip codes again.
Andray Blatche: Blatche seemed set to test the free-agent market this summer, but has recently softened his stance on possibly staying with the Nets. Of course that will likely mean the 26-year-old will need to a take a pay cut as Brooklyn will have limited flexibility next season. While Blatche appears to be very open to the idea, his bounce-back campaign with the Nets has increased his price tag. That could open the door for a team -- most likely a non-contender -- to swoop in and make him an offer that he just can't refuse. Blatche may have to decide if he wants to win or get paid this summer.
Fantasy Analysis: After being outcast by the Wizards over the summer, Blatche landed in Brooklyn and had spent the better part of the year showing that he can be counted on as a reliable producer when he sees minutes. The eighth-year center has really shined as a starter as he is averaging 17.8 points and 8.9 rebounds on 54 percent shooting from the field over his seven starts on the season. In fact, Blatche has averaged 15.1 points and 7.6 rebounds over his 183 career starts compared to just 6.8 rebounds and 4.0 rebounds over the 302 games he was used as a reserve. Fantasy owners should keep a close eye on where Blatche lands next season. If he resigns with the Nets, he will likely post numbers similar to ones he did this season. However, Baltche signs with a team that gets in the starting five, owners should plan on scooping him up in the middle rounds.
Paul Millsap: Most expected the Jazz to trade either Millsap or Al Jefferson at the trade deadline, but the team decided oddly enough to hang onto both of them. However, with both players set to be free agents over the summer, at appears all but certain that at least one of them will be out the door. There are rumors floating out there suggesting the team is leaning toward resigning Jefferson rather than Millsap, but nothing is imminent at this point. Millsap garnered interest from several teams at the trade deadline, including the Pacers, Clippers and Nets. However, the 28-year-old will likely command somewhere just below the max, which will take some teams automatically out of the equation.
Fantasy Analysis: Millsap has been a disappointment in Fantasy this season as his numbers have been down across the board. He is averaging just 14.9 points on the year -- his lowest scoring output since the 2009-10 campaign -- while putting up 27.2 Fantasy points per week, after posting more than 30 in each of the last two seasons. Still, a change of scenery could be exactly what Millsap needs to get himself back on track -- especially if he lands with a team that plans on featuring him on offense. Even if he winds up putting up 14.9 points and 7.1 boards like this year, owners should still plan on scooping him up in the middle rounds in most formats.
Devin Harris: While Harris has said on more than one occasion he would be open to re-signing with the Hawks, he also said made it clear that he plans on testing the market this summer. The Mavericks are just one of several teams that could make a run at Harris this offseason as teams are always looking for a versatile guard who likely won't end up being that expensive. However, Harris has had some problems staying on the court in recent years, including this season as he has already missed 23 games. While that could scare some teams off, Harris will still be courted by several teams this offseason.
Fantasy Analysis: Harris is no longer the high-end option he was back in his days with the Nets and Jazz, but he can still be a productive Fantasy option -- especially when he starts. In fact, Harris is averaging a respectable 11.6 points, 3.7 assists and 2.4 rebounds as a starter this year compared to just 7.6 points, 2.9 assists and 1.5 rebounds as a reserve. Fantasy owners will have to keep an on where the 30-year-old winds up. If Harris is able to land with a team who is willing to start him on a nightly basis, he would be worth scooping up in the later rounds as a low-end option in most formats. However, he won't have much value heading into the 2013-14 campaign as a reserve.
Manu Ginobili: Ginobili's three-year extension is set to expire at the end of this season, which will officially put the veteran on the free-agent market this summer. While there does seem to be some mutual interest between the Spurs and Ginobili to keep him in San Antonio, there is always a chance a team could dangle a huge contract and the promise of starting in his direction, which could change his mind. However, most seem to agree that the 35-year-old would take less money to remain with the Spurs -- especially in this late stage of his career.
Fantasy Analysis: Ginobili is starting to look his age on the court as he has seen his production take a downward turn over each of the last two seasons. He has also had problems staying on the court as he has missed a combined 52 games over his past two seasons and there is a chance he will not be ready by the time the playoffs roll around. While Ginobili is in the twilight of his career, Fantasy owners shouldn't write him off just yet. The 11th-year guard out of Argentina can still be counted on for low-teen scoring and a handful of assists per game -- especially if he stays with the Spurs. We would be very surprised if he did not end up re-signing with San Antonio, so assuming he does, owners should plan on spending a late-round pick on him.