As the team-by-team breakdown of the offseason moves on to the Western Conference, it’s appropriate to examine the top available free agents remaining on the market.
This is a fluid list, as players and their representatives will continue to negotiate, but even in the interest of making a futile effort, it’s interesting to see some of the names still out there, starting with Bulls playoff hero Nate Robinson.
[RELATED: Eastern Conference offseason breakdown]
PG: Robinson, Mo Williams, Beno Udrih, Chauncey Billups, Will Bynum, Sebastian Telfair, John Lucas III, A.J. Price
SG: Monta Ellis, Nick Young, Randy Foye, Rip Hamilton, Wayne Ellington, Anthony Morrow, Leandro Barbosa, Daniel Gibson, Toney Douglas
SF: Andrei Kirilenko, Corey Brewer, Alan Anderson, Stephen Jackson, Dahntay Jones, Mickael Pietrus
PF: Tyler Hansbrough, Tyrus Thomas, Marreese Speights, Byron Mullens, Lamar Odom, DeJuan Blair, Jason Maxiell, Ronny Turiaf, Kenyon Martin
C: Andrew Bynum, Samuel Dalembert, Brandan Wright, Chris Andersen, Chris Kaman, Jermaine O’Neal, Chris Wilcox
Restricted free agents: Brandon Jennings, Jeff Teague, Gerald Henderson, Gary Neal, Nikola Pekovic, Timofey Mozgov
Denver Nuggets: The shocking departures of Ujiri , the league’s Executive of the Year, and reigning Coach of the Year George Karl gave way to a new regime, headed by neophytes Brian Shaw and Tim Connelly, Denver’s new head coach and general manager, respectively. While the pair are very highly-regarded in NBA circles, losing veteran swingman Andre Iguodala to Golden State in free agency was a tough start. Whether defensive-minded wing Corey Brewer returns is uncertain, restricted free-agent center Timofey Mozgov should be back—playing behind JaVale McGee in a backup role after former starter Kosta Koufos was dealt to Memphis for underrated power forward Darrell Arthur in a draft-day trade—and led by speedy point guard Ty Lawson, rugged power forward Kenneth Faried and a deep bench, the run-and-gun Nuggets should still be a playoff contender.
[RELATED: Bulls free agency update]
Minnesota Timberwolves: The shooting-deficient Timberwolves, with former coach Flip Saunders now in charge of the front office, addressed their biggest weakness early in free agency by bringing back wing Chase Budinger and acquiring a starting shooting guard in Kevin Martin, who should fit well next to playmaker Ricky Rubio. Scrappy reserve forward Dante Cunningham also returns and draft pick Shabazz Muhammad adds bench scoring, softening the impact of Kirilenko opting out of the final year of his deal. Minnesota still must get a contract done with restricted free-agent center Nikola Pekovic, but more importantly, the roster, particularly star power forward Kevin Love, has to stay healthy for the team to reach its potential and end their postseason drought.
Oklahoma City Thunder: After All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook’s knee injury in the first round of the playoffs, Oklahoma City’s season ended prematurely, yet the team has been quiet in the offseason. Continuing their trend of stockpiling young projects—lottery selection center Steven Adams, late first-round pick Andre Roberson and second-rounder Grant Jerrett join the likes of Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb—the Thunder lost veteran sixth man Martin, so the development of combo guard Reggie Jackson will be important. But even if the small-market squad doesn’t make any big splashes, not only is their savvy front office always lurking when it comes to trades, but with a healthy Westbrook, fellow superstar Kevin Durant and shot-blocker Serge Ibaka, they’ll still be in the Western Conference hunt.
Portland Trail Blazers: A team that could make a big jump next season, the Trail Blazers got some scoring punch in the draft with mid-major star C.J. McCollum, who is expected to make an immediate impact, as well as picking up shooter Allen Crabbe, a Cal product who could be a second-round steal. Portland also addressed its needs at center by getting Robin Lopez from New Orleans in a three-team trade where they didn’t have to give up much, as well as getting veteran wing shooter Dorell Wright, floor general Earl Watson, who should be a strong locker-room presence and power forward Thomas Robinson, a 2012 top-five draft pick. With returning contributors like reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard at point guard, versatile swingman Nicolas Batum and tough wing Wesley Matthews, maybe the Blazers can get back to the postseason, making enough progress to satisfy All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge.
Utah Jazz: It seems like the rebuilding is underway in Utah, as the Jazz lost both Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, the team’s best players, not to mention serving as a facilitator for the Warriors by taking on the expiring deals of Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson. Swingman Brandon Rush, coming off ACL surgery, was also in that deal and if he recovers, a wing corps including emerging swingman Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks will be even stronger, giving first-round pick Trey Burke some options at point guard, to go along with promising young big men Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. Veteran Marvin Williams returned, opting into the final year of his deal, but like Watson, guards Randy Foye and Mo Williams are expected to move on, as the youth movement in Utah takes hold, likely leading to a lottery campaign in 2013-14.
Golden State Warriors: While the Warriors fell short in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, they did make some major noise in free agency, adding Iguodala, whose defense and playmaking ability will be huge, especially on an up-tempo team that’s perfect for his elite athleticism. Golden State did lose sixth man Jarrett Jack—though Iguodala’s point-forward abilities can help make up for that, allowing star point guard Stephen Curry to play off the ball as a shooter—and valuable backup power forward Carl Landry in making the move, as well as the aforementioned salary dump, but the overall personnel remains strong. Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, who thrived as a small-ball power forward in the playoffs, gives them as much shooting as anybody in the league and if the likes of All-Star David Lee, center Andrew Bogut, rugged center Festus Ezeli and the undersized Draymond Green can stay collectively healthy and give them an interior presence, the Warriors’ future looks very bright.
Los Angeles Clippers: By getting Doc Rivers from Boston to replace Vinny Del Negro as head coach (and having a big say in personnel matters), the Clippers might have pulled off the trade of the offseason, especially because it ensured that superstar Chris Paul would return to Los Angeles. But the team didn’t rest on its laurels, as they also retained veterans Willie Green, Ryan Hollins and Matt Barnes, and dealt highly-regarded young point Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler in a three-team deal that netted them “3-and-D” wing Jared Dudley from Phoenix and sharpshooter J.J. Redick, through a sign-and-trade with the Bucks, in addition to picking up backup point guard Darren Collison, an L.A.-area native and Paul’s former understudy in New Orleans. While reserves Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf might not be back, with All-Star Blake Griffin, athletic center DeAndre Jordan and the rest of the roster, the Clippers have at least the roster of a title contender.
Los Angeles Lakers: The sky isn’t falling yet, but after losing Howard, it’s hard to be optimistic about the Lakers in the near future, especially with future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant still recovering from an Achilles’ injury, backcourt mate Steve Nash not getting any younger and Pau Gasol having to be the team’s focal point, though head coach Mike D’Antoni largely ignored the skilled big man’s talents until toward the end of last season. Veteran Metta World Peace opted into the final year of his contract and bench shooter Jodie Meeks was retained, but the cupboard is pretty bare for the Lakers, especially when it comes to young, athletic players, something forward Earl Clark leaving for Cleveland didn’t help. While it’s unrealistic to expect any team with Kobe Bryant (recovering from a serious injury or not) to not try to be competitive, gearing up for 2014 free agency, potentially with the addition of a lottery pick in a loaded draft class, could be a more prudent decision.
Phoenix Suns: After one of their worst seasons in recent memory, Phoenix brought in a new front office, headed by ex-Boston assistant general manager Ryan McDonough, and coach, former NBA shooting guard Jeff Hornacek, to attempt to right the ship. The Suns are starting out in the right direction by acquiring Bledsoe and Butler, a solid veteran, as well as drafting true center Alex Len, who could take a while to develop, but has excellent upside, as does late first-round pick Archie Goodwin, who could see significant D-League action as a rookie. Next season could be used to determine which holdovers can join point guard Goran Dragic as keepers, with power forward Markieff Morris and swingman Wesley Johnson the two most likely candidates.
Sacramento Kings: Yet another new coach-general manager duo (Mike Malone and Pete D’Alessandro, respectively; Sacramento also has a new ownership group, led by Vivek Randadive, which prevented the franchise from moving to Seattle), the Kings are trying to turn the corner and after shooting guard Ben McLemore, who has perhaps the highest potential of any draft pick, slipped to them last week, former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans was allowed to depart to New Orleans in a three-team, sign-and-trade scenario. Greivis Vasquez came from the Pelicans and should be the team’s starting point guard, while Landry, a former King, returned as a free agent. Role players like point guard Isaiah Thomas, scorer Marcus Thornton and power forward Patrick Patterson are solid members of the supporting cast, but the key to Sacramento’s success remains star center DeMarcus Cousins, whose future with the organization could ride on not just his on-court performance, but how he meshes with the new decision-makers.
Dallas Mavericks: Still reeling from the breakup of their 2011 championship squad, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban went all in for Howard and struck out, meaning aging star Dirk Nowitzki probably won’t get close to winning another ring unless he leaves Dallas. A team full of free agents last season, veterans Shawn Marion and Vince Carter are the other key returnees, but replacements are arriving through both the draft and free agency, which saw them lose guards Collison and O.J. Mayo. Point guards have been a focus thus far, as ex-Mav Devin Harris is back, veteran Jose Calderon will likely run the show and draft pick Shane Larkin could be the team’s playmaker of the future, but with a dwindling market, no matter how Dallas addresses its frontcourt needs—Elton Brand and Chris Kaman are likely to move on, but the younger, more athletic Brandan Wright could be back—the team appears poised to again miss the playoffs.
Houston Rockets: Already riding high from their exciting, albeit brief, playoff appearance, the long-term plans of general manager Daryl Morey to land the Rockets a superstar finally came to fruition by landing Howard. While the future of incumbent center and former Bull Omer Asik still has to be sorted out, it’s a good problem to have, as Houston is now in search of players who can spread the floor, such as second-round draft pick Isaiah Canaan and returning veteran Francisco Garcia, to complement their new man in the middle. Chicago native Patrick Beverley, a scrappy, defensive-minded point guard, should be back and although aside from the perimeter trio duo of All-Star shooting guard James Harden, point guard Jeremy Lin and Howard’s prime recruiter, versatile small forward Chandler Parsons, the young squad is largely untested, with reserves like Beverley, powerful center Greg Smith and talented forward Terrence Jones—but not fellow 2012 draft picks Royce White, who was traded to Philadelphia after clashing with the organization last season, and the aforementioned Robinson—the team’s star power is seen as formidable enough to make it a force in the West, especially if head coach Kevin McHale, a Hall of Fame big man, can further devlop Howard’s offensive game.
[RELATED: Bulls plans clear with free-agency approach]
Memphis Grizzlies: Assistant Dave Joerger was promoted to replace Lionel Hollins, the most successful head coach in franchise history, but while the Grizzlies are expected to push the tempo more, the team’s “grit and grind” mentality should stay the same, particularly after bringing back defensive specialist Tony Allen, a Chicago native. Reserve scorer Jerryd Bayless also decided to stay, Koufos provides Memphis with a true backup center—and the aforementioned trade of Arthur creates an opportunity for backup power forward Ed Davis—and second-round pick Jamaal Franklin is a potential steal. However, the team’s core of veterans, including Allen and his underrated backcourt mate, Mike Conley, as well as All-Star big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, will continue to be at the heart of its success, though wing Quincy Pondexter’s postseason was also an encouraging sign.
New Orleans Pelicans: Equipped with a new name for the franchise, the Pelicans made a big splash in the offseason, first with their draft-night trade for All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday, then by acquiring Evans in that previously mentioned three-team, sign-and-trade deal. Though New Orleans had to give up the aforementioned Vasquez and Lopez, its backcourt is absolutely loaded, especially if Eric Gordon can be healthy for an extended period of time and Austin Rivers can make strides after a tough rookie season. A running style would behoove the progress of 2012 No. 1 overall draft pick and Chicago native Anthony Davis, as well as returning small forward Al-Farouq Aminu, who was retained in free agency, and with “stretch four” Ryan Anderson and backup big man Jason Smith, it wouldn’t be surprising to see New Orleans, in its latest incarnation, make a run at the postseason.
San Antonio Spurs: After reaching the NBA Finals, San Antonio apparently didn’t feel the need to make any drastic changes, as they held on to holdovers Manu Ginobili and center Tiago Splitter. The Spurs also brought in some bench help in the form of former Bull Marco Belinelli and reserve big man Jeff Pendergraph, though they still haven’t reached an agreement with restricted free agent shooter Gary Neal and power forward DeJuan Blair is unlikely to return. Whether or not future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan can have another renaissance season is unknown, but as long as All-Star Tony Parker remains among the best point guards in the game, small forward Kawhi Leonard continues to develop and role players like Danny Green rise to the occasion, there’s no reason to believe the league’s model franchise won’t make another deep playoff run under the guidance of head coach Gregg Popovich.