Some high-profile names are up for free agency after the 2012-13 season comes to a close. But which players should teams be going after? Our panel breaks down the value of some of the summer's top commodities.
1. Dwight Howard or Chris Paul: Which '13 free agent is more valuable?
Israel Gutierrez, ESPN.com: Howard. Even in his worst season since he was 20 years old, Howard is putting up nearly 17 points, 13 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. In a system that actually has a defensive system in place, he'd still be the most dominant defensive presence in the league.
Andrew Han, Clipper Blog: Howard, largely due to the fact that, when healthy, he is still the best center in the league, a noted position of dearth. Additionally, Howard's free-agency inclinations have been a bit more nebulous as he completes a rocky season with the Lakers, whereas Chris Paul has given positive indications that he'd like to remain in "the other Los Angeles."
James Herbert, HoopSpeak: Howard, though I'm as excited about this pick as I'd be about picking out a new doorknob. Paul's been more impactful in L.A. by miles and miles, but they're both the class of their respective positions when healthy and finding a star at center is much more difficult than at point guard.
Jack Winter, Warriors World: Paul. When healthy, happy and motivated, Howard can be the second-most valuable player in the NBA. But back injuries are notoriously fickle, and Howard hasn't exactly quelled growing notions that he's something of an off-court cancer. Paul, on the other hand, is a model teammate and fierce competitor. He's not averse to future injury concerns, either, but his perfect disposition wins out here.
Danny Nowell, Portland Roundball: Howard. Considering Dwight's back problems, and the fact that Paul is currently the more valuable, this is not an easy call. But as Howard rounds into form, this is a question of the game's best center at age 28 versus a 6-foot point guard with a history of knee trouble. I'll take Dwight, by a nose.
2. Andre Iguodala or Josh Smith: Which '13 free agent is more valuable?
Gutierrez: Smith. If I had to pick a player to win with in 2013-14, I'd take Iguodala. But if I was signing one to a multiyear deal, I'm taking Smith and crossing my fingers. He just offers a tiny bit more all-around, and is two years younger. Iguodala would be silly to bypass $16 million next season when he won't get close to that annually in free agency.
Han: Iguodala. Both are magnificent defenders and superb athletes, but the edge goes to Iguodala as he is a slightly more complete player on offense. And again, Iguodala can play a position that lacks elite-level depth in the league, shooting guard. Andre gets the nod.
Herbert: Smith. While both are proven defensive forces, Smith is younger. This is crucial because it just takes one team to think he has some untapped potential in him to warrant something close to a max deal.
Winter: Iguodala, but it's all about context with these guys. If Smith lands in a place with a respected coach and a cemented system that can help mask his many deficiencies, he could be a true impact player on both ends of the floor. But that's a big if, and one that makes Iguodala's two-way talents and far superior self-awareness more valuable in a vacuum.
Nowell: Smith. Again, this is an extremely narrow margin, and I love Iguodala, but Josh is slightly more valuable. These days, a defender close to the basket is worth more than one on the perimeter, and Smith has the power to lift a team defense the way Iguodala doesn't quite.
3. Andrew Bynum or Al Jefferson: Which '13 free agent is more valuable?
Gutierrez: Jefferson. What can you honestly expect out of Bynum, other than a certain controversy and some potential for wig sales? Jefferson has yet to elevate a team despite impressive numbers, but toss in 17 and 9 in the right system, and Jefferson could finally be an impact player on a very good team. Bynum could be the centerpiece of a good team. Or he could be a sideshow on crutches.
Han: Jefferson, even though Andrew Bynum is the better player. Bynum can absolutely be a franchise cornerstone, but carries the dreaded "if healthy" tag. And with his health concerns, his value is cloudy at best. Jefferson is a known quantity that is, in relation, quite reliable.
Herbert: Bynum. It feels forever ago now, but pre-injury Bynum was on his way to being a franchise-caliber center. Those almost never come along. Jefferson, while very skilled and certainly more reliable than Bynum, possesses defensive flaws that prevent him from being seen the same way.
Winter: Bynum. Despite his unique, old-school offensive talents as a true low post threat, Jefferson's net impact is still something close to zero. Bynum, though, presents tremendous influence on both ends as a space-eater with soft touch and great hands. Seriously alarming injury history notwithstanding, that makes him the better commodity.
Nowell: Bynum. This could blow up in my face, but if Bynum gets healthy, he's a two-way talent Jefferson can't match. Of course, if Bynum's knees never repair themselves, Jefferson is better then by default, but Bynum could still anchor a team; Jefferson is more ballast than anchor.
4. Monta Ellis or Brandon Jennings: Which '13 free agent is more valuable?
Gutierrez: Jennings. At 23, he's four years younger than Ellis, with more potential to play like a true point guard. He's a slightly better distributor, and a more consistent 3-point shooter, even if it's not all that consistent. Besides, we've seen Ellis in a couple of different settings. We've only seen Jennings as a Buck. He could very well emerge into an All-Star elsewhere.
Han: Jennings. If the last pairing was about taking the more reliable entity, this is definitely about potential. Jennings is only 23 years old compared to Ellis' 28. And this year they have nearly identical PER (16.01 v. Ellis' 16.17). Youth wins out.
Herbert: Jennings. Both are similar players in that they can put up plenty of points but too often do so inefficiently. When they put emphasis on passing and select better shots, their value goes way up. Youth wins the day here -- Jennings is four years younger and it's easier to imagine a new situation bringing out the best in him.
Winter: Jennings, but be wary of both. By now we know exactly what Ellis is; he'd be best served in a reserve role. The question now is whether he gets the chance to prove it. Jennings, meanwhile, may still have room to improve and has recently shown a pass-first penchant. If his contract isn't outlandish he could be a steal. But if a team overpays as history suggests is likely, Jennings' salary could doom a franchise.
Nowell: Jennings. Not wild about either player here, but if one or the other must lead your offense, you take the one with the slightly better passing instincts. That's Jennings, and he's just slightly less likely to shoot his team out of a game.
5. O.J. Mayo, Tyreke Evans or J.J. Redick: Which '13 free agent is more valuable?
Gutierrez: Evans. Only because he still seems to have the most potential of these three. Granted, you'd prefer that Evans were more suited to play off the ball as a scorer, rather than a ball-dominating point guard, which he was as a rookie. But if a team is willing to hand him the ball, he'd have a bigger impact than either Mayo or Redick.
Han: Mayo. All three provide tantalizing skills, but Mayo offers the best combination of shooting (Redick) and slashing/finishing ability (Evans). Coupled with the defensive acumen developed from his Memphis days, Mayo figures to be the most versatile of the three, and the most valuable.
Herbert: Evans. He's the only one of the three who still has serious star potential. He's also the riskiest choice, and at this point it's sort of difficult to even picture him playing on a good team. It almost feels unfair, the least polished player holding the most value. But everyone still remembers that rookie season, and promise has a price.
Winter: Redick. Evans is a serious question mark, a talented player without a true position. Mayo's had a very good season for Dallas, but has hardly been dependable. Redick remains a consistent, rock-solid piece on both ends, and deserves the opportunity to play for a winner. Sure, things matter when major money is involved, so he's this trio's best bet.
Nowell: Evans. I love the season O.J. has put together, and there are few bigger fans of Redick's dedicated reinvention than I, but Evans is the only one of these players who has the talent to swing a franchise. He's a reclamation project, but could still be a first-rate player in the right situation.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Israel Gutierrez covers the NBA for ESPN.com. Andrew Han, James Herbert, Danny Nowell and Jack Winter write for the TrueHoop Network.
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