NBA Free Agency: Dwight Howard, Chris Paul headline unrestricted options

Christian Petersen

A closer look at the top names of this summer's unrestricted free agent class.

Although questions remain regarding who the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks might be and preparations for the NBA Draft will ramp up next week it is never too early to take an early look at free agency. Having built significant cap room thanks to the offseason trades of Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams, Danny Ferry and the Atlanta Hawks figure to be major players in free agency if they desire. Depending on how they play it, the Hawks could have somewhere in the neighborhood of $30-40 million which will put them among the teams with the most to spend this offseason.

Barring a trade, the Hawks have just three players with guaranteed contracts for next season so their needs will be all over the board. Here we will take a look at some of the top unrestricted free agent options heading into the summer.

The Home Runs

Dwight Howard

While it would be a great story to have Howard return home to Atlanta to play for his hometown team it remains unlikely given that the move would cost him about $30 million in guaranteed money. Still expect Ferry to be sitting at Howard's doorstep at midnight when free agency opens because as we have seen with Howard things don't always work out like they should. Ferry should continue to explore this option until Howard re-signs with the Lakers.

Chris Paul

Everything I said above about Howard applies also to Paul. He also figures to remain in Los Angeles but its up to Ferry and the Hawks to chase him hard until he in fact does re-sign. No doubt Ferry tries to sell the potential of Paul playing with Howard and uses that as a recruiting tactic. However, bringing in both players would require additional moves and would cost Paul and Howard even more guaranteed money.

Best of the Rest

Andrew Bynum

Only in today's NBA would a poison pill like Bynum get a second chance. No matter what happened this season, Bynum will get another chance and will still likely walk away with a good contract this summer. Teams that are interested however will have to do their due diligence to determine just how healthy those knees are. Given his injury history it would seem that a contract with guaranteed money up front but with team options down the road would be appropriate. Its a very high risk with a potentially high reward situation.

Al Jefferson

Some team out there is going to sign a Jefferson and get a quality player but the fan base will be disappointed because its not Howard. The Hawks are naturally rumored to be a possible landing spot but those rumors could be just a situation due to the amount of cap space that Atlanta holds. He averaged just under 18 points and nine boards last season and has been effective where ever he has been.

Andre Iguodala

Iguodala can opt out of his current deal this summer and will likely do so to garner another multi year contract. The Hawks struggled heavily at the small forward position this season and Iguodala would be an answer for that albeit an expensive one. Most indications have him staying in Denver but it will be interesting to see if the Hawks make a push this summer.

Paul Millsap

Millsap is a lot like Jefferson in that he is a quality player that may not get a fan base excited. However, I don't see how he solves very many problems for the Hawks as long as they still have Al Horford. Millsap's best position is power forward and Atlanta could potentially be trying to shift Horford there on a full time basis. Millsap played some small forward with the Jazz but its unlikely that the Hawks would commit money just to play him out of position.

Monta Ellis

Ellis also has an opt out clause in his current contract and he may use it to try and grab a multi year deal. Given his size I have always felt that he was more suited for a role as a sixth man scorer off the bench but he is capable of putting up big numbers. Atlanta already has Lou Williams who does many of the same things while being a better long distance shooter while being much more efficient.

Internal Options

Josh Smith

A week removed from Atlanta's playoff exit I still don't feel any better about the potential for Josh Smith to re-sign with the Hawks. Its still possible however, especially if Howard or Paul do show any of the slightest interest in Ferry's line of thinking. If that were to happen then Smith's bird rights would become much more valuable as the Hawks try to fill out a roster. As things are currently, Smith looks like a very expensive option that would bring a lot of talent but a lot of the same flaws that have been on display for the last few seasons.

Wrap Up

This summer will offer the first glimpse into Ferry's thinking of what he wants the Atlanta Hawks to look like. This season's roster was pretty much a result of the Joe Johnson trade combined with the Lou Williams signing. At this point we aren't sure what type of player or players that Ferry will gravitate towards. I figure for the Hawks to explore many of the options above but it is always possible that they try to hold onto some of that salary cap flexibility for what will be a much more appealing free agent class in 2014.

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