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NBA free-agent derby set with Dwight Howard back in spotlight

Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard follows through dunk during second half their NBA basketball game against HoustRockets Sunday Nov.

Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard follows through on a dunk during the second half of their NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, in Los Angeles. The Lakers won 119-108. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

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Updated: August 2, 2013 7:16AM



Come Monday, NBA general managers officially can pick up the phone to call agents, players, relatives of players and anyone else who will help land free agents.

It becomes open season.

Unfortunately for the guys wearing the suits and ties in front offices, that recruiting process has gone on for weeks, months and, in some cases, years among the players themselves. It’s the NBA’s dirty little secret.

Chris Paul technically is a free agent. But all that’s happened under that veil is the point guard recruiting center Dwight Howard and picking out the next coach for the Los Angeles Clippers in Doc Rivers.

There’s your free-agent market.

Teams will spend the next two months getting better, fooling themselves that they have improved or purposely building to lose, hoping to land in the Andrew Wiggins lottery. You know who you are, Boston and Philadelphia.

Either way, let the intrigue begin. Well, pretend as if it’s about to begin.

TOP FREE AGENTS

Centers

1. Dwight Howard (Unrestricted) Welcome to “The Indecision II,’’ starring one of the more heartless big men in the game. Go get ’em, Dwight! Best guess: After saying yes to several teams and backing out, Howard ends up in Houston.

2. Al Jefferson (Unrestricted) The “Carlos Boozer Consolation Prize’’ of this summer’s free-agent class. Best guess: Utah would be smart to keep him, but a team such as San Antonio might sneak in to land the eventual replacement for Tim Duncan. Charlotte also is in play.

3. Andrew Bynum (Unrestricted) Start rolling the dice on bad knees and worse decisions on hairstyles. Best guess: After losing out on Howard, Dallas rolls out a contract full of incentives.

Power Forwards

1. David West (Unrestricted) At age 32, West knows that only a handful of teams are built to challenge the Miami Heat in the East, and his Pacers are one of them. Best guess: West stays put with Indiana.

2. Josh Smith (Unrestricted) Someday Smith will learn that he’s not a shooting guard. Unfortunately, someone will overpay this summer until that lesson is learned. Best guess: Desperate to help Kobe Bryant after losing out on Howard, the Lakers land Smith.

3. Paul Millsap (Unrestricted) The Jazz can’t keep Jefferson and Millsap. Best guess: They pass on Jefferson and keep Millsap.

Small Forwards

1. Andre Iguodala (Early Termination Option) The All-Star and former coach George Karl didn’t see eye-to-eye in Denver, but Karl is out. Best guess: As the playoffs taught Denver, they need a star. Iguodala is the best they have. The Nuggets re-sign him.

2. Andrei Kirilenko (Early Termination Option) Kirilenko put himself back on the map and wants Minnesota to pay him like a top stretch forward. Best guess: He stays put.

3. Kyle Korver (Unrestricted) Korver would love to return to the Bulls, and they would love to have him. Unless he’s willing to take a huge pay cut, it’s not happening. Best guess: Dallas lands the best pure shooter out there.

Shooting Guards

1. Manu Ginobili (Unrestricted) Ginobili looked old, slow and weathered in the playoffs, but he’s an institution in San Antonio. Best guess: Spurs.

2. Monta Ellis (Early Termination Option) Ellis opted out of Milwaukee because he feels as if he should be paid like an elite two-guard. Reality is about to hit him. Best guess: After a disappointing market, Ellis signs with some bad Western Conference team, such as Phoenix or Sacramento, never to be heard from again.

3. Kevin Martin (Unrestricted) Martin’s biggest problem in OKC was he wasn’t James Harden. Best guess: Martin stays in OKC, with a chance to make a run at the Finals.

Point Guards

1. Chris Paul (Unrestricted) Please. His decision was made up before Doc Rivers got on the plane to Los Angeles. Best guess: Clippers.

2. Brandon Jennings (Restricted) Several intriguing teams need scoring from the point-guard spot, with Dallas and Indiana atop that list. Best guess: He’s not going anywhere … yet. Jennings stays in Milwaukee.

3. Jarrett Jack (Unrestricted) Jack was a huge veteran presence in the backcourt for the Warriors and a player they cannot do without just yet. Best guess: He stays in the Bay with Golden State.

BULLS’ FREE-AGENT SHOPPING LIST

1. Marco Belinelli (Unrestricted) They would love to bring Belinelli back, especially with how far he came along defensively and in creating his own shot. Money is an issue, and one that won’t disappear easily. Best guess: Belinelli gets a can’t-say-no offer from a team that needs his scoring, such as Memphis.

2. Martell Webster (Unrestricted) Webster shot a career-high 42.2 percent on threes and would be a good bridge until Tony Snell learns the league. Best guess: Money still could be an issue.

3. Ronnie Brewer (Unrestricted) It has to happen. After watching Nate Robinson and Belinelli walk, the Bulls go back to what they know best — a defensive-minded player. Best guess: Brewer comes cheap and is a Bull again.



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