Bernucca: A very early look at free agency

When former AAU teammates Dwight Howard and Josh Smith were not traded Thursday, they made the offseason all the more interesting.

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak held onto Howard and Hawks GM Danny Ferry was unsuccessful in trying to trade Smith. And there is no guarantee that either player is sticking around this summer, possibly leaving $30 million on the table for a fresh start elsewhere.

Howard has been made somewhat of a scapegoat for the Lakers’ struggles this season, while Smith appears intent on venturing into unrestricted free agency. And wherever they land, both will get max contracts, whether or not you believe they deserve them.

Howard and Smith are two of the top 10 unrestricted free agents this offseason. We take a look at the rest below, plus the top 10 restricted free agents.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

DWIGHT HOWARD, LA LAKERS: As bad as this season has been for him, it would have to get a lot worse – no playoffs, another public tongue-lashing from Kobe Bryant – for him to leave $30 million on the table and sign elsewhere. Just a gut feeling, but I don’t think he’s going anywhere.

JOSH SMITH, ATLANTA: It would be great if Ferry could use him to recruit Howard back home to Georgia, but it’s more likely he swings a sign-and-trade so he doesn’t lose the versatile Smith without anything in return.

CHRIS PAUL, LA CLIPPERS: The Clippers aren’t going to the Finals because they will have to beat the Thunder and Spurs without homecourt advantage. That will grease the skids for Vinny Del Negro’s ouster, and if Paul has a say in replacing him, he will stay in LA. He didn’t get any State Farm commercials playing in New Orleans.

ANDREW BYNUM, PHILADELPHIA: Staying in Philly seemed a foregone conclusion in August. But if he returns and plays poorly or gets hurt again – adding to an already sour season for the Sixers, the fans may turn, and he may look elsewhere.

MONTA ELLIS, MILWAUKEE (P): He has to opt out of $11 million for 2013-14 to enter free agency, and it’s hard to imagine an undersized volume shooter getting more than that. If he does opt out, it’s also hard to imagine the Bucks re-signing both Ellis and J.J. Redick.

AL JEFFERSON, UTAH: You can see the Jazz re-signing Jefferson or Paul Millsap, but not both. They can’t let Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter continue to rot on the bench. The Spurs could have room if they can get him to take a discount. Or he could get the max in Charlotte.

PAUL MILLSAP, UTAH: The Jazz are better off letting Jefferson walk and keeping Millsap, because Favors and Kanter can both play center and Millsap can step out on the floor a bit. But he’s going to want more than $7.2 million and can get a big raise elsewhere without being maxed out.

KEVIN MARTIN, OKLAHOMA CITY: He knows his days of making $13 million are over. But the Thunder already are committed to $66 million next season without their new sixth man. And don’t forget their commitment to being a “sustainable team.”

J.J. HICKSON, PORTLAND: Two years ago, the Cavs traded him for Omri Casspi. Last year, he was waived by the Kings. This season, he has 29 double-doubles. This summer, he could get eight figures annually. And it just might be from the Blazers.

J.J. REDICK, MILWAUKEE: If the Bucks plan on keeping restricted free agent Brandon Jennings, they almost certainly will have to choose between Ellis and Redick, who has better size, a better stroke, is a better defender and will cost less.

TEN MORE TARGETS: Tony Allen, Memphis; Chase Budinger, Minnesota; Jose Calderon, Detroit; Andre Iguodala, Denver (ETO); Jarrett Jack, Golden State; Andrei Kirilenko, Minnesota (P); Carl Landry, Golden State (P); O.J. Mayo, Dallas; J.R. Smith, New York; David West, Indiana.

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