One dozen NBA free agents to watch (not named Howard or Paul)

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Chris Paul is going to stay a Clipper. Dwight Howard is going to do whatever it is Dwight Howard is going to do.

But those two are not the only guys who became free agents at the stroke of midnight and we ventured into Monday.

Here are a dozen other newly minted free agents worth watching during this free agent period.

• Josh Smith: He’s one of the best players in what is generally considered a down free agent class — 17.5 points and 8.4 rebounds a game. Nobody doubts that he is a good player, one that annually just misses the  All-Star cut line. The issue for him as a free agent is simply his shot selection. This chart pretty much sums it up.

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Smith is very effective around the rim but loves his jump shot. Too much. Also, Smith wants a max contract. He likely doesn’t get it, the question is what will a team pay? He can be amazing if the fit is right, and that team will get some nights of good defense. The Detroit Pistons want him and another 4-5 teams are said to be interested. The question is, at what price? How much tax are you willing to pay for Smith and his penchant for jumpers?

• Andre Iguodala: Part of the glue that led Denver to 57 wins. It’s not so much the 13 points a game and the 5.7 rebounds, it’s the strong perimeter defense and the impressive finishing in transition. He has versatility. He’s the ultimate glue guy. He opted out of the $16 million to get the security of a long-term deal. But as our own Dan Feldman pointed out, the team that gives him four years (and one will) may regret that decision in a few years.

• J.R. Smith: He’s the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year and a gunner without a conscience. He is perfect off the bench — he comes in and brings energy and shooting. But he is anything but consistent. The Knicks have only his Early Bird rights and are limited with what they can offer; the most is just above the league average salary (so a little over $5 million a year for at least two years). It is possible another team swoops in, the Suns, Bucks and Pistons are reportedly interested.

• Andrew Bynum: He is the real test of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement: How much are teams willing to pay a guy that two seasons ago was one of the top three centers in the league (if not the best outright), but missed all of last season with a knee injury that is chronic? Under the old CBA somebody would have overpaid, but now… There are real questions about his passion for the game, but some team will take a gamble (two or three years at $9 million per?). You can bet that contract will have an out that they can cut him and not pay him if he can’t play due to a preexisting knee condition.

• Monta Ellis: He reportedly turned down two years, $24 million and he is going to regret that. Ellis is an old school volume scorer — he scores a lot of points and shoots a lot of shots. Don’t expect efficiency (41.6 percent shooting overall last year, 28 percent from three). The new breed of NBA GM doesn’t want a guy like Ellis and he is going to find a more shallow market than expected. That said, the Hawks and Mavericks are both reportedly interested.

• David West: The steady forward who was a key to the Indiana Pacers success (within one game of the NBA Finals) is not expected to sign anywhere but Indiana. The Pacers will make a fair offer of around $10 million per season, but this is going to be a short-term deal, likely just a couple years. West is 33, he’s not getting four years.

• J.J. Redick: His half a season in Milwaukee taught him he wanted out of Milwaukee. He’s one of the best pure shooters in the league and has worked to improve other parts of his game (for example, his defense is better than you think). He’s going to get a nice contract from someone who needs a two who can space the floor.

• Kyle Korver: Another pure shooter in this draft, he’s older than Redick and not quite as well rounded, but when it comes to shooting threes he is good. The early buzz is the Nets want and are in the lead to get him.

• Kevin Martin: The final sharpshooter on our list — he shot 42.6 percent from three last season for Oklahoma City, a team that could draw attention away from him. He has a very efficient offensive game, but he’s not going to give you much defense. He has a role in this league as the No. 3 guy on a good team, but we’ll see who steps up to pay him.

• Al Jefferson: He is a genuine NBA big man who scored 17.8 points and added 9.2 rebounds per game last season for the Jazz. He’s age 28 and in his prime, so he should be expecting a big contract. And he’s going to get a big contract. But he’s a defensive liability on the pick-and-roll and really does his work in the post and on the boards and not much else. Someone is going to pay him then be frustrated.

• Paul Millsap: He is a restricted free agent, meaning the Jazz can match any offer. It’s going to be interesting, he is a guy who comes in with almost but not quite All-Star numbers — 14.6 points on 49 percent shooting with 7.1 rebounds a game. He’s solid and efficient, a poor man’s David Lee kind of guy. He’s the kind of guy that a GM could decide he needs after missing out on his first choice and puts up a good offer that will leave the Jazz in a pickle.

• Brandon Jennings: Another restricted free agent (the Bucks can match) who is going to get the kind of offer that will leave the Bucks in a tough spot. He’s a score first point guard (he did have 6.5 assists per game, to be fair) but he doesn’t score efficiently. He shot under 40 percent last season and he struggles to finish in the paint, which makes that amazing first step and quickness less frightening. I got the feeling someone is going to offer him a lot of money in hopes his game grows.

• O.J. Mayo: Another guy who can score (15.3 points per game) but doesn’t do it efficiently and had Rick Carlisle so frustrated last year he called him out on a couple of occasions. He can score so he will land somewhere, but he’s not loved by GMs. The advanced stats teams are not going near Mayo but somebody will and they will get what they get with him.

After Thunder win, Russell Westbrook trolls Joel Embiid, waves goodbye, tells him to “go home”

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Joel Embiid was making friends all over the court on Friday night.

First, he got into a jawing match with Carmelo Anthony. Also during the first overtime, Embiid blocked Russell Westbrook‘s driving attempt at a game winner.

After the Thunder, Westbrook trolled Embiid by waving goodbye to the Sixers’ center, who was yelling back at him.

When asked about it, Westbrook said Embiid was talking a lot so he told the Sixers center to go home.

That can have some serious connotations — Embiid was born in Cameroon. Westbrook may have meant “go to the locker room” or “go to where you live,” but considering Embiid is an immigrant it comes off very poorly for Westbrook.

Embiid threw a little fire back at Westbrook.

The league office is going to be looking into this one.

DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t expect Pelicans to trade him at the deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans have a decision to make as they approach the trade deadline: Do they think they can re-sign DeMarcus Cousins next summer to stay in the Big Easy with Anthony Davis?

If the answer is no, then they have to consider trading Cousins at the deadline to at least get something back. There is a lot of context, however, that makes this seeming binary trade/keep decision far more complicated.

Cousins himself doesn’t think he is going anywhere, as he told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

While the Pelicans have a lot to consider with the unrestricted free agent, Cousins says he is confident that he will still be playing for New Orleans after the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

“I am confident in my team,” Cousins said. “I am starting to understand this business a lot more than I did before. You can kind of tell when things are about to come about. We’re a very competitive team. A talented team. I don’t think that will be the case at all….

“A.D. hits me with little jabs about free agency all the time, but he also understands,” Cousins said. “It was Jrue in that situation last [offseason], and we understood his situation. Of course, they throw their little jabs. They throw their little jokes. But they are serious at the same time. They are respectful about it at the same time.

The Pelicans are 15-14 and the seven seed in the West entering Friday night’s games, and if New Orleans has a shot at the playoffs come the deadline there is no way he gets moved. Ownership and management want a playoff appearance. They have greenlit adding one of the game’s top centers (Cousins) to go next to Davis, and last summer they paid big to keep Jrue Holiday at the point in New Orleans. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs (and possibly even if they do squeak in and get swept out in an ugly fashion), everyone in the organization expects a housecleaning. They have been on edge all season. With jobs on the line, they are not trading Cousins and getting worse short term even if you could argue it was the right basketball move long term.

Will Cousins re-sign with the Pelicans next summer? That will be about the money — what the Pelicans offer, and what other teams will offer in what is expected to be a tight free agent market, especially for centers.  DeAndre Jordan will be on the market as well, not to mention second-tier guys who will be more affordable for teams such as Brook Lopez. In that market, Cousins may want to stay where he likes his teammates and seems happy.

But first he has to get past the trade deadline.

Joel Embiid scores over Carmelo Anthony, then they exchange words (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid gives zero… well, you know where I’m going with that.

Embiid trolls the world and backs down from no man, and that includes Carmelo Anthony. Late in the fourth quarter of the barn burner between the Thunder and 76ers Friday night, Embiid backed ‘Melo down and scored over him, then did a little jawing — which Anthony didn’t appreciate.

I love that Embiid egged on the Sixers crowd after this. He knows his audience. After the game he said this.

Embiid talks a lot — A LOT — but he is backing it up.

For example, in the first overtime Russell Westbrook thought he made a drive that was going to win the game, and Embiid rejected him.

If you did not watch this game, go find a replay. This is the new best game of the season.

Rudy Gobert leaves game vs. Celtics with likely knee sprain. Again.

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Rudy Gobert missed 11 games this season due to a bone bruise in his knee. While the Jazz defense suffered as should have been expected with their anchor gone, their offense found a groove without him — and with more Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors — resulting in Utah going 7-4 with their star center out.

Now the Jazz will be without him again for a while — he seems to have sprained his left knee just minutes into Friday night’s game against the Celtics when Favors fell back into him. That is the same knee he injured before. Gobert was forced to leave and will not return to the game.

If that diagnosis holds, it will be weeks again the Jazz will be without Gobert.

The Jazz know how to play without Gobert. Favors moves to center and while he’s not near the same defender his offensive skills got them buckets and opened up the floor. The rookie Mitchell, as well as Ricky Rubio at points, took advantage of it to give the Jazz a top-10 offense with Gobert out. They need to find that groove again.

Still, Utah needs Gobert back and himself to really reach the heights they are capable of.