Chauncey Billups is one of several players returning to a former home in 2013 free agency (Image | ABC)

Chauncey Billups is one of several players returning to a former home in 2013 free agency (Image | ABC)

Free-agent season is often the most unpredictable month of the NBA calendar. Mixed in with the inevitable re-signings and weeks-long dramas that everyone loses interest in are a clutch of utterly unpredictable stories of new arrivals (and homecomings) that change the landscape of the league.

With that in mind, we’ve picked out the top 20 free agent moves of the summer so far.

This list has been fairly fluid in its assembly but takes into account the importance of each move to the team, the player, and at the top, the impact of the move on the league in general. Is it absolutely correct? No, I highly doubt it – but feel free to leave your thoughts at the bottom!

Without further ado, then…

20. Chauncey Billups goes ‘home’ to Detroit

To be honest, there were about seven names who could have squeezed onto the bottom of this list, but the emotion and history behind Mr. Big Shot returning to the Palace of Auburn Hills gets him the final spot on our roster. At this stage in his career, it’s unclear how much Billups will be required to contribute, playing behind exciting youngsters Brandon Knight and Will Bynum. But the soon-to-be 37-year-old point guard brings invaluable experience and that all-important winning mentality to a team which has done prescious little winning since he left five years ago.

Why is he no higher? Billups’ likely limited minutes mean this is not a team changing mood, but Detroit fans need something to cheer about and the return of one of their most famous players will give them that.

Honourable mention: The several players who nearly made it onto the list are Manu Ginobili (back to Spurs), Chris Kaman and Nick Young (Lakers), Andray Blatche (Nets) and Andrew Bynum (Cavs), who isn’t included as it remains far from clear how much game time the center will see this season.

19. Metta World Peace goes home to New York

While Billups is returning to his basketball home (he’s actually from Denver), Ron World Artest is actually going home. The product of Queens enters his fifteenth NBA season as a member of the New York Knicks, and while he isn’t putting any particular emphasis on the homecoming, telling reporters his decision “has nothing to do with New York”, it will mean something to the population of a city whose NBA representation has dwindled somewhat since the days of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Mark Jackson and Stephon Marbury.

Why is he no higher? MWP is certainly a nice pick-up for NYK, but, as with Billups, it’s unclear how much he will feature. World Peace is a small forward, and the Knicks already have that Anthony dude taking up some minutes there.

Brazilian Andy Murray lookalike Tiago Splitter is remaining with Western champs San Antonio (Image | kismet85.blogspot.com)

Brazilian Andy Murray lookalike Tiago Splitter is remaining with Western champs San Antonio (Image | kismet85.blogspot.com)

18. Splitter re-ups with Spurs

Even though I soured somewhat on him during the Playoffs (Splitter’s lack of offence and rebounding struggles were two of the key reasons his minutes disappeared in the Finals, as well as the awkward match-ups), the Brazilian giant clearly has a bright future in San Antonio. Tim Duncan’s long-term future remains unclear, and the Spurs, who thrive so much on longevity and consistency, have spent a lot of time developing Splitter. The 28-year-old now gets the payday and the long contract (four years, $36m) to anchor him in the Spurs’ defense for the long haul.

Why is he no higher? Like I said, I went off Splitter in the Finals. He’s a good pick-and-roll guy, but needs to develop his individual offense to take the next step.

17. The Grindfather opts to stick with Grizzlies

Tony Allen used to be an afterthought. When he won his ring with the Celtics in 2008, often taking on the toughest assignments the opposition had to offer, all the focus was on the Big Three and their triumphant combination in Boston. After that, it was the emergence of Rajon Rondo.

In Memphis, on the other hand, probably the toughest man in the NBA found his spiritual home. Playing with quiet, unassuming hard workers in Mike Conley and Marc Gasol really sparked Allen’s game, and though he doesn’t possess much of an offensive game, the versatile guard’s physical defense has been one of the keys to Memphis’ recent success. There was a moment where his return looked uncertain, but the Grizzlies have done the right thing locking Allen up for another four seasons.

Why is he no higher? I’m really not sure. From a team perspective, paying a lot of money to stay where you were didn’t rank that well in this list against paying a lot to improve. But Allen could easily have been five or six places higher. No, I’m not changing it.

16. Pelicans swoop for Evans

Beginning their first year as the New Orleans Pelicans, Louisiana’s finest are looking to put more talent around budding All-Star Anthony Davis. The trading of #6 pick Nerlens Noel to land Jrue Holiday was one major coup, and the next – arguably – came with landing point guard-turned-swingman Tyreke Evans.

The Horn- sorry, Pelicans gave up reliable center Robin Lopez in a bold move for Evans, whose career has stuttered badly since his outstanding rookie season in Sacramento. The Kings’ habit of repeatedly drafting and signing guards since that time (Beno Udrih, Jimmer Fredette, now Ben McLemore) hasn’t helped, and Evans has seen a decline in his minutes, points, rebounds and assists every season of his career. This is his golden opportunity to turn that around.

Why is he no higher? There’s no telling how much time Evans will see in NOLA. He was picked up on the promise of a sixth man’s role, as the Pelicans brought back starting SF Al-Farouq Aminu. Can Tyreke, a career starter, produce off the bench? Only time will tell.

15. Dunleavy shoots for Bulls

Since Chicago broke up its roster of two seasons ago, which was widely recognised and respected as an extremely tight, gritty unit, it’s struggled to find any bench production of note. Last year’s supporting cast was essentially Nate Robinson, as one reserve after another became a starter during a season ravaged by injuries. The Bulls have taken a step in the right direction by adding Dunleavy on an economical deal (2 years, $6m) to provide some reliable floor-spacing for the return of Derrick Rose.

Mike Dunleavy's arrival is a welcome addition to the Bulls' beleaguered bench (Image | Chicago Bulls  Twitter)

Mike Dunleavy’s arrival is a welcome addition to the Bulls’ beleaguered bench (Image | Chicago Bulls Twitter)

Why is he no higher? It looks like Dunleavy is pretty low on this list, but he’ll probably be the second-highest player in our selection to come off the bench. And at almost 33, his long-term production isn’t absolutely guaranteed.

14. Jack lands with Cavaliers

Jarrett Jack was pretty confident at the end of last year that he’d be returning to the Golden State Warriors, where he’d carved out a niche as a scoring, passing sixth man and something of a fan favourite. But as Golden State’s offseason evolved (more on that later), it became clear that they couldn’t offer the contract Jack was after. Instead, the 29-year-old moves on to the sixth NBA team in his nine-year career, knowing that while his four-year, $25m contract doesn’t guarantee him the stability he’s after, he’ll have the same opportunity as a sixth-man in Cleveland.

Why isn’t he higher? I’m not convinced Cleveland has gone in the right direction with some of its moves this summer. Jack was a solid pick-up, but Bynum (as mentioned earlier) is being paid a lot of money to probably not play much, and #1 pick Anthony Bennett will surely clash with 2011 #4 pick Tristan Thompson for minutes at power forward. And who’s going to play on the wings?? Still much improvement to be made, although the Cavs’ collection of talent is now its best since The Decision.

13. Smith stays with Knicks

J.R. “Call me Earl” Smith is one of the hardest players in the NBA to evaluate. He’s an explosive scorer, superb athlete and more than decent three-point gunner who can pass, rebound and get into the passing lanes on defense – if he turns up. Otherwise, he’s a liability.

Last year, however, was Smith’s most productive in the NBA to date. He averaged career highs in points, rebounds and minutes per game and solidified a spot as the sixth man for New York, mainly coming off the bench behind Iman Shumpert or Ronnie Brewer, and his 18.1ppg was second on the team behind Carmelo Anthony. He’s a risk, but a three-year, $18m contract figures to be a risk worth taking for a Knicks squad which can’t do without him.

Why is he no higher? As with Tony Allen, this move doesn’t improve the Knicks, only keeps them where they were. Smith is higher because, frankly, the Knicks had more to lose letting him leave than Memphis.

12. Landry joins Kings (again)

Carl Landry, just like his former teammate Jarrett Jack, found himself the odd man out in Golden State’s ever-changing budgetary situation this summer, and as a result he’s headed to one of the worst teams in the NBA to back up one of the league’s most ball-dominant big men, DeMarcus Cousins. Well, make that headed back.

Sacramento is a place of happy memories for Landry. He was a piece in the puzzle of the 2009 Tracy McGrady/Kevin Martin super-trade which also landed Larry Hughes in California. Landry arrived to the first starting role of his career and massively increased minutes, and promptly posted the best numbers of his career to date. Can he do the same as a back-up this time around, or will new coach Mike Malone bump Cousins to center to make room for his new acquisition?

Why is he no higher? LeBron James couldn’t make this bunch relevant at the moment. Arguably the worst team – or at least the most consistently bad team – in the NBA over the past four or five years. They’ve picked in the top seven of the Draft five years running. That’s reflected by Landry’s four-year, $26m contract.

Can Jose Calderon be the starring point guard the Mavericks need to get back to contender status? (Image | Getty)

Can Jose Calderon be the starring point guard the Mavericks need to get back to contender status? (Image | Getty)

11. Calderon heads south to take reins of Mavericks

Although Tony Parker is very much the cream of the NBA’s crop of European point guards, there may be a case for suggesting that, over Ricky Rubio, Goran Dragic or Alexey Shved, Jose Calderon is second on the list.

The Mavs needed some calm in their organisation, and nine-year veteran Calderon guarantees just that. A natural successor to Jason Kidd, Calderon is a double-double threat on any given night and his passing and on-court organising will prove key to a Dallas roster which once again finds itself in a state of flux.

Why is he no higher? From here on out it’s basically a case of “look at the other guys”, but Calderon also needs to make that last step into the elite list of NBA point guards alongside Parker, Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul and Steve Nash.

That completes the first half of our countdown. Click here for Part Two to see the top ten free agent pick-ups in the NBA this summer!

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