Eyes on Howard when NBA free agency opens

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Dwight Howard could leave, Chris Paul is expected to stay, and plenty more will happen beyond Los Angeles when the NBA’s free agency period opens.

Frontcourt players such as Josh Smith, David West, Andrew Bynum and Al Jefferson also can become free agents Monday at midnight EDT.

Howard heads the class after spending one largely unhappy season with the Lakers. They would like him back and can outspend other suitors by about $30 million, according to NBA rules, but teams such as Houston, Dallas and Atlanta will try to persuade him to take less money for more enjoyment.

He didn’t fit right in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and could end up with his third home in less than a year, having been dealt from Orlando to Los Angeles just last August.

Bynum was in that deal, too, going from the Lakers to Philadelphia in what was a four-team trade. He sat out all season because of knee problems and could leave without ever playing a game for the 76ers.

The Clippers are much happier with Paul, and he has plenty of reasons to stay in Los Angeles. The Clippers won their first Pacific Division title last season and will be coached now by Doc Rivers, who headed across the country after the Clippers sent a future first-round draft pick to Boston to let him out of his contract.

Players can agree to deals any time after free agency opens but can’t sign until July 10, after next season’s salary cap has been set.

That’s when the blockbuster draft night trade that sent Kevin Garnett from Boston to Brooklyn will become official.

The more severe penalties in the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement now start to take effect, with stiffer luxury taxes and more restrictions on sign-and-trades.

Teams are chasing the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, who will try to hold onto key reserve Chris Andersen. The San Antonio Spurs, whom they beat in seven games in the NBA Finals, would see the end of their longtime Big Three if Manu Ginobili does not re-sign. Starter Tiago Splitter is a restricted free agent, so the Spurs can match an offer.

West helped Indiana take Miami to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals, and the Pacers would like to keep the veteran power forward. The versatile Smith (Atlanta) and the rugged Jefferson (Utah) also are available.

Key guards on the market include Olympian Andre Iguodala of Denver and Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith of New York.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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