Posted: Tuesday November 20, 2012 12:19PM ; Updated: Tuesday November 20, 2012 1:50PM
Ian Thomsen

NBA Mailbag (cont.)

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LeBron James
LeBron James won two MVP awards, but no titles, during his time with Cleveland.
David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

LeBron realized this in some way, too. He didn't win the championship last June because he got better at making defenders look silly. He won because he learned to play in the post and make other contributions that aren't obvious. He won because he learned how to win, and it was something the NBA's most talented player needed nine seasons to learn.

The reason the Cavaliers are rebuilding their roster patiently and wisely with young talent is because owner Dan Gilbert has promised to learn from the mistakes they made during LeBron's seven years in Cleveland. The Cavaliers treated James like a champion instead of creating an environment that helped him by pushing and driving him to the championship. I'm pretty sure that coach Byron Scott isn't enabling Irving to feel entitled.

Can't we let these guys earn it on the floor before we tell them they're the greatest? There is a big difference between being a great talent and being a great player. The nine point guards on my list understand the difference because they went through that transition and turned their talent into successful leadership. Irving is just beginning to make that transition. I'm convinced he's going to succeed. In the meantime, I just can't see how a 20-year-old who has yet to celebrate his 20th NBA win can be rated as superior to Jason Kidd.

I liked your All-Dwight Howard Team. I thought it was both clever and thought-provoking. That is definitely an interesting mix of talent that has the potential of hitting the free-agent market next summer. Which team will have the cap space to chase these potential free agents? Do you see any of these guys hitting the trade market?
-- Bryan Custard, Carrollton, Ga.

Thanks, Bryan. Here are the teams with the smallest salary commitments for next season, if they were to renounce their own free agents (and not accounting for the salaries of the picks that will be made in the upcoming draft):

Salary Commitments For 2013-14
Team Salary
Atlanta Hawks $21.5 million
Utah Jazz $26.1 million
Cleveland Cavaliers $29.7 million
San Antonio Spurs $40.9 million
Charlotte Bobcats $41.0 million
Milwaukee Bucks $41.9 million
Dallas Mavericks $42.2 million
Detroit Pistons $42.3 million
Los Angeles Clippers $44.8 million
Philadelphia 76ers $45.3 million
Phoenix Suns $45.7 million
Houston Rockets $45.8 million
New Orleans Hornets $46.5 million
Portland Trail Blazers $47.4 million
Indiana Pacers $49.9 million

Based on this year's $58 million salary cap, the Hawks could enter free agency with as much as $36.5 million in cap space -- provided they have no draft picks and renounce all of their free agents, including Josh Smith, Devin Harris and Jeff Teague. In other words, they're not going to be accessing all $36.5 million of that potential space, but they'll have money with which to play. Utah is in a similar position with Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Mo Williams and several others set to come off the books. Instead of renouncing Manu Ginobili, the Spurs are likely to re-sign him. Cleveland, Dallas, Houston and Detroit could also be players in free agency.

As far as potential free agents for next summer, I'm guessing Dwight Howard is going to love playing in Los Angeles for Mike D'Antoni and will wind up staying with the Lakers for as long as they'll have him. Chris Paul sounds like he wants to remain in L.A. as well, with the Clippers.

The free agents likely to generate the most activity on the market are going to be Smith, David West, Ray Allen, Millsap (or Jefferson -- I'm guessing the Jazz will re-sign one of them) and Milwaukee's Monta Ellis. Denver's Andre Iguodala could join that list if he opts out of his $16.2 million salary for next season. Andrew Bynum's value as a free agent next summer is nearly impossible to predict.

In terms of the trading deadline? Smith, Millsap and Jefferson will be generating the most rumors while their teams attempt to maintain leverage with their impending free agents.

Damian Lillard took some flak for dunking instead of dribbling out the clock at the end of the Blazers-Bulls game Sunday night. Where do you stand on this unwritten rule of basketball? Was the rookie in the wrong?
-- Jamal McPhee, Seattle

This is one of those deals decided entirely by the players. They feel that an unnecessary dunk at the end of a win is disrespectful. Everyone who has been around the NBA knows this intuitively. The Bulls made certain that Lillard understood his mistake, and Lillard said he was in the wrong and wouldn't make the mistake again.

The good thing about the incident is that it brought attention to Lillard, who has led the surprising Blazers to a 5-5 start. He's quickly becoming a smaller version of Brandon Roy for Portland. But I am not going to be rating him among the top nine point guards in the NBA anytime soon.

With James Harden now starting, who do you think is the best sixth man in the league?
-- Gregory, New York

Talk about a setup, Gregory! You're from New York and any question about the Sixth Man Award has to include J.R. Smith, who has been strong for the impressive Knicks. But anyone who has watched Smith over the years knows it's too early to hand him the award based on a few weeks.

The early favorite is Jamal Crawford, who has led the 8-2 Clippers with 19.7 points. JaVale McGee, Derrick Favors and Ray Allen could contend for the Sixth Man Award, and don't rule out a run by Jason Terry as the Celtics coalesce throughout the season.

I'm interested in seeing how well Kevin Martin can fill the role he inherited from Harden. He won't come close to doing everything Harden used to do, but if the Thunder are able to fill in around Martin, then the 17.6 points he is averaging off the bench may turn out to be a big deal.

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