LOS ANGELES – Chris Paul and Dwight Howard became free agents at 12:01 a.m. ET on Monday.
At 12:02 a.m., all but a handful of NBA teams stopped daydreaming and resumed their pursuit of more realistic options.
By early Monday morning, Paul was off the board. Paul confirmed he will sign a 5-year, $107.3 million deal to stay with the Clippers.
If Howard represents the Rodeo Drive of this year’s free-agent class, available to a select few, then there is still plenty of quality shopping to be done at nearby mega-malls.
Andrew Bynum, Al Jefferson and Nikola Pekovic are all available. And those are just some of the top centers.
“A lot of teams are going to be able to make some serious improvement,” TNT analyst Greg Anthony said recently.
“It’s not going to be what you saw a couple of years ago when LeBron [James] and Dwyane Wade became free agents, but you’re still talking about some significant pieces. There’s a lot of guys out there who are going to have an impact and help change the fortune of a franchise.”
Here’s a look at the top five free agents at each position not named Paul or Howard.
Bynum: This could be a strike or a gutter ball for the team that lands the most intriguing-yet-infuriating player in recent memory. If his knee issues abate and he stays out of local bowling alleys, Bynum could be a franchise player. If not, he could be a huge bust.
Jefferson: As prolific as he has been the last six seasons, Jefferson remains somewhat underappreciated because he spent that time in Minnesota and Utah. A large-market team would be thrilled to make him one of the game’s most recognized players.
Pekovic: Only 27, he is coming off a breakthrough season for Minnesota. The fact that he looks like a villain from a James Bond movie is a bonus.
Robin Lopez: The less heralded of the Lopez twins may never match his brother’s offensive output, but last season with New Orleans, he more than doubled his scoring average from his final season in Phoenix.
Chris Kaman: His disappointing season with Dallas was more indicative of a bad fit with the Mavericks than of a skill set on the decline. In fact, his averages per 36 minutes were the best since he was an All-Star with the Los Angeles Clippers during the 2009-10 season.
Brandon Jennings: The precocious scorer is improving at making the smart play, averaging a career high last season in assists (6.5). Imagine what he could do by the time he turns 25.
Mo Williams: Freed from life as Paul’s backup, Williams showed last season he is still fully capable of being one of the league’s better starters.
Kyle Lowry: Though he wasn’t quite the revelation Toronto had envisioned, the dynamic playmaker retains plenty of upside.
Nate Robinson: His stirring playoff performance landed the super-sub onto the most-wanted list of numerous general managers.
Jose Calderon: Even at 31, one of the smartest players in the league remains a threat to log double digits in assists in every game.
Monta Ellis: Who wouldn’t want to add a player in his prime who has averaged 19.5 points per game in his career?
Kevin Martin: After coming off the bench for Oklahoma City, Martin will be wooed by plenty of teams interested in making him a starter again.
O.J. Mayo: Tip for those pursuing the former USC star: He likes large-screen televisions and free cellphone service.
Tyreke Evans: Onetime rookie of the year whose development has stalled still holds plenty of potential.
Manu Ginobili: He probably will take a steep discount after his epic playoff failures, which would make the borderline Hall of Famer a bargain.
Josh Smith: Perhaps the most coveted free agent besides Paul and Howard, Smith will meet only with team executives who arrive in Brink’s trucks.
David West: This scoring and rebounding force will be an immediate pick-me-up for whatever team’s lineup he joins.
Paul Millsap: A favorite of stat geeks and lowbrow fans alike, Millsap had a player efficiency rating last season higher than that of Howard, Dirk Nowitzki and Marc Gasol.
J.J. Hickson: A double-double machine as an undersized center for Portland, the possibilities are intriguing once he returns to his natural position.
Carl Landry: Productive reserve compensates for his lack of size with immense hustle
Andre Iguodala: All he has to offer is lockdown defense, reliable scoring and a coach’s feel for the game.
Andrei Kirilenko: The former All-Star showed he had plenty of game last season after one year out of the NBA.
Mike Dunleavy Jr.: Still one of the league’s better shooters, Dunleavy retains some value despite athletic limitations.
Matt Barnes: His 30-point outburst in Clippers’ final playoff game could have priced him out of a return to a team with limited spending power.
Kyle Korver: A player who made 45.7 percent of his three-pointers last season figures to have 100 percent chance of drawing interest from multiple teams.