The highs and lows of NBA free agency were perfectly embodied in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes.

Each team in contention for the center really had no idea which way he would turn, but ultimately the Houston Rockets won out. Or did they? A deal that big, with all the hype surrounding Howard, can only be a huge success or a bust.

Whenever a contract is agreed to, be it a maximum deal like Howard’s or a smaller one like Darren Collison to the L.A. Clippers, there are still plenty of risks involved. Teams have to rely on their research and experience, and make an educated guess. Fans have the benefit of freely questioning huge signings in hindsight with no real repercussions. Owners and general managers on the other hand, have lots to answer for.

Howard, 27, is right in the heart of his prime, and is certainly one of the best defensive players in the game at his position. But whether he can carry Houston to an NBA title remains to be seen.

Clippers GM Gary Sacks won’t have much explaining to do as his club appears to have made all the right moves. The Clippers kept their star in Chris Paul, and added several other pieces that could help them challenge Oklahoma City and San Antonio for the Western Conference crown.

While no one can officially sign a contract until the league’s moratorium is lifted on July 10, players and teams have reportedly agreed in principle to long term deals, with the biggest names pretty much off the board.

Below are the five best signings we’ve seen so far.

1. Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers, 5-years, $107 million

Clippers owner Donald Sterling has long been thought of as not only one of the worst in the league, but also the cheapest owner. However this signing may finally get his critics on his side.

The Clippers pulled out all the stops to keep Paul. L.A. wrangled head coach Doc Rivers from Boston and signed him to a huge long-term deal They also traded their top young guard in Eric Bledsoe to surround Paul with sharpshooters J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley.

Already the best point guard in the game, Paul helped set a team record in wins last season, and with Rivers they can now perform in the playoffs.

2. Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors, 4-years, $48 million

Golden State greatly improved its defense in head coach Mark Jackson’s second year, but the addition of Iguodala can make them challengers atop the West.

Offense aside, Iguodala plays the passing lanes maybe better than any other player, and can defend both guard positions, certainly small forward, and the shorter power forwards in the league.

Iguodala can also take pressure off Stephen Curry, and allow him to save his energy for the offensive side of the floor.

3. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets, 4-years, $88 million

Yes he is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and has led the league in rebounds five times. Howard has already been to an NBA Finals, and changes plenty of shots in the lane.

But his offense is limited, and several reports said Howard wasn’t sure if he could fit into Houston head coach Kevin McHale’s system. Even if Howard wanted to learn from the great McHale the Rockets were a run-and-gun team and were first in the league in points scored last year.

Howard will make them infinitely better on defense, but down the road his signing may be questioned if he can’t find a place on offense.

4. Josh Smith, Detroit Pistons, 4-years, $56 million

Over the past few years it was reported numerous times that Smith wanted out of Atlanta. Smith had to take less money, but he’s joining a young nucleus that includes possible 2012 draft steal Andre Drummond, and highly skilled forward Greg Monroe.

The Pistons still have several questions to be answered at both guard spots, but their frontline will cause serious matchup issues for plenty of teams in the East.

Smith could have demanded a maximum contract if he had a more reliable jump shot. Instead Detroit landed him at a decent price, and gain all of his rebounding, shot blocking, and athletic abilities.

Tie 5. Jarrett Jack, Cleveland Cavaliers, 4-years, $25 million and Darren Collison, L.A. Clippers, 2-years

This could have been a huge loss for Golden State, but Klay Thompson came into his own during the playoffs. Jack won’t contend with Cleveland for at least three years, but he can apply his veteran leadership immediately and at least help the Cavaliers get out from the bottom of the East. His contract may be too expensive, but Cleveland has plenty of cap room to spare.

Collison will reunite with his old New Orleans running mate in Paul, and it might be the best bargain in the league for the Clippers. L.A.’s offense won’t wilt with Paul on the bench, and they can now rest Paul as much as they like.

Collison, according to USA Today, will get at least $1.9 million in the first year of the deal, and has a second-year player option.