NBA AM: Contract Year Struggles
The free agency class of 2013 will be headlined by Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard and Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul, but there are plenty of players in the midst of contract years who are jockeying to improve their respective positioning.
Some players, such as Oklahoma City’s Kevin Martin and New York’s J.R. Smith (player option), have raised their stock during the early portion of the season, while others have struggled out of the gate.
Here are some players who have yet to hit their stride during the early going:
Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks (Unrestricted)
Smith is in the final season of his current deal with Atlanta and is widely considered to be one of the top five free agency targets next summer. The Hawks traded six-time All-Star Joe Johnson before the season, freeing up future cap space and enhancing Smith’s importance to the team in the process.
The Hawks’ front office has constantly tabbed Smith as the lynchpin to the franchise’s future success, but the nine year veteran has struggled tremendously to find a consistent offensive rhythm to start the season as the go to guy.
Smith is shooting a career-low 41 percent from the field and just 32 percent from the free throw line. Smith’s scoring (14.4) and rebounding (7.5) production has also dipped to their lowest levels since the 2009 campaign.
Under the collective bargaining agreement, Smith is eligible to sign a maximum five-year deal worth close to $100 million with Atlanta.
Andrew Bynum, Philadelphia 76ers (Unrestricted)
Bynum has yet to play a game for the Philadelphia 76ers after the team took a huge gamble by dealing away All-Star forward Andre Iguodala to acquire the big man. The eighth year veteran is arguably the second best center in the game today but continues to suffer setbacks due to nagging knee injuries. Not only has Bynum struggled with knee issues to start the season, reports are starting surface questioning the veteran’s love of the game.
Bynum is set to earn $16.9 million this season, but teams may shy away next summer if he isn’t able to end the season strong and put to rest all lingering doubts about the strength of his knees.
Aaron Brooks, Sacramento Kings (player option for 2013-14)
Brooks had more lucrative offers around the league last summer before deciding to sign a two-year $6.6 million deal with the Sacramento Kings. The second year of the deal is a player option. Brooks was expected to assume a significant leadership role for the young Kings roster this season but has struggled with his shot early on shooting 39 percent from the field and averaging just 6.1 points per game.
To start the campaign, Brooks has two appearances in which he played less than ten minutes and he has failed to generate more than four assists in any of his appearances for the Kings this season.
D.J. Augustin, Indiana Pacers (Unrestricted)
When the Pacers signed Augustin to a one-year $3.5 million deal this past summer, most believed the move would turn out to be a classic case of low-risk, high-reward.
So far the returns have been minimal.
Augustin, who served as the Charlotte Bobcats’ starting point guard the past two seasons, has limped out of the gate averaging a paltry 2.8 points per game on 22 percent shooting from the field. Overall, the former University of Texas standout is a career double-digit scorer, but he hasn’t reached the 10 point mark in any of his twelve appearances with Indiana this season.
Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings (Restricted)
If there is a player on this list who seemingly needs a change of scenery it’s Evans. Since rollicking to Rookie of the Year honors in 2010, averaging 20.1 points per game, Evans has seen his scoring production steadily decline each year since his rookie campaign – down to 12.5 this season.
Evans continues to hear his name mentioned in trade rumors, although the Kings publicly state they’re not actively shopping the fifth year guard.
Marco Belinelli, Chicago Bulls
Over the past two seasons Belinelli firmly established himself as a consistent double-digit scoring option in New Orleans, however, his transition to the Chicago Bulls has been less than ideal. Belinelli is averaging 5.5 points per contest but shooting the lowest percentage (38%) of his career from the field.
Nowitzki Nearing Return To Action, Wants To Play Through 2016?
The Dallas Mavericks are off to a 6-6 start this season, which is primarily driven by the absence of All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki in the lineup. Nowitzki has been out since the preseason after undergoing surgery on his right knee.
Nowitzki says he won’t take any shortcuts in his rehab schedule and won’t likely be ready to return to action until sometime in December.
“Like I said a couple weeks ago, when I came back two years ago, the championship year, there was really no practice and I came back after three weeks and it took me a long time to kind of get back,” Nowitzki said to Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News. “I’m not going to do that this year. I need to make sure everything’s right before I come back. I can’t rush.”
Part of the reasoning for taking a cautious approach has a lot to do with Nowitzki’s long term plans. The veteran forward wants to make sure the knee is structurally sound to handle his goal of lay until 2016.
“I’m hoping maybe after these two years (of his current contract) to play a couple more years,” Nowitzki said. “So it would be the wrong thing now to push it and come back too early and maybe make something worse for the long term.”
Assuming Nowitzki won’t return to action until December 18, the forward will miss twelve more games. During this span, the Mavericks will play seven likely playoff teams in Los Angeles (Lakers), New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles (Clippers), Boston and Minnesota.
Rajon Rondo Nears Assists Record
When it comes to Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, the general consensus is either you like him, loathe him or love him. But one thing is certain when it comes to his game, you must respect him. Rondo entered the league with huge questions about his jump shot and attitude, but has worked himself into an elite point guard in the league.
Heading into Wednesday’s night game versus San Antonio, Rondo has a streak of 34 consecutive regular season games with at least 10 assists. Only Hall of Famers John Stockton (37) and Magic Johnson (46) have amassed longer streaks.
Celtics head coach Doc Rivers won’t publicly acknowledge he knows the full details surrounding the current streak, but he notes the importance.
“I don’t even know what it is, honestly, I swear to gosh. I have no idea what he’s chasing. I just hear he’s got a streak going,” Rivers said according to WBUR Boston. “Who is he chasing?”
“I guess as an individual it would be great to have, but I want the Celtics to win,” Rivers added.
To pass Stockton’s mark, Rondo will have to do it against San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Orlando and Brooklyn. To surpass Johnson, add Portland, Milwaukee, Philadelphia (twice), Dallas, Houston, San Antonio (again), Chicago and Cleveland (December 19).
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