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NBA PM: 10 Contract-Year Players to Watch
Posted By Alex Kennedy On August 28, 2013 @ 4:58 pm In Main Page,NBA | No Comments
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Every year, a number of players step up when they’re in the final year of their contract and then immediately cash in when they hit free agency the following offseason.
A player’s performance in a contract year can be the difference between a huge payday and a mediocre contract. It’s a player’s final season to impress teams before signing a new long-term contract, and a really impressive campaign just before free agency can lead to a bigger-than-anticipated deal (just ask Erick Dampier).
Here are a number of contract-year players to watch during the 2013-14 season:
Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers – All eyes will be on Bryant as he comes back from surgery to repair his torn left Achilles tendon. He’s set to make a league-high $30,453,805 this year and then he’ll become an unrestricted free agent next offseason shortly after turning 36 years old. Bryant has already said that he doesn’t intend to take a pay cut so he’ll need to produce like an elite player if he wants to continue to be paid like one. He has made it clear that he wants to finish his career with the Lakers, but it remains to be seen what his 2014-15 salary will be. How he performs in his 18th season after returning from this major injury will determine just how much L.A. will have to give him when he hits the open market next July.
Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers – After missing all but five games last season, Granger’s value is at an all-time low. His health is now a major concern and it never looks good when a franchise player is sidelined and their team doesn’t miss a beat. Keep in mind, Granger is just one year removed from leading Indiana in scoring with 18.7 points per game and he was an All-Star back in 2009 when he averaged 25.8 points. However, that won’t mean anything if he can’t stay healthy or if he struggles during the 2013-14 season. He must have a bounce back year and ease executive’s concerns otherwise he won’t receive a lucrative contract when he’s a 31-year-old unrestricted free agent next offseason.
Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics – This will be an interesting season for Bradley. He’ll have an opportunity to take on an increased role in Boston and show what he can do on a depleted Celtics team. The timing is perfect for the 22-year-old since he’s set to become a restricted free agent next offseason, unless he inks an extension in the next two months. Bradley has shown that he’s a starting-caliber player in the NBA and he has a lot of fans around NBA front offices. However, is Bradley a role player or a star? That question may be answered during the 2013-14 season. In the last year and a half, Bradley earned a starting job in Boston because of his outstanding defense and extraordinary athleticism, but he wasn’t a major part of the offense. Despite being a starter last season, he attempted fewer shots than six players – Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green, Jordan Crawford and Jason Terry. Bradley will have the ball in his hands much more this season and he could be poised for a breakout year just in time to get paid.
Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns – The Suns can sign Bledsoe to an extension over the next two months or they can let him become a restricted free agent following the 2013-14 season. This could increase the size of Bledsoe’s payday if he emerges as a star this season, but it would keep the Suns from bidding against themselves since the market would be determining Bledsoe’s value. All eyes will be on the 23-year-old point guard in the 2013-14 season since this is the first time that he’s had his own team. With the Kentucky Wildcats, he backed up John Wall. With the Los Angeles Clippers, he backed up Chris Paul. It’s time to see if Bledsoe lives up to the hype and succeeds as a full-time starter. He has all of the athletic tools to be a very special player, but he needs to actually produce. He has been handed an excellent opportunity – a starring role in an up-tempo system – and now he must make the most of it. His performance during the 2013-14 season will determine how big his checks are over the next few years.
Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors – When Lowry has been healthy in recent years, he has filled the stat sheet and looked like one of the better point guards in the league. He’s capable of making an impact on both ends of the court and affecting the game in a variety of ways. However, the time that he has been healthy has been limited over the last few years. Last season, he played in 68 games, but was hobbled and playing through pain for much of the year. If he can get back to 100 percent and stay there, he could be poised for a huge season. Surrounded by weapons like Rudy Gay, Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan among others, this is one of the better supporting casts that Lowry has played with during his career and that could mean some nice numbers from the 27-year-old point guard. A healthy, breakout season could lead to a big payday for Lowry when he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer (if teams are willing to look past his history of butting heads with coaches).
Marcin Gortat, Phoenix Suns – Gortat will be an unrestricted free agent next offseason and he’ll have no shortage of suitors since he has proven to be a starting-caliber center. However, it remains to be seen how big of a payday Gortat will receive. Last season, he wasn’t nearly as productive as he was during his first two years with the Suns. After averaging 15.4 points on 55.5 percent shooting from the field in 2011-12, he averaged just 11.1 points on 52.1 percent shooting last year. Not to mention, he averaged more turnovers and fewer rebounds. It’s no coincidence that Gortat’s struggles coincided with Steve Nash’s departure from Phoenix. Now, he must play well in the upcoming season to prove to teams that he can be successful on his own. He can’t afford to have another down year, especially since he’s turning 30 years old in February so teams may already be hesitant to give him a lucrative long-term deal.
Andrew Bogut, Golden State Warriors – Bogut needs to prove that he can stay healthy for a full season if he wants to cash in next summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. He has missed significant stretches in each of the last five seasons. In the last two years, he has played a combined a 44 regular season games. The injuries and the fact that Bogut averaged a career-low 5.8 points in 2012-13 make this upcoming season very important for the veteran center. He needs to remind teams that he can be an above-average interior presence when healthy, and show that his injuries are in the past. If he has trouble staying on the court or if he doesn’t produce, he’ll have a hard time finding a team that’s willing to make a significant long-term commitment to him next summer.
Ben Gordon, Charlotte Bobcats – Gordon knows a thing or two about cashing in on a contract year. After posting 20.7 points per game in the 2008-09 season with the Chicago Bulls, Gordon signed a five-year deal worth $55 million with the Detroit Pistons. However, his production has trailed off significantly in each season since 2009 and he hasn’t lived up to that contract. Last year with the Charlotte Bobcats, he averaged a career-low 11.2 points, 1.9 assists, 1.7 rebounds and .5 steals. He also had the worst shooting season of his career, hitting just 40.8 percent of his field goal attempts. Gordon is approaching unrestricted free agency and while his salary will surely decrease from the $13,200,000 that he’ll make this year, he needs to have a productive season if he wants to ink another significant contract next summer. It’s been all downhill since Gordon’s last contract year and now the 30-year-old needs to play well in order to keep teams interested in his services.
Paul Pierce, Brooklyn Nets – This could very well be Pierce’s last season. However, if doesn’t plan on retiring after this year, he needs to have a productive campaign with the Nets because that’s the only way he’s going to get a significant contract next summer when he’s nearing 37 years old and preparing to enter his 17th season in the league. While Pierce will certainly make less than the $15,333,334 that he’s set to earn in the 2013-14 season, how much less will depend on how he performs in Brooklyn. If his production drastically dips and he shows signs of decline, he may have to settle for a miniscule contract next offseason. However, if he continues to put up solid numbers and play at an All-Star level, as he has done in recent years, he could be due for another decent payday on a one- or two-year deal.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings – Cousins is going to get paid at some point in the near future, but whether he signs a max contract may depend on his production during the upcoming season. At 23 years old, he’s widely regarded as one of the best young centers in the league. However, he won’t get a huge payday off of his potential alone. A big season would ensure that some team throws a lot of money at him next summer when he can become a restricted free agent. Last season, Cousins’ production actually dipped from his breakout sophomore campaign. In 2011-12, he averaged 18.1 points, 11.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. Despite playing the same amount of minutes, his numbers dropped across the board in 2012-13; he averaged just 17.1 points, 9.9 rebounds and 0.7 blocks. Perhaps most concerning is that Sacramento hasn’t really improved in Cousins’ three seasons. They have been a bottom feeder in each year, with winning percentages of .293, .333 and .341. If Cousins puts up impressive numbers and the Kings take a step forward, the young center may get the big deal he desires.
Blazers Downplay Aldridge Situation
Earlier this offseason, a number of stories emerged that LaMarcus Aldridge was unhappy with the Portland Trail Blazers and wanted a trade.
While Aldridge shot down the rumors (“I haven’t demanded a trade or cleared a way for my departure. It’s not true. That’s all I am saying right now.”), the stories continued to surface.
Now, Blazers general manager Neil Olshey is doing what he can to downplay the reports as well.
“It’s not on our mind and it’s not on his, either,” Olshey told Grantland’s Zach Lowe. “LaMarcus just wants to win. He wants to win tomorrow night. He doesn’t want to hear about having cap room two years from now.”
Lowe described the Blazers’ approach to the questions as “emphatically swatting away the Aldridge thing, as if it’s silly to even ask.”
It sounds like Portland is in no rush to move Aldridge, whether he’s unhappy or not. At the end of the day, the forward has two more years on his contract so there’s no reason for the Blazers to make a move now or even at any point this season.
Vogel Excited About Pacers’ Moves
The Indiana Pacers weren’t expected to be very active this offseason. Everyone knew that they would re-sign David West, but nobody anticipated that they would retool their roster.
However, Indiana didn’t want to rest on their laurels and decided to make some moves. Nearly two months after free agency kicked off, it’s safe to say that the Pacers had one of the best summers of any team in the league. The team added Luis Scola, C.J. Watson, Chris Copeland and Solomon Hill to strengthen their second unit. Frank Vogel, for one, loves the moves.
“It was a big-time trade [for Scola],” Vogel said on ESPN 1070 The Fan. “All of our players were just so excited. They know what it’s like to play against Luis Scola. He’s going to find a way to out-fox you. He’s got all the tricks, all the savvy, all the fakes and [he's] one of the most deceptive players in the game. To bring somebody like that in here, who also plays with the energy of a Tyler Hansbrough or somebody like that, is really going to bolster are bench.
“Solomon Hill looks to be ready to go right now, ready to contribute right away. C.J. Watson, we think, is an upgrade at backup point guard. Obviously the guy that was killing us in the Knicks series, Chris Copeland, bombing them threes. You can never have enough shooting, especially with a guy as tall as he is. Oh, and by the way, there’s a guy named Danny Granger that is coming back to our team, too. It’s really exciting. Danny is on schedule, looks really good, he’s making progress each week and we’re hoping that were going to be having a full-strength Danny Granger this year to add to this team that made a lot of noise last year.”
The Pacers seem poised to improve next season, which is important since they’ll be facing stiffer competition. Vogel was quick to point out that other contenders such as the Chicago Bulls, Miami HEAT, Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks have made key moves as well.
“Well, I think the first thing you have to mention is Chicago – everybody forgets about the former MVP of the league three years ago (Derrick Rose) coming back and should be at full strength,” Vogel said. “They were right behind us last year without him. We feel like we’re improved but we definitely think the job that Coach Thibodeau does up there, they’re going to be a contender for the No. 1 seed. Along with Miami as well, and certainly with what Brooklyn has done, not just in bringing in [Paul] Pierce and [Kevin] Garnett, but bench guys like Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko. And I think Jason Kidd is going to be a heck of a coach. So those two will be much improved, the Knicks are going to be really strong again and you got a lot of up-and-coming teams as well.”
Vogel and the Pacers open up their season on October 29 against the Orlando Magic.
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