NBA PM: Players to Watch in Contract Year
Every year, there are several players who have a breakout season during their contract year and then they cash in the following summer when they become a free agent. An impressive contract year usually leads to a big payday, just ask Erick Dampier or Jerome James.
Ryan Anderson, who averaged career-highs across the board and won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award last season, is a perfect example. He doubled his production during his contract year and then signed a four-year deal worth $36 million after the New Orleans Hornets acquired him in a sign-and-trade. Here are 25 contract-year players to watch during the 2012-13 season.
Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings
Since averaging 20.1 points, 5.8 assists and 5.3 rebounds and winning Rookie of the Year honors in 2009, Evans has regressed each and every year. The 23-year-old has struggled so much over the last two seasons that Sacramento’s front office is putting off extension talks with Evans, which would’ve seemed absurd two years ago. If the Kings don’t extend Evans, he’ll become a restricted free agent after the season. Evans needs to play well during this contract year to get the lucrative, long-term contract that he wants. He has been working hard this offseason to expand his game so he could be poised for a breakout year, just in time to salvage his value on the open market.
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Curry has plenty of fans within the Warriors organization and he would have likely signed an extension by now if it weren’t for his health issues. However, the 24-year-old has struggled with ankle injuries during the first three years of his career and he’ll have to prove that he can stay healthy during this contract year. Curry has established himself as an excellent scorer, but he hasn’t been able to realize his full potential because he has been sidelined for such long stretches. Last season, Curry played in just 26 games. The point guard has made it clear that he wants to remain with the Warriors, but the team wants to see if he can stay on the court before committing to him long-term.
James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder
If Harden doesn’t sign a contract extension with the Thunder before October 31, he’ll become a restricted free agent next summer. If that happens, plenty of teams will pursue the 23-year-old, but how much will they be willing to pay him? Is Harden worth a max contract? While there may be a team that’s willing to offer Harden a max deal, it’s not a sure thing at this point. After all, Harden was dreadful during last year’s NBA Finals and he has only started seven games throughout the course of his three-year career. If Harden plays well during this contract year, he can help his value and increase the likelihood that he’ll receive a max offer next offseason. Or, as Harden hinted at media day, he may decide to take less money to remain with the Thunder, agreeing to an extension at some point in the next month and removing himself from this list of contract-year players. We’ll see what last year’s Sixth Man of the Year decides to do.
O.J. Mayo, Dallas Mavericks
Mayo was hoping for a big payday this offseason, but was disappointed with the multi-year offers that he received. Rather than settling for a lesser long-term deal, the 24-year-old decided to sign a two-year deal with the Dallas Mavericks, with a player option for the second year. Mayo is hoping to have a big season, opt-out after the year and then sign a more lucrative deal next summer. This season will be about showcasing his talent and proving that he still has star potential. Mayo chose to play out this contract year in Dallas because he’ll be starting and playing a big role, which wasn’t the case in recent years with the Memphis Grizzlies. This is an important year for Mayo and he knows it. If he has a breakout year, he could earn big bucks. If he doesn’t step up, he’ll receive mediocre offers for a second-straight summer.
David West, Indiana Pacers
At 32 years old, West is likely playing for the last lucrative contract of his career. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent after the season and, if he can put together another impressive year with the Pacers, he’ll get paid. Prior to signing with the Pacers last offseason, West was hoping to sign a longer deal, but teams weren’t offering a ton of money since he was coming off of a torn ACL that had just required surgery several months before. West signed the two-year deal with Indiana to prove that his health isn’t an issue and that he’s still capable of playing at a high level. Last year, he did just that, becoming the focal point of the Pacers and turning them into a contender.
Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks
After this year, Smith will test free agency and his play during the upcoming season will help determine how much his next contract will be worth. The jury is still out on Smith and it remains to be seen what teams will be willing to offer the 26-year-old forward. He fills the stat sheet on a nightly basis, but some would argue that he hasn’t realized his full potential. He has improved each year, but he has yet to become an All-Star (even though he probably should’ve been selected to the team last season). Plenty of teams will throw money at Smith next offseason, but he may not receive a max offer unless he’s able to put together an impressive contract year. With Joe Johnson no longer in Atlanta, Smith will have the ball in his hands more than ever and he’ll be expected to carry the scoring load for the Hawks. He’ll have every opportunity to succeed and earn a big payday.
Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks
Like Evans, Curry and Harden, Jennings will become a restricted free agent after the season if he doesn’t sign a contract extension before October 31. The 23-year-old point guard recently said that he hopes to remain in Milwaukee, but he made headlines last year when he stated that he would explore his options and look at larger markets should he become a free agent. Jennings’ stats have improved each year that he’s been in the league, but he hasn’t made the playoffs since his rookie season. The Bucks are trying to avoid a third-straight trip to the lottery and if Jennings can put together an impressive individual season and take the team back to the postseason, it’ll help him ink a lucrative deal if he reaches free agency next summer.
Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets
Both sides seem confident that a contract extension will be signed prior to October 31. Lawson has made it clear that he wants to remain in Denver and Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri described the extension talks as “positive” and seemed optimistic that a deal would get done. Lawson may be the first point guard from the 2009 class, which includes Evans, Curry and Jennings, to sign a contract extension. If he doesn’t extend his rookie deal, another year of improvement and a deep postseason run in this contract year would certainly help the 24-year-old’s value next summer, when he would also become a restricted free agent.
Al Jefferson, Utah Jazz
Next offseason, Jefferson will be one of the top unrestricted free agents available, but it’s difficult to predict the market for the 27-year-old big man. Prior to last season, Jefferson was known for putting up big numbers on losing teams, mainly because he attempted a ton of shots. However, last year Jefferson showed improvement on the defensive end and helped the Jazz sneak into the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Earlier in Jefferson’s career, he had a reputation for being difficult and butting heads with coaches, but it seems he has matured and even emerged as a leader in Utah. If Jefferson can continue to improve as a defender and prove that his game is conducive to winning during this contract year, he’ll have a long list of suitors next offseason.
Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers
Earlier this summer, reports indicated that Holiday would seek a max contract extension from the 76ers or a max contract as a free agent next summer. If Holiday wants a max contract, he better have one of the best contract years of all-time. While Holiday has solidified himself as a very talented, up-and-coming point guard with a lot of potential, the 22-year-old still has a lot to prove before any team is going to make that offer. This year, he’ll be expected to take on a larger role and carry the 76ers after the departures of veterans Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams and Elton Brand. He may be poised for a breakout season in Philadelphia, which will increase his value should he become a restricted free agent next summer, but he needs to temper expectations.
Monta Ellis, Milwaukee Bucks
Ellis is expected to invoke his early termination option after the season, passing on $11,000,000 for the chance to become an unrestricted free agent. This is an important year for Ellis. The 26-year-old is one of the most electrifying scorers in the league, but his ability to average 20+ points per game hasn’t translated into wins throughout the course of his seven-year career. Ellis has been to the playoffs just once, and it was during the 2006-07 season when he was still coming off of the bench for the “We Believe” Warriors. Ellis has been in some difficult situations, forced to coexist with scoring guards Stephen Curry and Brandon Jennings, but he needs to prove that he’s capable of taking a team to the playoffs and performing on that stage. If he can play well alongside Jennings in Milwaukee and help the Bucks reach the postseason, he should get a big payday. Otherwise, he’ll be classified as a player who puts up big numbers on bad teams, which is a label that no player wants.
DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
DeRozan still has a ton of potential, but he regressed last season. The Raptors are unlikely to sign the 23-year-old to an extension, choosing instead to let this season play out and then allowing him to become a restricted free agent so that the market sets his value. If DeRozan has a breakout season, continuing to expand his offensive game without regressing as a defender, he could get paid. However, if he has another disappointing season, his stock will take a hit entering free agency. This is an important year for DeRozan, who now has an excellent supporting cast around him and several years of experience under his belt. There are no more excuses, he must step up.
Paul Millsap, Utah Jazz
After watching Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum get paid last offseason, Millsap is hoping to hit the open market and sign a lucrative, long-term deal of his own. While the Jazz have tried to sign Millsap to an extension, reportedly offering a new deal worth $25 million over three years, it sounds like Millsap wants to test free agency. That means he’ll have to play well this season if he wants to cash in. Since becoming a full-time starter in Utah, the 27-year-old has made huge strides and shown improvement each season. If he can take the next step and continue his development during this contract year, he’ll likely be one of the most coveted free agents on the market next offseason.
Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks
This is the year that Teague must take the next step in his development and take on a bigger role with the Hawks. The 24-year-old shared the backcourt with Joe Johnson over the last three years, which can be difficult since Johnson dominates the ball and, at times, brings an offense to a halt while he works in isolation. Now, Teague will have the ball in his hands more than ever and it’ll be on him to spread the ball around to Atlanta’s scorers and shooters. He’ll also be expected to get out in transition more this season. Lou Williams and Devin Harris will take some minutes away from Teague, but there’s no question that he’s the key to Atlanta’s success and he needs to have a big year if he wants to get paid, by Atlanta or by another team that wants to sign him to an offer sheet when he becomes a restricted free agent next summer.
Darren Collison, Dallas Mavericks
After losing his starting job on the Indiana Pacers to George Hill, Collison gets the chance to prove that he’s still a starting-caliber point guard with the Mavericks. He’ll have plenty of weapons around him in Dallas so there’s no excuse if he doesn’t succeed. At 25 years old, Collison still has room to grow as a player, but he can’t continue to regress like he has in recent years.
Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs
Ginobili hasn’t ruled out retiring after this season. At media day, the 35-year-old hinted that this could be his final year, but stated that if he returns, he’d like to continue playing for the Spurs. Ginobili is still one of the best playmakers and scorers in the league. Good things happen when the ball is in his hands, whether he’s a starter or reserve. This will clearly be the last contract of Ginobili’s career judging by his comments so he’ll have to play well and not show any signs of dropping off if he wants to cash in next offseason.
Aaron Brooks, Sacramento Kings
Two years ago, Brooks was the starting point guard of the Houston Rockets, averaging 19.6 points and 5.3 assists. He was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2009 and it seemed like the future was bright for Brooks. Then, he lost his starting job to Kyle Lowry and was dealt to the Phoenix Suns, where he backed up Steve Nash. Last offseason, Brooks likely would’ve received a nice payday and gotten a starting job somewhere, but he decided to sign in China during the lockout. He didn’t have an NBA-out so he had to spend the entire season overseas. When he returned this summer, there wasn’t much of a market for Brooks, who settled for a two-year deal with the Kings that will pay him $3.25 million this season and includes a player option in the second year. If all goes as planned during this contract year, Brooks will earn the starting job in Sacramento, play well and then opt-out next summer to go through the free agency process again. This is Brooks’ chance to prove that he’s still a starting-caliber point guard and someone who’s worthy of a lucrative deal.
Kevin Martin, Houston Rockets
The Rockets are clearly rebuilding and they already have their replacement for Martin on the roster in Jeremy Lamb. It’s unlikely that Martin has a future in Houston, which means he’ll use this contract year to showcase his talent and audition for his next job. Don’t be surprised if Martin is traded at midseason since he’s a $12,939,675 ending deal and the Rockets will want to free up minutes for their younger players. Martin has put up impressive stats throughout his career, but his numbers haven’t translated into wins or postseason appearances. An impressive season and success with a playoff team after a midseason trade would help his stock entering free agency.
Nick Young, Philadelphia 76ers
Like Mayo, Young was hoping to sign a big, long-term deal over the offseason, but didn’t receive the type of offers that he expected. Instead of settling for one of the mediocre offers, he signed a one-year deal with Philadelphia, where he’ll play a big role and be able to prove his worth in this contract year. Young will compete for the starting shooting guard job with Jason Richardson (who had yet to be traded for the 76ers when Young signed) and he’ll get more touches than he would have on a loaded Los Angeles Clippers team. If Young plays well, the 27-year-old may be able to improve his value and receive some better offers next offseason.
Lamar Odom, Los Angeles Clippers
Coming off of the worst season of his 13-year career, Odom needs to bounce back with the Clippers and show that he can still be a rotation player in the NBA. Odom averaged career-lows across the board – 6.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 50 games with the Dallas Mavericks – and he was dismissed from the team when he became a distraction off the court. Odom insists that he’s in a better place mentally and that he’s ready to return to form. This season, he’ll make $8.2 million in Los Angeles, making him the third-highest paid player on the Clippers. If he’s not able to produce this season, he’ll have a hard time finding a new team next summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
J.J. Hickson, Portland Trail Blazers
Last season, Hickson played well during his short stint with the Trail Blazers, averaging 15.1 points and 8.3 rebounds in 19 games with Portland. Prior to that, the 24-year-old had a miserable 30-game stint with the Sacramento Kings that led him to being waived. Which Hickson will show up this season? The answer to that question will determine just how much the power forward gets paid when he becomes a free agent next summer. Teams weren’t willing to throw a ton of money at Hickson last offseason because the sample size was so small in Portland and he still has a lot of question marks surrounding him. Because of this, Hickson signed a one-year deal and he’s determined to play well this season and prove that he’s worth a lucrative, long-term deal. If he can put together a productive season with the Blazers, which is very possible especially considering he’ll begin the season in their starting lineup, then he’ll be much more attractive to potential suitors next offseason.
Nikola Pekovic , Minnesota Timberwolves
Pekovic was impressive last season, coming out of nowhere to average 13.9 points and 7.4 rebounds for the Timberwolves. Once he was moved into the starting lineup, the 26-year-old’s numbers improved even more and he became one of Minnesota’s most important contributors. That was a huge jump in production from Pekovic’s rookie season, when he averaged 5.5 points and 3.0 rebounds for the Timberwolves. He needs to show that last year’s production wasn’t a fluke and that he can put together back-to-back productive seasons. If Pekovic can have success for a second-straight year, teams will be much more comfortable making a long-term commitment to him when he becomes a free agent next summer.
Chris Kaman, Dallas Mavericks
Like every other Maverick on this list, Kaman was signed to a one-year deal this offseason so that Dallas could field a contender while keeping their flexibility going forward. If he plays well, Dallas may look to re-sign him. When healthy, Kaman can be one of the most productive centers in the league. Just two years ago, he was an All-Star who averaged 18.5 points and 9.2 rebounds. Since then, he has been limited by injuries and was stuck on a rebuilding New Orleans Hornets team. Now, back on a contender and playing a big role, Kaman could be poised for a bounce-back year, which could result in him getting paid next summer.
Stephen Jackson, San Antonio Spurs
Jackson has been trying to get paid for awhile, asking the Charlotte Bobcats, Milwaukee Bucks and San Antonio Spurs for a contract extension when he joined each team. This season, the 34-year-old will make $10,060,000, making him the third-highest paid Spur behind only Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. There’s no way the Spurs are going to sign him to an extension so Jackson is playing to increase his free agency value. Last season, he was a great fit with the Spurs and his production in San Antonio made it easy to forget that he was terrible and quit on the Bucks just several months earlier. Jackson needs to play well during this contract year and prove that he can still be a significant contributor if he wants the payday he has been seeking in recent years.
Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls:
It sounds like the Bulls want to sign Gibson to a contract extension so that they don’t have to risk losing him in free agency, especially after they just watched Omer Asik walk after signing a lucrative offer sheet with the Houston Rockets. However, if the two sides can’t agree to an extension before October 31, Gibson will be a restricted free agent next summer and could receive a number of large offers. He has proven that he’s a starting-caliber forward and he could be due for a big payday, especially if he plays well during this season.
Turkoglu Ready for Upcoming Season: After a drama-filled season and chaotic summer, the Orlando Magic can finally move on after trading Dwight Howard. That’s a relief for everyone on the team since they no longer have to answer questions about the situation or worry that their days in Orlando are numbered. Hedo Turkoglu, who is now one of the veterans on this young Magic team, is prepared for the transition period that’s taking place in Orlando. HOOPSWORLD caught up with Turkoglu during media day and discussed the upcoming season.
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