NBA PM: Who Improved Free Agency Stock?
Prior to the start of the 2012-13 NFL season, Joe Flacco turned down a lucrative contract extension from the Baltimore Ravens that would’ve paid the quarterback nearly $16 million per year, according to reports. Flacco wanted to be paid like a top-five quarterback and set out to prove he was worth it. He entered the season determined to improve his free agency stock.
Seven months later, Flacco had 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions in the postseason to lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers and become the highest-paid player in NFL history. He signed a contract that could be worth as much as $120.6 million, according to reports.
This is just the latest example of a player improving his free agency stock in the final year of his deal. The same thing happens in the NBA all the time. While upcoming free agents like Chris Paul and Dwight Howard know that they’ll get a maximum contract, other players are still trying to set their asking price so a strong contract year is important. Here are 10 players who have improved their stock heading into free agency:
O.J. Mayo, Dallas Mavericks – Entering this season, Mayo was determined to have a breakout year and improve his stock. Last offseason, the 25-year-old guard was hoping for the first big payday of his career, but it didn’t come. While he had several multi-year offers on the table, they weren’t worth nearly as much as Mayo had hoped. Rather than settling for one of the underwhelming long-term deals, Mayo decided to sign sign a shorter contract with the Mavericks in an effort to showcase his game. While Mayo signed a two-year deal with a player option for the second year, it’s all but guaranteed that he’s going to opt out and test free agency this summer. Mayo has played very well this season and should have a very different free agency experience this time around.
David West, Indiana Pacers – The last time West tested free agency, he had a torn ACL that limited his options. Because of his injury, no team was willing to offer the lucrative, long-term deal that West wanted. That’s why he landed with the Pacers; their two-year, $20 million offer was the best deal that West had on the table. This time around, West is expected to be one of the most highly coveted players on the market. In the past two years, he has turned Indiana into a legitimate contender and silenced all of his doubters. He continues to be one of the most consistent and productive power forwards in the NBA and there will be a long list of potential suitors for West this offseason, especially if he and the Pacers can make a deep postseason run.
Nikola Pekovic, Minnesota Timberwolves – Over the last two years, Pekovic went from being relatively unknown to being one of the most productive centers in the league. This offseason, the 27-year-old will be rewarded in a big way for his recent emergence as an elite big man. Pekovic will be a restricted free agent, but there have already been reports that teams may extend a large offer sheet that’s out of the Timberwolves’ price range. There are plenty of executives who have been impressed with Pekovic’s play and there’s a line of teams that would love to pry the big man out of Minneosta. Top-tier centers are difficult to come by so there may be a bidding war for Pekovic this summer.
J.R. Smith, New York Knicks – This year, Smith has grown as a player and as a person. Not only is he having the most productive and efficient season of his career, he has also matured and changed his priorities. He’s the first one to admit that he was out of control when he was younger, and this season he has cut back on his partying and become a professional. That could help Smith in free agency. In the past, teams were afraid to commit to Smith because he was viewed as an irresponsible wild card. Now, he’s playing well, growing up and doing what’s best for his team. The 27-year-old can opt out of the final $2,932,742 of his contract and test the market as an unrestricted free agent. Smith may decide to remain in New York, but he’ll have other options if he chooses to pursue them.
J.J. Redick, Milwaukee Bucks – Executives have always viewed Redick as a solid role player, but this year has been a breakout season for the veteran shooting guard. Redick has averaged career-highs across the board and he’s now viewed as someone who may be the missing piece for a team. The 28-year-old will have plenty of teams expressing interest in him this summer, judging by the long list of teams that tried to acquire him prior to the trade deadline. Redick ultimately ended up with the Bucks, but he’ll weigh all of his options this summer. Last time Redick tested free agency, he signed a three-year, $19 million offer sheet with the Chicago Bulls. This July, it’ll take much more than that to ink Redick to a deal.
Andray Blatche, Brooklyn Nets – Blatche’s free agency stock had nowhere to go but up this season. Last summer, he had to work out and interview with the Nets just to get a veteran’s minimum contract because he had a horrible reputation after being amnestied by the Washington Wizards. He was viewed as selfish and immature, and no team wanted to make a significant commitment to him. He had to earn his way back onto an NBA team by working extremely hard and showing that he learned from his mistakes. This season, he has done exactly that. He has been incredibly productive and one of the most efficient players in the league (his efficiency rating of 22.79 currently ranks 12th in the NBA). While it’s still unlikely that the 26-year-old will get a long-term contract due to his past, his stock has improved and he’ll certainly have more suitors this summer than last.
J.J. Hickson, Portland Trail Blazers – One year ago, Hickson was buried on the Sacramento Kings’ depth chart and ultimately waived by the team. It looked like Hickson’s career was in jeopardy and it certainly seemed like his days as a starter were over. However, he was claimed off of waivers by the Portland Trail Blazers and the rest is history. Hickson has been incredible for Portland over the last year, averaging a double-double despite playing out of position at center. This has been a career-year for Hickson and he has shown that he’s willing to do whatever is asked of him, even if it means playing out of his comfort zone in a new role or new position. Hickson is just 24 years old so he still has plenty of upside. The player who was tossed aside one year ago will be heavily pursued this offseason.
Earl Clark, Los Angeles Lakers – One of the pleasant surprises of the Lakers’ disappointing season has been the emergence of Clark, who was acquired by L.A. as a throw-in to the four-team blockbuster trade last August just to make salaries work. Clark emerged as a starter for the Lakers because of his energy and defense. He understands his role in L.A. and has been willing to do the dirty work for the team. He has become a fan favorite because he makes hustle plays and his motor is always running. Last summer, Clark weighed his free agency options, but was underwhelmed by the offers he was receiving so he decided to opt-in to the final year of his contract with the Orlando Magic. Now, he has performed well on the big purple and gold stage, which means this year’s free agency period should be better for Clark.
Matt Barnes, Los Angeles Clippers – When Barnes was an unrestricted free agent last summer, he wasn’t receiving much interest from teams. In fact, he was still unsigned in mid-September, when Chris Paul ran into Barnes as he was working out and playing pick-up games in Los Angeles. Paul thought that Barnes was still on the Lakers’ roster so he jokingly trash talked with the small forward. When Barnes informed Paul that he was a free agent, the superstar point guard was stunned and told the Clippers to give the 32-year-old a contract. This year, Barnes has been worth every penny. He has emerged as a significant contributor off of L.A.’s bench, averaging a career-high 10.6 points to go along with 4.5 rebounds, one block and one steal. This has been the most productive year of Barnes’ career and he won’t need Paul to make any calls for him this offseason.
Jermaine O’Neal, Phoenix Suns – Last offseason, O’Neal wasn’t sure if he would be signed by an NBA team. He was training at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas and working out for teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami HEAT, but there was no guarantee that his playing career would continue for a 17th season. He was adamant that he could still play in the NBA, but there weren’t many executives that shared this belief. However, the Suns decided to sign O’Neal in late July, viewing him as a bench contributor and mentor to their young big men. This season, O’Neal has exceeded all expectations and rewarded the Suns with his best season in three years. Last summer, O’Neal was practically begging contenders to sign him and give him an opportunity. Now, after proving he still has something left in the tank this year, he should have more control over the free agency process this summer.
Honorable Mention: Brandan Wright, Robin Lopez, Jarrett Jack, Corey Brewer
Holiday Discusses 76ers’ Season
This has been a disappointing year for the Philadelphia 76ers. Andrew Bynum’s absence has kept the team from reaching its full potential and a group that looked poised to contend entering the season will now miss the postseason.
Jrue Holiday has had an excellent season as an individual and emerged as an All-Star, but it has been bittersweet. Holiday recently talked about this frustrating season with HOOPSWORLD’s Eric Pincus. Check out the exclusive interview here:
Wafer Returns From China
Former NBA player Von Wafer has returned from a season in China and is receiving interest from a number of NBA teams, according to sources close to the situation.
Several teams that are looking to bolster their roster for a playoff run have considered signing the 27-year-old Wafer, who will be playoff eligible if signed before April 17.
Wafer played for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, leading them to a fourth-place finish in the Chinese Basketball Association and averaging 26.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists on the season. Unlike other unrestricted free agents, Wafer is in shape and ready to contribute immediately since his season in China just concluded.
Wafer’s last NBA stint was with the Orlando Magic in 2011-12.
HOOPSWORLD’s March Madness Coverage
The 2013 NCAA Tournament kicked off today. Make sure you’re up to speed on all of the top teams and players by checking out HOOPSWORLD’s March Madness content.
We have previewed every single first-round game. You can find all of the previews here. They have in-depth stats, players to watch and a poll so that you can vote on which team will win. Once it tips off, feel free to discuss the game in the comment section.
Are you an NBA fan who only watches the NCAA Tournament to get a look at this year’s draft prospects? Here is a look at 20 players to watch during March Madness as well as a list of prospects to keep an eye on during the opening round.
HOOPSWORLD will continue to push out NCAA Tournament coverage over the next few weeks so be sure to check back regularly.
NBA Chat Schedule