10 NBA Players Who Will Have a Huge Contract Year Next Season

Joel C. CordesNBA Associate EditorJune 19, 2012

10 NBA Players Who Will Have a Huge Contract Year Next Season

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    Motivation is rarely higher than when millions of dollars are at stake. These NBA players will greatly increase their contract value by shining in 2013.

    Contract-year aberrations can be a huge boon for the franchise presently holding that player's rights. However, it can also be an impediment and a mirage: some guys are never able or willing to reach those levels ever again (See: Charlie Villanueva).

    Sometimes the price is driven so high that the home team can't even afford to retain their suddenly too-expensive "one-year wonder."

    Some of the players on this list will produce a "fool's gold" season, never to be duplicated by them again. Buyer beware.

    In other cases, a big contract year is just the first sign of big things to come...

Josh Smith: Atlanta Hawks

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    An unrestricted free agent in 2013, Josh Smith has a lot of reasons to boost his value.

    He's already been subjected to numerous trade rumors during the past few seasons, and he's made it clear that leaving is just fine with him. 

    In a normal situation, a player like Smith might be tempted to simply pout his way out of town, thereby forcing a trade. In his case, having a big season could finally net the Atlanta Hawks the package they want in return.

    Or it just might net Smith a bigger payday once the offseason rolls around.

    At almost 27 years old, Josh Smith is right in the middle of his prime. He's already an eight-year veteran, a perennial leader in blocked shots and a guy who put up nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds last season.

    If he wants out of Atlanta, his best bet is to fly so high the Hawks have to let him go one way or the other.

Samardo Samuels: Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Samardo Samuels put up halfway decent numbers his rookie year, only to regress in 2012. He's clearly capable of more.

    However, he's playing on a front line in flux with Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao and yet-to-be-determined "rookie/free agent X."

    He could get lost in the shuffle. Or he could stand out as the beefy enforcer he's capable of being, especially if Anderson Varejao is moved.

    Samuels is actually a little more nimble and skilled than you might think, and he doesn't have to put up huge numbers for a bigger payday. 

    If he can carve out 20-plus minutes per game and produce anywhere close to 10 points and five or six boards, some team is going to see him as a nice rotation big. 

    We're not talking a gargantuan contract here, but certainly a huge pay raise from the league minimum that he currently toils under.

Ty Lawson: Denver Nuggets

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    Ty Lawson has put up some pretty impressive numbers during the past three seasons, especially considering that he's time-shared with Raymond Felton and (then) Andre Miller at the point.

    Even this past year, he split backcourt duties alongside Miller, despite playing near-starter's minutes.

    Whether Miller returns with the Denver Nuggets or not, this is Lawson's team now. Expect his points, minutes, steals and assists to leap noticeably yet again.

    This would put Lawson, an restricted free agent by 2013, in line for a huge payday. With the Nuggets still having a bunch of their players under contract that offseason, a rival team might tender a high offer just to force Denver into matching it (and tightening their budget further).

    He's part of that "next generation" of star point guards alongside Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Kyrie Irving. Expect him to be paid as such.

Kevin Martin: Houston Rockets

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    For Kevin Martin, it's about proving that he should KEEP his current salary, rather than increasing it.

    Long seen as one of the NBA's next big scorers, Kevin Martin was signed to a sizable deal by the Sacramento Kings in 2008. Apparently, buyer's remorse set in fast: he was promptly traded to the Houston Rockets.

    Despite averaging 20 points or more during five of his eight seasons, Martin has been considered "in regression" over the past couple years. Yet, his contract will pay him more than $12 million in 2012.

    He's only 29, but his scoring abilities and expiring contract have become potential trade fodder. This is probably his last chance for another huge deal. So, wherever Martin winds up next year, he'll be putting up big points on better percentages.

    If he wants a paycheck anywhere close to his current one, that is.

Nikola Pekovic: Minnesota Timberwolves

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    An absolute train wreck in 2011, Nikola Pekovic became a freight train of doom during 2012.

    As a nearly immovable object on the low block, "Pek" bullied his way to 14 points and nearly eight boards per game, despite splitting time with the immortal Darko Milcic. The real revelation came during February and March when Pekovic was putting up near All-Star numbers.

    With the starting job firmly in his grasp, Nikola Pekovic should pick up where he left off and then some. However, it's not an accident that his numbers took a major nosedive after point guard Ricky Rubio was lost for the season last year.

    No Wolves player benefited more from Rubio's dribble attacks and bounce passes than Pekovic did. While his numbers could end up commanding a huge salary, they're deceiving without a backcourt magician setting him up down low.

Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair: San Antonio Spurs

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    As key rotation bigs for the San Antonio Spurs, Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair have alternated as Tim Duncan's "heir apparent."

    Both are athletic and hard-working, can play either the power forward or center spots, and their numbers have improved each of the past few seasons. Blair is slightly more explosive, but Splitter's length and footwork won him a bigger share of the late-season minutes in 2012. 

    There are big changes in plain sight for the Spurs. Tim Duncan's massive salary and minutes should greatly decrease next year, while Splitter and Blair will each get one more shot to land a permanent gig on that front line.

    They both have the tools individually and as a pairing. There's no possible way they'll be collectively earning $5 million after next year, but the big question is: which team will be signing those far-fatter paychecks in 2013?

Dwight Howard: Orlando Magic

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    Maybe he's so obvious that you didn't even think about him.

    At the beginning of last season, everyone knew Dwight Howard was the NBA's best center. By the end of 2012? Andrew Bynum's name was firmly in the conversation.

    Dwight is in a nearly identical situation to Josh Smith: He needs to have a monster season if he's to facilitate a trade or bulk his free-agent stock. 

    Yet, even more so than Smith, Howard needs to prove that he's healthy again, that he's not a franchise cancer and that suitors should be lining up around the block for his services.

    What is Howard's best chance of leaving Orlando with his legacy intact? Play like he actually wants to be there. Either Dwight Howard or the Magic will be able to find better deals that way, depending on who blinks first.

Brandan Wright: Dallas Mavericks

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    Apparently a late bloomer, Brandan Wright appeared to "figure it out" four years into his NBA career.

    He was a surprisingly adept big man for the Dallas Mavericks last year, effectively using his mobility and athleticism at either the 4 or 5 spot. More importantly, his defense was respectable, something that hadn't yet been true for the former North Carolina Tar Heels star.

    Regardless of whether the Mavs land a prized big man like Roy Hibbert or Brook Lopez in free agency, Wright will be a key rotation player on the Dallas front line. 

    Having a full offseason under his belt, Brandan Wright's progress should continue under Rick Carlisle at the perfect time. He's only 24 years old and could be hitting free agency next season with a ton of hype and upside.

    "Give him more minutes and see what happens" will be a popular storyline. Whether that's true remains to be seen, but it won't be hard to beat 2012's tiny salary.

Tyreke Evans: Sacramento Kings

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    Drafted by the Sacramento Kings as a franchise superstar in 2009, Tyreke Evans hasn't been one since his rookie season.

    His numbers have gone down for three straight years, his jump shot hasn't improved and still no one knows which position he plays. 

    That's the bad news. The good? Evans is only 22 years old, is one of the game's best basket-attackers, and he can play both guard spots and small forward.

    This is another guy who could be on the move. Yet, regardless of where he winds up, Evans' regression is actually primed for a breakout year.

    Any sort of tangible improvement is going to be a big deal for him. Putting up numbers anywhere close to his rookie stats will prompt the "Tyreke is back" conversation.

    He's currently paid like a mid-tier veteran, but there's a ton of motivation to play up to that big qualifying offer. A change of scenery could further push this restricted free agent towards a huge season and equivalent payday.