6 NBA Players Poised to Dominate in Their 2012-13 Contract Year
There is nothing like big money to provide a little incentive.
The 2013 NBA free-agent class will be full of players who deserve max deals and others who are striving to get one.
Players like Chris Paul, Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard are the big free-agent names who will get a max deal next season as long as they are upright. Others have a thing or two to prove to get the most out of their new deal.
Here are six players who are set up for a big season and who will end up making NBA owners wish for another lockout.
Kidding! (I hope.)
O.J. Mayo (Unrestricted, Player Option)
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After years of toiling with the Memphis Grizzlies as a sixth man, O.J. Mayo finally gets his chance to be a starter.
He will take full advantage of it.
Mayo always had the talent. After signing an offseason deal with the Dallas Mavericks, he will finally get to prove what we have been hearing since he was in the eighth grade.
That Mayo can be an NBA All-Star.
Mayo will be the second offensive option on a team gunning for the playoffs and will have a great opportunity to post monster numbers. With Dirk Nowitzki, Elton Brand and Chris Kaman in the post, the perimeter will be wide open for him to do serious damage.
Finally getting starting minutes, Mayo will play himself into a deal that will make Michael Beasley blush.
James Harden (Restricted)
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James Harden won't have to look far for extra motivation this year. Not only is he entering a contract year, but he also watched his own team take care of another free agent, Serge Ibaka, leaving him unsigned.
Harden did have a terrific regular season, which included a Sixth Man of the Year award.
However, he is coming off a disastrous NBA Finals, where he shot 37 percent. He will want to erase his performance from everyone's mind with a bounce-back performance that should help push his game to another level this season.
James Harden's play will prove he can be the go-to guy on any NBA team and play himself into a max deal this season.
Whether or not it comes from the Oklahoma City Thunder is another question.
Stephen Curry (Restricted)
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It's all about health for Stephen Curry.
Coming off yet another ankle surgery, Curry stated (via ESPN.com), "I don't think I gave it enough rest when I hurt it earlier. During the season, it's a little harder to do that. Once it felt better, I went out and played full speed."
The lockout-shortened schedule didn't do Curry any favors, as he was coming off surgery. The rigorous schedule proved to be too much for him and his ankles. With a full offseason to recover and a new contract to play for, the table is set for Curry to have his finest season to date.
Curry is now the main attraction on a well-balanced Golden State Warriors team. If the Dubs are going to make the playoffs for the first time in five years, it will be because Curry was able to stay on the floor and produce.
If Curry is 100 percent and stays injury free, he could play himself into a max deal.
By avoiding the risk of re-signing Curry now, it could cost the Warriors millions of dollars by not re-upping his contract early.
Josh Smith (Unrestricted)
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One of the NBA's premier defenders will get the chance to showcase his offensive game this season.
With Joe Johnson out of the picture and the Atlanta Hawks looking toward the future this season, it sets up to be a good one for Josh Smith. He has a great opportunity to produce offensive numbers that will make him an NBA All-Star.
Smith will make the most of his chance if he cuts down on his jumpers and attacks the basket aggressively. He could be a star for the talent-depleted Atlanta Hawks.
An enigmatic player like Smith should thrive in a contract year. That extra motivation should stop him from shooting three-pointers all together, while becoming a more efficient player.
If he continues his stellar defense and becomes more efficient on the offensive end, Smith will be signing a max deal as soon as the season ends.
Al Jefferson (Unrestricted)
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Al Jefferson has been a forgotten man during his NBA career. He always produces numbers, plays hard and always plays on a bad team.
Last season, Al Jefferson averaged 19.2 points and 9.6 rebounds on a team that made the NBA playoffs. This was a first for him.
You can expect him to build on his experience as he enters his prime. He is still just 27 years old.
Paul Millsap and the emerging Derrick Favors are expected to take pressure off Jefferson. Young center Enes Kanter is not quite ready. Jefferson is poised to have a terrific season. His numbers should be as strong as ever as he enters a contract year.
He will be an unrestricted free agent, and the Jazz will likely move on without him next season. Jefferson will be ready to showcase his skills for all the potential bidders.
Tyreke Evans (Restricted)
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Tyreke Evans is a mystery wrapped in a riddle.
Sometimes he looks like an All-Star. Sometimes he looks like the next Stephen Jackson, and sometimes not even that good. Or is it that bad?
Evans averaged 20.1 points, 5.8 assists and 5.3 rebounds a game as a rookie. He has seen his numbers drop across the board every year since.
After a Rookie of the Year freshman year, his sophomore season was derailed by a foot injury. In a lockout-shortened season on a bad Sacramento Kings team, he never really got it going.
It's hard to evaluate a guy like this. He is playing for a new deal, and I'll take the chance it will motivate him to have his best season to date. He is oozing potential, and there is no better time than a contract year to realize that potential.
The Kings have a lot of mismatched pieces. If Evans can facilitate this offense while he produces big numbers, he is going to force the Kings (or another team) to offer him a big deal.