Sure, money’s the root of all evil. But in today’s NBA, it’s also a hell of a motivator. There’s a fresh crop of prospective free agents that’s almost ripe for the picking, but before these guys get paid in the summer of 2013, they’re going to have to use this season to show they’re worth it.
Free agency is complicated, so let’s set the parameters for exactly what it means to be a “young free agent” for our purposes.
If you’re over 30, you’re out—hit the rocking chair, Grandpa. If there’s no way a great season can earn you a huge payday (because your current employer will just pick up your team option), you’re also ineligible.
If you’re one of a couple dozen guys who falls into the “restricted free agent” pool, you’re in a gray area. Guys like Ty Lawson and Stephen Curry are eligible to receive qualifying offers from their teams before October 31, which they can either agree to or reject.
Obviously, if they agree to those offers, they’re not free agents anymore. But if they reject them, they’re restricted, meaning any other team can sign them to offer sheets during the summer of 2013, but the player’s original team can match. Because of the complications and uncertainty, those guys are excluded, too.
So that leaves us with a pool of “young” players who are either unrestricted free agents (playing this season with the knowledge that they can sign anywhere they want next summer), guys with player options who can tear up their deals for next year if they have good seasons in 2012-13 and a pair of players with the very exciting “early termination option.”
So, which young players with free agency on the horizon are primed to explode this year?
Let’s check out the list of this season’s potential contract-year wonders.