The muddy waters of NBA free agency are a whole lot clearer now. The October 31 deadline for teams to lock up their potential 2013 restricted free agents is behind us, so we now know precisely who’ll be hitting the market this summer.
Some of the league’s brightest stars, including Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Josh Smith are poised to head into the offseason without any strings attached. Those three are stone-cold locks to receive maximum salary deals over the summer, as their proven track records mean their stock is glued to the ceiling.
So we’ll focus on players whose stock situations are a little more fluid.
Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson, Jrue Holiday, James Harden, Taj Gibson and DeMar DeRozan earned hefty extensions from their employers, which takes them all off of the restricted free-agent market this summer. But a handful of players from the 2009 draft class weren't so lucky.
Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings, to name just two, did not re-up with their teams, meaning they're playing this year with the ability to test the market in 2013. In that sense, they’ve got something to prove this year.
And they’re not alone.
A handful of other players are also playing this season without knowing where they'll be next year.
Let’s take a look at the early-season stocks of a few free agents playing for a contract next summer.
The Sacramento Kings made their future intentions clear when they decided not to even negotiate with Tyreke Evans on a contract extension.
Evans—who’s averaging just 13.7 points per game on 38 percent shooting—has seen his production dip in every season since his rookie year, so part of the Kings’ unwillingness to commit is easy to understand.
Beneath the surface, though, it’s also pretty apparent that Sacramento is earmarking money that would have gone to Evans for DeMarcus Cousins. The big man won’t hit free agency until 2014, but with Cousins looking like a max player, the Kings are making sure he doesn’t have a chance get away.
It’s unclear whether Evans has any hope of returning to his rookie form, but if he ever does, it won’t be in Sacramento.
Carl Landry’s blistering start for the Golden State Warriors has to be a source of mixed emotions for GM Bob Myers.
Myers, who signed Landry to a two-year deal for $4 million per season must be ecstatic that the power forward has been the Dubs’ most consistent scorer and grittiest competitor in the early going.
On the other hand, he might be regretting his decision to make Landry’s second year a player option.
If Landry—who’s averaging 20 points and 7.3 rebounds on 65 percent shooting in just 26 minutes per game—keeps outplaying David Lee, there’s no way Landry will opt in to the second year of his deal. That’ll make him a free agent.
And you can bet he’ll get more than $4 million per year on the open market.
Brandon Jennings is off to a fantastic start in 2012-13, averaging career highs in field-goal percentage, assists and steals. Plus, he buried a clutch game-winner against the Cleveland Cavaliers, which is sure to grab the league’s attention.
The Bucks chose not to extend Jennings before October 31, so he’ll hit the market at age 23 coming off of what’s likely to be a career year this season. It’s possible the Bucks are planning on matching if Jennings receives a max offer this summer, and it’s starting to look like he’ll deserve that money.
Despite a curious pairing with Monta Ellis in the backcourt, Jennings looks primed to thrive this season as the Bucks’ go-to option on offense.
Like Jennings, Darren Collison is a young point guard heading in the right direction.
Collison, with one year left on his rookie contract from the Indiana Pacers, has the keys to the Dallas Mavericks' offense and has driven the Mavs to a surprising 2-1 start—without Dirk Nowitzki.
The fourth-year product out of UCLA seems much more comfortable in Rick Carlisle’s system, and his numbers are all easily on pace for career highs.
With averages of 17.3 points, seven assists and three rebounds, Collison has been one of the league’s most surprising stories.
It won’t be a surprise when he cashes in on his big year this summer, though.
Any time you go from a starting gig on a team starved for scoring to a supporting role where you’re no better than the third option, your stock is going to take a hit.
That’s exactly what’s happened to Kevin Martin, who joined the high-powered Oklahoma City Thunder in the deal that sent James Harden to the Houston Rockets.
Martin, who’s never been a particularly efficient scorer, is now thrust into Harden’s old role as the second unit’s leader in OKC. To be fair, Martin is having a decent season so far—he’s averaging better than 20 points per game—but the insane things Harden is doing in Houston makes his production look insignificant by comparison.
In today’s NBA, the market for low-efficiency wing scorers has all but dried up. Teams are getting smarter, and they’re starting to realize that the things Martin does are easily replaceable. That’s why O.J. Mayo only got $4 million a year from the Mavs.
Martin will hit unrestricted free agency this summer. He’ll be lucky to do better than a one-year deal.
So what if the above dunk was a charge? It gives a pretty darn good idea of what Jeff Teague is capable of doing.
Now that the Atlanta Hawks have committed to starting Devin Harris at shooting guard, Teague is poised to pile up enough minutes to make a real splash.
And he’s come out strong so far.
Teague is something like the anti-Tyreke Evans, in that he’s seen his numbers improve in every season of his career. As long as Lou Williams doesn’t snatch too many of his minutes at the point, Teague will hit free agency in 2013 as a player on the rise.
Look for him to better his previous career highs of 12.6 points, 4.9 assists and 2.4 rebounds as he continues to take control of the Hawks' offense.
Chris Kaman has missed more than half of his games over the last five seasons, so it’s probably not a great sign for his future prospects that he’s already been inactive for two of his first three contests as a Dallas Maverick.
Kaman will be a free agent in 2013 at the age of 31 with his best seasons well behind him. The worst thing he can do is continue to miss games, but a strained calf has hampered him already.
With Brandan Wright playing surprisingly well as an undersized center, Kaman might not see as much time on the floor as we thought—even if he is healthy.
When seven-footers fall off, it tends to happen quickly, so teams with money to spend in free agency will be watching Kaman closely to see if he’s got enough left to justify an investment. So far, his stock has taken a dive.
Speaking of aging players with little left in the tank, Antawn Jamison has been a major disappointment so far this season.
Of course, he’s a Los Angeles Laker, so maybe he’s just trying to fit in.
Very little has gone right for the Lakers so far and Jamison, who was supposed to be L.A.’s primary scorer off the bench, has looked completely lost. His career scoring average sits just a shade below 20 points per game, so Jamison’s current single-digit average won’t encourage teams to spend big on him this summer.
At age 36, Jamison might be on his farewell tour. His stock is dropping rapidly, but if he doesn’t find any suitors as a free agent in 2013, he can walk away from the game after a very respectable (and lucrative) 15-year career.
These guys share a slide because they’re being treated similarly by their current employer. The Utah Jazz haven’t made any reasonable overtures of extending either Jefferson or Millsap, meaning they’re both potential trade candidates. Even if Utah doesn’t move one or both of their veteran bigs, they’ll each hit free agency with a chance to make big money.
Jefferson might be the best one-on-one low-post scorer in the game, while Millsap is a deadly mid-range shooter and a beast on the glass. Though they’re very different players, they both have skills that'll make them prized free-agents this summer.
Both Jefferson and Millsap are still just 27 years old. With Utah committed to their even younger frontcourt options in Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, they’ll be looking for new homes sooner than later.
Millsap’s averaging 13.7 points and 10.3 rebounds, while Jefferson is putting up 12.7 points and 10 rebounds per game of his own. Assuming both pump their numbers up to their career levels, their stocks will continue to rise.
New rule: if you can’t get onto the floor, your stock is on the way down.
Andrew Bynum is battling a knee injury for something like the 46th time in his career and it’s not helping his free-agent stock. Of all the big names, Bynum seems the least likely to return to his current team when he hits unrestricted free agency this summer.
But if he can’t shake the injury bug, it’s possible the Sixers won’t even want to keep him around.
Once a lock to cash in on a max deal, Bynum has yet to play a minute this year—and there’s no timetable for his return. He’ll get his $16 million this season, but he may be scaring a few teams away with his inability to get healthy.