NBA Stars Playing Their Way Into and Out of Max Contracts

Maxwell OgdenCorrespondent IIIFebruary 24, 2013

NBA Stars Playing Their Way Into and Out of Max Contracts

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    With the 2013 NBA trade deadline behind us, we can now look forward to a period of time in which teams and players can perform without distractions. However, we'd be remiss to ignore the ever-important period of free agency that looms after the season.

    Who is playing his way into and out of a substantial payday—more specifically, a max contract?

    In this age of super teams, we're likely to see clubs with flexibility in their salary cap space make an impact.

    That said, we must define the worthy candidates for potential $100 million deals before we harp on the potential for glory.

    Beyond Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, the presence of superstars is minimal, so "great" could turn into "good enough" for a max contract.

    Who might benefit by taking the lead in this class?

In: Al Jefferson, Utah Jazz

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    Position: Center

    Age: 28

    Experience: Ninth season

    2012-13 Season Averages

    21.04 PER, 17.6 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.2 BPG, 1.0 SPG

     

    Once you get past Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum, Al Jefferson is the hands-down favorite to earn the moniker of "best center available."

    With both Howard and Bynum expected to re-sign, that leaves Jefferson in position to receive a hefty deal—a max contract, if you will.

    With good reason, too.

    Jefferson is a 6'10", 289-pound monster with an elite back-to-the-basket game and consistent face-up abilities.

    As a lesson for the other centers around the league, Jefferson is also an 81 percent free-throw shooter. His ability to flirt with 20 points and 10 rebounds per contest will make Jefferson a hot commodity.

    The fact that he could end up as the best available player at his position simply creates an urgency to lock him up.

    Barring unforeseen circumstances, Jefferson will earn a max contract.

Out: Andrew Bynum, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Position: Center

    Age: 25

    Experience: Eighth season

    2011-12 Season Averages

    23.00 PER, 18.7 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.9 BPG

     

    Chances are an NBA franchise will take a gamble on Andrew Bynum, thus offering him a max contract this coming offseason.

    However, Bynum has gone from a certainty to receive a mega-deal to a player on the brink of receiving a short-term contract to prove his capabilities.

    Consider this a case of him not playing his way out of a max contract.

    After seemingly defeating the knee issues that had long plagued him, Bynum has missed every game of the 2012-13 season with that very ailment.

    Fortunately, Bynum practiced with the Philadelphia 76ers for the first time since August of 2012 on Feb. 22, 2013 (via ESPN).

    Unfortunately, he's not close to returning, according to 76ers coach Doug Collins.

    Until Bynum hits the court and proves that he remains a dominant force, the former Los Angeles Lakers star is at a severe risk of missing out on a max contract.

    Having missed 104 games over the past four seasons, there is obvious concern over handing out any form of a guaranteed deal to a player with suspect signs of having a long-term future.

    It's tragic, but it's also true.

In: Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks

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    Position: Forward

    Age: 27

    Experience: Ninth season

    2012-13 Season Averages

    17.70 PER, 17.2 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 4.2 APG, 2.1 BPG, 1.3 SPG

     

    From a statistical standpoint, Josh Smith is having one of the more impressive seasons in NBA history.

    According to Basketball-Reference.com, Smith is on pace to post the 14th season in league history with averages of at least 17.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.0 steal per game. Blocks and steals were not official statistics until the 1973-74 season, for what it's worth.

    Will that be enough to earn Smith a max contract?

    Smith is a phenomenal athlete with youth on his side and the statistics to blow a number-cruncher's mind. As a result, NBA franchises will be out to make him the No. 2 or No. 3 option on an elite team. Chances are they'll do so with a max contract.

    As for the limited interest in his services at at the trade deadline, that only existed due to the uncertainty about whether he would re-sign with a potential suitor. With the opportunity to lock him up for the long haul, however, general managers will be champing at the bit for J-Smoove.

    If anything, Atlanta's decision to hold on to Smith at the trade deadline said just one thing: If you want to sign him, you'll have to get past the Hawks' deep pockets to do it.

    A virtual guarantee of a maximum deal.

Out: Andre Iguodala, Denver Nuggets

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    Position: Shooting guard

    Age: 29

    Experience: Ninth season

    2012-13 Season Averages

    14.73 PER, 13.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.8 APG, 1.6 SPG

     

    To be clear, Andre Iguodala is playing much better than his statistics display. However, he is playing himself out of a max contract.

    As of Feb. 24, Iguodala's shooting slash line sits at .445/.314/.588. That's 58.8 percent from the charity stripe, folks.

    Furthermore, one has to wonder how much money the Denver Nuggets are willing to spend to re-sign the 29-year-old. They have limitless depth along the perimeter and are not quite as financially flexible as other teams on the market.

    His recent struggles could help put a cap on what Denver offers.

    To be fair, Iguodala is in his first year with a new team. Rather than having everything run through him, the former Arizona Wildcat is now a role player within a system of limitless depth.

    Don't forget, though, Iguodala will turn 30 next season. While general managers respect Iguodala, the chances of his receiving a max contract have decreased.

    For now.

    With an improvement in his shooting percentages, Iguodala could be maxed out after all. Even if he doesn't improve, a max deal remains a possibility for a contender in need of an elite perimeter defender.

    As it presently stands, however, Iguodala is playing his way out of the money he deserves.

In: Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Position: Point guard

    Age: 23

    Experience: Fourth season

    2012-13 Season Averages

    16.93 PER, 18.9 PPG, 6.1 APG, 3.3 RPG, 1.9 SPG

     

    In the case of Brandon Jennings, the demand could outweigh the quality of the supply.

    It's a point-guard-driven league, and beyond Chris Paul, Jennings is the best point guard available. For that reason, one can't help but expect a team to offer him a max contract.

    Sometimes that's all it takes to get some major money.

    Fortunately, Jennings is having a career year in 2012-13 to back that hype. Jennings currently averages 18.9 points, 6.1 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. He's also shooting 36.9 percent from beyond the arc.

    He recently scored over 30 points in consecutive games against the Nets, including a 31-point, 11-assist outing on Feb. 20.

    Whether Jennings deserves a max contract is a conversation for another day. What's undeniable, however, is that a lack of depth at point guard makes Jennings a prime candidate to receive one.