Big Free Agent Contract Decisions Looming for NBA Teams During 2013 Offseason
It's that time of year again. The time when temperatures start to heat up both outdoors and in the offices of NBA general managers and players trying to make those tough contract decisions.
2013 is no different than any other year, as front offices and players alike are forced to decide what they'd like to do with their futures.
Players must decide whether or not to exercise player and early termination options, while general managers are left deciding which players to buy out and what to do with their team options. Restricted free agency is full of decision-making as well, but that's a subject for another article, as we're sticking strictly to options and buy-outs here.
Most teams in the Association have decisions to make, but the focus here is on the bigger ones. If a decision is featured in this article, it's either a toughie or one that centers around a big-name player.
Note: All stats and contract information, unless otherwise indicated, comes from Basketball-Reference.com and Spotrac.com.
Boston Celtics: Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett
Paul Pierce has spent every second of his 14-year NBA career in a Boston Celtics jersey, but it's time for that player-team pairing to come to a close.
Sources indicate Celtics director of basketball operations Danny Ainge will likely buy out forward Paul Pierce's $15 million contract for next year ($5 million is guaranteed). If that happens, Grant should be first in line to try to acquire Pierce's services. However, before anyone gets too giddy, Pierce will likely want to go to a serious contender.
As Finnan makes clear, this buy-out would not spell the end of Pierce's illustrious professional career, just the end of his time with the C's. And that means that Kevin Garnett might not be putting on a green jersey anymore either.
Garnett wants to spend the rest of his playing days alongside Pierce, and the Celtics cutting ties with The Truth would inevitably usher in another roster move: a buy out of Garnett, one that would likely force him into retirement or onto the same team as Pierce with a minimum deal.
If this comes to pass, getting rid of the two superstars would firmly indicate that Boston is moving into a rebuilding period.
Charlotte Bobcats: Ben Gordon
Ben Gordon will use the offseason to decide whether he places a higher priority on winning or making money. Unfortunately, the two are mutually exclusive for the 2-guard who has spent time with the Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Bobcats during his NBA career.
Barring a miraculous turnaround during the 2013-14 season, the Bobcats aren't likely to win many games, but they're offering Gordon far more money than he'd make elsewhere.
The 30-year-old who just spent 2012-13 averaging 11.2 points per game for Charlotte has a player option in his contract. He can either become a free agent and sign for a significantly lower sum, or he can exercise the option and make $13.2 million during his final season with the Bobcats.
That's a lot of money to turn down, and it seems likely that Gordon will pick the cash over the wins. After all, there's always a chance that Charlotte could find some way to swap him for a younger player with more potential down the road.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Marreese Speights
Marreese Speights played great basketball in limited action once he was sent from the Memphis Grizzlies to the Cleveland Cavaliers halfway through the 2012-13 season.
On the court for 18.5 minutes per contest, he averaged 10.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.4 steals and 0.7 blocks per game on 45.7 percent shooting. That was good enough for him to post an 18.2 PER, but it wasn't enough for him to push past the bevy of younger frontcourt players that stand in the way of a starting spot.
Speights is still only 25 years old, and he has enough tantalizing potential left unrealized that he could convince a team to give him a chance. And with that chance would inevitably come more money.
However, the Florida product would have to decline his player option and forgo a guaranteed $4,515,000 in order to do so. He'd also be giving up the opportunity to play with a team that is most certainly on the rise.
The conventional wisdom is that Speights will choose to sign a bigger deal this offseason, but he has yet to actually make that decision.
Dallas Mavericks: O.J. Mayo and Shawn Marion
O.J. Mayo and Shawn Marion could either severely inhibit or aid the Dallas Mavericks chances of landing multiple stars during the 2013 offseason.
After all, they both control their own fates. Shawn Marion has an early termination option, one that would allow him to do away with his $9 million salary in 2013-14 and test free agency, and Mayo has a player option for $4.2 million.
The talented shooting guard's career was spiraling downward before he latched on with Dallas, and he was forced to sign a bargain of a contract. Now that he's proven himself once more, he's expected to opt out and see what he's worth in free agency.
A number of suitors have already emerged—most notably the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves—even though Mayo hasn't officially declared his intent to decline the option.
As for Marion, it's unlikely that he voluntarily turns down $9 million unless Mark Cuban can convince him to be a team player and re-sign with the Mavs for less cash. If that's the case, Dallas will have additional funds to spend on younger players who can contribute more to the championship cause.
Denver Nuggets: Andre Iguodala
Andre Iguodala is another player with an early termination option, and there's no way that the Denver Nuggets are going to ask him to opt out with a promise of re-signing for less money. If Iggy chooses not to return to the Mile High City, it'll be because he's looking to maximize his long-term earning potential.
After all, his stock isn't going to get higher than it is going into the 2013 offseason.
Iguodala is 29 years old and coming off a fantastic postseason series, one that showcased his two-way talents against the Golden State Warriors even though the output ultimately came in a losing effort. If he opts out now, he'll be able to sign one more massive long-term deal.
However, if Iggy plays out his contract with the Nuggets, he'll push past the 30-year milestone and might not be coming off such a high note. The ensuing contract could be a lot less impressive.
That sounds like an easy decision, right?
Well, it's not so simple because Iguodala is well aware A) that he complements the rest of the Nuggets' roster perfectly and B) that his squad is more than capable of competing for the 2014 title.
If Danilo Gallinari hadn't torn his ACL, the Nuggets would have been serious contenders for the 2013 title. And their young players are still blossoming.
Now it's a little more complicated.
Los Angeles Lakers: Jodie Meeks and Metta World Peace
Steve Nash and Pau Gasol will be back for the 2013-14 campaign, but there's a chance both Jodie Meeks and Metta World Peace could be enjoying different grass next year. Not necessarily greener grass, but grass that is significantly less purple and gold.
Meeks' contract includes a team option, so the Los Angeles Lakers get to choose whether or not they'd like to pay him $1,550,000 during the 2013-14 season. Given the low number, that would normally be an easy choice, but Meeks failed to meet the expectations in 2012-13 by a rather wide margin.
Even with the lowered hopes, L.A. will probably still keep him on the roster for one more year, hoping he remembers how to shoot the ball with consistency.
Metta World Peace's situation is more interesting, as he's almost certain to pick up his $7.7 million option. He possesses no shot at landing a bigger contract than that one, after all.
However, fans and the team alike aren't going to be thrilled with MWP's decision, and there could be some external pressure exerted on him as the franchise looks to scale back in the salary department. The amnesty clause could also come into play here during mid-July, as MWP, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Blake are still eligible candidates.
Milwaukee Bucks: Monta Ellis
Monta Ellis has a player option for the 2013-14 season, so he can either accept his $11 million and return to the Milwaukee Bucks for one more season or walk away and see what he's worth as a free agent.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Ellis probably knows that $11 million is the most he can make, but he hasn't exactly been thrilled in Milwaukee. That unhappiness manifested itself in his play throughout the season and then boiled over when he and Larry Sanders got into a verbal spat following their loss to the Miami Heat.
This will become one of the more intriguing storylines of the offseason, as it's the classic case of a star—not quite a superstar—weighing money against happiness.
Gary Woelfel of the Journal Times reported back in April that Ellis was planning to opt out, but it was never confirmed by the player or organization. Plus, the rumor mill has been curiously quiet on that front ever since.
Ellis hasn't tipped his hand, meaning that all we can do is speculate. And speculate I will.
At the end of the day, Ellis knows that he has license to shoot the ball often in Milwaukee, and he's making more money with the Bucks than he would elsewhere. He'll seriously consider testing free agency, but he'll ultimately return.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Andrei Kirilenko
Andrei Kirilenko doesn't get much attention from fans outside of Minnesota, but he'd certainly make NBA general managers and front offices take notice if he decided to decline his $10.2 million player option with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
At first, it seems obvious that AK47 would pick up the exorbitant sum and resume his career with the 'Wolves, but you have to consider the potential for earning rings as well. Kirilenko's hands are free from any jewelry, and playing with Minnesota in 2013-14 won't help change that.
Minnesota might be a playoff squad if it stays healthy, but it's not a championship one.
Kirilenko could decide to forgo the extra millions, taking a significant pay cut to hop on board with a true contender and hoping to finally know what it feels like to win the final game of the season. Given the loyalty he showed to the Utah Jazz earlier in his career and the fact that he's only 32 years old, though, this seems like an unlikely scenario.
And, trust me, Minnesota will be happy if that's correct.
New York Knicks: J.R. Smith
Usually players making less than $3 million don't win major NBA awards, but J.R. Smith has never been a typical player. Despite falling into the aforementioned category, the oft-shooting 2-guard was named the league's Sixth Man of the Year thanks to his scoring contributions for the New York Knicks.
Now Smith looks like one of the biggest bargains in the Association, and that will continue on into 2013-14 unless the mercurial shooting guard decides to opt out of his contract.
Despite his putrid showing during the postseason, Smith is well aware that he's worth more than $3 million. We've known that he'll decline his player option for a while now, and that's something that the New York Post's Marc Berman confirmed on May 20:
J.R. Smith is expected to opt out of his contract and re-sign with the Knicks in a four-year deal starting at about $5 million because the Knicks own his early-Bird rights rules.
The Knicks could outbid for J.R. Smith by an under-the-cap team, though it’s unlikely considering his playoff flop. But having Chris Smith as part of the package has convinced the Sixth Man of the Year he wants to stay. After the Game 6 loss Saturday, the embattled Smith said “I want to retire a Knick.’’
This decision is being included because it's not technically official, but let's just say the pen seems to be hovering above the dotted line.