NBA Free Agents 2013: Players with Most to Prove After Signing Hefty Contracts
In the NBA, large contracts are given to free agents as a show of faith.
Sometimes that faith is rewarded, other times it is not.
Many of the league's free agents signed big deals this offseason. Prized catches Dwight Howard and Chris Paul signed the two biggest free-agent contracts, but a number of other players cashed in on their talent in the form of multi-million dollar agreements.
The difference in being considered a great pickup versus a monumental bust often comes down to how players perform in the first year of a new deal.
Let's not mince words—there are times when the phrase "contract year" brings out the best in players. During the first year of a new deal, the security of having a job can lead to a letdown in production.
In the spirit of hoping that no players in the first year of a new deal experience that letdown during the 2013-14 season, here's a look at three players with heightened expectations after being shown good faith by their new teams.
Dallas Mavericks PG Jose Calderon
The 31-year-old Spaniard has been a solid point guard for the majority of his eight-year NBA career, and has the stats to back it up.
Over the past three seasons (with the Toronto Raptors and Detroit Pistons), Calderon has averaged over 10 points and eight assists per game while shooting 41.2 percent from the three-point line.
As noted by ESPN's Tim MacMahon, Calderon proved his worth as a shooter last season:
Mavs added NBA's best and worst 3-point shooters among qualifiers last season. Jose Calderon (.461) was No. 1, Monta Ellis (.287) No. 134— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) July 12, 2013
Calderon signed a four-year, $29 million deal with the Mavs in early July to become the team's starting point guard. Alongside Monta Ellis, he'll be expected to anchor the team's new-look backcourt and provide stability alongside Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion.
For all the talk about maintaining cap space for future signings, Dallas made a hefty commitment to Calderon. Generally speaking, you don't sign a player for four years if his future isn't at least partially guaranteed.
Firmly fixated in Rick Carlisle's starting lineup, Calderon will need to step up his efforts on defense and maintain his high basketball IQ to be successful in Dallas. The Mavs did not have a point guard capable of consistently getting Nowitzki the ball in his favorite spots on the floor, and Calderon is expected to help improve that facet of Dallas' offense.
The question of the hour is simple—Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram asked it on Twitter earlier this offseason:
Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Samuel Dalembert. Can that lineup at least reach the 2nd-round of the playoffs?— Dwain Price (@DwainPrice) July 23, 2013
As long as Nowitzki is still on the roster, Dallas will be in win-now mode. With every chance to blow up the team and start rebuilding, Mark Cuban and Co. instead opted for players like Calderon, Ellis and Samuel Dalembert—guys itching to win championships.
As a pass-first point guard, Calderon should be a great addition to the Mavericks next season. With a large contract, though, he'll need to be a steady force to reaffirm Dallas' trust in his ability to be its floor general.
Los Angeles Clippers SG J.J. Redick
Hoopsworld's Alex Kennedy might have had the best description of the Clippers' new-look roster on Twitter:
Clippers are loaded. Starters: Paul, Redick, Dudley, Griffin, Jordan. Bench: Collison, Crawford, Barnes, Bullock, Mullins, Hollins, Green.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) July 20, 2013
In the middle of the roster overhaul was Redick, acquired by the Clips in a three-way trade that sent Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler to the Phoenix Suns. The Milwaukee Bucks, Redick's last team, received a second-round pick in the trade, while L.A. also took back Jared Dudley from the Suns in the deal.
We all know why Redick earned a four-year, $27 million contract from the Clippers after the sign-and-trade was official: He can shoot the basketball.
A 39 percent shooter from the outside during his seven-year career, the former Duke marksman actually struggled shooting the three-pointer after he was traded from Orlando to Milwaukee. The 31.8 percent mark (in 28 games) is the lowest clip of his career.
With CP3, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan headlining the team's roster, Redick will provide a valuable presence as a starter alongside the stars. His shooting touch will likely be back, and over the last few years, he's gotten better as a defender at the shooting guard position.
Paul's penetration will help create shooting lanes for Redick. Teams concerned about Griffin's improvement in the post will dispatch extra help, lending to the idea that Redick could have huge games in Doc Rivers' first season in town.
If your eyebrows raised when you saw the amount of money Redick received in his new contract, though, you weren't alone. He had a nice year between Orlando and Milwaukee, but L.A.'s commitment to his services speaks volumes about how consistent shooting is viewed in the NBA.
Regardless, Redick will need to shoot the ball well and play good defense, and that's about it. If he plays within himself and lets the other big guns on the team do their thing, no one will mention what he's owed over the next four years this season.
Detroit Pistons SF/PF Josh Smith
It might be hard to believe, but Josh Smith is only 27. He helped turn the Atlanta Hawks from a basement dweller into a perennial playoff team, helping the franchise reach the playoffs in each of the last six seasons.
Smith brings those expectations with him to Detroit. Can he be a team player around a very talented group of youngsters on the verge of making a splash in the Eastern Conference?
The answer to that question is still up in the air.
Detroit has had a busy offseason. In addition to Smith's four-year, $56 million contract, the Pistons have also facilitated a trade to make Brandon Jennings their starting point guard and picked up three solid players (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tony Mitchell and Peyton Siva) in the 2013 draft.
With young stars Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond already in place and Chauncey Billups returning to Detroit to provide the veteran leadership this team desperately lacks, the Pistons are knocking on the door in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Smith could be the piece that brings it all together.
After spending most of his career taking flak for being a jump-shooter in Atlanta, Smith can prove he's come full circle by being more efficient on offense in Detroit. Let's face it: Jennings is a need-ball player in his own right, and Monroe averaged 16 points per game last year.
If he consistently finds a way to be a 17-point, eight-rebound, five-assist per game player, the Pistons are going to be extremely dangerous. If he settles for jump shots, stops ball movement on offense and fails to be an example for the team's younger players, it could get ugly quickly in Motown.
Which player has the most to prove after signing a big contract?
On the verge of being one of the league's toughest players to contend with on both ends of the floor, Smith will be making $14 million dollars annually over the course of his deal with Detroit. Suffice to say, he'll draw the ire of the Palace with lackluster effort early on.
In the NBA, big contracts are a double-edged sword. Smith, Redick and Calderon are just a handful of players who will feel the weight of heightened expectations based on their paychecks. It might not be fair, but it's the reality of professional sports.
And big contracts.
Follow B/R's Ethan Grant (@DowntownEG) on Twitter.
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