Contract Year NBA Players with the Most on the Line During 2013-14 Season

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 29, 2013

Contract Year NBA Players with the Most on the Line During 2013-14 Season

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    Contract years are important ones for any NBA player with an expiring contract. 

    Some succumb to the additional internal pressure. Others thrive in the tougher situations, stepping up and earning themselves a bigger paycheck. They're all under the microscope, but no players have more on the line than these 10 players. 

    None of these guys will earn max contracts unless some general manager loses his mind, but each of them has a large disparity between his best-case and worst-case scenarios. For example, Luol Deng could either earn a near-max contract after proving that he's still a premier No. 2 option, or he could cede the spotlight to Jimmy Butler and find himself struggling to land another starting role. 

    Each of these 10 players better be working hard right now. Their NBA futures depend on their success during the 2013-14 campaign, which just so happens to be their contract year. 

Eric Bledsoe

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    Team: Phoenix Suns

    Position: PG/SG

    Age: 23

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 8.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.7 blocks, 17.5 PER

    Type of Free Agency in 2014: Restricted

     

    Eric Bledsoe looked like a stud while he was backing up Chris Paul for the Los Angeles Clippers. But guess what? 

    He's not in L.A. anymore. 

    Bledsoe no longer has the luxury of coming off the bench and using his boundless reserves of energy and athleticism. Instead he's going to be a legitimate starter for the Phoenix Suns, a role that inherently ushers in significantly more responsibility. 

    Now Bledsoe must prove that he's a bona fide starting guard and not just an impressive sixth man. To do so, he'll have to maintain his defensive excellence while improving his jumper rather dramatically. 

    Fortunately, there's no pressure in the desert, as the Suns have absolutely no positive expectations for the 2013-14 campaign. He can learn on the job and doesn't have to worry about being benched by a competitive team for his mistakes. 

Andrew Bogut

2 of 10

    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Position: C

    Age: 28

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 5.8 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.7 blocks, 13.8 PER

    Type of Free Agency in 2014: Unrestricted

     

    Is Andrew Bogut ever going to stay healthy? If the bulk of his career is any indication, the answer has to be a resounding "no." 

    YearGames Played
    2005-0682
    2006-0766
    2007-0878
    2008-0936
    2009-1069
    2010-1165
    2011-1212
    2012-1332

    The Golden State Warriors need Bogut to break the trend.

    They can't afford for him to miss too much time now that the acquisition of Andre Iguodala has transformed them into legitimate championship contenders. While Jermaine O'Neal and Festus Ezeli are capable backups, they aren't the type of players you want leading the charge at center in a Western Conference that prominently features players like Tim Duncan, Marc Gasol and Dwight Howard

    If Bogut stays healthy, he'll prove just how valuable his defensive excellence can be. But if he's injured, he's looking at a severely diminished salary the next time he signs a contract. 

Avery Bradley

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    Team: Boston Celtics

    Position: PG/SG

    Age: 22

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 9.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.4 blocks, 8.8 PER

    Type of Free Agency in 2014: Restricted

     

    Avery Bradley was supposed to be the next dominant backcourt member for the Boston Celtics, and he got his opportunity when Rajon Rondo tore his ACL. 

    Well...that didn't work out very nicely. 

    Bradley's defense remained excellent, but he proved that he was incapable of running the show as a point guard. He doesn't have the ball-handling skills that are so necessary against NBA pressure, and the C's' offense ground to a halt more often than it should. 

    The 22-year-old still has plenty of time left in his career to prove that he can become an offensive player, but for now his offense is still offensive. This is a make-or-break season for him, as Boston and new head coach Brad Stevens are looking to figure out which players on the roster are long-term keepers. 

    Bradley has enough potential that he'll be getting a big offer from some team once he hits restricted free agency, but it's up in the air whether the Celtics will match it once it comes. 

     

Mario Chalmers

4 of 10

    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: PG

    Age: 27

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 8.6 points, 2.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.2 blocks, 13.3 PER

    Type of Free Agency in 2014: Unrestricted

     

    Mario Chalmers is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2013-14 season, and there's no telling if the Miami Heat will bring him back. 

    The point guard simply has to get more efficient. 

    He isn't going to get many touches—not with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all playing alongside him in the starting five—so he must make the most of them. That means continuing to cut back on his turnovers. Dropping his turnover percentage from 20.7 to 17.1 was a nice start, but that number needs to continue declining. 

    Chalmers is going to be in a weird spot this offseason. He'll either get to stay with a stacked roster or hit the open market with a shot at finding a larger role elsewhere. 

    But that opportunity will only present itself if he can raise his efficiency numbers during his sixth professional season.

Luol Deng

5 of 10

    Team: Chicago Bulls

    Position: SF

    Age: 28

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.4 blocks, 15.1 PER

    Type of Free Agency in 2014: Unrestricted

     

    I'm not sure that anyone in the NBA knows exactly how good Luol Deng is. 

    He's an excellent defender and is more than capable of scoring in volume, but what would happen if he was able to play more reasonable minutes? It's not that he needs more. In fact, the opposite is true, as Deng might crumble into dust if he was asked to play any more by Tom Thibodeau. 

    Would he get more efficient if he got more rest? Would his scoring remain consistent? 

    We just have no idea, but we'll get a nice hint this season. The breakout of Jimmy Butler makes it less vital that Deng remains on the court at all times, as the Marquette product has now emerged as the best wing defender on the roster. 

    Just take a look at how his points per possession allowed in certain defensive situations compare to Butler's, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required): 

     IsolationPnR Ball-HandlerPost-UpSpot-UpOverall
    Butler0.750.680.840.790.76
    Deng0.830.830.781.000.85

    How Deng handles this inevitable decrease in defensive responsibility will determine the value of his next contract. And it could rise well into eight figures per year. 

Derrick Favors

6 of 10

    Team: Utah Jazz

    Position: PF

    Age: 22

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 9.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.7 blocks, 17.5 PER

    Type of Free Agency in 2014: Restricted

     

    Derrick Favors no longer has to back up Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap for the Utah Jazz. A starting spot is all his, and he and Enes Kanter will be looking to make names for themselves in a major way. 

    For a long time, Favors has been viewed as a high-potential player. The Georgia Tech product looks like a defensive phenom and a premier glass-eater, but now we get to see how well that translates once he starts playing more minutes. 

    There's often a tradeoff between volume and efficiency, and it might affect Favors during his first season as a full-time starter. But it can't affect him too much, or else perception of the big man is going to decline rather seriously. 

    The Utah Jazz have plenty of cap space next offseason, and they're just overflowing with fantastic, high-potential players. Favors is the established one with the most upside, and he's going to have to majorly step up in order to keep that reputation. 

    No pressure, big guy. 

Marcin Gortat

7 of 10

    Team: Phoenix Suns

    Position: C

    Age: 29

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 11.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.6 blocks, 15.4 PER

    Type of Free Agency in 2014: Unrestricted

     

    Is Marcin Gortat still a starting-caliber center in the NBA? 

    It certainly appeared as though he was while Steve Nash was running the show, but that quickly changed when Goran Dragic came to town. While Dragic is arguably a better point guard right now than Steve Nash, he still doesn't possess the same ability to make his teammates look absolutely incredible. 

    All you need in order to see that is a quick look at Gortat's numbers as a pick-and-roll finisher. 

    Synergy reveals that in 2011-12, the Polish center scored 1.23 points per possession as a roll man, good enough for him to finish as the No. 10 offensive player in that situation across the league. But in 2012-13, that number dropped to 1.16, and he ranked 26th. 

    Those are still elite numbers, but they aren't über-elite, and that's affected the rest of his offensive game. With Alex Len waiting to take over the role as soon as he recovers from his offseason ankle procedures, Gortat's time as a starting 5 could be rather limited. 

Danny Granger

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    Team: Indiana Pacers

    Position: SF

    Age: 30

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 5.4 points, 1.8 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.2 blocks, 4.0 PER

    Type of Free Agency in 2014: Unrestricted

     

    Danny Granger is going to be an unrestricted free agent in 2014, and his next contract is heavily dependent on how well he plays during his return from injury. 

    Granger only played in five games during the 2012-13 campaign, and he was anything but effective during those contests. While he missed action, he lost his role as the leading scorer and team leader to Paul George, and it's going to be impossible to earn it back.

    The 30-year-old has to prove A) that he's healthy and B) that he can accept a secondary role in the offense without letting it affect him too heavily. Even if Granger comes off the bench behind George and Lance Stephenson, he'll need to graciously agree to the new assignment and then thrive in it.

    Granger is an incredibly talented scorer and a solid wing defender. But he has to prove that he can adapt before he either re-signs with the Indiana Pacers or finds a home on the perimeter for some other team.  

Gordon Hayward

9 of 10

    Team: Utah Jazz

    Position: SF

    Age: 23

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, 16.8 PER

    Type of Free Agency in 2014: Restricted

     

    Gordon Hayward will have a chance to be the leader of the Utah Jazz during the 2013-14 season. 

    With Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap gone to the Charlotte Bobcats and Atlanta Hawks, respectively, he's going to be counted on as the unquestioned leading scorer, at least until either he proves that he can't handle the role or Trey Burke breaks out quicker than expected. 

    Hayward has been a great complementary player throughout his NBA career, thriving in the face of limited defensive pressure. He won't have that same luxury now, and he's going to need to show quick improvement and confidence in his game. 

    The Jazz have a number of promising young players, and they won't have to match offers for Hayward if the price rises too high. Unless he justifies it, of course. 

Isaiah Thomas

10 of 10

    Team: Sacramento Kings

    Position: PG

    Age: 24

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.9 points, 2.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.0 blocks, 17.5 PER

    Type of Free Agency in 2014: Restricted

     

    It's amazing how far Isaiah Thomas has come since he was Mr. Irrelevant during the 2011 NBA draft. 

    He's emerged as a legitimate starting point guard, capable of putting up gaudy point totals while still blowing away the rest of the Association in any hypothetical limbo contest. Thomas didn't bat an eye when he earned a bigger role as a second-year pro, but now he's due for a decrease in minutes. 

    The Washington product will be competing with Greivis Vasquez for minutes, and he's probably going to be drawing the short straw more often than not. Although I suppose that's appropriate for a 5'9" floor general. 

    Thomas has to emerge as a viable sixth man—or even steal the starting job from his much larger counterpart—in order to prove his future value to the Sacramento Kings. With a logjammed roster from top to bottom, almost all parts might become expendable.