With the 2017 NBA free agency period wrapping up, we examined some 2018 free agents who will need to deliver a strong season in order to earn a lucrative contract next summer.
Many executives are cautious about paying a player if they just have a productive contract-year. A big season just before free agency can help a guy get a payday, but some teams are hesitant to go after players who thrive in a contract-year – especially if their production is seemingly the result of selfish stat-chasing. There’s also some concern about whether the player will continue to work hard and produce once he has a long-term, guaranteed deal.
However, players who have shown consistently strong on-court performances and then take their game to the next level when it matters most are rewarded greatly.
Rather than focus on the top players around the league who will become free agents after their 2017-18 campaign, these are folks who may fly under the radar but could be in for big money if they impress during the upcoming season.
Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets
Harris, 23, was not a lottery pick. But if he does not sign a contract extension this summer, it could pay off well in the long run. Eric Freeman speculated that Harris may land a max deal next offseason (via Yahoo Sports):
“The Nuggets know his value, and it’s a good bet he’ll get something at or approaching the max. The NBA is thin at shooting guard right now, and a 17-point-per-game scorer, deadeye shooter, and quality defender with good size will at least see a big-money offer sheet from a team like the Brooklyn Nets.”
Of course, if Harris does not sign a rookie extension and then does not match his production from last season, his value could potentially decrease from the aforementioned mark.
Avery Bradley, Detroit Pistons
Last season, former Boston Celtics teammate Isaiah Thomas had one of the league-highs in usage rate at 33.7 percent. Bradley was third on the roster with 21.8 percent. However, he will likely have the ball in hands more often in Detroit.
It’s unclear if his future will be with the Pistons or elsewhere. But he was reportedly unhappy with his most recent contract and he will seek much more than $8 million per season, which is what he makes on his current deal.
Estimated Contract: Bradley must stay healthy and play the way he did during the 2015-16 season. If he does, he could earn around $20 million per season.
Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz
Here is a summary of what Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey told Hood in his exit meeting after the season (via Salt Lake Tribune):
“Lindsey challenged his shooting guard. He wants more consistency. He wants Hood to visit the free-throw line more often. He wants the guard who is entering a contract year to turn his offensive ability into efficient production.”
Hood was also told he will be prominently featured next season. Utah has fewer options with Gordon Hayward and George Hill leaving via free agency. Hayward had a usage rate of 27.6 percent last season and Hill was next in line with 23.6 percent.
Of the players remaining in Utah, Hill led them all in usage rate and is expected to have an increased role next year. The opportunity will be there for him to take his game to the next level and he is working hard to make the leap.
Estimated Contract: Based on what the team paid Joe Ingles, expect a salary potentially above $17 million per season.
Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers
The Trail Blazers are in a peculiar situation, as they already have one of the most expensive payrolls in the NBA and will likely give a lucrative contract to Nurkic as well.
Here is how SB Nation’s Eric Griffith explained the situation (via Blazer’s Edge):
“If Nurkic is completely convinced that his 2016-17 season was not a fluke and he can continue to improve next year, and he is not worried about injury risk, then he is guaranteed to get a maximum contract in 2018.”
A maximum deal for Nurkic would give him a deal worth 25 percent of the team’s salary cap for the next five seasons.
He obviously played well when he was healthy for Portland, but he will need to keep his game at peak production to earn the check we mentioned above.
Estimated Contract: ESPN’s CARMELO Projections have him worth around $16 million per season.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Los Angeles Lakers
Los Angeles will not be able to afford Caldwell-Pope next season if they want to sign one or two max players, which is their stated goal as of now. Even if the guard has a very solid year, he could be the odd man out for the Lakers as they continue their rebuild.
Caldwell-Pope is “betting on himself” after signing a one-year deal with a team unlikely to bring him back after the season is over.
But if he performs well alongside rookie point guard Lonzo Ball on a team made up mostly of young players, he could find a new home and a lot of money.
Estimated Contract: Expect a bit of a yearly annual rate decrease, but a longer deal worth around $15 million per season.
OTHER Candidates WHO ARE TOUGHER TO PREDICT
Will Barton, Denver Nuggets
Earlier this offseason, Barton declined a four-year extension valued at roughly $39 million. He currently makes $3.35 million per season and although an increase to around $9 million would have been nice, it seems Barton could be worth close to double this figure if he leaves Denver.
Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
He will be the main defender next season with Bradley no longer a part of the Celtics. While he is young, he is the longest-tenured player on the team. He has also cut weight this offseason. If he plays well, he could be worth around $13 million per season. But it’s unclear how often he will have the ball in hands with the additions of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.
Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
With the Magic selecting Jonathan Isaac in the 2017 NBA Draft, Gordon has suddenly become replaceable to Orlando if Isaac is a hit. The potential is there for Gordon but he will need to have a good season to either stay with his team or persuade other front offices to give him a look next offseason.
Seth Curry, Dallas Mavericks
Dallas is leaning on a younger core as Dirk Nowitzki inches closer to the end of his career. Curry will be playing primarily to help increase his reputation as the team is not be expected to fight for a playoff spot.
Patrick McCaw, Golden State Warriors
McCaw, who was drafted by Golden State, could sign a deal using the “Arenas Provision” and leave the Warriors for significantly more money elsewhere.
Norman Powell, Toronto Raptors
If he improves on what he brought to the table last season, Toronto will absolutely need to pay him considering they have already lost DeMarre Carroll and Terrence Ross.
Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls
If he recovers well from his torn ACL and Dwyane Wade leaves, he will likely become a focal point for Chicago next season. LaVine will almost definitely stay with the Bulls since he was a key piece in the Jimmy Butler trade. However, it’s unclear how well he will perform in a larger role as a lead playmaker.
Noah Vonleh, Portland Trail Blazers
If the Blazers decide to re-sign Nurkic, they will not have enough money to pay Vonleh as well. But if he proves to be a serviceable big man, he can sign a solid deal elsewhere in the NBA.
Kyle Anderson, San Antonio Spurs
Anderson will presumably be in the market for a new team if the Spurs are to become players in free agency next offseason. If they target top players, Anderson would be a piece unlikely to return.
Dante Exum, Utah Jazz
In the wake of Hayward leaving Utah, Exum may not be a part of the core moving forward as the team rebuilds their identity. Ricky Rubio will play most of the minutes at point guard and will facilitate their new offense. As such, Exum has multiple facets of his game he must improve to have a clear role going forward.
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