The contract-year phenomenon is well-known not just in the NBA, but all across sports.
That’s when players are on the final year of their deals, and are basically playing for their next contract. In those instances, it’s all too common to see guys perform at a level far above their head and land themselves a monster contract. It happens all time.
There are other instances, however, where the opposite happens, and a player loses money in their contract year due to their (poor) play. It’s unfortunate, but it also happens all the time. In fact, thus far in 2018-19, we’re already starting to see it occur with a few impending 2019 free agents.
Below are four players who have hurt their free-agent stock as they approach entering the market in the summer of 2019.
TYREKE EVANS, INDIANA PACERS
Heading into this season, Tyreke Evans’ stock was on the rise. The ball-handling wing was coming off a career year, one in which he averaged 19.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists per contest, and one where he knocked down a personal-best 39.9 percent of his three-point looks. The only other players last year to put up a 19/5/5 stat-line while shooting at least 39 percent from three? Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. So yeah, safe to say, Evans was performing at a pretty high level in 2017-18.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t carried over into this season.
Thus far in 2018-19, Evans has averaged a meager 10.6 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists nightly while shooting a paltry 36.9 percent from deep. What’s worse, the Indiana Pacers have a negative swing rating (-1.6) with Evans on the floor. And it’s not like Evans is struggling to acclimate playing next to another high-volume guard like Victor Oladipo, since the All-Star 2-guard has missed a good amount of time this season due to a knee injury. Even in his absence, Evans hasn’t been able to string together a good series of games.
Truth be told, Evans has looked this year more like the player he has been for most of his career and less like the last-season version, sort of proving that 2017-18 was more of an aberration and less of a sign of things to come.
Luckily for the Pacers, they were savvy in their free-agent negotiations with Evans, signing him to merely a one-year, $12.4 million deal, as opposed to getting fooled by Evans’ career performance the year before and offering him some huge contract.
At least for one year, though, Evans did get a decent payday, and that’s good, too, because heading into free agency again in 2019, it doesn’t look like the Memphis product will be getting a similarly sized contract.
His play in 2018-19 just doesn’t call for any sort of big investment.
KENTAVIOUS CALDWELL-POPE, LOS ANGELES LAKERS
For two years running, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has bet on himself in free agency, agreeing to back-to-back one-year deals with the Los Angeles Lakers instead of seeking out a longer-term contract elsewhere. But though the gamble may have paid off last season in the form of another one-year contract at a high-dollar amount ($12 million, to be exact), it doesn’t look like Caldwell-Pope’s fortune will be so kind next summer. And that’s due to how poorly he’s played this season.
Through 24 contests, Caldwell-Pope has averaged just 8.0 points per game, the second-lowest mark of his career, and shot 33 percent from three, his third-lowest rate as a professional. That’s despite the 6-foot-5 shooting guard having spent 251 minutes playing next to LeBron James, who has a tendency to make the guys around him look better. Sadly, that hasn’t been the case for Caldwell-Pope, who, like Evans, possesses a negative swing rating on the year (-4.9).
Luckily for Caldwell-Pope, he does play alongside the best (and most famous) player on the planet, so all he really needs to do is post a strong postseason for his stock to soar.
TERRY ROZIER, BOSTON CELTICS
After last year’s playoff run, Terry Rozier looked like he was set to receive a huge payday when he hit free agency for the first time in 2019. Now, that doesn’t look like as sure of a thing.
Over 23 postseason games in 2017-18, Rozier – who helped lead the undermanned Boston Celtics to within one win of reaching the Finals – averaged 16.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists per contest, shooting 40.6 percent from the floor and 34.7 percent from three.
Rozier hasn’t been able to maintain that run of good form in 2018-19. This year, the Louisville product is putting up 8.2 points and 3.9 assists per game while knocking down just 37.8 percent of his field-goal attempts. It’s not some big secret why Rozier’s numbers have seen a drop-off, either. With Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back in the rotation, the looks just aren’t there for Rozier like they were in that impressive playoff run, so he’s struggled to find much of a rhythm.
What could help Rozier is the fact that he’s currently one of the likelier trade candidates league-wide. If he does get dealt, specifically into a situation where he’ll be allowed to be the guy at the lead-guard spot, his stock would once again get back on that upward trajectory it was on last year.
If he doesn’t, though, and he keeps having to play a second-fiddle role to one of the best point guards in the Association, Rozier’s future money will continue to suffer for it.
FRANK KAMINSKY, CHARLOTTE HORNETS
Although he has performed better recently, overall, 2018-19 has been a bit of a struggle for Frank Kaminsky. The 7-foot floor-spacer is averaging a career-low 6.4 points and 2.8 rebounds per game while seeing the floor for just 12.8 minutes nightly. What’s more, Kaminsky has had 11 games where he hasn’t left the bench despite not carrying an injury at any point this season.
All in all, Kaminsky is a somewhat impactful player – after all, a big man capable of spacing the floor from three is one of the more important archetypes in the modern NBA. But his defensive shortcomings and inconsistency as a shooter hurt his overall value.
The former Wisconsin Badger was never en route to landing a big-time contract in 2019 free agency. But due to his up-and-down play thus far this year, his free-agent stock looks even worse now than it did before.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.