NBA

20 Contract-Year Players to Watch in 2016-17

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It’s never too early to start discussing the upcoming NBA free agency class. Outside of your standard restricted and unrestricted free agents, there are an abundance of guys who hold player options for the 2017-18 campaign. With the league’s salary cap expected to exceed $100 million next season, most of these players will choose to opt out in order to cash in and secure a more lucrative multi-year deal.

Today, we’ll take a look at some players who are entering an important contract-year. To make this list of upcoming free agents more interesting, we’ve excluded a host of current All-Stars such as Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and Paul Millsap. Guys with an All-Star appearance last season or those who are considered elite players were purposely omitted since they will clearly be paid regardless of how they perform in their contract-year.

Even with the stricter criteria, there are still plenty of players whom fans should be watching closely as the season develops. Here are 20 contract-year players to watch (not in any particular order):

Zach Randolph, Forward, Memphis Grizzlies
2016-17 contract:
$10.3 million
Free Agency Status:
Unrestricted

Randolph is a throwback in every sense of the word. Yes, his back-to-the-basket game in the low post is an ode to yesteryear when the game was played at a slower pace. But there’s also a picture of a much younger Randolph floating around from when he shared the court with Hall of Famers Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Randolph was a member of the Portland Trail Blazers with Pippen as a teammate and they were facing off against an aging Jordan, who was playing for the Washington Wizards. That’s old school.

But Randolph’s future is up in the air. The Grizzlies play an outdated style, have a quarter of a billion dollars invested in Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons and the team announced earlier this week that Randolph will permanently move into a sixth-man role. The veteran still has some gas left in the tank, but will he use all of his remaining fuel in Memphis?

Greg Monroe, Center, Milwaukee Bucks
2016-17 contract:
$17.1 million
Free Agency Status:
Player option for 2017-18

After reaching the playoffs during the 2014-15 season, the Bucks seemingly hit the jackpot the following summer by landing Monroe in free agency over large-market franchises that were also in pursuit of the veteran big man. However, Monroe’s first season in Milwaukee was filled with inconsistency, as the team missed the playoffs and his name was featured in plenty of trade rumors.

If things are shaky in year two, Monroe could look to free agency as an escape hatch.

Victor Oladipo, Guard, Oklahoma City Thunder
2016-17 contract:
$6.5 million
Free Agency Status:
Restricted

The Thunder could opt to lock up Oladipo long-term prior to the extension deadline on Oct. 31, but the team would essentially be bidding against themselves in the process. However, there’s also a risk if Oklahoma City allows the talented guard to hit the market next summer as well. Oladipo scored 34 points in his Thunder preseason debut this week versus Real Madrid and has seemingly transitioned into his new situation well after being traded from the Orlando Magic this summer. The Thunder will be looking for a second scorer to step up alongside All-Star guard Russell Westbrook after former league MVP Kevin Durant’s departure, and Oladipo is a guy who could flirt with 20 points a night if given the green light.

Gordon Hayward, Forward, Utah Jazz
2016-17 contract:
$16.1 million
Free Agency Status:
Player option for 2017-18

Back in the summer, we wrote about the damage caused by restricted free agency. The piece followed up on restricted free agents who signed offer sheets only to have their offers matched by their current franchise. Guys such as Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Roy Hibbert, Marcin Gortat and Eric Gordon either bolted as soon as they had the opportunity or were traded before their respective deals expired.

Back in 2014, the Jazz matched Charlotte’s four-year, $63 million offer for Hayward. The forward is undoubtedly a key building block for Utah, but historically similar situations haven’t ended well. Keep an eye on this situation.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Guard, Detroit Pistons
2016-17 contract:
$3.7 million
Free Agency Status:
Restricted

The jury is still out on Caldwell-Pope. The fourth-year guard continues to receive rave reviews from members of the Pistons coaching staff, but he’s also coming off a season in which he connected on just 31 percent of his three-point attempts (369). However, on the flip side, Caldwell-Pope has increased his scoring output every season and missed just eight games in his first three seasons. In 2016, Caldwell-Pope finished fourth in the league in average minutes per game (36.7). There will be suitors looking for a young guard, under 25, with starting and playoff experience next summer. Will the Pistons lock up Caldwell-Pope early or choose to see how the open market values his talent next July?

J.J. Redick, Guard, Los Angeles Clippers
2016-17 contract:
$7.4 million
Free Agency Status:
Unrestricted

The Clippers will more than likely be pre-occupied with re-signing All-Stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul next summer (both have player options). Each of those guys are going to command top dollar for their services, so will this provide an opposing team with an opportunity to swoop in and steal Redick from the Clippers? Redick led the league in three-point percentage (48 percent) in 2016 and will be in high demand if he can avoid injuries (only 11 games missed over the past two seasons).

Dennis Schroder, Guard, Atlanta Hawks
2016-17 contract:
$2.7 million
Free Agency Status:
Restricted

The Hawks traded away Jeff Teague, a former All-Star in his prime, in order to give Schroder an opportunity to be team’s floor general. That’s a strong vote of confidence from Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer and also a little motivation in a contract year for the fourth-year guard.

Nikola Mirotic, Forward, Chicago Bulls
2016-17 contract:
$5.8 million
Free Agency Status:
Restricted

The Bulls had a frontcourt logjam of sorts in 2016, but with Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol moving on in free agency, there should be more time for Mirotic to earn minutes. Last season, Mirotic played 30 or more minutes in only 14 of his 66 appearances. But the forward did improve his three-point accuracy from 32 percent in 2015 to 39 percent last season. With elite slashing guards Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade added to the Bulls’ mix, Mirotic will be counted on nightly from the perimeter. If he continues to knock down those shots, his value will skyrocket.

Zaza Pachulia, Center, Golden State Warriors
2016-17 contract:
$2.9 million
Free Agency Status:
Unrestricted

Pachulia turned down multiple eight-figure payday offers in order to pursue a ring with the Warriors. It was a calculated risk the veteran was willing to take in order to add championship hardware to his mantle.  But the Warriors will also have free agency decisions to make on Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant (player option), Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston next summer, meaning Pachulia’s time in the Bay Area could be a one-and-done experience if the money gets tight.

Steven Adams, Center, Oklahoma City Thunder
2016-17 contract:
$3.1 million
Free Agency Status:
Restricted

The vast majority of NBA championship teams have guys on the roster who take pride in their blue-collar, bring-their-lunch-pail-to-work mentality.  Adams is the personification of this role-playing glue guy. From setting hard screens to delivering rough fouls to playing while hurt to his tenacious rebounding, the center will be an interesting name come free agency.

Jeff Teague, Guard, Atlanta Hawks
2016-17 contract:
$8 million
Free Agency Status:
Unrestricted

The Indiana Pacers wanted to add more offense and Teague provides a scoring upgrade over the departed George Hill at point guard. The former All-Star heads home, in a contract year, and will be given every opportunity to become All-Star forward Paul George’s chief sidekick.

Michael Beasley, Forward, Milwaukee Bucks
2016-17 contract:
$1.4 million
Free Agency Status:
Unrestricted

The Houston Rockets surprisingly traded Beasley prior to the start of the season. After Khris Middleton got hurt, Milwaukee was desperately seeking more offensive firepower. And for all of the criticism Beasley receives (and understandably so), there’s one thing everyone can agree on: the man can flat out score when given minutes.

P.J. Tucker, Forward, Phoenix Suns
2016-17 contract:
$5.3 million
Free Agency Status:
Unrestricted

Tucker, 31, could be a victim of the Suns’ ongoing youth movement. With rookies Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss looking to carve out minutes at forward, Warren’s presence and the team’s decision to sign veteran Jared Dudley to a $30 million deal this summer, all signs point to a crowded frontcourt in Phoenix. Will Tucker eventually become the odd man out?

Gorgui Dieng, Center, Minnesota Timberwolves
2016-17 contract:
$2.4 million
Free Agency Status:
Restricted

The Timberwolves will enter the season with plenty of hype and are predicted by many to be this year’s surprise team. But how long can the T’Wolves keep their young core together? Dieng’s impending free agency will be the front office’s first test in how much they’re willing to invest in seeing things through. Dieng is oozing with double-double potential, but the arrival of Karl-Anthony Towns did lead to a three-minute-per-game reduction in court time for the soon-to-be-free-agent. Coincidence? We shall see.

Nerlens Noel, Center, Philadelphia 76ers
2016-17 contract:
$4.4 million
Free Agency Status:
Restricted

The Sixers will head into the 2016-17 campaign with an extremely crowded frontcourt that features Ben Simmons, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid, Noel and Dario Saric all figuring to get plenty of court time. Simmons is out for the first three months due to a foot injury, but the team still has a bottleneck. Noel, who has been mentioned in trade rumors, has publicly questioned the team’s decision to roster three young centers. Many believe Noel will be the odd man out and that a trade before the deadline is a strong possibility. That remains to be seen, but what is true is the fact the Sixers probably can’t get away with hoarding these young big men for an extended time period.

Patty Mills, Guard, San Antonio Spurs
2016-17 contract:
$3.6 million
Free Agency Status:
Unrestricted

Future Hall of Fame forward Tim Duncan retired this past summer and veteran guard Manu Ginobili is likely right behind him at season’s end. Mills, 28, has become a valuable member of the Spurs’ bench the past few seasons and boasts championship experience, which will be coveted on the open market. With the salary cap set to rise once again, Mills could be in for a plethora of lucrative offers and San Antonio will have to think long and hard about potentially handing out an eight-figure payday to their consistent role player.

Rudy Gobert, Center, Utah Jazz
2016-17 contract:
$2.1 million
Free Agency Status:
Restricted

The Stifle Tower is one of the league’s emerging big men and a core piece of the Jazz’s young core. Gobert provides elite rim protection and could become a nightly double-double performer in time. The Jazz can opt to extend Gobert before the Oct. 31 deadline or wait until next summer when the market will likely dictate a maximum price tag for the center. Utah did allow Gordon Hayward to secure a max offer from Charlotte back in 2014, so the precedent is there that the franchise may take a wait-and-see approach. Either way, when the smoke clears, Gobert is going to command top dollar and will undoubtedly get it.

Otto Porter, Forward, Washington Wizards
2016-17 contract:
$5.9 million
Free Agency Status:
Restricted

Despite making significant leaps in a variety of statistical categories last season, the jury is still out on whether the Wizards will pay top dollar to retain his services. Porter is an intriguing prospect in today’s 3-and-D league, but he’s been plagued by bouts of inconsistency during the course of his career. But Porter is only 23 and nowhere close to his physical prime, which would make allowing him to walk out of the door for nothing in return very risky.

Derrick Rose, Guard, New York Knicks
2016-17 contract:
$21.3 million
Free Agency Status:
Unrestricted

Once you get over the fact the league MVP version of Rose is likely never going to resurface, you’re still left with a very productive player who only missed 16 games last season while averaging 16.4 points and nearly five assists. While those numbers are nowhere close to what Rose once produced, they’re nothing to thumb your nose at. In New York, Rose won’t have franchise-player expectations. Those belong to All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony; however, Rose will be expected to be his primary sidekick. The Knicks took a risk in bringing in Rose, but are banking on the former MVP to be in peak condition heading into his contract year. And he needs to play well and stay healthy if he wants to cash in next offseason.

Danilo Gallinari, Forward, Denver Nuggets
2016-17 contract:
$15.1 million
Free Agency Status:
Player option for 2017-18

Gallinari averaged a career-high 19.5 points per game in 2016, but the veteran forward failed to appear in 60 games for the second consecutive campaign. The Nuggets are rebuilding and Gallinari will be relied on heavily as the team’s best offensive talent. But will a veteran with a history of injury problems opt out and price himself out of what Denver is willing to spend? Will the team look to move their talented forward at the deadline and go all-in on their youth movement? All indications are that both parties are completely satisfied with one another, but nine months is an eternity when it comes to NBA relationships. Let’s see if anything changes.

Which non-stars headed to free agency are you looking forward to watching this season? Leave your comments below.

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About Lang Greene

Lang Greene

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last eight seasons

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