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20 Contract-Year Players to Watch in 2016-17

Lang Greene looks at 20 upcoming free agents who are entering a crucial contract year in 2016-17.

Lang Greene

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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 The Grizzlies play an outdated style, have a quarter of a billion dollars invested in Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons and the team announced earlier this week that Randolph will permanently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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NBA

The Real Jrue Holiday Has Finally Arrived

It may have been a little later than they would have wanted, but the Jrue Holiday that New Orleans has always wanted is finally here, writes Matt John.

Matt John

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New Orleans has always earned the nickname “The Big Easy”, but ever since Jrue Holiday came to town, his time there has been anything but.

When New Orleans traded for Holiday back in 2013, they hoped that he would round out an exciting young core that included Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, and Ryan Anderson. At 23 years old, Holiday averaged 17.7 points, 8.0 assists, and 4.2 rebounds the previous season and was coming off his first all-star appearance in Philadelphia, so the Pelicans had much to look forward to.

Unfortunately, recurring extensive injuries prohibited the Pelicans’ new core from ever playing together fully healthy, with Holiday getting his fair share of the bruises. In his first two seasons, Holiday played in only 74 games combined with the team due to injury, and things didn’t get much better his third season. While he played more games, Holiday was on a minutes restriction and his season ended again with injury.

Holiday avoided the injury bug his fourth season, but he nobly took a leave of absence at the start the season to tend to his ill wife, which caused him to miss the season’s first 12 games and 15 in total. Holiday’s inability to stay on the court coupled with New Orleans’ stagnated progress made him a forgotten man in the NBA. That was until last summer, when Holiday became a free agent.

Given the circumstances, Holiday did what he could for the Pelicans. He certainly proved he was above average, but he hadn’t shown any improvement since his arrival. Coupling that with both how many games he had missed in the previous four seasons and the league’s salary cap not increasing as much as teams had anticipated, and one would think to proceed with caution in regards to extending Jrue Holiday.

But the Pelicans saw it differently. New Orleans gave Holiday a five-year, $126 million extension last summer, befuddling the general masses. Besides Holiday’s inability to stay on the court, the Pelicans already had an expensive payroll, and they later added Rajon Rondo, another quality point guard, to the roster. So, with all that in mind, giving Holiday a near-max contract on a team that had made the playoffs a grand total of once in the Anthony Davis era seemed a little foolish.

This season, however, Jrue Holiday has rewarded the Pelicans’ faith in him and has proven the doubters so very wrong.

With a clean slate of health, Holiday has proven himself to be better than ever. This season, Holiday averaged career-highs in scoring (19 points a game) and field goal percentage (49 percent overall), which played a huge role in New Orleans having its best season since Chris Paul’s last hurrah with the team back in 2011.

Holiday’s impact extended beyond what the traditional numbers said. His on/off numbers from NBA.com showed that the Pelicans were much better on both sides of the ball when he was on the court compared to when he was off. Offensively, the Pelicans had an offensive rating of 108.9 points per 100 possessions when he was the on the court compared to 104.4 points per 100 possessions when he was off.

On the other side of the court, Holiday was even more integral. The Pelicans had a defensive rating of 103.3 per 100 possessions when Holiday was on the court compared to 112.3 off the court. Overall, the Pelicans were 13.6 points per 100 possessions better with Holiday on the floor. That was the highest net rating on the team, even higher than Anthony Davis.

Other statistics also support how impactful Holiday has been this season. According to ESPN’s real plus-minus page, Holiday’s 3.81 Real Plus-Minus ranked ninth among point guards – No. 16 offensively, No. 4 defensively – which beat out Kyrie Irving, John Wall, and Goran Dragic, all of whom made the All-Star team this year.

However, Holiday’s effectiveness shined through mid-way through the season, or more specifically, on Jan. 26, when Demarcus Cousins went down with an Achilles tear. While Davis certainly led the way, Holiday’s role could not have been understated when the Pelicans went 21-13 without their MVP candidate to finish the season. Offensively, Holiday’s point average went from 18.6 to 19.4 and his assist average went from 5.2 to 7.2, all while his turnover average – from 2.6 to 2.7 – stayed the same.

Defensively, Holiday had much to do with the Pelicans’ improved defense after Cousins went down. According to NBA.com, the Pelicans defensive rating went from 106.2 points allowed per 100 possessions to 103.7, and much of it can be attributed to Holiday. When Holiday was on the court, the team’s defensive rating was 101.2 points allowed per 100 possessions compared to 109.6 points allowed per 100 possessions with him off.

Holiday’s improved numbers, combined with the Pelicans steadying the boat without their star center, make a fair argument that Holiday was one of the league’s best all-around point guards this season, but Holiday’s style isn’t much of a thrill to watch. He doesn’t have Russell Westbrook’s other-worldly athleticism, he doesn’t have Stephen Curry’s lethal jumper, nor does he have Chris Paul’s floor general abilities. Holiday’s specialty is that he has every fundamental of a good point guard, which makes his impact usually fly under the radar.

That was until last week, when the Pelicans unexpectedly curb stomped the Blazers. The Jrue Holiday coming out party was in full-swing, as the 27-year-old torched Rip City, averaging 27.8 points, 6.5 assists, and 4 rebounds a game on 57 percent shooting from the field, including 35 percent from deep. He did all of that while stymieing MVP candidate Damian Lillard, as Dame averaged 18 points and 4 assists while shooting 35 percent from the field, including 30 percent from deep, and surrendered four turnovers a game.

If Holiday’s contributions weren’t on full display then, they certainly are now. The Pelicans have suddenly emerged as one of the West’s toughest and most cohesive teams in this year’s playoffs, with Holiday playing a huge role in the team’s newfound mojo and potentially glorious future.

This was the Jrue Holiday the New Orleans Pelicans had in mind when they first traded for him almost five years ago. While his impact has come a little later than they would have wanted, it’s as the old saying goes.

Better late than never.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Are Player Legacies Really On The Line?

How important is legacy in the NBA playoffs? Lang Greene takes a look.

Lang Greene

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As the NBA Playoffs continue to pick up steam, the subject of individual greatness has become the big topic of conversation. Today, we ask the question: is legacy talk just a bunch of hyperbole or are they really made or broken in the playoffs?

To be clear, legacies do matter. Reputations are built on reliability and how dependable someone is throughout the course of their respective body of work. We all have them. They are built over time and it’s seldom they change from one misstep – but they can. Some of the greatest players in NBA history never won a title; see John Stockton and Karl Malone during their Utah Jazz years. Some NBA greats never won a title until they were past their physical prime and paired with a young charge that took over the reins; see David Robinson in San Antonio. Some NBA greats never won a title as the leading man until they were traded to a title contending team; see Clyde Drexler in Houston. We also have a slew of Hall of Famers that have been inducted with minimal playoff success in their careers; see the explosive Tracy McGrady.

So what’s in a legacy? And why does it mean more for some then it does for others?

Four-time League MVP LeBron James’ legacy is always up for debate, despite battling this season to make his ninth NBA Finals appearance. James’ legacy seems to be up in the air on a nightly basis. Maybe it’s because of the rarified air he’s in as one of the league’s top 10 players all-time or maybe it’s just good for ratings.

As this year’s playoffs gain momentum, the topic of legacy has been mentioned early and often.

Out in the Western Conference, the legacy of Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star guard Russell Westbrook is being questioned at all angles. There’s no doubt Westbrook is one of the best players in the league today as the reigning MVP and coming off two consecutive seasons averaging a triple-double. However, Westbrook’s decision making has come into question plenty over the past couple of seasons.

The subject of whether you can truly win a championship with Westbrook as your lead guy serves as the centerpiece of the debate. It goes without saying former league MVP Kevin Durant bolted to the Golden State Warriors amid rumors that he could no longer coexist next to Westbrook in the lineup. Ever since Durant’s somewhat unexpected departure, it seems Westbrook has been hell-bent on proving his doubters wrong – even if it comes at the detriment to what his team is trying to accomplish.

The latest example was in game four of his team’s current first-round series versus the Utah Jazz.

Westbrook picked up four fouls in the first half as he was attempting to lock up point guard Ricky Rubio, who had a career night in Game 3 of the series. Westbrook infamously waved off head coach Billy Donovan after picking up his second personal foul in the first quarter. Westbrook was also in the game with three personal fouls and under two minutes left in the first half before picking up his fourth personal.

You can make an argument that this was just bad coaching by Donovan leaving him in the game in foul trouble, but it also points to Westbrook’s decision making and not being able to play within the constructs of a team dynamic. Further, what will be Westbrook’s legacy on this season’s Oklahoma City Thunder team with Carmelo Anthony and Paul George if they were to flame out in the first round with little fizzle – against a Jazz team with no star power and zero All-Stars? Is discussing Westbrook’s legacy worthless banter or is it a legitimate topic? There is no doubt on his current trajectory Westbrook is headed straight into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. As an individual player there is no greater achievement than to have your name etched in stone with the greats of yesteryear, but the court of public opinion factors in team success and this is where the topic of legacy comes into play.

Say what you will about Durant’s decision to go to Golden State, but his legacy is undoubtedly secured. Durant won the Finals MVP last season in absolute dominant fashion and showed up on the biggest of stages. All that’s left from those that question Durant’s legacy at this point are the folks on the fringe saying he couldn’t do it by himself. But that is exactly the line of thinking that’s getting Westbrook killed as well, because winning championships is all about team cohesiveness and unity.

Out in the Eastern Conference, all eyes will be on Milwaukee Bucks do everything star Giannis Antetokounmpo. After five seasons in the league, Antetokounmpo has zero playoff series victories attached to his name. Heading into the playoffs this season, the seventh-seeded Bucks were considered underdogs to the second-seeded Boston Celtics.

But the Celtics are wounded. They do not have the services of All Stars Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward. The Celtics are a team full of scrappy young talent and cagey veterans. Antetokounmpo is clearly the best player in the series and teams with the best player usually fare well in a seven game series. But the Bucks are facing elimination down 3-2 versus Boston. Antetokounmpo has only been in the league half of the time Westbrook has, but the chirping about his legacy has already begun as Milwaukee attempts to win its first playoff series since 2001.

So what’s in a legacy? Are there varying degrees for which people are being evaluated?

Despite James’ success throughout his career, a first-round exit at the hands of the Indiana Pacers over the next week will damage his legacy in the minds of some. While others feel even if Antetokounmpo and the Bucks were to drop this series against the Celtics, he should be given a pass with the caveat that he still has plenty of time in his career to rectify.

As for Westbrook, there are vultures circling the head of his legacy and these folks feel that a first-round exit will damage his brand irreversibly after 10 seasons in the league

Ultimately, the topic of legacies makes for good column fodder, barbershop banter and sport debate television segments. Because when guys hang up their high tops for good, a Hall of Fame induction is typically the solidifying factor when it comes to a player’s legacy.

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Insiders Podcast

PODCAST: The Futures Of LeBron, PG13, Kawhi and More

Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler and NBA writer David Yapkowitz talk about the future of LeBron James in Cleveland, the Paul George situation, Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs, the future of the Blazers and the Basketball 101 program that’s part of the Professional Basketball Combine.

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Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler and NBA writer David Yapkowitz talk about the future of LeBron James in Cleveland, the Paul George situation, Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs, the future of the Blazers and the Basketball 101 program that’s part of the Professional Basketball Combine.

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