Players in the midst of contract years are tough to evaluate. Some guys’ production increases exponentially when facing free agency, some remain consistent with their normal career patterns and some suffer production declines likely due to the stress of trying to perform for the next deal.
However, there is another group of players who have the misfortune of playing out their contract years while battling serious injuries. The question is, will their health issues materially impact their free agency this summer?
Let’s take a look at five guys who are battling injuries in the midst of a contract year:
Al Jefferson, Center, Charlotte Hornets
Since leading the Hornets to the playoffs and being named to the All-NBA third team in 2014, things haven’t gone according to plan for Jefferson. The veteran missed 17 games last season due to injury and has already missed 22 of the Hornets’ first 41 games to start the 2015-16 campaign. Raising additional questions has been the decline in Jefferson’s productivity while on the floor, as he went from averaging 21.8 points per game in 2014 to 16.6 points last season to 12.5 points in the current campaign.
Jefferson is in the final year of his current deal and is earning $13.5 million. He continues to be a large part of Charlotte’s plan, but at 31 years old can the Hornets afford to max him out? Last month, Jefferson underwent arthroscopic surgery to address a tear in the lateral meniscus of his right knee. On his current recovery, timeline, he is targeting a February return (possibly right after the All-Star break). With the league increasingly starting to phase out traditional back-to-the-basket big men, what will Jefferson’s true market value be come July?
Eric Gordon, Shooting Guard, New Orleans Pelicans
Gordon will reportedly miss four-to-six weeks after having surgery to repair his broken right ring finger. The injury is the latest setback in a long line of injuries ever since Gordon arrived in the Big Easy back in 2011.
Here’s how many games Gordon has missed each season as a member of the Pelicans:
Gordon boasts a career average of 16.6 points per game and has established himself as a consistent scorer. However, the latest injury will likely translate into the equivalent of two full seasons over the last five years sitting on the sidelines in a suit. Gordon will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and while the relationship in New Orleans has improved, there are still questions about his long-term future in a Pelicans uniform. It also remains to be seen how much money (and years) teams will be willing to offer him given his injury history.
Bradley Beal, Shooting Guard, Washington Wizards
Beal started the 2015-16 campaign on an absolute tear, averaging 19.3 points through the end of November. But the talented guard has played just nine games since then because he’s battling stress reactions in his fibula. Beal is headed to free agency this summer and by all accounts is seeking a maximum contract.
Washington will have the advantage in negotiations since Beal will be a restricted free agent and the club can match any offer sheet he receives. The talent is undoubtedly there, but the Wizards have to be hoping Beal’s early career injuries won’t be an ongoing issue.
Beal missed 26 games as a rookie, nine as a sophomore and 19 games last season. This season, the guard has already missed 20 contests and is currently on a minute restriction to avoid any more flare ups in his legs.
Joakim Noah, Center, Chicago Bulls
The former two-time All-Star has seen his production fall off the cliff over the past two seasons while battling an assortment of injuries. This season, Noah lost his spot in the starting lineup, missed some time due to an injured shoulder, returned and is now out for the season after undergoing surgery on the same shoulder.
In the middle of all this, Noah (along with most members of the Bulls’ crowded frontcourt) heard his name in trade rumors. Noah’s name was likely mentioned due to his upcoming unrestricted free agency.
Noah will turn 31 years old next month, but there is a feeling in some circles around the league that the former Defensive Player of the Year may never regain his old form. Heading into free agency as an older guy and coming off a major injury, there are a lot of questions surrounding the gutsy veteran.
Jarrett Jack, Point Guard, Brooklyn Nets
Technically, Jack isn’t scheduled to become a free agent this summer. But the veteran may end up on the market as only $500,000 of his $6.3 million salary for next season is guaranteed. With the Brooklyn Nets actively looking to restructure their roster in the coming months for their next rebuild, Jack could be a casualty of the process. It doesn’t help matters that the veteran recently tore his ACL, an injury that could potentially sideline him into next season.
At 32 years old, Jack is already at an age where guards start to decline, which could impact his market value if the veteran finds himself unexpectedly looking for a new team come July.
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