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NBA PM: Contract-Year Players to Watch

Lang Greene looks at 15 players headed to free agency next summer. Some are struggling, while others are balling.

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Updated 10 months ago on
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Contract-Year Performers to Watch

When talking with players who are faced with free agency, most will play it coy when discussing their uncertain future. The majority of guys refuse to publicly admit that a looming free agency is even a minuscule distraction or that it impacts any aspect of their game.

But history is littered with plenty of examples of guys who struggle in any given season when free agency is hanging in the balance over their heads. On the other hand, there are some players who thrive under the pressure and put together some of their best work because that big pay day is dangling right in front of them.

Today we’ll take a look at 15 players who are headed to free agency next summer and how they’ve performed over the first two weeks of the season:

Hassan Whiteside, Center, Miami HEAT
2015-16 Salary:
$981k
Status Next Summer:
Unrestricted Free Agent
2015-16 Stats:
15 points, 11.4 rebounds, 3.9 blocks, 64% FG, 8 GP

The summer of 2016 will be loaded with talented big men and Whiteside’s name will be among the top mentioned. He’s unrestricted and will generate a lot of interest around the league. The 26-year-old late bloomer still hasn’t put together a full season of dominance in the paint, but the future appears bright and his numbers thus far have been impressive.

Al Jefferson, Center, Charlotte Hornets
2015-16 Salary:
$13.5 million
Status Next Summer:
Unrestricted Free Agent
2015-16 Stats:
14.9 points, 7 rebounds, 1 block, 54% FG, 7 GP

Jefferson is still seeking his first All-Star nod, but he did manage to snag an All-NBA Third Team selection during the 2014 season. Jefferson shed weight over the offseason, putting a greater focus on his conditioning in an effort to prolong his career. While the scoring and rebounding numbers have declined from his prime years, Jefferson is still hard to handle on the low block.

Kevin Durant, Forward, Oklahoma City Thunder
2015-16 Salary:
$20.1 million
Status Next Summer:
Unrestricted Free Agent
2015-16 Stats:
28.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3 assists, 50% FG, 8 GP

Durant will be next summer’s top free agent. This season is less about demonstrating his dominance and more about showing that he has fully healed from last year’s foot issues. After eight early games, it appears Durant is back to his normal tricks (though hopefully his recent hamstring injury doesn’t nag him).

Rajon Rondo, Guard, Sacramento Kings
2015-16 Salary:
$10 million
Status Next Summer:
Unrestricted Free Agent
2015-16 Stats:
11.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 7.8 assists, 42% FG, 8 GP

Rondo has fit in well with the Kings to start the season and while the wins haven’t been piling up, the veteran has earned praises from head coach George Karl for his leadership ability. Rondo bet on himself last offseason by signing a one-year deal, and so far he’s looked better in Sacramento than he did during his awful stint with the Dallas Mavericks.

Andre Drummond, Center, Detroit Pistons
2015-16 Salary:
$3.2 million
Status Next Summer:
Restricted Free Agent
2015-16 Stats:
19.4 points, 19.6 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 53% FG, 7 GP

Detroit is off to a fast start and the emergence of Drummond in the paint, on both sides of the court, is the primary reason for their success. Drummond will be in the market for a max deal and it seems inevitable that the Pistons will open up the piggy-bank for the big man next summer when he’s a restricted free agent.

Joakim Noah, Center, Chicago Bulls
2015-16 Salary:
$13.4 million
Status Next Summer:
Unrestricted Free Agent
2015-16 Stats:
2.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 32% FG, 7 GP

Noah is only averaging 21 minutes per game to start the season, which is a far cry from his All-Star days. To his credit, he has taken the bench role in stride. But have the Bulls moved on and how will the move to reserve status affect Noah’s free agency? Only time will tell.

Mike Conley, Guard, Memphis Grizzlies
2015-16 Salary:
$9.6 million
Status Next Summer:
Unrestricted Free Agent
2015-16 Stats:
13.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 6 assists, 39% FG, 8 GP

The Grizzlies are struggling to start the campaign and have yet to find a rhythm. Conley has been inconsistent to start the season, but truthfully the streakiness has been widespread throughout Memphis’ roster.

Zaza Pachulia, Center, Dallas Mavericks
2015-16 Salary:
$5.2 million
Status Next Summer:
Unrestricted Free Agent
2015-16 Stats:
9.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 39% FG, 7 GP

Tough. Hard-nosed. Unselfish. Pachulia put together a solid 2015 campaign for the emerging Milwaukee Bucks and is now averaging nearly a double-double for the Dallas Mavericks (who were left scrambling when DeAndre Jordan decided to rejoin the Los Angeles Clippers).

Al Horford,
2015-16 Salary:
$12 million
Status Next Summer:
Unrestricted Free Agent
2015-16 Stats:
16.7 points, 8 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, 49% FG, 9 GP

The 2015-16 campaign is shaping up to be another strong and steady one for Horford, who surprisingly is still vastly underrated at the center position.

Bradley Beal, Guard, Washington Wizards
2015-16 Salary:
$981k
Status Next Summer:
Unrestricted Free Agent
2015-16 Stats:
22.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 49% FG, 6 GP

Beal is oozing with All-Star potential and is off to a breakout campaign. However, the question that hovers over Beal is whether the guard can stay healthy. He’s currently battling a bruised shoulder, which recently knocked him out of the Wizards lineup.

Marvin Williams, Forward, Charlotte Hornets
2015-16 Salary:
$7 million
Status Next Summer:
Unrestricted Free Agent
2015-16 Stats:
10.7 points, 9 rebounds, 1 block, 46% FG, 7 GP

Williams will always be known as the guy selected before All-Star guard Chris Paul back in 2005, but the veteran has carved out a solid career. Williams has found a niche in Charlotte this season as a floor spacer and rebounder. He’s a nightly double-double threat, and there are plenty of teams looking for a player who can do that.

Joe Johnson, Guard, Brooklyn Nets
2015-16 Salary:
$24.9 million
Status Next Summer:
Unrestricted Free Agent
2015-16 Stats:
10.3 points, 5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 33% FG, 7 GP

Johnson is no longer an elite player capable of carrying a team to the playoffs, but he’s still productive in spurts. It will be interesting to see what teams come calling next summer in free agency. It’ll also be interesting to see if Johnson decides to sign a smaller deal to chase a ring (like David West in San Antonio), given how much he has already earned throughout the course of his career.

Nicolas Batum, Forward, Charlotte Hornets
2015-16 Salary:
$13.1 million
Status Next Summer:
Unrestricted Free Agent
2015-16 Stats:
13.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 39% FG, 7 GP

Batum was hobbled by a variety of injuries last season in Portland, which impacted his production and stock. However, now healthy, he’s off to a strong start in Charlotte as a key member of the rotation.

Eric Gordon, Guard, New Orleans Pelicans
2015-16 Salary:
$15.5 million
Status Next Summer:
Unrestricted Free Agent
2015-16 Stats:
17.7 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 39% FG, 7 GP

Gordon has always had game, but injuries were limiting his effectiveness. He’s off to a fast start this season. He’ll be unrestricted next summer and it remains to be seen if the marriage with New Orleans is a long-term one.

Jeff Green, Forward, Memphis Grizzlies
2015-16 Salary:
$9.6 million
Status Next Summer:
Unrestricted Free Agent
2015-16 Stats:
7.4 points, 3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 36% FG, 8 GP

Green was thought to be one of the final pieces to the Grizzlies’ championship puzzle, but the forward has struggled since arriving in Memphis. He recently discussed his free agency and uncertain future with Basketball Insiders.

 

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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