NBA Preview: Contract year phenomenon

By By Eric Williams

By Eric Williams

Sprint to the finish, make a deathbed confession or end strong, and they’ll forgive you for anything. However you look at it, NBA players coming into the last season of their contracts are looking to make, keep or lose a reputation for themselves. Whether players like their current organizations or want a change of scenery, it’s in their bank account’s best interest to finish strong, no pun intended.

Aside from being a phenomenon fantasy leaguers try to cash in on, the seemingly miraculous improvement — both on and off the court — for players in their contract year is one of basketball analysts’ favorite topics. But, is there any validity to the speculation?

The 2001-2002 season of Dallas Mavericks’ center Erick Dampier’s roller-coaster career is a frequently cited example of a player raising his level of play, re-signing for a bigger and better deal, only to slump during the following seasons. After missing nearly half of his team’s games the two years prior to his contract year, Dampier stepped it up, becoming the NBA’s fourth leading rebounder, first in offensive rebounds and third in field goal percentage. The next year, he missed 23 games and fell out of all top statistical categories.

According to ESPN Insider’s John Hollinger, the 2007-2008 season could lead to what he calls the best free agent class ever. With such talents as Emeka Okafor, Allen Iverson and Jermaine O’Neal facing free agency come July first, these player have the undivided attention of not only their current team, but everyone in the league.

The Chicago Bulls are in the position of having two of their young stars in their contract years simultaneously. Both Luol Deng and Ben Gordon, though they will have restricted status, could become free agents at the end of the season. With this in mind, Deng has spent his off season playing for Great Britain and working out with a personal trainer in an attempt to gain strength, weight and inches on his vertical leap.

One of the most interesting contract-year players to watch this season will be Phoenix Suns forward Shawn Marion. After publicly announcing his desires to be traded, the Matrix’s offseason was full of trade rumors. The Suns have thus far denied Marion’s request, putting him in the unique position of working to maintain his value among teammates who may have doubts about his commitment to the organization.

On the home front, the only Jazz player on his contract year is shooting guard Gordan Giricek, but he will find little time to excel in his contract year riding the pine.

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