Their motives most certainly vary, but their objectives are one and the same: to be better than they were last season. I suppose this is a common goal of just about every player in the NBA, but being that everybody’s situation is different, it definitely doesn’t mean the stakes aren’t a little bit higher for a select few. For the following players, the season that begins in 11 days could be one that impacts the remainder of their respective careers.
Dwyane Wade: If he wants to win his third NBA Championship in 2013, Dwyane Wade will probably have to be better than he was in 2012. As in-f@cking-credible as LeBron James is, it’s not safe for the Heat to simply rely upon him to post a 40-point triple-double every time they get in a jam. Facing what figures to be improved competition from both conferences, Dwyane Wade needs to be the player he’s been in years past; the player who’d post his own 40-point triple-double once in a while.
Tyreke Evans: Somewhere, two Kings fans are arguing. One is suggesting that the franchise ought to hold out hope for Tyreke Evans, who had a historic rookie season just three years ago. The other disagrees; Evans has failed to develop a jump shot, and he’s a player without a position, he (or she) says. We need to let him walk this summer and move forward with Isiah Thomas and Marcus Thornton in the backcourt.
Regardless of how you feel about the situation, the fact of the matter is this: how Tyreke Evans performs this season will be a determining factor in where he lands next year… and how generously he’ll be compensated by his future employer. Obviously, Tyreke wants to be paid like the 20-point scorer he was during his rookie campaign. Unfortunately, he enters into this uncertain contract season as a role player. Somehow, he needs to convince general managers that his first season is representative of the player he can become if he wants another shot at being a franchise cornerstone.
Jimmer Fredette: For reasons that I’m not sure I understand, the Kings recently elected to keep Jimmer on board through the spring of 2014. So, for the time being, he’s got some job security. However, Fredette has an awful lot to prove over these next two seasons. Thus far, the Kings have attempted to utilize him in a couple different roles and he’s been largely unable to contribute. At shooting guard, he can’t seem to score (or shoot, for that matter). At the point, he struggles to create. On defense, he has to be hidden. Now, I understand that the man was a rookie last season and that he ought to be given more time than one lockout-shortened season could offer. That’s why I’m saying he needs to be better this year. Having been limited to 18 MPG in ’11/12, if he shows little or no improvement in ’12/13 then he may find himself on the bench for the vast majority of a crucial contract year.
DeMarcus Cousins: As they did with Fredette, the Kings chose to extend DeMarcus Cousins through the ’13/14 season. In ’11/12, Cousins led Sacramento in both scoring (18 PTS) and rebounding (11 RPG), finished at or near the top of the league in a variety of statistical categories, and became one of the NBA’s top centers by the numbers. Well, by the individual numbers, at least. Despite DeMarcus’s heralded improvements, the Kings finished the season with a record of 22-44… good enough for dead last in their division. Cousins himself also finished with a couple of dubious distinctions; he led the league in fouls and finished second in technical fouls.
This season, Cousins must prove one thing and one thing only: that he can make the Sacramento Kings a better team. Being that talented seven-footers don’t exactly grow on trees, DeMarcus will have a long and fruitful NBA career even if he never matures… but if he wants to develop into the franchise player that the Kings are so desperately hoping he’ll become, the time is now.
Enes Kanter & Derrick Favors: Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are unrestricted free agents to be, and they’re going to command a pretty penny this summer. It’s on Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors to prove that they can compose a better, more economical Utah Jazz frontcourt going forward. It’s simple as that, really.
Lance Stephenson: At this point, I think it’s pretty safe to say Lance Stephenson won’t be the focal point of an NBA offense. This presents a problem for Lance, and that problem is simple: he doesn’t play very well when he isn’t the focal point of an offense. This leaves him with two options: learn to play the role of a traditional backup point guard, or battle fellow Coney Islander Stephon Marbury for Chinese championships. Oh, and he needs to get started ASAP, ’cause his contract expires this summer.
John Wall: It was during his third season that [insert list of All-NBA studs beginning with Derrick Rose] made the leap into superstardom. You’ve heard it no fewer than a trillion times, right? Right. So basically, the pressure is on for John Wall. If he’s unable to make great strides towards All-Star status the Wizards will begin to seek a new direction. Obviously, all of this is on hold until December, when Wall figures to return from a stress injury to his knee. The eight weeks missed will make it even steeper an uphill battle, and it seems as if the Basketball Gods will simply never smile upon the Wizards.