NBA Free Agents 2012: 8 Players Primed to Cash in on Playoff Success

Jeremy Gottlieb@@jmg2776Contributor IMay 11, 2012

NBA Free Agents 2012: 8 Players Primed to Cash in on Playoff Success

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    The NBA playoffs are in full swing, and even though it'll be another month and a half before free agency begins, there's a handful of players still active who are playing like they want a big raise.

    Granted, the body of work being examined isn't that big, but you can learn a lot about a player by how he reacts to, handles and performs under the brightest of lights. NBA general managers are often transfixed by how big an impending free agent comes up in a playoff series—more than how well he's performed over the length of his previous contract.

    Of the remaining 2012 free agents whose teams are still alive, some are restricted, meaning their current employer will have the right to match any offer made to them by another team. You think those guys aren't trying to send a message to their own GMs as well as the other 29 across the league?

    But we digress.

    Here's a list of some guys who are enhancing their stock with their play in the 2012 NBA playoffs.

JaVale McGee

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    No one has ever doubted McGee's talent and ability—it's his head that's always been the problem.

    But Denver getting him out of Washington, where he was surrounded by a bunch of fellow youngsters at least on a path to being as much a knucklehead as he, has revived McGee's career.

    In the Nuggets' five games against the Lakers thus far, the third-year, seven-footer is playing 26 minutes, scoring 10.4 points, grabbing 9.6 rebounds and blocking over three shots per game. In the two Nuggets wins, McGee has been a force, averaging 18.5 points and 14.5 boards, including 21 (on 9-of-12 shooting) and 14 in Tuesday night's survival test in L.A.

    Big men who can play at a high level are at a major premium in the NBA these days, so a guy like McGee was bound to cash in regardless of his play during Denver's playoff run. But his age (24) combined with what he's showing through these first five games is sure to make him a lot more money.

    McGee is a restricted free agent. Given how well he's playing along with how he's seemed to adapt so well to the coaching of George Karl and the Nuggets' strong veteran culture, it's hard to imagine Denver not matching any offer this future star receives.

Spencer Hawes

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    It's hard to imagine that the 76ers would be one game away from advancing to the Eastern semis for the first time since 2003, if Derrick Rose hadn't blown out his knee in Game 1 of Philly's current series with the Bulls.

    But he did, and the Sixers are. And they can thank Hawes for that.

    After scoring a total of seven points and tallying just seven rebounds in the first two games of the series, Hawes has caught fire. Sixers coach Doug Collins has upped his center's minutes (he played 15 and 18, respectively, in Games 1 and 2) to over 30 per game—the fourth-year, former lottery pick of the Sacramento Kings has responded.

    Hawes is averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds in the Sixers' last three games while blocking six shots. He's clearly taking advantage of the Bulls' lack of an inside presence, thanks to the injury suffered by Joakim Noah in Game 3.

    Like McGee, Hawes has a lot going for him with free agency closing in, thanks to his age (24) and his size. Unlike McGee, Hawes is unrestricted, giving him a host of options going forward.

    Some team in need of a big man (Dallas? Toronto? Maybe even Boston?) is going to make Hawes a rich, rich man.

Mo Williams

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    It's been a given pretty much since the beginning of the season that Williams would be exiting the Clippers organization as soon as he could.

    But then he went out and had a solid offensive season to increase his value as an unrestricted free agent, and he has not let up in the playoffs.

    Williams is averaging 11.4 points in 23 minutes per game in the Clippers' first-round series against the Grizzlies, following a regular season in which he scored 13.2 points per game and shot a healthy 39 percent from long range in his role as the team's sixth man.

    Williams has thrived as a starter before. It was his full-time job in the previous six seasons of his career spent with the Bucks, Cavs and Clippers. He even earned an All-Star berth with Cleveland, and put up as many as 17 points and seven assists per game.

    Naturally, he plays behind Chris Paul with L.A. But given his resume, his performance throughout the regular and post seasons and his professionalism regarding not being a starter for the first time since 2005, he should earn a nice check from a team looking for a scoring point guard this summer.

George Hill

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    Hill, acquired in a shrewd trade from the Spurs last offseason, took over the Pacers' starting point guard job in early April and hasn't looked back. 

    With the exception of Indiana's regular-season finale against the Bulls, in which he played limited minutes, Hill has scored in double figures in every game he's played since, becoming a starter on April 9. In the Pacers' five-game, Eastern Conference first-round series win over Orlando, he averaged 32 minutes, 14.2 points and 4.7 assists per game, while shooting 43 percent from three-point range.

    Having plied his trade for three years with the league's ultimate veteran professional outfit in San Antonio, Hill made a great fit with the young, up-and-coming Pacers, and they may well want to keep him around given his restricted status.

    But the Pacers also have Darren Collison, another youngster with huge talent, who lost his job to Hill due to inconsistent play but exploded for 30 points, 15 assists and five steals in Indiana's last two games against the Magic.

    Maybe they'll keep both. Collison is set to be a restricted free agent after next season. Don't be surprised if the Pacers match any offer to Hill, then watch how the two work in tandem for one more year before deciding what to do with Collison. 

Ramon Sessions

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    Sessions started a bidding war for his services pretty much right away when the Lakers acquired him from Cleveland back in mid-March, and he's done nothing to turn away any potential suitors since then.

    It took Lakers coach Mike Brown a couple of games to insert Sessions into the starting lineup, but once that inevitable move was made, Sessions hardly looked back. He averaged 13 points and six assists for L.A. in April, while playing 31 minutes per game. Through the team's first five games of its first-round series with Denver, his numbers are almost exactly the same.

    Sessions is an unrestricted free agent, but he does have a player option to return to the Lakers for another year after this one. The guess here is that he'll look to gauge his options before making a decision.

    Given his success in two months with the Lakers and how well he's adjusted to his first ever playoff experience, he'll have plenty.

Andre Miller

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    Miller, a veteran who has played for five teams in his 12-year career, is certainly making a case to earn one more nice contract before he hangs it up.

    Along with McGee, Miller saved the Nuggets' butts in Tuesday night's Game 5 against the Lakers, scoring 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting and dishing eight assists. Afterward, coach George Karl called him one of the top 10 point guards in NBA history, and said, according to Aaron J. Lopez, that he'd like to have Miller back next season.

    Karl may not get the chance. Miller is an unrestricted free agent who has said that he doesn't see himself as a backup. Since the Nuggets already have Ty Lawson, who is younger and a burgeoning star, it may be hard to keep Miller and not continue to bring him off the bench.

    Miller will have no shortage of suitors if he leaves Denver. He may be just what some fringe contenders with point guard problems are looking for.

Roy Hibbert

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    Here's a bit of a no-brainer. Hibbert was headed for a big payday regardless of how well he played in the playoffs. The fact that he's played so well has only increased the amount of money he'll be earning starting next season.

    Hibbert really came on the final three games of the Pacers' 4-1 first-round series win over Orlando, shooting 18-of-27 with 28 rebounds and eight blocks over that stretch. 

    Now in his fourth year, Hibbert set career highs in scoring, rebounding, blocks and shooting percentage this past season. Like Hawes and McGee, Hibbert will be in high demand thanks to his age (25) and size. 

    As a restricted free agent, Hibbert could find himself back in Indiana if the Pacers choose to match any offers he gets. They'd be smart to do just that.

Ray Allen

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    It would have been hard to imagine Ray Allen not being sharp after returning from his recent ankle injury, so it's not surprising at all that he's done just fine in his four playoff games since coming back.

    Thursday night's first-round series clinching win over the Hawks was Allen's first playoff game of the year in which he failed to shoot at least 50 percent from the floor and score in double figures. Prior to Thursday, Allen averaged 13 points per game and had made 4-of-7 from long range in his previous two games.

    The fact that Allen will turn 37 this summer and may need surgery on his ankles in the offseason, may turn off some potential suitors. But his play since coming back from missing 11 straight games and 16-of-21, didn't stop him from putting up those numbers.

    No rust on Ray. He's barely missed a beat.

    Allen getting another one-year, $10 million deal is unlikely. But he will get paid by someone, whether it's by a team in need of some secondary scoring like Miami or Chicago or if it's by a team like the Celtics.

    Allen is still too good, too well-conditioned and too smart not to be.