There's money to be made in the NBA playoffs.
Look no further than the list of upcoming free agents (h/t ESPN) that will be playing in the 2013 NBA postseason to see that guys will be auditioning for new teams while also trying to advance to the promised land from April-June.
A prime example that comes to mind is Ben Gordon in the 2009 playoffs.
Gordon averaged 24.3 points per game for the Chicago Bulls in what is a now epic battle between he and Ray Allen—then of the Boston Celtics. Going toe-to-toe for seven games, Boston moved on to the next round, but Gordon had established himself as a clear cut above the rest of the available free agents at the guard position.
Detroit promptly pounced on that action, signing him to a five-year, $58 million contract that haunts teams that acquire him to this day.
While Gordon is the downside to success in the playoffs, guys like Carl Landry, who averaged 15.8 points as a New Orleans Hornet in the 2011 playoffs, or Jamal Crawford, who did something similar (15.4) with the Atlanta Hawks, are out there and will be looking to audition for a new home at the right price.
With the playoffs firmly set after Wednesday night's action and the anticipation to Saturday's opening games of the first round killing NBA fans around the country, here's a look at four 2013 NBA free agents that will shine with a new contract on the line for next season.
2013 NBA Playoff Schedule
What: Best-of-seven format (all rounds)
When: Playoff series begin Saturday, April 20 (view what we know courtesy of SportsMediaWatch.com)
Where: Home-court advantage to higher seed, 2-2-1-1-1 format for first three rounds, 2-3-2 format in NBA Finals
Watch: ABC, ESPN, TNT, NBA TV (Check local listings)
Upcoming Free Agents Who Will Shine
Atlanta Hawks F Josh Smith
Smith has been a marked man all season.
That hasn't stopped him and the Hawks from making it into the Eastern Conference playoffs, a remarkable feat considering that Marvin Williams and Joe Johnson are both on new teams this year and the turnover from the 2011-12 squad had Atlanta pegged as a lottery team before the season began.
Smith has kept that from happening, despite rumors of a trade before the deadline and the inability of the Hawks to work out a contract extension for his services.
Averaging 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game this season, Smith has been a steady performer and a triple-double threat every time he hits the court, in large part because his basketball IQ and decision-making is finally starting to catch up with his athleticism and talent.
The Hawks have been to the postseason five previous times with Smith, and each time the young man has shot terribly from the field (42 percent, compared to a career 46.5 percent in the regular season), although his other averages have been way up. For example, Smith averaged 13.5 rebounds per game in a first-round series loss to Boston in 2012—tops for qualified players.
With a new contract on his horizon and a chance to prove he's a clear-cut $10 million-per-year man, expect Smith to come out firing on all cylinders in the first round. The big downside to his game is poor shot selection and boneheaded plays at times, but when he's on he's one of the hardest players in the game to guard.
Expect the first-round series to showcase both sides of that coin.
Denver Nuggets F Corey Brewer
As a native Dallas citizen, the trade that sent Corey Brewer and Rudy Fernandez from Dallas to Denver after the Mavericks celebrated the 2011 NBA championship is one that still haunts me to this day.
Brewer has made Dallas severely reconsider that trade with his play in Denver.
Having his best season since a breakout campaign with the Minnesota Timberwolves during the 2009-10 season, Brewer is a key piece for George Karl's No. 3-seeded Nuggets—and a big part of the puzzle if the team will be able to survive the injury to Danilo Gallinari this postseason.
Never one to shoot a good percentage, Brewer's 42.4 percent shooting from the field and 29.8 percent from the three-point line are both right around his career averages. But what Brewer does do is always be around the ball on defense, create opportunities in transition with his length and hit timely shots when Denver needs them the most.
While he's a liability in the half court on most other teams, Denver has been the perfect place to hide Brewer in the corner on offense and let him run wild when Denver gets out on the fast break.
In the postseason, expect the young man to rise to the occasion again, much like he did for Dallas when asked to come in and shut down Kobe Bryant in Game 1 of the Mavericks' eventual sweep of the Lakers en route to the title (h/t Gerry Fraley of Dallas Morning News).
Golden State Warriors G Jarrett Jack
There are some guys who go unnoticed in their NBA careers despite consistently being one of the toughest people on the court to contend with. Jarrett Jack has fallen into that category this season as a sixth man of the year candidate for the Warriors, averaging over 12 points and five assists in a reserve role behind Stephen Curry.
Not surprisingly, one of the reasons you don't hear a lot about Jack stems from his career resume only including one playoff appearance (2011 with New Orleans).
Eager to prove he's a steady contributor and leader on a good team, I expect Jack to carry the second unit as Golden State tries to knock off a higher seed in the first round.
While Mark Jackson will be tempted to leave star guard Curry on the court for extended periods of time, the Warriors have gotten to their current point by allowing Jack to play nearly 30 minutes per game, using his off-the-dribble game to create shots for big men and otherwise letting him loose and using Curry, Klay Thompson and others as spot-up shooters.
There's a reason Jack is far and away the best guard in the league this year at getting folks involved when he comes off the bench (check the video above for proof).
Although there's no reason why Jack wouldn't want to come back to the Bay Area next season and help the Warriors reach the elite status that they are clearly so close to achieving (think healthy Andrew Bogut), he too is playing for a new contract.
Guys don't take that lightly, and Golden State won't take its first playoff appearance since 2007 lightly, either.
Milwaukee Bucks G Monta Ellis
Monta Ellis has reportedly finalized his decision to opt out of a contract that would pay him $11 million during the 2013-14 season (h/t The Journal Times).
With Dallas, Phoenix, Orlando and Utah likely all in the market for a marquee scoring guard when free agency opens, Ellis' first playoff appearance since being a 21-year-old sixth man with the Warriors during the season they beat the Mavericks is an important one.
Unfortunately, he'll have to shine against the Heat.
Believe it or not, Ellis will be up for the challenge.
Eager to prove that his three clunkers to the Heat were a byproduct of luck, Ellis will look to build on the Bucks' only win over the Heat this season—in December—in which he had 14 points, nine assists and five steals as the Bucks won going away.
Additionally, this could be the last big contract Ellis ever receives.
Considered detrimental to team success by some and flat-out ball hog by others, there are those that balk at giving him more than his salary would have been in '13-14. That being said, a four-year deal right under that line would more than make up for the fact that Ellis is still a growing player despite being 27 years old.
This is a huge playoff series for Ellis. With the right amount of success—both personal and team-wise—he could cash in with a winner looking to add a dynamic to the offense. If not, things could be very paltry indeed in free agency.
Call me optimistic, but I like the former for all of these players.
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