NBA franchises can forge championship collections over the offseason...or set themselves back for years.
Gambles are made on the regular, and the high-stakes tables are the only ones offering the premier prizes. Of course, they're also home to those prejudicial pitfalls, as well.
General managers make or break their careers based on their summertime strategies.
When an on-paper savior becomes an on-court disaster, the executive responsible for bringing that player on board goes from scouring over stat sheets to thumbing through the classifieds. Chances are, if a savior role was expected, then a savior's salary was handed out.
These five free agents have the talent and the upside to draw long crowds of suitors this offseason. What they don't have, though, is the kind of ability needed to play up to the type of contract they'll receive.
At the right price, all five could fit inside a championship picture. But at the money they'll receive, any one of them could single-handedly crumble a franchise.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
While Eric Bledsoe would undoubtedly rather be helping his Phoenix Suns make a playoff push than recovering from knee surgery, his 2013-14 campaign has bordered on a best-case scenario.
In terms of his impending free agency, he's staring at a gold mine as it stands right now.
Freed from Chris Paul's towering shadow, the explosive, 6'1" combo guard littered his stat sheet with career highs: 18.0 points, 5.8 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 48.6 field-goal percentage, 19.9 player efficiency rating. The 24-year-old powered a hopeless Suns team into the thick of the playoff race, simultaneously raising their profile and his.
While there's optimism for a post-All-Star break return, via Craig Grialou of ArizonaSports.com, it's very possible his stock can't get any higher. Suns owner Robert Sarver has already said the team has seen enough from the restricted-free-agent-to-be to "match any offer," via Dan Bickley of AZCentral.com.
He may need to literally put his money where his mouth, as ESPN Insider Chris Broussard (subscription required) has heard the Los Angeles Lakers "might be willing to overpay" Bledsoe.
Bledsoe has tremendous potential, but someone is going to shell out some serious cash for a player with all of 60 NBA starts under his belt.
Avery Bradley is clearly a big fan of his own game.
According to Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling, the fourth-year guard declined a four-year, $24 million contract offer before the season in hopes of landing "at least $8 million per year" on his next deal.
If that seems outrageously high for a defensive specialist, that's because it is. Tony Allen, a three-time All-Defensive team selection, locked himself into a four-year, $20 million contract with the Memphis Grizzlies before the start of the season.
Bradley's camp, of course, would say he's more than a one-trick pony. The stat sheet doesn't necessarily agree.
While the former Texas Longhorn is pouring in a career-best 14.6 points in 30.9 minutes a night, he's shooting just 43.9 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from long range. For comparison's sake, Allen is averaging 13.8 points per 36 minutes and converting 49.3 percent of his field goals.
Bradley's inability to create for teammates (career 1.4 assists per game) or consistently space the floor (career 34.4 three-point percentage) lowers his ceiling. Still, his bulldog defense and rising scoring numbers will put him closer to his desired pay grade than he should be.
During his second and third NBA seasons, Gordon Hayward shined as a No. 3 option for the Utah Jazz.
He played that role a little too well, in fact. With a 13.0-points-per-game scoring average, a .444/.388/.829 shooting slash and intriguing complementary figures (3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 29.8 minutes) over that stretch, it seemed as if he was sharing too much of the spotlight.
With a gutted roster around him this season, he's learning just how unnerving a featured role can be. His traditional numbers are up to career highs (16.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.8 assists), but his shooting percentages have plummeted (40.8 from the field, 31.1 from deep), his efficiency has dropped (16.3 PER, down from 16.8 last season) and his turnover percentage has climbed to a two-year high (14.4).
Hayward went from looking like a player in need of exposure to now appearing overexposed.
At the least, he doesn't seem worthy of the four-year, $50-plus-million deal he was reportedly seeking last summer, via Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. ESPN.com's Marc Stein said the Jazz are believed to be "prepared to match" offers for Hayward but also notes the swingman could wind up pulling something close to a max contract (four years, $62 million).
If $62 million can only buy spotty offensive production on the open market, then this economy is in serious trouble.
By the numbers, Kyle Lowry should be making the first All-Star appearance of his career.
No one has played a bigger role in the Toronto Raptors' unbelievable (unintentional) turnaround. In 31 December and January games, the tough-as-nails point guard tallied 18.3 points, 8.1 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.5 steals a night. He posted a sizzling .448/.411/.806 shooting slash and gave up just 2.4 turnovers in 36.1 minutes.
Grantland.com's Zach Lowe called Lowry's All-Star snub "one of the worst I can recall."
He's having one of the best seasons of his career and certainly one of the finer efforts of any backcourt player in the Eastern Conference.
That said, this is not his first trip through NBA waters—it's season No. 8. This is a player who, prior to 2013-14, held career averages of 10.6 points on 41.7 percent shooting and 5.0 assists. His NBA story has also included attitude problems and an infamous feud with one of his coaches.
Lowry should have been rewarded for his work this season with an All-Star appearance. As good as he's been, though, that can't erase a less-than-impressive past.
It's hard to see much of an upside for the 27-year-old, but you'll swear he has one when some team overpays for his present.
The Detroit Pistons have an interesting way of approaching the writing on the wall—they simply ignore it.
The Pistons aren't good. No matter if you derive that from their 19-29 record or their minus-3.2 net rating (23rd overall), the end result is still the same.
Here's another undeniable truth: They're even worse when their supersized frontcourt (Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Josh Smith) share the floor. Their offense packs a little less punch (101.3 offensive rating, down from 101.8) and their defense springs leaks from all angles (108.7 defensive rating, up from 105.0).
Yet, the Pistons seem committed to see this ill-advised experiment through. According to Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press, it would take a "high-level player" to pry Monroe out of Motown.
Thinking ahead, one could assume it would take a "high-level" contract offer for the Pistons to pass on matching the deal this summer. Even when ample evidence suggests this trio does not fit and the other two players (Drummond because of his upside, Smith because of his inflated contract) aren't going anywhere.
Monroe has good size (6'11", 253 pounds), great vision (3.5 assists per game last season) and a steady scoring touch (14.3 points on 51.2 percent shooting). Teams will always pay a premium for this type of talent.
He doesn't defend and has no real offensive game outside of 10 feet, but at least one undersized suitor will be willing to look past that.
So far past it even the Pistons won't be able to justify the price. And that's saying something.