6 NBA Free Agents Playing for a Major Payday in the 2014 Playoffs
It's not uncommon for a player to raise his value significantly in free agency with a strong postseason. When you consider that the whole basketball world is watching and that even the best general managers often fall victim to recency bias, that makes sense.
It doesn't hurt that the NBA is a copycat league in a lot of ways, and players who have success in a very specialized role often have their stock rise right alongside the role. Whether that's a shot-blocking big man or a three-point bomber, it's the role players who can often earn the biggest bump in salary during the playoffs.
That doesn't exclude stars from playing their way into a bigger payday, however. Essentially, everyone who isn't a max player going into the postseason can earn a few more dollars. Having a great postseason and being an unrestricted free agent in the same summer is pretty much what an agent would consider to be a best-case scenario.
With that in mind, let's take a look at six unrestricted free agents who can certainly play their way into a major payday with big postseason performances.
Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry has already increased his stock around the league by leading the Raptors to a very successful season that no one saw coming, but he can really pad his bank account by keeping it going in the postseason.
Here's Eric Koreen of the National Post explaining just how good Lowry has been this season:
Lowry has been one of the most important players in the league this year, with no asterisks. The top nine players in terms of win shares this season: Kevin Durant, James, Kevin Love, Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Lowry, James Harden and Anthony Davis.
That is eight players that any NBA team would try desperately to acquire and build around, as well as Lowry. It is just one statistic, but he has been absurdly valuable.
While it's highly unlikely Lowry gets paid like a franchise player, Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri may be wise to treat him like one this offseason.
If the league weren't full of great starting point guards and there were teams in need, perhaps there would be a huge bidding war for Lowry. As is, he is probably only auditioning for a very small handful of teams, but a deep playoff run could make him be viewed as even more instrumental to Toronto's future.
Lowry always had the ability to be a star, but finally playing like one on the big stage should give his agent plenty of bargaining power this offseason.
Shaun Livingston, Brooklyn Nets
It's wild to think about how many general managers passed up on Brooklyn Nets point guard Shaun Livingston, even when he was right under everyone's nose. Livingston has played on multiple minimum deals over the years as he's recovered from knee surgery, and this past offseason, Brooklyn was able to snatch him up on the cheap for a one-year deal.
At this point, general manager Billy King probably wishes he would have signed him for longer than that. After a great regular season where he proved invaluable as a perimeter defender and smart offensive player, Livingston's price may have shot up out of Brooklyn's reach.
Here's what Livingston told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News about his offseason priorities:
(My enjoyment with Brooklyn and how I fit) definitely plays a factor. You have to weigh your situations, your options. The reason I'm in a situation where I can demand a contract is because I'm playing for this team, this coach, this system. I realize that and I'm not over my head. But at the same time, it's a business. You have to look at it like (the next contract) could always be your last. Especially me.
No one would blame Livingston for earning a big payday after all of his injury struggles, and there's no doubt that he could continue to beef up his next deal with some great playoff performances.
Perhaps no one in the league has defended LeBron James as well as Livingston has this season, and that's an incredibly valuable asset for any championship team to have. If Livingston can keep that up in the playoffs, there will be a big contract for him somewhere.
Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers
As the hunt for the scapegoat for the Indiana Pacers' problems wages on, Lance Stephenson runs the risk of losing some of his free-agent luster. While no one person is to blame, Stephenson is an emotional player who might throw up some red flags for teams in the offseason.
There's still time for him to establish his worth, though, especially if he's the one to pull Indiana out of this funk. He'll be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but the Pacers hold his Bird rights and will be able to exceed the cap to re-sign him.
If the Pacers don't want to do that for some reason, or if Stephenson wants a bigger payday or a change of scenery, other teams should be willing to jump in. Here's Sean Deveney of the Sporting News with more:
If the Pacers don't address the Stephenson problem, there will be wolves with cap space lurking. The Lakers, Bulls and Bobcats will be among the teams who can and would offer an ample payday and increased opportunity for Stephenson this summer.
At this point, Stephenson has more to lose than gain, but helping the Pacers rebound will be a big factor in what his next payday looks like.
Marcin Gortat, Washington Wizards
Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat has been a steadying force in the middle, and chances are he'll be rewarded for that this offseason as an unrestricted free agent.
Here's what Gortat told Kyle Weidie at TrueHoop about his pending free agency:
All I know is that I'm going to be a free agent. I don't know how it is to be a player that actually is going to be able to pick the team he wants to play for, you know what I'm saying? I'm hoping that at the end of the day I'm going to be able to pick the team where I will play. I hope there will be a team, let's put it this way first.
There's a lot of different things I'm going to look at. The team situation. The goal of the team. I'm going to look at the point guard. I'm going to look at the coaching staff. I'm going to look at a lot of different things before I'm going to pick the team, and obviously Washington is going to be really close to me right now. I feel really comfortable here.
While Gortat is wise to play the field since so many teams need quality big men, you would think that Washington would have plenty of incentive to keep him around. Not only has Gortat helped lead the Wizards to a playoff return, but he's also served as important insurance for Nene and his continuing battles with injury.
When you factor in that the Wizards traded a first-round pick for Gortat as well, it's probably safe to assume they'll be big bidders for his services this postseason. If Gortat really stands out, this could turn into a real bidding war between Washington and a few teams with cap space to burn.
Trevor Ariza, Washington Wizards
The Washington Wizards aren't in an enviable place this offseason, as Trevor Ariza will also be an unrestricted free agent in addition to Gortat.
The situation for Ariza is a little tougher, though. With Martell Webster and Otto Porter waiting in the wings, he isn't as desperate of a need, even if he's played a valuable role defensively and as a spot-up corner three-point shooter.
Here's David Aldridge's take at NBA.com about whether the Wizards can keep Ariza:
But they can't pay Ariza, who also pines to return to the West coast, what he'll likely ask for as a free agent. Ariza recently hired Rob Pelinka as his agent, a man not known for taking 70 cents on the dollar. It's a tough, tough call for a team that desperately needed a perimeter defender like Ariza. Yet if the Wizards let both Ariza and Gortat walk in July, they'd have enough cap room to go after a major free agent to pair with Wall, Beal, Nene and first-rounder Otto Porter, Jr., for at least two years.
It won't be an easy decision for either party, but Ariza and the Wizards could end up splitting ways, especially if he has another big contract-year playoff performance like he did with the Los Angeles Lakers all those years ago.
Ariza has the size and skills on the wing that appeal to just about every team, and a great playoff showing could increase the market size for his services even more.
D.J. Augustin, Chicago Bulls
It's fair to wonder whether D.J. Augustin's revival with the Chicago Bulls is real.
While we've seen underrated offensive players such as Nate Robinson do this sort of thing in Chicago before, this is perhaps Tom Thibodeau's most impressive reclamation project, as Augustin appeared to be on his way out of the league had Chicago not claimed him.
Augustin is now Chicago's top scorer, and that opportunity might not be something he forgets about this offseason when he hits free agency. Here's what Augustin told Cody Westerlund of CBS Chicago:
I would love to be back here. This organization, this team is great, and I think it's great for me. (Thibodeau) has given me the opportunity to play and get better. It's been great for me. When the time comes, I'll let my agent handle it and just kind of relax.
The bigger the sample size, the better for Augustin, as you have to think that many around the league would prefer to see his improved shooting and scoring a few more times before really buying in.
With that in mind, Augustin can earn himself a nice payday with a consistent playoff run. Where that payday comes from, we'll have to wait and see.