Which Free Agents Have Helped Themselves Most in 2014 NBA Playoffs?
Champion, that is. In two-and-a-half weeks' time, we'll know who, between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs, will have made off with the latest Larry O'Brien Trophy after what figures to be a thrilling NBA Finals series.
But those who will have lost out on this year's championship needn't all be losers, per se. Each of the 16 teams that's taken part in these remarkable playoffs will see someone depart via free agency this summer.
And with nearly half the Association, per Basketball-Reference.com, expected to enter the offseason with at least $10 million in cap room to spare, there figure to be plenty of players with recent postseason experience who cash in on the added cachet that comes with competing for a championship.
To be sure, playoff basketball isn't an absolute panacea for a prospective free-agent's bank account. Lance Stephenson likely cost himself a few shekels with his antics in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Evan Turner's six "DNP-CDs" (did not play—coach's decision) in these playoffs with the Indiana Pacers could cut considerably into what would've been a nifty payday had he not been traded away by the Philadelphia 76ers.
Whatever shot Andrei Kirilenko had at one sizable contract to close out his NBA career went out the window, right along with the 2.5 points in 14.4 minutes he averaged for the Brooklyn Nets.
The list goes on and on, but so does that which highlights those who stand to profit handsomely from their postseason performance. These five, in particular, figure to Scrooge-McDuck their way through the heat of another scorching summer.
Paul Pierce's hand was all that stood between Kyle Lowry and playoff heroism, but it was enough, nonetheless.
Still, having one shot turned away, however crucial, can't completely undo the work Lowry turned in to lift the Toronto Raptors within a few fortuitous seconds of just their second postseason-series victory in franchise history.
The human bowling ball from Philadelphia averaged 21.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists and seven free throws while hitting a shade under 40 percent of his three-point attempts during Toronto's seven-game shortfall against the Brooklyn Nets.
That run, as brief as it was, wasn't short on star-making performances. Lowry opened the playoffs with 22 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and a pair of steals. He carried the Raptors to victory with 36 points and six assists in Game 5 and was the high point man with 28 in Toronto's heartbreaking Game 7 defeat.
Throw in Lowry's career-defining regular season (17.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.5 steals, .380 from three) and the role he played in the Raptors' stunning resurgence and it's easy to envision him pulling in $10 million to $12 million per year under the terms of his next contract.
It's even more so easy when you consider the extent to which he outplayed Deron Williams (16.9 points, 5.6 assists, .294 from three in the first round), who's still due more than $63 million between now and 2017.
Lowry's number may prove too rich for the Raptors' blood, given his age (28) and erratic play, along with GM Masai Ujiri's desire to improve the roster in other areas. But removing Lowry, this club's leader, from the equation would only set the Raps back in their pursuit of sustainable success.
That is probably why Ujiri recently characterized Lowry's retention as "very important," per Rogers Sportsnet's Michael Grange.
Lowry ran into his fair share of trouble in the first round while operating against the long limbs and quick feet of Shaun Livingston.
It was not that Lowry was at all alone in this regard. Livingston turned the Brooklyn Nets' defense into a nightmare of switches and steals once Jason Kidd inserted him into the starting lineup after the calendar turned to 2014.
"We don't look at it as a small lineup," Kidd told The Brooklyn Game's Devin Kharpertian back in January. "You have a 6'7" point guard. Our two-guard (6'8" Joe Johnson) is pretty tall. So we look at it the opposite way. Paul and Shaun have that ability to switch, and everyone's helping one another."
That was enough of a change to propel the Nets into the playoffs and on to the second round after their abysmal 10-21 start.
Livingston's numbers (9.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, .512 from the field in the playoffs) won't do much to push his salary past the $1.27 million he earned in 2013-14, but his versatility sure will. Surely, there will be teams out there in search of a guy like Livingston, who can handle the ball and create for others on one end while defending all three perimeter positions in spurts on the other.
Brooklyn's current cap crunch, though, may preclude Livingston from staying adjacent to the Big Apple. The Nets can re-sign Livingston by way of his "Bird rights," but their payroll, which could climb close to $92 million next season without any new signings, per Basketball Insiders, might make that a difficult proposition.
Then again, it's not as though Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov has ever shied away from spending beaucoup bucks on his favorite American plaything.
If the Washington Wizards were willing to ink head coach Randy Wittman to a contract extension for the team's somewhat surprising postseason push, why would they hesitate to retain a player, in Marcin Gortat, who was instrumental in that very rise?
Gortat was a force up front for most of the Wizards' run to the second round. He averaged 13 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.4 blocks in the playoffs, buoyed by standout performances in Games 2 (21 points, 11 rebounds) and 6 (31 points, 16 boards) in Washington's six-game flameout opposite the Indiana Pacers.
To be sure, there are legitimate concerns about the wisdom of making the Polish Hammer a rich man this summer. He could command an eight-figure salary, which is a lot to fork over for a guy who, at 30, doesn't quite fit the age profile of Washington's youthful backcourt of John Wall (23) and Bradley Beal (20).
But he does fit beautifully alongside Nene, who's owed $13 million per year until 2016 and with whom Gortat formed a fantastic partnership this season. If the Wizards are at all concerned with sunk costs, they'll probably consider the first-round pick they sent to the Phoenix Suns to bring Gortat to D.C. this past October.
And, well, it doesn't hurt that Gortat wants to stay. "I would love to be here. I would love to be back here on this team," he told CSNWashington.com's Ben Standig after the Wizards' ouster.
If not in Washington, Gortat should have little trouble finding his next fortune elsewhere on the open market. After all, 7-footers of Gortat's strength, athleticism and skill are still valuable commodities, contrary to what the league's shift toward "small ball" might suggest.
That same stylistic shift, though, might make Trevor Ariza a more sought-after target than even Gortat could hope to be.
Ariza might as well be the prototype of NBA's "3-and-D" guys. He's a long, tall (6'8"), athletic wing who can space the floor with his shooting on offense and guard three or four different positions on defense.
Ariza's bona fides were on full display during Washington's Cinderellish run to the second round. He knocked down 44.6 percent of his threes, including two games with six treys, nabbed 8.9 boards per game, second only to Gortat on the team, and did an outstanding job of pestering the likes of D.J. Augustin, Paul George and Lance Stephenson along the way.
Ariza's no stranger to post-playoff paydays, either. He inked his soon-to-expire contract (five years, just under $34 million) immediately after torching the nets as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers' 2009 title-winning team.
He'd be hard-pressed to garner a contract of similar length from anyone this time around, and that's not just because the collective bargaining agreement has capped pacts at five years—four for non-incumbent teams. Ariza turns 29 at the end of June and has been nothing if not erratic over the course of his 10-year career.
That's not to say Ariza won't parlay his impressive postseason into another trip to Fort Knox; it's just that it may not come courtesy of the Wizards. It's just as ESPN's Marc Stein astutely noted with regard to both Ariza and Gortat:
The early word is the Wizards will try to retain both of their top free agents as opposed to letting them go to make some sort of fantasy run at the likes of Baltimore's own Carmelo Anthony or seemingly gettable restricted free agent Greg Monroe.
Yet there are legit fears that signing both might prove too expensive for the Wizards, who have to keep in the mind the sort of money Beal will command when it's his turn for an extension.
Has any role player had a more heroic postseason than Boris Diaw has?
In the first round, he helped the San Antonio Spurs even their series against the Dallas Mavericks with 17 points, four rebounds and four assists off the bench in Game 4. In the second round, Bobo boosted the Spurs to a 2-0 series lead over the Portland Trail Blazers with another 12 points, four rebounds and two assists in Game 2.
But it's in the Western Conference Finals that Le Croissant truly opened eyes. His production (13 points, six rebounds, three assists, one steal, one block in 28 minutes) and mere presence, as a floor-stretching forward, turned the tide in the Spurs' favor in Game 5.
Two nights later, it was Diaw's season-high 26 points that kept San Antonio afloat in the second half, sans Tony Parker and, in turn, pushed the Oklahoma City Thunder into an earlier-than-expected offseason.
Diaw's not done adding to his resume, either. He'll once again figure prominently into the Spurs' plans against the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, be it as a starter next to Tim Duncan or as a key cog in San Antonio's second unit.
Either way, Diaw has just about boosted his stock back to where it was when he shined for the Phoenix Suns of the "Seven Seconds or Less" vintage. At his age (32), getting a substantial raise over this year's $4.7 million take might be a tall order.
But if the Spurs intend to extend the twilight of the Tim Duncan-Gregg Popovich era as successfully as they have over the last two seasons, they'd do well to keep Bobo happy.
Which other playoff performers deserve big raises? Tweet me your suggestions!