Pending Free Agents Who've Boosted Their Value in 2016 NBA Playoffs
DeMar DeRozan has been up and down for the Toronto Raptors. Andre Drummond's horrendous free-throw shooting rendered him unplayable at times during the Detroit Pistons' brief postseason appearance. Wherever Dwight Howard goes, the stench of the Houston Rockets' collapse is sure to follow, fair or otherwise.
But while some of this year's free agents have struggled in the hothouse of the playoffs, others have thrived—and could cash in accordingly. Listed alphabetically, here's a look at eight guys who've done the most to boost their respective stocks (not necessarily who will see the biggest pay increase) based on individual production and team-wide contributions.
Matthew Dellavedova, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers
Playoff Stats: 16 MPG, 6.4 PPG, 41.7 FG%, 35.3 3P%, 1 RPG, 4 APG (7 Games)
2015-16 Salary: $1,147,276
Last year, Matthew Dellavedova was a man of many hats during the Cleveland Cavaliers' run to the Finals.
He was the hero who stepped in for the injured Kyrie Irving. He was the villain who went hurtling at opponents' lower extremities. His grit and toughness bothered Stephen Curry and willed the Cavs to a 2-1 edge against the Golden State Warriors.
His poor passing, streaky shooting and lack of stamina doomed them thereafter.
This year, Dellavedova has eschewed those highs and lows in favor of a steadier approach, much to Cleveland's benefit. He has turned the ball over three times in seven games and, according to NBA.com, the Cavs have been 11 points per 100 possessions better when he's played in this postseason compared to when he's sat. By those same measures, the Cavs have been 13.3 points per 100 possessions better in Irving's absence.
Does this mean Dellavedova should be starting over Irving? Not at all. While the latter is an All-Star accustomed to major court time, the former is probably best suited to playing fewer than 20 minutes per game, as he has in these playoffs.
Clearly, the 6'4" Australian has a future in the NBA, albeit, probably as a career backup. Still, his performance in that role should earn him a tidy raise over what he's taken home through his third season as a pro.
Luol Deng, SF/PF, Miami Heat
Playoff Stats: 35.7 MPG, 15.9 PPG, 52.3 FG%, 51.1 3P%, 5.8 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1 SPG (10 Games)
2015-16 Stats: $10,151,612
Luol Deng is a man of emerging talents, even at 31.
Through the first 10 games of the Miami Heat's postseason run, he's continued a second-half star turn as the team's nominal power forward. The veteran out of Duke tipped things off with a 31-point virtuoso performance in Game 1 against the Charlotte Hornets.
Since then, he's scored in double figures and hit at least two three-pointers in every outing, with six total performances of 50 percent shooting or better. All the while, Deng has offered his established brand of strong defense against bigger forwards and smaller wings—and held his own.
Those skills, along with Deng's reputation as a sturdy locker room guy, should earn him one more major contract this July. And if that weren't enough, just ask Goran Dragic, who sees a link between Deng's craftsmanship and on-court performance.
"With how he was playing against Charlotte, I said, 'Man, maybe something’s true about that,' " Dragic told the Palm Beach Post's Jason Lieser. "After that, we were at the brunch and I said, 'OK, Lu, show me that magical sandwich and how you make it and what you put in,' and now I’ve got the same sandwich."
It's no wonder that Dragic averaged 23.7 points on 59.2 percent shooting in three games immediately thereafter. If Deng's sandwiching skills could breathe new life in Dragic's game, just imagine what Lu might do for your team.
Jeremy Lin, PG, Charlotte Hornets
Playoff Stats: 27 MPG, 12.4 PPG, 41.3 FG%, 21.4 3P%, 2.3 RPG, 2.6 APG (7 Games)
2015-16 Salary: $2,139,000
Jeremy Lin's overall playoff numbers weren't particularly pretty. Dig deeper, though, and you'll see that as he went, so went the Charlotte Hornets.
Good news for the Hornets: If Lin has his way, he'll be sporting the teal and purple again next season, as he told the Gaston Gazette's Jack Flagler:
You bounce around a lot like I have, you see a lot of different organizations and there is definitely a lot of good things I can appreciate about this one in terms of my experience that I didn’t have in other situations.
The loss [to the Heat] hurts man. The loss hurts. I will be thinking about it for a while. If you asked me would I be interested in coming back, there’s no question in my mind, it’s a resounding yes, I would be very interested in coming back.
Lin won't come cheaply, though. After putting together a solid regular season and kicking it up a notch in the playoffs, he should command much more on the market than the $2.2 million he'd make if he exercised his option for 2016-17.
Dirk Nowitzki, PF, Dallas Mavericks
Playoff Stats: 34 MPG, 20.4 PPG, 49.4 FG%, 36.4 3P%, 4.8 RPG, 1.6 APG (5 Games)
2015-16 Salary: $8,333,334
Death, taxes and Dirk Nowitzki.
While his Dallas Mavericks succumbed to injuries and jitters during a five-game first-round ouster against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the giant German continued to rain fire on his foes. Not since Dallas' lightning-in-a-bottle run to the 2011 title had Nowitzki shot as well in the postseason as he did this time around, at the age of 37.
According to the Dallas Morning News' Eddie Sefko, Nowitzki won't be going anywhere once he opts out of his contract in July: "The likely scenario is that he re-signs for another two seasons, perhaps with an opt-out after next season, at similar money."
The 37-year-old has no plans to flee the only NBA franchise he's ever known. Instead, he'll work with the front office to return the team to title contention before his playing days are done.
"There's some moving to do," Nowitzki said on The Ticket KTCK-AM in Dallas, per the Dallas Morning News. "We'll put our heads together in the next few weeks. This was just one move that hopefully starts a chain reaction for us to get better and really compete at a high level."
Nowitzki could command more money if he so chooses, and Mavs owner Mark Cuban would probably oblige. While the rest of the roster has turned over seemingly every summer, Nowitzki has been the one constant holding it all together, like a 7-foot tube of Krazy Glue. However much he actually gets paid, he's on this list because he'd be worth more on the open market if he was inclined to test his value after a superb, albeit brief, playoff performance.
J.R. Smith, SG, Cleveland Cavaliers
Playoff Stats: 34.9 MPG, 13.6 PPG, 49.2 FG%, 52.6 3P%, 4 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1 SPG (7 Games)
2015-16 Salary: $5,000,000
On a Cleveland Cavaliers team that features LeBron James, Irving and Kevin Love, J.R. Smith might be the most inflammatory weapon. During the Cavs' 123-98 whitewashing of the Atlanta Hawks in Game 2, it was Smith's swagger—and his 7-of-13 performance from beyond the arc—that made Cleveland's NBA-record 25 threes so memorable.
"J.R., he's the only one on the team that has the ultra-green light," James said, per ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin. "It's like fluorescent. Coach says, 'Hey, J.R., shoot! Shoot, shoot it, shoot it, shoot it.' "
Smith has gladly obliged. So far, 87.7 percent of his field-goal attempts—and 93.8 percent of his makes—have been threes.
Nowadays, he's so much more than a streaky shooter. As USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt noted, Smith has morphed into a stellar defender against the Hawks: "Cavs coach Tyronn Lue assigned Smith to guard Hawks guard Kyle Korver, and through two games, Korver is 3-for-8—just one shot in Game 1—and has made one three-pointer."
Granted, that was before Korver scored 18 points in Game 3, though Smith's Cavs still came out on top, 121-108.
Smith's history of non-basketball antics will scare some teams away this summer. But if he opts out of the final year of his deal, which he figures to do, there should be no shortage of suitors willing to overlook the flaws of a guy who's become the league's most entertaining three-and-D wing.
Lance Stephenson, SG, Memphis Grizzlies
Playoff Stats: 23.8 MPG, 13 PPG, 52.3 FG%, 40 3P%, 1.5 RPG, 1.8 APG (4 Games)
2015-16 Salary: $9,000,000
Lance Stephenson will only be a free agent if the Memphis Grizzlies let him. And with a $9.4 million team option on his contract for 2016-17, they figure to do just that.
How, then, does Stephenson belong on this list if his salary figures to slip this summer? His production amid the Grizzlies' gruesome pile of injuries helped prove his value, especially after looking like a guy who might wash out of the league after an ineffective stint with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Stephenson capped off an intriguing post-trade deadline run with the Grizzlies (14.2 points, 2.8 assists during the regular season). He closed out Memphis' four-game sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs with a playoff career-high 26 points on 11-of-19 shooting.
Granted, a number of those buckets came once the Spurs, who won 116-95, already had the game in hand. If not for Stephenson's energy and shotmaking, though, the Grizzlies would've been hard-pressed to hang around into the third quarter like they did.
Chances are, Stephenson won't have the freedom to score in bunches at his next stop, be it in Memphis or elsewhere. To his credit, the former New York City phenom seems to understand that.
"It's not about money," Stephenson said, per the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Ronald Tillery. "I just want to play and help a team win. I think I can fit in here as a role player."
He'd probably make much less in that capacity than he did this season. But for a guy whose future in pro basketball recently seemed anything but guaranteed, having a job in the NBA at all might be a victory in itself.
Dwyane Wade, SG, Miami Heat
Playoff Stats: 32.9 MPG, 21.2 PPG, 47.3 FG%, 72.7 3P%, 5.8 RPG, 4.6 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.9 BPG (10 Games)
2015-16 Salary: $20,000,000
Last summer, Dwyane Wade, who wanted a long-term contract, re-upped with the Miami Heat on a one-year deal—but only after some tense negotiations. His advancing age (34) and tremendous mileage (nearly 37,000 minutes between the regular season and playoffs over 13 seasons) seem reason enough for Pat Riley to play hardball again with his 12-time All-Star.
Just don't expect Wade to relent on his demands this time around, if his performance this postseason is any indication. So far, he's played his best playoff basketball since 2012, when the Heat won the first of back-to-back titles with James and Chris Bosh. In doing so, he's looked, at times, like the Wade of old, rather than an old Wade.
In Game 2 against the Charlotte Hornets, he led Miami in points (28) and assists (eight) on the way to a 115-103 win. In Game 6 of that series, he nailed three clutch buckets, including a pair of three-pointers, to save Miami down the stretch of a 97-90 victory.
During Miami's second-round opener against the Toronto Raptors, Wade scored as many points in overtime (seven) as Kyle Lowry did through the entirety of a 102-96 Heat triumph. Two nights later, he dragged Miami into the extra period before his squad succumbed to Toronto, 96-92.
Even at 34, Wade still presents a unique challenge for opponents, as the National Post's Steve Simmons noted:
The Raptors may be able to find a solution for Goran Dragic, the cutting point guard, or Hassan Whiteside, the lengthy quick centre, or even for their nemesis, Joe Johnson, but in the moments when Wade becomes Wade, playing his game in his distinct way, where he can still create his own offence, make it look easier than it really is, the Raptors may not have an adequate answer.
Neither will the Heat, if and when Wade comes calling for one last multiyear pact in July.
Hassan Whiteside, C, Miami Heat
Playoff Stats: 29.1 MPG, 12 PPG, 68.1 FG%, 10.9 RPG, 2.8 BPG (10 Games)
2015-16 Salary: $981,348
Hassan Whiteside vengefully returned to the Miami Heat's starting lineup at the end of the regular season. He has rolled that right into the playoffs.
The mercurial big man has continued to make his bones as a rebounder and defender. He's racked up six double-doubles in nine outings and, according to NBA.com, has held his foes to 43.8 percent shooting at the rim. Whiteside has an even greater impact on the other end. He leads all playoff participants in field-goal percentage (67.2 percent) and has bolstered Miami's offensive output by 6.6 points per 100 possessions when on the floor.
Keeping Whiteside on the court can be a problem. His average of 3.8 fouls through Miami's first nine games were the most of anyone still in the postseason. His emergent knee problems could limit his effectiveness, as it did against Toronto Raptors big man Jonas Valanciunas during Miami's Game 2 defeat, and cut into his value on the open market this summer.
As the Sun Sentinel's Ira Winderman noted:
These are the very considerations the Heat have to make with Hassan when it comes to the impending decision over a maximum-salary contract. Can he push past pain? Will he compete on the boards and on defense when the offense gets away from him? Does he have the every-last-breath mentality that Pat Riley insists upon with his big men.
If Whiteside can satisfy those questions as part of a Heat run to the conference finals, he should find a contract offer worth at or near his maximum salary this summer.