NBA Playoffs: 10 Free Agents Who Can Boost Their Stock
In 2001, the diminutive Tyronn Lue was a rarely used, backup point guard out of Nebraska who had amassed just 802 minutes of NBA court time in his first three regular seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Lue continued to be a nobody through the first three rounds of the playoffs, in which he averaged just 5.8 minutes of action over 10 games.
The Lakers would win all those games, sweeping Portland, Sacramento, and San Antonio. In the Finals, the Allen Iverson-led Philadelphia 76ers awaited.
And just like that, everything changed.
Not having a defensive answer for Iverson, the league's scoring champ, Phil Jackson looked down to the end of his bench and pointed at Lue. The nobody would quickly become a somebody, applying seriously annoying defense on Iverson while averaging just under 15 minutes per game.
In short, Lue, a free agent-to-be who looked like he was on his way out of the league, made a name for himself in one playoff series and got signed to a two-year, $4-million deal with the Washington Wizards. He would go on to play eight more seasons in the NBA.
There are stories much like Lue's every year. Recently, both James Posey and Trevor Ariza turned stellar postseason performances into lucrative, multi-year contracts.
Which pending free agents could follow in their footsteps this postseason? Let's find out.
Don't believe the rumors you hear or read about Salmons working out a deal to stay in Milwaukee. With a shortage of quality, starting two-guards on the market, Salmons will decline his $5.8 million option and test the waters.
He's going to receive a considerable raise no matter what—especially with how the Bucks exploded upon his arrival.
Don't be surprised to see him get a double-digit annual salary if he plays well in the playoffs.
Haywood is the best true center out on the market; thus, like Salmons, he's due for a nice payday thanks to scarcity at his position.
Playing on the Dallas Mavericks, a team talented enough to go all the way, is certainly a blessing for Haywood, for his exposure will increase exponentially should they reach the Conference Finals and face the Lakers.
Thanks to numerous injuries, idiotic social commentary, and involvement in one of the ugliest events in pro sports history, O'Neal has become an afterthought.
Still, he doesn't turn 32 until October, is just shy of 7'0" and 250 pounds, can defend, and has stayed healthy enough to play in 138 of his last 164 games (84 percent).
Should he be able to limit Kevin Garnett or outplay Kendrick Perkins, some team might give him around $8-10 million over two or three seasons.
Like Salmons, Felton stands to benefit from avoiding extension talks and exploring his options out on the market. If he doesn't re-sign with the Bobcats, he will surely be the most-coveted free agent point guard.
Felton has underwhelmed since being selected with the fifth overall pick in the 2005 Draft. 2010, however, was his best season, one in which his career 40-plus percent field goal percentage shot up to 46, while three-point efficiency improved and turnovers decreased.
Just a couple of months short of his 26th birthday, Felton could further his cause by matching punches with Jameer Nelson, who signed a five-year, $38-million deal in 2007.
A complete unknown who went undrafted out of Marquette, Matthews impressed Jazz brass enough in training camp to land a one-year deal. The 6'5", 220-pound guard then impressed further, becoming a starter and making incumbent Ronnie Brewer expendable (Brewer was dealt for a draft pick).
In 48 starts, Matthews averaged 11 points in 30 minutes of action, shooting incredible percentages of .49/.38/.87. As good as he has been offensively, he has been better on defense, where he has been able to slow down some of the league's best perimeter scorers.
Utah has a tough first-round draw in the Denver Nuggets, but if Matthews can help contain Carmelo Anthony, the Jazz can win, and Matthews will see his stock skyrocket.
You just have to laugh in disbelief. Yes, even at the age of 38, O'Neal continues to be an impact player in the league.
In 53 games this season, he has averaged 12 points, seven rebounds, and one block on 57-percent shooting. That was just in 23 minutes of action per game. Translate that into full-time starter's minutes, and it equates to 18 points and 10 boards.
Only O'Neal knows what the future has in store for him. If the Cavaliers win the title, I think he'll retire. If they come up short, I think he'll be back in Cleveland for one more season.
Don't rule out the possibility of him joining Tim Duncan in San Antonio, where he attended high school and won a state title.
General managers are watching to see how much gas is left in the tank.
Remember when Jason Kapono signed a four-year, $24-million deal with the Raptors? If Redick steps up this offseason, he could very well end up in that neighborhood.
Shooting is a premium, and the soon-to-be 26-year-old is coming off his best season, in which he averaged 10 points in 22 minutes on 40-plus percent from downtown.
Given a chance (read: more minutes) elsewhere, Redick could blossom into a quality sixth man.
All he needs is a big game or two to get that chance.
I'll be the first to admit—it took me a while to jump on the Shannon Brown bandwagon. But after watching more Lakers games, and not just his ridiculous dunks on YouTube, I've come to appreciate how good he can be.
The 6'4" Brown doesn't turn 25 until next season, but has already gained a lifetime's worth of a basketball education playing under Phil Jackson and going against Kobe Bryant in practice. As a starter, Brown averaged 15 points, four rebounds, three assists, and one steal.
Bryant has been playing poorly as of late, so Brown could be called upon to take up a bigger role.
Let's see if he can be the 2010 version of Dahntay Jones.
Talk about an odd curve—the best season of Frye's career season was his first, after which it was all downhill until Steve Nash put a defibrillator to his chest in the form of a pass.
The result? 2010 was Frye's only season worth mentioning since he finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2006.
In Phoenix, the 6'11", 27-year-old became of one the league's deadliest long-distance shooters, finishing fourth in three-pointers made while connecting on an awesome 44-percent clip.
Defensively, Frye leaves much to be desired, but if he can continue the steady play and hot shooting, some team will give him at least $5 million per season.
Mason signed with the Spurs as a free agent just two years ago, surpassed expectations as a starter, and then fell out of the rotation as Manu Ginobili got healthy, George Hill developed, and Richard Jefferson was added.
As a result, he's been having a disappointing season.
More than any other player on this list, Mason's situation is the one that most resembles Lue's story. Right now, Mason is completely a forgotten man in San Antonio, getting into games but averaging minutes in the single digits.
But give him just one game-winning shot, like the several he made last season, and he'll be on every team's wish list.