Five Ways The NBA Postseason Will Affect This Summer's Free Agent Blitz
These tepid NBA playoffs have produced all the excitement of a garden hose with a leak.
Some viewers might prefer three hours of a light drizzle in the backyard to the three hours of dreck so common in this heralded postseason.
Maybe, just maybe, after an astonishing number of sweeps and non-competitive matches, the L.A. Lakers and Boston Celtics will give pro hoops fans a battle worth the hype.
The vaunted Cleveland Cavaliers-Celtics series—a supposed pairing of defensive titans hungrier than ever to secure the gold trophy—yielded more walkovers than a rug in a Beverly Hills hotel.
The Orlando Magic dropped the first three games of the Eastern Conference Finals before waking up enough to win a game.
Outside of the Dallas Mavericks-San Antonio Spurs Texas tussle in the opening round and a few other nail-biter contests, the playoffs have been a bust.
It is understandable, then, that talk of the superstars who will populate the free agent market this summer has often usurped coverage of the teams still in the hunt for a title.
For at least a few weeks, columnists and casual fans will focus on the NBA Finals instead of potential destinations for LeBron James.
Breaking news: James could trade Cavs' wine and gold for another team's jersey. Other squads can make pitches to him beginning July 1.
If ESPN, Yahoo! Sports, and other national outlets were more in tune with current events, they would talk about LeBron's future once or twice.
Is it too much to ask for a few paragraphs of speculation? Why can't Stuart Scott ask the ABC studio crew about the reigning MVP's future?
Would it kill the New York Knicks or anyone else to show some interest through back channels?
Leave it to me to dish out the NBA's well-guarded secrets.
If my sarcasm hasn't assaulted or insulted you yet, continue reading to see how the playoffs will affect the proceedings this summer.
You can bet they will.
Here are five ways.
Summer's Biggest Stars Will Watch Lakers or Celtics Grab Title
Dwyane Wade met Paul Pierce at mid-court and offered a reluctant hug, his long-shot dreams of a championship dashed by the resurgent, fearsome Celtics.
The Miami Heat's uneven, unpropitious season ended in a five-game first-round ouster.
Wade isn't the only potential star on the move who was relegated to the couch as June approaches.
All of the hot commodities sure to test the market all say they yearn for that Larry O'Brien Trophy.
None of them will compete for it this year.
James quit—er, bowed—in the second round. The Orlando Magic swept Joe Johnson's Atlanta Hawks out of the playoffs.
He averaged 12 points on 29 percent shooting. He shot 17 percent from beyond the arc. Ouch.
The Magic won those four jousts by a mean of 25 points.
Chris Bosh's pathetic, defenseless Toronto Raptors choked away a playoff spot.
Only Phoenix Suns forward Amar'e Stoudemire came close to the league's biggest stage.
His outfit still finished two victories shy of his first Finals. Some guy named Kobe Bryant got in the way.
Bryant and the Lakers and the Celtics' "Big Four" will give these distinguished gentlemen a lot to think about.
Tim Duncan's San Antonio Spurs do not plan to go away. He hoisted his fourth trophy just three years ago.
Even the most math-challenged sports fan knows that's not an eternity.
If the stars do indeed gather for a summit, collusion should rank as the least of their worries.
James reached the Finals in 2007, but the Spurs swept the Cavs. Wade secured the Heat's lone title alongside Pat Riley and Shaquille O'Neal in 2006.
A polite suggestion on how Wade should start the meeting: "Um, guys, we're not even close."
The toughest decision of all rests with Bosh. In his seven-year career, his resume boasts one playoff win.
And we're talking about a single game, not a series. At some point, if these guys want to win as badly as they profess, they will need to make some concessions.
Bosh's one postseason triumph against the Magic came after a 47-win campaign that earned Sam Mitchell "Coach of the Year" honors.
Much like Pau Gasol in Memphis, Bosh must answer questions about his desire, toughness, and mental certitude.
Whatever these guys do, it will have to be enough to knock off the Lakers or Celtics.
The NBA's previous two champions do not own enough trade chips or cap space to make a serious offer to the above stars.
The J.J. Redick Factor
Redick, once destined to rot on Orlando's bench as an NBA bust, averaged 7.5 points during the Magic's 2010 playoff run.
He became a vital contributor and even supplanted Vince Carter in several quarters.
That Magic coach Stan Van Gundy often chose J.J. over Vinsanity in crunch time speaks to his tremendous improvement.
He plays disciplined defense on and off the ball, takes high-percentage shots and makes smart plays.
Teams will line up to woo this soon-to-be fourth-year guard, and he will get paid.
How much remains to be seen. He will, however, earn more than the $2.8 million he pocketed this season.
Redick isn't the only role player sure to make a cash dash. The upcoming collective bargaining agreement promises to screw bench players.
This summer marks the last chance for many of these borderline starters to snag multi-year deals.
Matt Barnes, another key cog for the Magic, will seek a pay raise. After bouncing between seven teams, he will also demand that a new contract keep him in one place for at least two years.
The list includes Houston Rockets reserve point guard Kyle Lowry and Spurs reserve shooter Roger Mason, Jr.
Simple math makes these players' desired salary upgrades an inevitability. More teams have cap space than there are marquee free agents available to wine and dine.
Only one suitor will walk away with James' signature. Those who strike out on the big boys will want to make some sort of splash.
Redick would not deliver a wide-reaching cannonball, but his landing in the water would get a few fans wet.
Magic GM Otis Smith, chaperoning a roster well over the luxury tax threshold, will struggle to afford Redick and Barnes.
Ditto for the Spurs and Mason, and the Rockets and Lowry.
I didn't forget Utah Jazz bomber Kyle Korver. His 9-for-10 shooting clinic in Game Three of the conference semifinals against the Lakers will net him a pay bump.
The Coaching Carousel Turns Again
The Chicago Bulls started the frenzy by handing Vinny Del Negro the dreaded pink slip.
The Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers made Mike Woodson and Eddie Jordan the next coaching casualties.
The Hawks canned Woodson, despite the flawed roster's tangible improvement in each of his seasons on the bench. The Sixers gave Jordan the heave-ho after one season.
Jeff Bower stepped down as coach of the New Orleans Hornets to continue work as the team's GM.
After James' infamous flame-out (and to his apologists, it was HIS flame-out) against the Celtics, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert axed Mike Brown.
James stood behind Brown one year prior. He allowed the coach to become an easy scapegoat the next.
Flip Saunders and John Kuester survived abysmal seasons in Washington and Detroit.
Nets president Rod Thorn reluctantly fired his proud soldier Lawrence Frank after New Jersey started 0-18.
The coach-less franchises with cap space may wait until July to conduct serious interviews, hoping they can sway a top-flight free agent by giving him a say in who gets hired.
The few teams who dream of stealing Phil Jackson away from the Lakers will wait until after the Finals to make advances.
Jackson does not like to discuss his future while his team still has games on the schedule.
It says here, though, he should return to L.A. or retire.
Can the Belt Get Any Tighter?
L.A. Clippers boss Donald Sterling heads a list of cheapskate owners who will do anything to avoid spending an unnecessary buck.
You call it sleazy. He calls it good business.
The reality of a double-dip recession, though, will reach even the league's biggest spenders.
Lakers owner Jerry Buss, according to reports from several sports outlets, does not want to pay Jackson $12 million to coach next year. Most sideline chiefs are lucky to pocket $2 million after one season.
Buss also isn't thrilled about his $91 million payroll, even if it allows his squad to chase championships on sheer talent alone.
To re-sign Lamar Odom and offer the full mid-level exception to Ron Artest last summer, he added $13 million to his roster bill. Buss cannot escape the wrath of this economic climate any more than Sterling (though I will guess he's much better off than me).
James and Wade will sign max contracts somewhere. Redick and Korver should find willing buyers.
That does not mean this summer won't be dicey for owners and players. With a new CBA or lockout on the horizon, an uncertain future will dictate what happens in the next three months.
Will Robert Sarver Show Amar'e the Money?
Stoudemire, the Suns' enigmatic All-Star, deserves his own slide.
He averaged 22 points and 6.6 rebounds in the 2010 playoffs, shifting from role player to featured star in three rounds against the Portland Trail Blazers, Spurs, and Lakers.
He also sent a message to his current employer.
The Suns need him, and he needs Steve Nash.
Will Sarver open up his checkbook and tender the multi-year, max deal Stoudemire covets?
After two straight trade deadlines filled with rumors he would be jettisoned, will he depart the desert in an act of spite?
If the Suns brain trust sees him as a cornerstone, it hasn't acted like it.
In six conference finals games, he showed why he'll never deserve maximum money.
Lakers forward Lamar Odom scored 19 points and snared 19 rebounds in the series opener. Stoudemire dismissed Odom's performance as "lucky." He then bragged about those times he owned Gasol in a Grizzlies uniform.
Then, he redeemed himself with a 42-point showing in a Game Three Phoenix win.
How much would another owner dangle to fetch Stoudemire, as unpredictable as he is spectacular?
Will Sarver jump to the front of the suitor line or the back?