Timing can be everything for NBA free agents, and for plenty of members of the 2020 player pool, the timing could not be worse.
They are entering a market loaded with uncertainty and short on buyers. Those whose teams made it to Orlando, Florida are at risk of leaving a bad impression by showing rust after a months-long layoff. Those left out of the bubble could be out of sight, out of mind once free agency finally opens in October.
This has been a contract year like none other before it, but the following three players nevertheless used it as their springboard to a substantial pay raise.
Christian Wood, Detroit Pistons
It's quite possible no one boosted their bank account over the 2019-20 campaign more than Christian Wood.
Last summer, he snagged Detroit's final roster spot on a non-guaranteed contract. Once the Pistons cleared his path to playing time by trading away Andre Drummond at the deadline, he looked like a soaring star. Over his final 13 outings, he averaged 22.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.7 threes and 1.0 blocks, while shooting 56.2 percent from the field and 40.0 percent from three.
"It makes sense when you break down his game," The Ringer's Jonathan Tjarks wrote. "There is nothing fluky about his numbers. Wood is a legitimate unicorn with a freakish combination of size (6'10" and 214 lbs with a 7'3" wingspan), skill and athleticism."
The Pistons, who had a front-row seat for Wood's ascension, will surely be a part of his bidding war. But since they're just starting what could be a lengthy rebuild, they may decline to make a significant investment in a player who will turn 25 in September. That could leave the door open for a team like the Charlotte Hornets, who need a long-term solution in the frontcourt, to pry him out of the Motor City.
Prediction: Wood signs with Hornets.
Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors
Upon arriving as an undrafted free agent in 2016, Fred VanVleet has shown substantial improvement each season in the Association. This year, he kept up that process and climbed to previously unseen heights.
A full-time starter for the first time, his numbers spiked almost across the board. He used his career-high 35.8 minutes per game to post a slew of personal bests, including 17.6 points, 6.6 assists and 2.7 threes. Tack on his 38.8 percent conversion rate from distance, and you have a stat line matched only by five-time All-Star Damian Lillard.
That should convince Toronto to prioritize the 26-year-old's free agency, despite the fact that he'll be joined on the open market by teammates Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Marc Gasol.
VanVleet is the easiest player for the Raptors to plug in as a reliable contributor now and count on as part of their long-term nucleus.
"I'm in a position where I feel like I've done my work and proven my worth," he told reporters. "We're going to position ourselves the right way, but also we're kind of waiting to see what's offered."
VanVleet could have several serious suitors—the Pistons and New York Knicks likely chief among them—but as long as his contract talks stay within the realm of reason, a reunion with the Raptors seems the likeliest outcome.
Prediction: VanVleet re-signs with Raptors.
Davis Bertans, Washington Wizards
Raise your hand if you were familiar with Davis Bertans before the season started. Remember, this is a judgement-free zone.
Prior to this season, the 27-year-old had led a mostly anonymous NBA existence—among casual fans, at least—as a semi-interesting reserve for the San Antonio Spurs. But an offseason move to the Wizards became his catapult to a more prominent role and with it, cash register-ringing production.
Each time the 6'10" sharpshooter found his mark from distance, he added more dollars to his future earnings. At this point, his wallet might be bursting at the seams. His 200 triples are the seventh most in the league, and his 42.4 three-point percentage ranks third highest among the 30 players with at least 140 splashes.
With his free agency in a great spot, he chose to sit out the season's restart and prepare for his payday. The Wizards will almost assuredly be signing those checks, as they kept him through the trade deadline despite his impending free agency and regard him "as a top offseason priority in free agency," according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
Prediction: Bertans re-signs with Wizards.