NBA Free Agents with Big Money on the Line This Postseason

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterMay 19, 2021

NBA Free Agents with Big Money on the Line This Postseason

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Winning is always the foremost goal of any NBA player who makes the playoffs, yet there can be some major financial implications for upcoming free agents as well.

    For the following players, the value of their next contract could very well be decided in the next few weeks. While many have already built a resume worthy of a hefty raise (or at least maintaining their impressive salary), the playoffs could make or break the contract that comes next.

    From players coming off rookie deals to veterans looking to cash in one last time, the eight players have a lot on the line.

John Collins, PF, Atlanta Hawks

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    John Collins is already in line for a major payday, as he's one of the best free agents on the market and still improving at age 23.

    A big playoff showing, however, could push his value up to a max contract.

    The Hawks jumped to the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference and have a winnable matchup against a New York Knicks team that also fields a roster short on playoff experience.

    While most of the pressure will fall on Trae Young, Collins is his main pick-and-roll partner and the team's second-leading scorer (17.6 ppg) and rebounder (7.4 rpg) this season. If the Knicks swarm and trap Young, Collins will be called upon to put up even bigger offensive numbers.

    His defense will be needed as well. A poor defender throughout his first three seasons, Collins was noticeably better this year and will be tasked with slowing Julius Randle, likely the league's Most Improved Player. Collins is already an elite offensive weapon, but showing real defensive chops against one of the league's best power forwards would elevate his value.

    As Collins is an impending restricted free agent, Atlanta—the same team that only offered him $90 million last offseason—can match any offer. A big-time playoff performance could help solidify a max contract, one that could reach over $160 million across five years.

Mike Conley, PG, Utah Jazz

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Mike Conley is finishing a five-year, $153 million contract, the largest in NBA history at the time.

    Despite being 33, Conley could sign a similar deal with a big playoff showing.

    A first-time All-Star this season, Conley put up numbers similar (16.2 points, 6.0 assists, 1.4 steals per game, 44.4 percent shooting) to his stats from 2015-16, after which he signed his last max deal (15.3 points, 6.1 assists, 1.2 steals, 42.2 percent shooting).

    While age will certainly impact the length of his next contract, a big playoff series (or two, or three, or four) could once again push his value north of $30-plus million per year. Jrue Holiday recently agreed to a four-year, $134 million deal, one that could reach $160 million with incentives. A 31-year-old Kyle Lowry got $100 million over three years from the Toronto Raptors in 2017, a reward that came in part because of his continued strong playoff performances.

    Of course, an early postseason exit and any signs of aging could severely hurt Conley's stock.

    Either the Los Angeles Lakers or Golden State Warriors could get the No. 8 seed and face Conley and the Utah Jazz in the first round. Getting knocked out by the Lakers in the opening round could hurt Conley's payday in Utah (especially with Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert already on big-dollar extensions), and having to defend Stephen Curry for a seven-game series could wear down the veteran guard as well.

    Conley will still get eight figures annually on his next deal, but there's an extremely wide variance on the contract he'll sign.

Norman Powell, G/F, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Norman Powell can turn down an $11.6 million player option and enter unrestricted free agency, a choice the Portland Trail Blazers were likely expecting when they traded for him at the deadline.

    Averaging 18.6 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals per game and shooting 41.1 percent from three between the Toronto Raptors and Blazers this season, Powell will be one of the top wings on the market. He's also about to make his sixth straight postseason trip.

    A first-round matchup with the Denver Nuggets will test his value, however, especially on the defensive end.

    Standing at just 6'3" (although with a 6'11" wingspan), Powell will almost certainly have to guard either 6'8" Aaron Gordon or 6'10" Michael Porter Jr., assuming he keeps his job as Portland's starting small forward.

    Getting shots up over both won't be an easy task, either, but the Blazers will need him to be a reliable third scorer to have a chance to advance.

    Powell has to prove his worth to Portland, the team most likely to offer the biggest deal in free agency, as it won't want to let him walk for nothing. Getting his value up into the $20-plus million annual range is possible, especially with cap-happy teams like the New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks needing to add another wing in free agency.

Duncan Robinson, F, Miami Heat

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Duncan Robinson is the NBA's 396th-highest-paid player, a ranking that will jump significantly this offseason.

    The 27-year-old wing started all 72 games for the Miami Heat this year, one of just 11 players to not miss a contest. He's become one of the league's best three-point shooters, primarily a catch-and-shoot threat who hit 41.7 percent of his threes off a pass.

    While Robinson doesn't contribute much on the glass or via playmaking, his spacing alone can help shape an offense and allow others to thrive.

    So how much is that worth?

    The Heat knocked off the higher-seeded Milwaukee Bucks last postseason despite a lackluster performance from Robinson (9.0 points per game on 35.3 percent from three). Another ho-hum showing and teams in free agency may be looking for discounted shooters instead.

    A big playoff series could net Robinson the $20 million per year that ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski claims is a possibility, especially after Brooklyn Nets sharpshooter Joe Harris signed a four-year, $75 million deal last year.

Drummond, Schroder, Harrell and Horton-Tucker, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Darren Abate/Associated Press

    In addition to trying to repeat as NBA champions, the Lakers will face a multitude of difficult contract decisions regarding their own free agents this offseason.

    Andre Drummond and Dennis Schroder will both be unrestricted free agents, but the Lakers only hold the Bird rights to their veteran point guard. With players like Conley, Lowry, Lonzo Ball (and possibly Chris Paul, who carries a player option) all on the market, Schroder will be in the second wave of free-agent floor generals.

    If he looks like a true third option behind LeBron James and Anthony Davis, a new contract pushing $20 million per year or more isn't out of the question. If he struggles with his shot and gets picked on defensively by Devin Booker or Donovan Mitchell, a new contract could be worth closer to half that.

    Drummond won't come close to matching the $28.8 million salary he was slated for this year, but getting north of $15 million will be possible if he can take efficient shots, play disciplined defense and continue to be one of the NBA's best rebounders. After the Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers dumped him, however, buyers are probably wary.

    Montrezl Harrell has a $9.7 million player option for next season but could easily get more than that on the open market with a strong playoff showing. On any given night he could play like the Lakers' best center or their fourth-best big man (Anthony Davis, Drummond, Marc Gasol). The 27-year-old needs a better postseason run than what he put together for the Los Angeles Clippers last year.

    Talen Horton-Tucker is the real wild card. The team's youngest restricted free agent (20) showed some real scoring and playmaking talent off the bench this season. Young teams with cap space (looking at you, Oklahoma City Thunder) could throw $15 million or more per season at Horton-Tucker, a move that the second-year pro could justify if he makes a real contribution to another title.