The NBA Playoffs are the perfect melting pot for players to leave a lasting impression on league GMs. Those who turn out to be “16-game players” tend to earn a substantial raise once they become free agents.
A few players fit this bill this year.
Young expansion-eligible stars such as Luka Doncic, Trae Young and Deandre Ayton were already heading for big salaries in the offseason, so you won’t find them here. The same goes for renowned free agents such as Kawhi Leonard and Mike Conley.
Instead, we’ll focus largely on a mix of players who have performed well enough in the spotlight to earn a surprisingly large sack this offseason. Some are expected to move from minimum contracts to eight-figure annual wages, while others might consider extensions that approach nine figures.
Reggie Jackson, PG, Los Angeles Clippers
Less than a year ago, Reggie Jackson’s NBA career was on life support. He told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne he was considering retiring because he “just couldn’t be in good health,” but instead re-signed with the Los Angeles Clippers for a minimum contract. one year.
Considering how he’s fared in the playoffs, he’ll be in line for a much more lucrative deal this offseason.
Jackson had an indescribable start to the playoffs, scoring just two points on 1 of 6 shots in the Clippers’ Game 1 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. After scoring 15 points off the bench in Game 2, he entered their starting lineup the next game and never looked back.
In his 17 playoff starts, Jackson averaged 18.9 points with 49.6% shooting, 3.5 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 3.2 three-pointers in just 33.6 minutes per game. He’s knocked down at least three triples in 15 playoff games, something only Golden State Warriors guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson had done before, according to Marc Stein of the New York Times.
Because the Clippers only have the Early Bird rights to Jackson, they can’t offer him a starting salary north of $ 10.1 million in 2021-22. However, ProFitX predicts it will be worth $ 13.7 million next year and $ 41.2 million over the next three seasons.
Between his relationship with teammate Paul George and how close the Clippers were to a place in the final this season, don’t be surprised if Jackson takes a slight discount to stay in LA.
Cameron Payne, PG, Phoenix Suns
Two years ago, Cameron Payne was out of the NBA. After unsuccessful stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, he spent time in the Chinese Basketball Association and the G League before signing with the Phoenix Suns last June.
Now he might be looking at an eight-figure annual salary this summer.
With Chris Paul hampered by a shoulder injury in the Suns’ first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers, Payne had a four-game streak in which he averaged 15.8 points with 49 , 0% shooting, 4.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 2.3 triples and 1.8 steals in just 25.8 minutes per game. When Paul missed the first two games of the Western Conference Finals after contracting Covid-19, Payne had 11 points and nine assists in Game 1 and a high of 29 points on 12 of 24 shots as well as nine assists. decisive in match 2.
Payne re-settled into his reserve role when Paul returned to the roster each time, but he continued to make an impact within minutes. His shot out of the dribble gave the Suns second unit a good offensive shot most nights, and he rarely returned the ball.
The free agent playmaker class is full of big names like Kyle Lowry, Mike Conley, and Lonzo Ball, which could put the brakes on Payne’s market early on. But some teams in need of a ballhandler will inevitably find themselves empty-handed, which should see Payne a significant raise from the $ 2.0 million he has earned this year.
Bobby Portis, PF / C, Milwaukee Bucks
After earning $ 15 million with the New York Knicks in 2019-20, Bobby Portis accepted a huge pay cut to sign with the Milwaukee Bucks in the last offseason. His two-year, $ 7.4 million contract was a fraction of what he received the year before, but he told The Athletic’s Shams Charania that he considered it a “year of investment” .
“Money was not the problem for me, ”Portis told Charania. “I just wanted to be part of a winning team and show everyone that I can really love helping a team win. When you’re on losing teams you can have good stats, but no one respects the stats of a losing team if you’re not a high draft pick or if you’re not seen as a rising superstar. . “
It paid off with an integral role for a championship team.
After averaging 11.4 points per game off the bench and shooting 47.1 percent from a three-point range during the regular season, Portis’ effectiveness has increased and decreased throughout the playoffs. He helped the Bucks sweep the Miami Heat in the first round, but he passed out from the rotation in their second-round crash against the Brooklyn Nets.
Portis quickly regained his relevance in the Eastern Conference final against the Atlanta Hawks, culminating with a night of 22 points and eight rebounds in a start in Game 5 in place of injured star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. . He remained one game off the bench in the NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns, as his size and defensive switching ability threw a wrench into the Suns’ buzz of an offense.
Portis may be better suited for an important role on the bench rather than a starting point, but his impact for the Bucks should help him generate some free agent interest if (when) he declines his option of $ 3.8 million player. The Bucks only have his non-bird rights, so they can’t offer him a starting salary over $ 4.4 million, which could allow other suitors to snatch him away with their exception of intermediate level.
Kevin Huerter, SG, Atlanta Hawks
After a checkered regular season, Kevin Huerter had the opportunity to prove in the playoffs that he deserved overtime for a lot of money.
Injuries to De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish helped Huerter reclaim a place in the starting lineup for the Atlanta Hawks, which he did before Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers. As the Sixers sold out defensively to calm Trae Young, Huerter became the Hawks’ Game 7 hero with 27 points, a team-high, on 10 of 18 shots, earning them a place in the final of the Eastern Conference.
Huerter has proven throughout the playoffs that he is not just a shooting specialist. He chased the shifts and held up surprisingly well in defense. Add his age (22) and his ability to score at three levels, and it’s easy to imagine him making around $ 15-20 million a year on his next contract.
Huerter is entering the final year of his rookie contract, which means he will be eligible for an extension from August. Given the Hawks’ string of tough financial decisions ahead, they may decide to extend for now and allow him to become a restricted free agent in 2022.
Atlanta’s depth tends to limit Huerter’s number of touches, but his performances throughout the playoffs should see him win a substantial raise regardless.
Chris Paul, PG, Phoenix Suns
A year ago, the idea of Chris Paul turning down his $ 44.2 million player option for the 2021-22 season would have been unthinkable. It is now a virtual certainty.
According to Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report, Paul “intends to turn down” this player option in “hopes of reaching a new multi-year deal, perhaps in the order of $ 100 million over three seasons.” however, Chris Mannix of Illustrated sports said executives he spoke with put Paul in “the three-year $ 60 million range for a new deal.”
Considering the way he played in guiding the Phoenix Suns to the NBA Finals, the former seems more likely than the latter.
It would be risky to hand a nine-figure contract to a 36-year-old, but the Suns may feel in the pot after Paul’s dazzling playoff performance. Between his 37-point eruption to close the Denver Nuggets in Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals and his 41-point tour de force in the decisive Game 6 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in the Conference Final West, Paul has come big time and time again in high pressure situations.
ProFitX predicts that Paul will only be worth $ 18.4 million next season and $ 55.3 million over the next three years, so executives who spoke with Mannix might be more realistic about his value on the ground. But if Phoenix isn’t ready to pay for Paul, another team will in the hopes that he can guide them to an equally impressive playoff streak next season.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics via NBA.com, PBPStats, Clean the glass or Basketball Reference. All salary information via Spotrac.
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