Playing for Their Next Check

By Bryan Crawford #26

On the court, basketball players are always taught to stay in the moment, be focused, and never look ahead. But on the business side of things, general managers and front offices are always looking ahead, plotting their moves months, and sometimes even years ahead. While we’re enjoying playoff basketball and looking forward to seeing will be crowned the next NBA champion, free agency is right around the corner and the postseason is an opportunity for a lot of guys to show what they’re made of and hopefully, get paid accordingly in the summer. Here’s a look at five players whose playoff performances should determine if they receive a heft payday come July 1.

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Derrick Favors

The Utah Jazz big man is a name most fans know, but likely aren’t very familiar with his game. That’s due in part to the Jazz not being a marquee franchise in the NBA, so they don’t get a lot of TV time, and the other reason is because Favors hasn’t done much to separate himself from his peers at the same position, or from his own teammates. But when he’s healthy and does play, the soon to be 27-year-old is highly productive. Favors will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and both he and the Jazz will need to assess what their futures are together going forward. But that writing may already be on the wall. Utah has yet to offer Favors a contract extension beyond this season, and with Rudy Gobert continuing to develop and improve, along with rookie Donovan Mitchell, whose game seems to be better suited for playing alongside the “Stifle Tower,” this could very well be Favors’ final season in Utah. Quin Snyder will need to assess the viability of playing two big men together, especially one who is better in the half court court game (Favors), which doesn’t suit well with the uptempo style the coach likes to see his team play. Also, Utah will likely not want to invest any more money in Favors so they can leave the door open for the possibility of adding another big name player to team up with Mitchell, Gobert and Rubio. How much of a salary Favors commands this summer remains to be seen, but it’s safe to say that every playoff game this season is an opportunity for him to showcase his skills and leave GMs and coaches wondering how they can fit him into what they want to do offensively and defensively in their systems.

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JJ Redick

For the record, this writer was certainly not fond of the $23 million contract the Philadelphia 76ers inked Redick to. But it seems it was money well spent as the sharpshooter fit seamlessly into Brett Brown’s offensive system, and was the necessary complement to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. In his 11th NBA season, Redick won’t likely see a contract the size of his current one again in his career, but he can still cash out over the summer if he helps the 76ers deep into the playoffs. The 2017-18 season was a career year for the Duke alum scoring wise, putting up the highest points per game average over his 11 seasons in the NBA at 17.1 PPG. Redick shot above 40 percent from behind the three-point line for the fourth straight season, and he proved that he was an integral component to Philadelphia’s resurgence back atop the Eastern Conference standings. Also, shooters tend to age well and there’s a glaring need for capable shooters on every roster, so expect plenty of suitors. The Sixers have a ton of money to spend this summer and it’s no secret they’re interested in the services of LeBron James. Will Redick want to take a pay cut and stick around to be a part of something special, or will he, at 34 years old by the time free agency opens, once again be looking to make as much money as possible? His playoff performance will certainly make those roads clearer. Redick has been solid in Philly’s first two games, averaging 20 PPG. His backup, Marco Belinelli has been just as effective in similar minutes, possibly giving the Sixers some pause at a long-term commitment. But team president Bryan Colangelo is very much high on Redick and what he brings to the team in terms of his ability to shoot and veteran leadership, qualities that any GM would like to have in their teams locker room.

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Ersan Ilyasova

Nothing that Ilyasova has done over his almost decade in the NBA will have caught the attention of the average NBA fan. But real hoops junkies know that the Turkish swingman has been a solid contributor on every team he’s played on. Sixers fans will certainly remember what he adds to a team. Last season, Ilyasova had the best year of his NBA career in Philly, averaging 15 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists. Unfortunately, with the emergence of Dario Saric at the same position, Ilyasova was traded to Atlanta after 53 games, and was a key contributor in helping the Hawks push through to the playoffs in 2017. Now, back in Philly, Ilyasova will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, on a team that could certainly afford to pay him to stay, but the question is if he feels comfortable playing in a backup role, or if he still feels he has the skills and talent to remain a starter in the NBA? If he continues performing the way he has through the first two games of the playoffs, he has the potential to earn a starters paycheck next summer. Ilyasova is the primary scorer on the Sixers second unit (in two games, he’s been averaging 15.5 PPG on blistering 56 percent shooting while making half of his threes), and his ability to run the floor on the wings and stretch defenses with his shooting is an asset for any team that likes to play small and push the pace. And although Ilyasova isn’t the best defender or rebounder, his size and length is still an asset and will make him a sought after free agent for many teams this summer.

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Clint Capela

It’s hard to believe that Clint Capela is still on his rookie deal. Of course James Harden and Chris Paul are the keys to whatever success the Rockets will have in the playoffs, but it’s hard to argue against Capela being the glue that holds everything together, especially on the pick and roll. Capela’s ability to be a capable screen man who can find a seam and catch and finish around the rim has made opposing defenses struggle with stopping Harden and Paul. The two stars deserve the credit, but there’s no question there is a symbiotic relationship with them and Swiss-born Capela. The big man hit his career bests in scoring, 14 PPG and rebounding this season at 11 RPG, to go along with two blocks and his highest ever field goal mark of 65 percent. In Game 1 of the first round, Capela put up a dazzling 24 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks. But what makes Capela’s free agency situation the most interesting is the fact that there is no agreed upon consensus of his value around the League. Some execs have estimated his worth to be in the $10-$12 million range, but there is a lot of gamesmanship played in NBA front offices and this number could very well be a situation of GMs not wanting to show their hands. This will especially be true if he continues to outplay his All-Star big man counterpart in the playoffs, Karl Anthony-Towns. Capela has been active on offense, defense, and on the glass so far in the series. If he keeps up this level of play, some team will surely throw a lot of money for a player who can be a defensive anchor. However, not matter what offer sheet Capela signs, the Rockets have the right to match and Daryl Morey has said he will do everything to keep his big man in a Rockets uniform. How that plays out, remains to be seen.

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Marcus Smart

The combo guard has seemingly been on the trading block ever since he was drafted by the Celtics with the sixth pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, but to his credit, Smart has always kept a healthy demeanor, maintained his defensive edge and even made some baby steps to his offensive game. On that last point, Smart might never develop into a threat on offense, but if he can hone his corner three to go along with his pesky defense, Smart would instantly become a free agent commodity. His career shooting has been dreadful at 36 percent and an even-worse 29 percent from three, but long distance strokes can be taught—just ask Otto Porter, who went from possible draft bust to becoming a max-contract player on the same 3-and-D formula.

Smart has yet to play in a playoff game this season as he’s close to returning from a thumb injury. Even though the Celtics have been rolling thus far with a 2-0 lead against Milwaukee, the team could use another capable player to throw against Giannis Antetokounmpo, and looking further down the road, Ben Simmons (if the Sixers advance). Smart has a contagious motor and his combination of size and strength makes him a valuable asset on defense, where he can lock down both guard spots and the occasional undersized big.

As a restricted free agent, Boston will be cautious on the level of commitment to Smart. With Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum providing a faster return, GM Danny Ainge might have the chips to take a wait-and-see approach on the 24-year-old Smart. Other teams will be just as wary on a non-shooting wing, but high-level defenders like Smart will always find a place in the NBA.