• Seeing all the big money contracts that get doled out this summer will take some getting used to. There are going to be legions of teams tripping all over themselves to throw money at free agents, so naturally we’re going to see lots of ‘Yeah He’s Pretty Good’ players earn ‘Wow They’re Giving Him That?’ money.

    It’s just the nature of the game with a booming cap, but spending the pain away is never going to be the ultimate answer. The real winners are still going to be teams who can lock down players on below-market deals. It’s important to stay even keeled and avoid the Supermarket Sweep runs.

    With league personnel knowing that the cap is about to explode, players have to be excited about the prospect of dwarfing the contracts of their peers.

    Even guys who signed big money extensions like Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis are set to look like bargains within two summers at the most. GMs lucky enough to lock in players on what will soon be below-market deals are laughing.

    Among the non-superstars, Khris Middleton (5 years / $70M), Jonas Valanciunas (4/$64M), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (4/$52M), John Henson (4/$44M), Jeremy Lamb (3/$21M) and Terrence Ross (3/$33M) all signed for less than the max coming off their rookie scale contracts.

    If the mercurial Ross ate up $11M of a $70M salary cap (15.7%), it’d seem like a suboptimal use of money, but when it’ll only be 12.3% of next year’s cap and possibly 10% or less by 2018 it seems like a fair shake for everyone. 10% of the cap for a solid rotation piece will play nicely just about any way you slice it.

    Now think about how fantastic the Valanciunas and Middleton contracts will look after the cap boom. Some solid foresight from their GM’s let them lock up these non-max guys before their names got strapped to the TV revenue rocket to the moon.

    For the rest of the expiring guys, they’ll be looking to make bank this offseason when the cash flows freely. While teams have a pretty good sample size they’ll use to evaluate players holistically, it’s always interesting how a strong postseason performance affects somebody’s price tag.

    There are fewer games to scout for talent evaluators and that makes it even easier for them to get caught up in the sometimes wobbly narrative of ‘clutch’ postseason play.  Still, there’s something to be said about excelling when your opponent has ample time to craft a specific gameplan to take away what you do best.

    Before we look at some of the guys who are setting themselves up this postseason, I took a gander at some recent impending free agents whose playoff performances may or may not have played a big part in their next contract. Below you can see how eight impending free agents produced in the playoffs relative to their regular seasons and the change in salary from that contract to the next one. Feel free to check the full stats here if you’re so inclined (You should, I spent 45 minutes digging- throw me a bone).

    Keep in mind that this is a pretty small sample and I’m painting with a broad brush; teams treat big financial commitments with a lot more nuance than I’m using here.

    SalaryChange2

    DeMarre Carroll didn’t see a huge boost in production, but most of us remember him for grinding it out and playing hobbled. Carroll fought through a leg injury and performed admirably against LeBron James in the conference finals, cementing his reputation as a tough guy who can chip in with deep shooting and tenacious defense on some of the game’s best wings. The Raptors are paying him as such, though he’s been slowed by injuries all season.

    Al-Farouq Aminu did incredibly well for himself thanks to a late season surge in Dallas. He proved to be a capable defender and a nice piece off the Mavericks bench, and his huge playoff output surely helped convince Portland GM Neil Olshey to make him the first free agent off the board last summer.

    Monta did indeed have it all in the playoffs, seeing an increase in every major statistical category and parlayed it into a nice deal with Indiana. It was an uneven year for Ellis, who struggled to provide the consistent scoring punch Indiana was after.

    Robin Lopez represents an interesting case, as he was slowed by a broken hand sustained in December 2015 and was likely paid on the back of his strong 2013-14. He turned in a pretty good year with the Knicks, who were not swayed by his disappointing 2014-15 campaign in Portland.

    In Evan Turner’s case, completely disappearing from the Pacers’ playoff rotation probably cost him some good money, considering he started his season strongly in Philadelphia. He’s resurfaced as a pretty handy player in Boston and should be looking at a handful of suitors this summer.

    Chandler Parsons was coming off of his rookie deal and was getting paid regardless, but you get the sense that his strong series against Portland may have urged Dallas to tack some extra dollars onto his offer sheet. The Rockets obviously refused to match, and he’s been dealing with injuries since joining the Mavs. Parsons will opt out of his current deal and could be looking at a near-max deal if a team is feeling lucky and misses out on some of the bigger name free agents.

    Shaun Livingston was a valuable role player in Brooklyn’s victory over Toronto, and while his offensive numbers didn’t change all that much he proved that he could still be a capable defender and help a team run its offense smoothly. His veteran presence combined with his length and versatility drew the attention of the Warriors, and Livingston has fit wonderfully with Golden State’s bench.

    Lance Stephenson capitalized big time on his national TV showdowns with LeBron and actually chose Charlotte’s two years and $18 million guaranteed with a third year option, gently blowing Indiana’s five year $44 million offer into the trash. It didn’t work out, but he’s a funky piece that should draw interest after some promising minutes in Memphis.

    So yeah, it looks like doing well in the playoffs is a really easy way to get a ton of extra money. The recency bias is a beautiful thing. Each of these players brings a unique set of circumstances and these guys were due raises with strong seasons, obviously, but by and large a productive postseason correlates really well with a nice salary increase.

    What does that mean for this year’s free agent crew?

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