Nate Robinson among playoff performers who have boosted their free agent value
Every game in the playoffs comes with the narrative weight that all postseason bouts deserve. From that, players in the final year of their contracts can go out on the highest note possible, converting a strong postseason showing into a potential bump in market value. Below is a collection of such players — all of whom will be free agents in just a few months’ time and have used their playoff runs to make themselves more valuable.
Nate Robinson, Chicago Bulls
Playing on: One-year deal for the veteran minimum ($1.2 million)
An explosive run through the playoffs in a contract year can be as good as printing money, leading us to believe in one fundamental truth above all else: Nate Robinson is about to get paid. He has too much on-court baggage to net starting point guard money, but in the playoffs the 28-year-old has broadcast his unique value as a one-man offensive engine. He shoots a lot — perhaps too much for the tastes of some. But Robinson is a fantastic fit for the Bulls and other teams in need of a scoring spark to salvage lesser offensive lineups. What that skill set is worth on the open market depends on the team, but I’d suspect that Robinson earns a multiyear deal for a few million a season.
Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that he gets such an offer from the Bulls. Chicago will have only the taxpayer mid-level exception at its disposal unless some serious roster changes are made, and I doubt the Bulls would want to use that resource to further inflate their tax bill while piling up players who play the same position. Robinson’s ultimate function for the Bulls this season was to be a stopgap scorer, fit for a one-year deal as Derrick Rose rehabilitated his knee. That rehabilitation has dragged on longer than expected, but next season Chicago will have Rose logging big minutes, Kirk Hinrich under contract for $4.1 million and an improving Marquis Teague picking up stray bits of playing time. There just isn’t much room for Robinson in that arrangement, particularly when the Bulls will have needs elsewhere and limited means to fill them.
Still, Robinson will get his, and hopefully fall into a team culture that demands similar accountability. Robinson and Tom Thibodeau might have at first seemed an odd couple, but their arrangement is a classic basketball archetype: the marriage of the brash scorer and pragmatic coach. Thibodeau has understood all season long that he needed to rely on players like Robinson without Rose’s steadier influence. Robinson responded with a fine regular season followed by averages of 17.4 points (on 47.8 percent shooting) and 4.3 assists in the playoffs — supposing we kindly omit Game 4′s 0-for-12 debacle. That kind of production will endear Robinson to another coach bound by his roster’s bench limitations — Indiana’s Frank Vogel, perhaps? — and do well by Robinson’s bank account in the process.
Chris Andersen, Miami Heat
Playing on: One-year deal for a prorated veteran minimum ($500,000)
Even after Andersen had cleared his name of some heavy legal allegations, it took months for him to find an NBA home. Even then, he conceded to a portion of the veteran minimum as a way of proving his worth (and good citizenship), understanding that a few months of solid play could help him land a better deal over the summer. Andersen’s previous contract with the Nuggets paid him a little more than $4 million a season, but finding the right fit and the right dollar value in the middle of the season after his name had been dragged through the mud made for an impossible task.
Things figure to be a bit easier for him this July, when teams around the league — the Heat surely included — will value the 34-year-old’s high-energy rebounding, effort defense and catch-and-finish ability. The team structure in Miami has provided the perfect fit; every big man should be so lucky as to play on a team that’s so unselfish, alongside a few star players who demand attention and alleviate all shot-creating responsibility. All Andersen has to do is seek out the stretch of open court that inevitably comes on every LeBron James drive and work hard to provide value in Miami’s pressure-heavy defensive scheme. The results have been astounding: 18.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per 36 minutes in the playoffs, primarily produced in shorter bursts of engaged and emphatic play.
Jarrett Jack, Golden State Warriors
Playing on: Final year of a four-year deal ($5.4 million in 2012-13, $20 million total)
It’s been an interesting postseason for Jack, who, true to his up-and-down form, has looked either wholly expendable (as during Stephen Curry’s and Klay Thompson’s jump-shooting sprees) or completely essential during the Warriors’ playoff run. Although I’d be surprised if Golden State didn’t attempt to re-sign Jack*, he’s sure to get plenty of offers in the wake of a season that earned him justified consideration for the Sixth Man Award. Flawed though Jack may be, players who can run basic offense, spot up off the ball and hit difficult shots off the dribble are of clear value. Jack, 29, figures to be among the safer options of players who fit that profile.
Plus, there’s something to be said about the high tide of the Warriors’ surprising season, which has made Jack a high-profile playoff performer for two straight series. Things will inevitably quiet a bit once Golden State is eliminated and the offseason begins in earnest, but Jack has nevertheless done well over the last few weeks to reinforce his value with his contributions to each of the Warriors’ improbable wins.
*Unlike many of the other teams on this list, the Warriors have Jack’s Bird Rights and would thus be allowed to re-sign him despite being over the salary cap.
Marco Belinelli, Chicago Bulls
Playing on: One-year deal for the biannual exception ($2 million)
Though Belinelli played a minor role in the Bulls’ playoff rotation at the outset of the first round, injuries across the roster gradually created a far greater opportunity for him. With no Hinrich, Chicago desperately needed another ball handler, particularly as teams began to load up on Robinson with traps and double teams. Further, with no Luol Deng, the Bulls badly needed wing shooting, and a player who could create scoring angles by working off the ball.
Belinelli, 27, succeeded in both regards, playing a far greater part than expected in keeping an injury-stricken Bulls team alive. It wasn’t all Robinson’s scoring and Joakim Noah’s heart; Belinelli, even while shooting relatively poorly from the field, provided value as a volume scorer (15 points per 36 minutes in the postseason) and safety shot creator. The way he curls around the court looking for catch-and-shoot opportunities creates strain in a defense’s rotation, and from that the Bulls have been able to better establish their big men and create more space for Robinson to work off the dribble.
It’s been a weird season for Belinelli, but he is capable of providing spot scoring for a team that could use a dash of offense and clever off-ball play. In terms of salary, $2 million isn’t too far off from what he’s likely to net this summer. But Belinelli has likely done enough to secure a multiyear deal.
Matt Barnes, Los Angeles Clippers
Playing on: One-year deal for the veteran minimum ($1.2 million)
The postseason in general was not kind to Barnes, who went 1-for-10 from three-point range in the first five games while disappearing on occasion despite the Clippers’ clear need for supplemental scoring. But with the Clips at their most desperate in Game 6 against Memphis (because of both an elimination situation and Blake Griffin’s injury), Barnes came up with a huge performance: 30 points (on 11-for-14 shooting, including 6-of-7 from deep) and 10 rebounds in 37 minutes.
Ultimately, I suspect that performance will resonate more than his earlier struggles. Barnes, who plays solid perimeter defense and makes intelligent baseline cuts, was never the Clippers’ problem. The 33-year-old has floated around for a few seasons now on meager deals, but he’s a three-and-D type in a league that’s coming to value those players more and more.