The NBA playoffs. Where stars are born, legends are made, legitimacy is established and mountains upon mountains of money is made.
2014 will be no exception.
All eyes are on the teams that will be competing for a championship, but individual players are fighting for something of similar importance: job and financial security. While a strong regular season will always work wonders for an individual’s future, a number of different athletes are in line to elevate their status to new heights during the playoffs.
Here’s which players will earn a shiny new contract with postseason performances to cap off strong seasons.
Trevor Ariza, Washington Wizards
Position: Small Forward
Experience: 10th Season
2013-14 Season Averages: 15.87 PER, 35.4 MPG, 14.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.6 SPG, .456/.407/.772
If you’re still working under the assumption that Trevor Ariza never panned out, you haven’t been watching him play for the Washington Wizards. Ariza may not be a star, but he’s a reliable and productive player who contributes a high-quality level of play on both ends of the floor.
Watch out for him to do what he’s done in the past: shine in the playoffs.
Arizona closed out the regular season with averages of 14.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.6 steals on a slash line of .456/.407/.772. He also registered a career-high 11 double-doubles and stepped up for the Wizards with rookie Otto Porter Jr. failing to do much of anything in his first year in the league.
Most importantly, Ariza posted nearly identical numbers before and after the All-Star Break. This was no fluke. It was progression.
Ariza is making roughly $7.7 million during the 2013-14 NBA season, and it’s unlikely that he’ll see that number drop when he signs a new deal this summer. A strong performance in the postseason isn’t needed to solidify his status as a player who can make a serious impact for a new team, but it will increase his financial value.
Don’t hold your breath on Washington letting him get away.
Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
Position: Point Guard
Experience: 8th Season
2013-14 Season Averages: 20.20 PER, 36.2 MPG, 17.9 PPG, 7.4 APG, 4.9 RPG, 1.5 SPG, .423/.380/.813
If he hasn’t done it already, Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors has a chance to earn something in the ballpark of a max contract with continued success in the 2014 NBA Playoffs. While he may not receive the respect that the abundance of All-Star point guards receive, Lowry has led the turnaround in Toronto and is one of the most well-rounded players in the league.
That’ll be placed on full display when Lowry goes toe-to-toe with Deron Williams and the Brooklyn Nets in the first round.
Lowry finished the 2013-14 regular season with averages of 17.9 points, 7.4 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. He shot 38.0 percent from beyond the arc and, at 28 years old, set career-highs in scoring, assists, rebounds and total steals.
A point guard who’s in his prime and does everything there is to do on a basketball court? Expect a large—and I mean large—number of bidders.
Lowry currently makes $6.21 million. This summer, you can expect that number to nearly double and exceed the $10 million threshold. The number will rise based on how well Lowry performs in the playoffs.
The only question at this point is, how will Masai Ujiri and the Raptors value Lowry financially?
Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers
Position: Shooting Guard
Experience: 4th Season
2013-14 Season Averages: 14.72 PER, 35.3 MPG, 13.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 4.6 APG, 35.2% 3PT
I’ll say what everyone is thinking: someone is going to overpay for Lance Stephenson.
Stephenson has experienced one heck of a season, leading the NBA with five triple-doubles and leading all guards at 7.2 rebounds per game. He’s also made impressive strides as a ump shooter and has developed into a reliable facilitator.
For all of his statistical success, however, Stephenson remains the X-Factor for the Indiana Pacers. That’s both a good thing and a concerning sign.
Stephenson has dramatically improved his field goal percentage to a 49.1 percent, but he’s still committing 2.7 turnovers per contest. He can play recklessly and tends to engage in one-on-one battles with players who are superior to him on offense.
The upside is that Stephenson continues to make significant strides across the board, specifically as a shooter and offensive playmaker. Should he see a massive contract—and he will—Stephenson is young enough and possesses the upside to develop into the All-Star that teams would be paying him to be.
Still just 23, the sky is the limit for the former Cincinnati Bearcats star. With a strong postseason, there might not be a limit to the money he sees, either.