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NBA AM: Underpaid Players Ready To Cash In

A look at underpaid guys who are set to cash in this summer, especially if they have playoff success.

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Time to break open the piggy bank

NBA free agency can be mind boggling at times. Due to how the market lines up in any given year, some guys walk out of free agency underpaid while others laugh straight to the bank with extremely bloated contracts. At the end of the day, free agency is all about hitting the open market at the right time or at a point when the right teams have the money to spend.

This summer, there will be a plethora of teams with the funds available to make a splash in free agency. This is always a boon for players on undervalued deals in a position to improve their stock.

With the beginning of the NBA playoffs set to begin next month, let’s take a look at some guys on bargain deals who will command huge raises this summer, especially if they bring their “A” games in the postseason and experience success.

Paul Millsap, Forward, Atlanta Hawks
2014-15 Salary:
$9.5 million

The Atlanta Hawks walked away as winners in 2013, signing Millsap to a two-year deal worth $19 million. The Utah Jazz were looking to go with a youth movement, which made Millsap expendable, and the Hawks pounced on the consistent but undervalued forward early in free agency.

The signing didn’t make mainstream headlines at the time, but Millsap has rollicked on to make two All-Star game appearances and entrenched himself as a key to the Hawks’ title aspirations this season. With Atlanta entering the playoffs as a favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference, all eyes will be on the play of Millsap at the national level.

The Hawks figure to open up the wallet this summer to retain Millsap, but there will be no shortage of suitors looking to swoop in and throw huge sums at the All-Star forward as well.

Monta Ellis, Guard, Dallas Mavericks
2014-15 Salary:
$8.3 million (player option for 2015-16)

You’d have to search far and wide to find people who praised the Mavericks’ signing of Ellis during the summer of 2013. Many thought the move was one of desperation by owner Mark Cuban after the club’s playoff streak ended the previous season.

But Ellis has more than silenced the skeptics by serving as the Mavericks’ leading scorer this season and averaging 19.1 points on 45 percent shooting from the field since arriving in Dallas. Further, the Mavericks reached the playoffs in 2014 and pushed the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the first round.  This season, the club is once again poised to reach the postseason and with future Hall of Fame forward Dirk Nowitzki aging, even more responsibility falls into Ellis’ lap to guide the Mavericks deeper.

Ellis has a player option for next season and it’s hard to envision a scenario where he doesn’t opt out with the hopes of securing a lucrative, long-term deal this summer.

Draymond Green, Forward, Golden State Warriors
2014-15 Salary:
$915k

The third-year forward was the consummate role player during his first two seasons in the league. But after being inserted into the starting lineup at the beginning of the current campaign, Green’s stock has skyrocketed.

Green is the type of player that keeps his hands in all aspects of the game – scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, blocks and three-pointers. You name it and Green can give you some sort of production in that space.

The question is how much are the Warriors willing to pay him this summer? Green will be a restricted free agent so the team has some leverage in the process, but teams will have the cap space to make things interesting. Golden State already has five guys set to make over $10 million next season (Andrew Bogut, David Lee, Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson) so it’s a legitimate question to ponder if the club plans on adding a sixth member to the club.

DeAndre Jordan, Center, Los Angeles Clippers
2014-15 Salary:
$11.4 million

Okay, Jordan isn’t underpaid in the traditional sense, but the emerging big man is more than set to cash in this summer with current averages of 11.2 points, 14.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. The former second-round pick is one of the keys to the Clippers’ success and his performance in the upcoming playoffs may thrust him into a different realm.

He is very close with teammate Blake Griffin off the floor and the Clippers will certainly seek to retain his services with a huge offer when he hits unrestricted free agency. But will any other teams around the league make things interesting this summer?

Enes Kanter, Center, Oklahoma City Thunder
2014-15 Salary:
$5.7 million

Talk about being in the right place at the right time. The Thunder have long sought a post presence who can score on the inside consistently and while Kanter has his deficiencies on the defensive side of the ball, he brings enough offensive heat.

Since arriving to the Thunder, via a trade deadline deal with Utah, Kanter is averaging 16.5 points and 10.4 rebounds on 56 percent shooting. Skilled big men get paid in the NBA when they hit free agency and Kanter will be no different this summer, especially if he gives a strong performance in the playoffs (if Oklahoma City earns a spot).

Now, the Thunder will have the option to match any offer for Kanter’s services and with Kevin Durant’s free agency looming ahead, you can expect the Thunder to pull out all of the stops on the supporting cast for reigning league MVP.

Khris Middleton, Guard, Milwaukee Bucks
2014-15 Salary:
$915k

Despite Larry Sanders’ sudden retirement, Jabari Parker’s ACL injury and the surprising Brandon Knight trade deadline deal, the Milwaukee Bucks are poised to reach the playoffs this season. You have to give credit to the guys in the locker room for holding it together and head coach Jason Kidd calling the shots from the sidelines.

But one of the seldom discussed reasons for the success has been the consistent play of Middleton. The third-year pro is averaging 17.5 points since the All-Star break and is putting the league on notice. With free agency looming this summer, Middleton is in store for a raise and a strong run in the playoffs may add a few more dollars to his deal.

Eric Gordon talks stint with New Orleans

The New Orleans Pelicans have rebounded quite well after trading All-Star guard Chris Paul prior to the 2012 season. The team is in the playoff hunt this season and is poised to make noise in the years to come. Of course, the primary driver in this progression is emerging forward Anthony Davis. But at one point, many believed the team’s resurgence would be spearheaded by guard Eric Gordon, who was acquired in the Paul trade.

But Gordon’s tenure with the franchise has been rocky and filled with injuries, trade rumors and reports of unhappiness. Gordon seemed like a player headed to multiple All-Star selections after the 2011 season, but now isn’t mentioned among the league’s top two guards.

Gordon has been rounding into form as the Pelicans seek to overtake Oklahoma City for the Western Conference’s last playoff spot. Despite the rocky beginning, Gordon says he is now fully invested in the Pelicans’ vision of the future.

“I have matured more,” Gordon said, according to John Reid of the Times-Picayune. ”But I would say a lot of people doubted me because you know they thought I didn’t want to be here. I’m here to do what’s best for the team as always. It has been a different road, but the support system is a lot better.

”I just believe when you think about winning, people do things and think positive. I just tried to get healthy, do the things that I can do to help this team. When I came back, I didn’t want to give up on this year because next year is a contract year for me. ‘I definitely didn’t want to give up on this team. I thought this was a special team and it’s just good to see where we’re at right now.”

The Pelicans (37-31) are currently one game behind the Thunder for the final playoff spot.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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