Playoffs affect free agency outlook

Not long ago, we explained how unexpected NBA playoff events had adjusted our expectations for what may occur as the postseason proceeds.

For example, a five-game triumph over the Miami Heat suggested the Boston Celtics were not ready to throw in the towel ... even if their general manager is more than willing to throw a towel into the air.

Having reconciled the first round's impact on the rest of the postseason, we're now prepared to take a look at how the playoffs may be affecting what is perhaps the most compelling event on the NBA's 2010 calendar. That, of course, is the league's Free Agency Bonanza.

With Miami's elimination already in our cross hairs, let's begin with Heat superstar Dwyane Wade, widely considered the salutatorian in this year's free-agency class. And there are several moving parts that could impact Wade's future. The first is the Heat's ability to cough up $127 million over six years to keep Dwyane; he would have to settle for a measly $98 million over five years to go elsewhere.

So the Heat have that goin' for them.

But with so little assistance from his teammates in a five-game loss to Boston that required a Wade eruption in Game 4 to prevent a sweep, you'd think he'd be more eager to leave than ever. Well ... maybe not. Shortly after Miami was conquered by the Cs, Wade insisted his heart remains in South Florida. His heart would skip a few beats if the Heat can use the $25 million -- give or take -- they should have at their disposal after setting aside the loot they would pay Dwyane.

That would afford one max-type player and leave a tidy sum for another really good NBA employee or a couple of mediocre guys. A candidate for mad-max money could be Chris Bosh, the Toronto Raptors power forward who's been irritating that team's fan base with curious posts on his Twitter account.

These curious notes include Bosh soliciting advice from readers on whether he should leave the Raptors or stay put.

Another variable is Pat Riley's recent threat to not rule out a return to coaching. If the Heat president returns to the bench (where he and Wade didn't exactly end up as kindred spirits when the championship glow faded), current coach Erik Spoelstra will be a goner. Spoelstra, as all Heat fans are aware, was the former Heat assistant who spent a great deal of time working with Wade during skill-development sessions (we're not sure if that was legitimate instruction or glorified rebounding). It should be noted that being fond of a nice-guy assistant doesn't mean Wade would prefer to have Spoelstra continue as the court-side man in charge while Riley stays upstairs.

Anyway, while Bosh's name is being attached to most franchises with big money to spend, the names Amar'e Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer seem to have a more realistic feel when associated with the Heat.

Results from the playoffs, however, may be making their moves to Miami a bit more iffy.

Actually, the playoff performances of Stoudemire, Boozer and their teams have continued after regular-season surges that make their departures less likely.

Going into January, the Phoenix Suns were just good enough to eventually show up in the postseason and limp away after one round. But an uprising by Stoudemire -- inspired by improved health, one often-publicized benching and insufficient offers at the trading-deadline -- has helped the Suns look like a tough out in the Western Conference playoffs. Before Alvin Gentry rallied his team in Phoenix, the Suns reportedly were not wild about the possibility of surrendering huge money over several years to keep Stoudemire. There were pouting issues, lack-of-defense issues, leadership-deficit issues and lingering injury concerns.

Many observers in Phoenix declared Amar'e incapable of taking the Suns to the promised land, so -- it was reasoned -- why should the franchise bankrupt its cap future by keeping him? Then again, without Stoudemire on the finishing end of Steve Nash's pick-and-roll attacks, who would score points and inspire fans to spin the turnstiles?

The second-half uprising and first-round victory over the Portland Trail Blazers have helped motivate the Suns into closing in on an extension with Stoudemire (which can be no more than three years), who still might skip a player option that would pay him $17.6 million next season. In that case, he'd become a free agent and probably command more than the three years Phoenix had been willing to live with. However, the chances of him leaving Phoenix seem a lot more remote than they did a few months ago.

But while things are going well in Round 2, we'll have to see how the Suns' playoff run ends.

Boozer alienated fans of the Utah Jazz (and possibly his employers) by making a public audition for work elsewhere during the previous offseason. When it seemed as if he could do no better than the $12 million and change Utah would owe him in the final year of a six-year contract, Carlos opted back in. Still working as a starter ahead of re-signed back-up power forward Paul Millsap, Boozer had an excellent season for the Jazz, who knocked off Denver in the first round.

This victory continued the reported escalation of talks between Boozer and the franchise. If Utah is unable to challenge the Los Angeles Lakers after falling behind 0-2 in the conference semis, the rising goodwill may slip. The playoffs giveth, the playoffs taketh away.

By almost winning the first two games of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the mighty Cleveland Cavaliers, things were looking almost ducky in Boston. These happy days have been goosed into reality by the hot shooting of veteran two-guard Ray Allen, a looming free agent who had been considered a strong candidate for employment in another city.

After giving the Cs 16.3 points per game and making 36 percent of his 3-pointers during the regular season, the former Jesus Shuttlesworth has bagged 19 per game and hit 48 percent from deep in the playoffs. Allen, who will turn 35 in July, may even play well enough to price himself out of Boston if the Celtics want him back.

It had been speculated that a five-game, first-round exit by the second-seeded Dallas Mavericks would be enough for free agent Dirk Nowitzki to bag it in Texas and look for a better opportunity to win a ring. In what was considered a radical departure from past oaths of allegiance, Dirk -- speaking after his team was eliminated by San Antonio -- said he planned to "keep his options open" during the summer. But this week, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban assured inquiring NBA minds that Nowitzki remains committed to winning in Dallas. He could still opt out, but then agree to a contract structure that would assist the Mavericks in shaking up their roster.

Our next stop is Cleveland, where the elbow no longer refers only to a spot on the floor where the lane line collides with the free-throw line. The first option for an NBA elbow reference is attached to LeBron James, whose flirtation with leaving Ohio never seemed more believable than it now seems after the Cavaliers lost home-court advantage to the Celtics.

James and his elbow were great in a Game 1 victory, then curiously laid back in the Game 2 defeat. The constant has been his teammates' inability to pitch in (save one third-quarter run by Mo Williams in Game 1). If the supporting castaways don't improve, July may look almost as interesting as we'd hope.

But the playoffs -- and their impact on free agency -- still have almost three rounds to go.

If LeBron really does walk away from Cleveland, one long-rumored landing spot is New York, where intrepid reporters had been conjuring Plan-B candidates in the likely event that the Knicks couldn't hire the two-time MVP.

One frequently mentioned consolation prize is Atlanta Hawks shooting guard Joe Johnson, whose ability to command near-max money doesn't seem quite as strong as it did two weeks ago.