The first round of the 2021 NBA playoffs is over and we've seen some incredible performances so far. The Phoenix Suns eliminated the reigning champions while Luka Doncic carried the Mavericks to 7 games against the LA Clippers. The Miami Heat got swept and the New York Knicks couldn't handle the onslaught by the Atlanta Hawks.
5 soon-to-be free agents who might not get a big deal after their first-round performances in 2021 NBA playoffs
Eight teams are left in the NBA playoffs and the rest of the 22 teams are in the offseason preparing for their next campaign already. Several players rose to the occasion and outperformed expectations in their respective first-round series but many disappeared under the bright lights as well. For this article, we will focus on five players up for free agency who lost their opportunity for a big deal because of their disappointing performances in the first round of the 2021 NBA playoffs.
#1 Andre Drummond
Andre Drummond was signed midway through the season to provide help on the boards and help keep the team afloat while LeBron James and Anthony Davis were injured. Not much was expected of him to begin with, and analysts just asked for double-digit scoring and rebounds in the playoffs to provide some help to LeBron James. Drummond averaged 11.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game in the regular season, which changed to 9.0 points, 11.0 rebounds and 0.6 blocks per game in the first round of the 2021 NBA playoffs.
His points have dropped drastically and although his rebounding numbers have improved, it doesn't tell the full story. In games 3, 4, and 5, he scored just single digits in points and his chemistry with the team got so bad that coach Frank Vogel decided to bench him for Game 6.
Drummond who was earning more than $25 million a year got substituted by Marc Gasol who earns $2.5 million in an elimination game. Several memes and jokes started flooding the internet suggesting Drummond leave the LA Lakers and move to a different team or league. Although he might still be valuable to the team, we can be certain he isn't going to earn even a fraction of what he was earlier.
#2 Elfrid Payton
Elfrid Payton was a major story in the 2021 NBA playoffs. A player who started every single game he played for the New York Knicks in the regular season was reduced to DNPs in the first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA playoffs. Although it was a coaching decision by coach Thibodeau, and Derrick Rose was phenomenal off the bench, Payton did little to help his case.
In Game 1, he started and played eight minutes, going 0-3 from the field and exiting with 0 points. In Game 2, he started again and played just five minutes, went 0-2 and didn't start the second half over Rose, eventually sitting on the bench the rest of the night.
Coach Thibodeau didn't reduce him to a bench role but rather didn't play him at all in the remaining three games in the NBA playoffs. Elfrid Payton is set to earn $4.7 million this year and will be a free agent this offseason. There is little evidence that Payton will return as the Knicks' point guard next season, but even if he does, we can be sure he missed the opportunity to earn a big payday.
#3 Dennis Schroder
Dennis Schroder was one of the biggest disappointments in the 2021 NBA playoffs from the LA Lakers side. Although a lot of members of the team didn't show up as their best version, Schroder's performances stood out. He played great alongside Anthony Davis in the first three games but when the latter went down with an injury, more was expected from Schroder. In Game 4, he scored just eight points on 23% shooting from the field. To make matters worse, he went scoreless in Game 5 on 0-9 shooting and became the first LA Lakers player to score 0 points in an NBA playoff game.
LA Lakers legend Magic Johnson spoke about Schroder's performances in the first round of the 2021 NBA playoffs, saying,
"Schroder, I don't think he's a Laker...I don't think he brings the winning mentality and attitude that we need."
Somebody like Magic Johnson criticizing a player speaks volumes. He will earn $15 million this season and will be a free agent this offseason. Although rumors suggest Schroder will continue with the team next season, he won't be getting anything close to his original deal.
#4 Trevor Ariza
One of the most underperforming players in the postseason, Trevor Ariza has a knack for disappearing in bright lights such as the NBA playoffs. In the last playoff series he played in, he went scoreless in Game 7 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals against the Warriors, shooting 0-12. However, he outdid himself in this series by registering back-to-back scoreless nights.
In Game 1, he scored just eight points in 38 minutes of playing time and was a defensive mismatch against Giannis Antetokounmpo. Ariza played just 18 minutes each in games 2 and 3 and scored zero points in both NBA playoff games. There is little chance that Ariza will return as a member of the Miami Heat next season. He is set to earn $12.8 million this season and will certainly not get a big payday this offseason or anything close to his current salary.
#5 Nerlens Noel
Although Nerlens Noel's performance was limited due to his ankle issues, it did hamper his payday chances in free agency. He scored in single digits in four of the five NBA playoff games for the New York Knicks in the first-round series and was benched after Game 2. He started the first two games and then came off the bench in games 3, 4 and 5 averaging 17.3 minutes per game.
Nerlens Noel averaged 5.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game in the regular season, which dropped to 4.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and just 0.6 blocks per game in the NBA playoffs. He averaged 50% shooting from the field on just two shot attempts per game but wasn't even able to do much defensively. Noel is set to earn $5 million this season but might not get a big payday in the upcoming offseason.