Updated: April 30, 2010, 4:21 PM ET

1. Playoffs Matter Most To Which Free Agent?

ESPN.com
Nowitzki

Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Dirk Nowitzki

His game is unimpeachable. He has only improved since being named MVP. But the Mavs have played him with dozens of different teammates through the years.

These could be the playoffs when it became clear the Maverick model isn't a tweak or two away from returning to the Finals. His early termination option looms. Do both parties want more of the same?


James

J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: LeBron James

They're already showing the Misery Montage (The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, etc.), and we're only in Round 1. If he wins a championship, it will be such a gift bestowed on the title-famished locals that he'll have the freedom to leave, but it might be more desirable to come back. If he doesn't win, he'll have to wonder whether he can ever have a better chance to bring a championship to Cleveland. Winning gives him options. Losing could leave him no choice.


Stoudemire

Chris Broussard, ESPN The Magazine: Amare Stoudemire

Amare was all but out of Phoenix at the trade deadline, but since then, he's been brilliant, leading both player and team to wonder, "Why part ways?" If the Suns reach at least the Western Conference finals, I think the chances of re-signing Amare increase greatly.

A return won't be guaranteed because there will be other suitors offering max (or near max) money. But the Suns have Steve Nash on the books for two more years after this, so they're not looking to rebuild. If they prove this postseason that they're legit contenders with Amare, why not pay him? An early exit, though, and the Suns will figure, "We can get to the first round without paying this guy all this money."


Johnson

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: Joe Johnson

The playoffs are big for Johnson on multiple levels. For starters, it's a lot easier to imagine the Hawks offering him a maximum contract on Day 1 of free agency if they can get past Milwaukee and put up a fight against the Magic in Round 2. Second, it's a lot easier to imagine Johnson staying if he knows who the coach will be, and it's a lot easier to imagine Atlanta's other prominent free agent, Mike Woodson, staying in town if Atlanta makes a decent run.

Additionally, every other free-agent domino affects Johnson, and most of those also are tethered to playoff outcomes. Cleveland's success affects LeBron James' plans, Phoenix's affects Amare Stoudemire's plans, Utah's affects Carlos Boozer's plans, and Miami's ouster affects Dwyane Wade's strategy. All those players, indirectly, affect Johnson, as they're even with or ahead of him in the queue as far as splashy free-agent acquisitions go.


James

Chris Sheridan, ESPN.com: LeBron James

I have to go with LeBron, simply because so many unknowns are attached to him, and he is the big domino if he indeed opts out. If the Cavs crash and burn, the chances of his leaving have to increase. If the Cavs win the title, then the pressure is on him to stand by his word that it's all about winning and stay in Cleveland. No franchise has had so much riding on one postseason since the summer of '96 when the Magic lost Shaq to the Lakers.


James

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: LeBron James

I would love to sit here and tell you that I am creative enough to manufacture someone else's name besides LeBron's. But there isn't a 2010 free agent who means more to the bonanza than LeBron.

What he does after July 1 is the domino that triggers everything else in free agency. And since Cleveland's playoff fate is a factor in LeBron's decision-making -- maybe not the biggest factor, but an undeniable key element because he has to believe in the much of roster Cleveland has now to want to stay -- LeBron strikes me as the only conceivable answer to this question.

Free Agency Dimes past: LeBron James | Dwyane Wade | Chris Bosh

2. Wilbon: Ball In Wade's Court

3. Chasing The Ring

Free agents often tell us that they're all about winning. And that usually means their current teams haven't done enough of it for their liking.

Will the recent shortcomings of teams like Cleveland, Toronto and Miami reshape the NBA landscape this summer?

Here's a look at the recent W-L history of five of the top potential free agents:

4. Free Agent Watch: Knicks

By Kevin McElroy
TrueHoop Network

Note: We asked the TrueHoop Network's Knicks blogger to tell us which free agent he's watching most closely in the playoffs:

I want LeBron James to be a Knick, but it doesn't seem particularly clear to me whether that end would be best served by a Cavaliers title or a second-round flameout. Still, I'm rooting for the former.

It's possible, perhaps probable, that within a matter of months, all the LeBron-to-NYC hype will have proved to be just that -- that I'll spend next year complaining about Joe Johnson's shot selection and wondering why Toney Douglas won't pound the ball inside to Carlos Boozer. But for the months of May and June, I'll root for the greatest player in the world to be at his best -- technically proficient, athletically dominant, capable of making an otherwise unspectacular team into champions. I'll dream about how fast he might turn the Knicks' lemon-filled roster into blue and orange lemonade. I'll hope that, if he chooses New York, he'll arrive with a championship pedigree absent from MSG since the days of Clyde and Willis (and no, Isiah's Pistons rings definitely don't count).

I hope the Cavs win the title. I hope LeBron wins Finals MVP. But mostly -- and here I anticipate even Cavs fans' agreement -- I really hope his elbow is OK.

For more thoughts on the Knicks, visit Knickerblogger.

5. Free Agent Watch: Nets

Sebastian Pruiti
TrueHoop Network


Note: We asked the TrueHoop Network's Nets blogger to tell us which free agent he's watching most closely in the playoffs:

Before the season started, if you would have asked me about the one free agent-to-be I wouldn't want to see on the Nets, my answer would have been Carlos Boozer. I thought he was a solid player, but I didn't really see his game fitting in with the current Nets roster, and I didn't really think he was a guy worth a max contract. However, the playoffs have really changed my opinion of Boozer.

I am really starting to think his style will fit with the Nets. His time with the Jazz has really made him into a very good pick-and-roll player, and pairing him with Devin Harris, who is a very good point guard when running the pick and roll, could lead to some pretty special things.

The Nets have a very good core in place (Brook Lopez, Devin Harris, Terrence Williams, Courtney Lee and a top-4 pick), but they seem to be missing one key piece -- a power forward. And while I have my sights set on Chris Bosh, I can see Boozer working out well for the team.

For more thoughts on the Nets, visit Nets Are Scorching. Insider

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