Wake-up call: Playoff teams like Wizards own free agency edge

Wake-up call: Playoff teams like Wizards own free agency edge
July 15, 2014, 6:00 am
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(Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)

LAS VEGAS -- Being a playoff team, especially by making it out of the first round like the Wizards, means something. And if you don't believe it, look at why Paul Pierce accepted a two-year deal to come to D.C. It has been slim pickings for almost every non-playoff team in the Eastern Conference this summer.

With the exception of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who re-acquired hometown hero LeBron James, almost everyone else has whiffed or paid over market value to entice free agents. What quality/name free agents did the Detroit Pistons (29 wins) land? Jodie Meeks, Cartier Martin, D.J. Augustin and Caron Butler, the latter of whom is nearing the end of his career.  

What about the Orlando Magic (23 wins), Philadelphia 76ers (19) and Milwaukee Bucks (15)?  Even storied franchises such as the New York Knicks (37) and Boston Celtics (25) haven't made a significant dent to bring in new talent via free agency. 

The Magic did get Channing Frye, but they had to pay $8 million per year for a three-point shooting big man who doesn't rebound. Meeks, who likely had his numbers inflated playing for the Lakers in coach Mike D'Antoni's high-possession system, cost the Pistons a head-scratching $19.5 million over three years. He'd never averaged more than 10.5 points in four prior seasons.

Sure, Pierce is 36 and is no longer a perennial All-Star, but a player of his skill and accomplishment would not consider coming to Washington if it weren't for the 44-win regular season, a promising playoff run and the retention of Marcin Gortat as the starting center. He has the qualities the Wizards want -- scoring, leadership and a win-or-else attitude -- and they have what appears to be a competent backup in Otto Porter. And Pierce only costs about $5.5 million per at the mid-level player exception. If this were a 29-win team from two seasons ago, think there's any shot the Wizards get him at such a price, especially with Meeks and Frye making more than Pierce? 

RELATED: [Otto Porter will gladly take back seat to Paul Pierce]

So yes, playoffs matter and the accomplishment shouldn't ever be minimized. If it were so easy to achieve over the course of a grueling 82-game season, the Wizards wouldn't have been on a six-year drought. A team may put itself in a good position to get a high draft pick by bottoming out but that's a dangerous route. Not every high draft pick pans out to be a transcendent superstar. In fact, most don't. Quality free agents looking from afar, who truly care about winning, aren't impressed, either.

Making the playoffs doesn't guarantee a franchise anything, either, but it automatically puts it ahead of the 14 that didn't qualify in the pecking order. The Atlanta Hawks had a sub-.500 record but showed well in pushing the Indiana Pacers to seven games in the first round. And they did it without a host of key players, including their best one in Al Horford.

Even they were able to add depth with role players Thabo Sefolosha ($12 million) and Kent Bazemore ($4 million) and didn't have to break the bank to do it.