You’ve seen the funny money getting thrown around in the NFL this week; it’ll be happening in the NBA, too, before you know it. With the regular season winding down and the playoffs looming for 16 teams, it’s not too early to take a sneak peek at 12 players who will find themselves either re-upping with their current teams for more money, or changing their NBA address this summer. This list is in no particular order.
Vince Carter, Shooting Guard: Ah, VC: the quintessential “show me the money and I’ll work” player. Though he has another year on his contract with the New Jersey Nets, Carter has the option to opt out and become an unrestricted free agent. At this point it’s not clear what he’ll choose to do; getting paid a guaranteed $16.3 million next season from your current team tends to make you think twice before making any rash decisions.
Still, we can’t help but feel the career 24-point, 4-assist, and 44% FG shooter will roll the dice and see if he can’t get a little more cheese from a team in need of a big-time scoring threat. This guy is a great offensive player, and there are times when he decides to take over and dominate, a la Kobe. He’s always a perennial contender for the all-star team. Having said that, VC remains an injury risk, his defensive skills aren’t exactly noteworthy, and at times his character has been questioned. Remember what he pulled in Toronto?
Nets owner Bruce Ratner recently stated that he’s willing to pony up the cash to keep Carter in Jersey should he opt out and test the market, but we’re not so sure. That’s what the owner of a professional sports franchise is supposed to say. Our best guess is that Carter leaves New Jersey and ends up on a team like the Orlando Magic, who have a need for a perimeter scorer like VC, and can afford him. Carter also has a home in the Orlando area.
Chauncey Billups, Point Guard: Pistons fan have to be sweating a little after the Memphis Commercial Appeal published recent quotes from Billups stating that he would consider signing with the Grizzlies this summer.
“I would be lying if I said with 20-something games left until the playoffs that I wasn’t thinking about my future,” Billups said. “When the time comes, I’ve got to consider all of my options. I know this is one team with a lot of money that’s looking to get a point guard. I’m going to have to consider this option when the time comes. But right now, my focus is trying to win a championship with my team.”
“They have a lot of good young talent,” Billups said. “They’re a couple of players away from being really, really good. The season started out really rough for them and then Gasol came back, and they’ve been playing well. They’re a lot better than their record.”
It’s a little disconcerting to hear a player of Billups’ stature make these kind of statements during the stretch run of the season… especially after repeatedly stating that he would not talk about his impending free agency until the playoffs were over. But that’s how it works: Billups is simply making sure Pistons GM Joe Dumars knows that he has other options besides Detroit, and that it’s going to take a nice, big contract to secure his services. Like Carter, Billups can choose to opt of his current deal, and there’s no question he’ll do just that.
Chauncey isn’t going to Memphis, though. After losing the face of the franchise in Ben Wallace last summer, Dumars has said he will do what it takes to bring back Chauncey, even if it means a max contract. No, the only way Billups leaves is if he decides he wants to move on. I can’t see it, but stranger things have happened. If anything, I could see Billups going to Orlando in a sign-and-trade deal involving Jameer Nelson (pending VC’s status). I honestly believe Billups retires a Piston though.
Rashard Lewis, Forward: We’re big fans of Rashard Lewis here at ETB, and are ecstatic to see him back on the court, and returning to form, after missing a good chunk of the season with an injured tendon in his non-shooting hand. This guy is a star, and he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves (nor does his teammate Ray Allen, for that matter). Like Billups and Carter, he also is on the player-option portion of his current deal with Seattle, and it looks like he, too, will take it. If he does, it’ll make for a very nerve-wracking period of uncertainty for Sonics fans. Make no mistake, this team needs Lewis. Badly.
Lewis seems to enjoy playing in Seattle, he’s very popular with the fans, and does a lot of work in the community. Additionally, the Sonics have made no indication that they will not put up the necessary cash to keep him; it’ll likely need to be max contract money. Lewis will get overtures from just about every team in the league that can afford him, but in the end, I think he stays in Seattle. At the moment, only Charlotte and Orlando will be able to offer a max contract to a free agent.
Gerald Wallace, Guard/Forward: Casual fans of the NBA probably don’t know much about this talented combo guard-forward on the Charlotte Bobcats (we still can’t get over the fact that someone chose to name their professional franchise “the Bobcats.”) On the year he’s averaging just over 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists a game, which is pretty consistent with his stats from last year, his first breakout season.
Wallace has had trouble staying healthy, and we’re pretty sure that trend will continue throughout his career, unfortunately. That doesn’t change the fact that when he’s on the court this guy has the ability to make most of his peers look like JV players. Witness his 42 points, 3 three-pointers, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 blocks effort on January 31 against the Knicks. Last year, Wallace was the first player since Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson to average over 2 steals and 2 blocks in a season. Still just 24 years old, there are a lot of teams who will be lining up for Wallace’s services if he opts out (which we think he will and should do).
Andres Nocioni, Forward: We haven’t picked up on too much speculation about what the gritty Argentinean forward plans to do this offseason. He’s been out of the Bulls’ lineup since February 3 (save for one game) due to the dreaded, ever-lingering plantar fasciitis, which has been a big blow for the Bulls. Aside from Ben Wallace, Nocioni is easily the Bulls’ best defender, and he brings a certain spark to the lineup that’s unique to their roster. On the season, he’s averaging over 14 points and nearly 6 boards a game.
Talks about Nocioni’s future have probably been few and far between because he’s a restricted free agent, which of course means the Bulls can match any deal another team offers him. In all probability, he’ll either be suiting up in a Bulls uniform next year, or be part of a sign-and-trade deal that Chicago has long been rumored to make for a guy like Kevin Garnett or Pau Gasol. Either way, the Bulls will not be left empty handed if Nocioni is not with them next season.
Jerry Stackhouse, Guard: Stack’s best days are clearly behind him, but he’s remained a valuable contributor and spot starter for the league’s best team, the Dallas Mavericks, and will certainly have no trouble finding a new home in the offseason if he doesn’t resign with Dallas. He’s only averaging about 23 minutes a game this year, putting up 11 points, 2 rebounds, and 2.5 assists on average. Not bad, but far from Sixth Man of the Year consideration.
With Devin Harris developing into a solid starter and Jason Terry secured to a long-term deal, the Mavs are set with their top two guards. Stack provides valuable depth, however, so it will be interesting to see how much fervor Mark Cuban puts into bringing him back. I have to think that if the money and interest is there, Stack would prefer to stay, but then he might get a wild hair and try to find a situation that could promise more minutes and a chance to start.
Chris Webber, Forward/Center: Joe Dumars and the Detroit Pistons got the bargain of the year when they signed Webber to the veteran’s minimum after he was bought out by the Philadelphia 76ers. He won’t come so cheaply this summer, though, if he comes at all.
Webber has already erased most doubts about the state of his game, his health, and his character during his tenure in Detroit this season. He stepped right into the starting lineup, and has clearly re-energized the team and put them in excellent shape to make a run to the NBA Finals, and perhaps even steal it from the Mavericks. He doesn’t have much ups left in those legs, but he compensates for it with that long-revered thing called “veteran caginess,” not to mention out-of-this-world passing skills and a solid post-up game. There’s been chatter about him running the triangle offense with Kobe and Lamar Odom in Los Angeles. In fact, if I were a betting man, I’d say Webber ends up with either the Lakers or Pistons next season.
Luke Walton, Forward: He still hasn’t elevated his game to the next level (yet), and his father is probably the most annoying personality in the NBA at the moment, but Walton definitely has skills that will attract a good number of suitors as an unrestricted free agent.
He’s been out with a sprained ankle for over a month, but before that he did an admirable job filling in for Lamar Odom and shouldering more of the Kobe leftovers load, averaging almost 12 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists a game. He can shoot the long ball, seems to be a good teammate, is an excellent passer and shoots a high percentage from the field. I don’t know that Walton would be my first choice to start on my team at small forward, but there’s quite a few franchises out there hurting for what he can provide. He’ll get some cash whether he stays in LA or not.
Mo Williams, Guard: Another guy that doesn’t get much time in the national spotlight, but believe me, NBA GMs and players know this guy has a lot of talent and is capable of lighting it up on any given night. He’s very young, and every time we see him Mo looks like one of the best guards in the East. An unrestricted free agent, Williams is probably the third best point guard available after Billups and Mike Bibby (below), and will be snatched up by whichever team is in the market for a PG and wasn’t able to land one of those two gents.
Fellow Bucks guards Charlie Bell and Earl Boykins are also free agents after this season (Bell is restricted); if I’m the Bucks’ GM, I pull out the stops to keep Williams. The former second-round pick by the Utah Jazz is averaging 18.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 85.8 FT PCT on the season—all career bests. He reminds us of Mike James in that James was coming off a career season and cashed in with a lucrative, long-term deal (courtesy of Kevin McHale, of course). The difference here is that Mo is younger, hungrier, more athletic and has more upside.
Darko Milicic, Forward/Center: He’s been called a lot of things since coming into the league as the second overall pick in the legendary draft of 2003 that also produced Lebron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, Josh Howard, Kirk Hinrich, Mo Williams, and, of course, Remon Van de Hare. Our favorite nickname for the seven-footer is still “Human Victory Cigar,” which he earned during his time in Detroit because most of his appearances on the court were limited to garbage minutes in blowouts. Detroit finally gave up on him late last season, sending him along with wild point guard Carlos Arroyo to Orlando for Kelvin Cato’s expiring contract and a first-round draft pick (top five protected in 2007, no protection in 2008).
As expected, Darko has shown flashes of the immense talent scouts saw leading up to the draft, and he recently claimed a starting spot in Orlando’s lineup (some of which had to do with Tony Battie’s injury). In this his first full season of seeing significant minutes, Darko is putting up 8.2 points and 5.6 rebounds, with 108 blocked shots. Not exactly a breakout season, but at least he’s improving and he still won’t turn 22-years-old until June. Orlando will probably resign him (he’s a restricted free agent), but he has not yet cemented a stay in Orlando, or a big, big payout with another team. There’s still a lot of interest in him around the league, though.
Mike Bibby, Point Guard: Bibby was pretty adamant about wanting to remain a Sacramento King when rumors flied about him being moved before the trade deadline. He didn’t go anywhere, of course, but there’s no doubt the Maloof brothers were taking offers and probably making some of their own. That seemed to irk Bibby some, as he voiced his displeasure with the team’s lack of loyalty.
He has a point, to a degree. Loyalty is a rare thing in professional sports, and he should know that. Still, though his numbers are down pretty much across the board this year compared to his career averages, Bibby is one of the most offensively talented point guards in the league, and he deserves to be treated like one. He turns 29 in May, so you could say he’s almost to the middle of his prime years. Because of the perceived lack of loyalty on the part of his bosses, there’s a good chance the former Arizona standout could opt out, become an unrestricted free agent, and test the market.
Morris Peterson, Guard/Forward: Mo Pete’s days as a Toronto Raptor seem to be numbered. His stats are down in nearly every category, and he’s averaging the lowest number of minutes a game since his rookie season in 2000-01. Plus, with a new GM and after being the subject of rampant trade rumors, it looks like the writing is on the wall and that unrestricted free agent Peterson will be wearing a different jersey next year.
I think this guy can help out a lot of teams. He has good range on his jump shot, is long, plays decent defense, and has the talent to put up big numbers… just not on a consistent basis. Mo turns 30 in August, so while he’s no spring chicken anymore, the former Michigan State Spartan still has a few years of high productivity in him, given the right situation. Teams with a specific need of perimeter marksmanship should strongly consider him. His hometown Pistons have not made a secret of their fondness for him, and it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s where he ends up. If not in Detroit, however, he’ll end up somewhere other than Toronto.