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Checking Up on Last Year’s NBA Free Agents

The 2006-07 NBA season is more than halfway over, so Empty the Bench thought we’d take a look at some of the biggest offseason moves in free agency and how they’ve panned out thus far for the team and player. Hint: it’s (mostly) not pretty.

Tim Thomas, Forward: from Phoenix Suns to Los Angeles Clippers

Former 7th overall pick and career under-achiever Tim Thomas experienced somewhat of a resurgence last year in Phoenix, if that’s what 11 points, 5 boards, and 43% shooting is called. The good news for the Clips is that the chronically injured Thomas has stayed relatively healthy all season, but the not-so-good news is that, like many predicted, Thomas hasn’t really improved much on his average career numbers. For the season, he’s putting up 10.5 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists on 40% shooting. About the same stats as last year, but for more significantly more money: $24 million over 4 years.

Ben Wallace, Center: from Detroit Pistons to Chicago Bulls

He’s still one of the best help defenders in the league, he still has monster nights on the boards and blocking shots, he’s still the worst free-throw shooter in NBA history. The problem for the Bulls is that Wallace has slid in each and every one of those categories for his first season in Chicago (yes, even his FT percentage has gone down). Check out these comparisons between last year’s stats in Detroit versus this year’s in Chicago:

– Points down from 7.3 to 6.2
– Rebounds down from 11.3 to 10.4
– Field-goal percentage down from 51 to 44.3
– Free-throw percentage down from 41.6 to 40.6
– Blocks even at 2.2
– Steals basically the same (1.8 to 1.5)

Wallace signs with the Bulls

To be fair, those are not massive decreases for Ben. But anyone who watched Wallace last season (or who looks up his career stats) can tell you that last year’s Big Ben was nowhere near to the previous season’s Ben, or the one before that. With 3 years and $45 million more owed to Wallace after this season, the Bulls can’t be happy with this downward trend. The other problem is that this season’s Bulls team is not appreciably better than last year’s.

Peja Stojakovic, Forward: from Indiana Pacers to NO/OK Hornets

The sweet-shooting Yugoslavian came to the Hornets with hopes of giving them the deadly outside stroke they needed with an all-world penetrating guard in Chris Paul at the point. It wasn’t meant to be, at least not this year. Stojakovic only played in the Hornets’ first 15 games before succumbing to a back injury that’s threatening to sideline him for the season. At this point, we wouldn’t be surprised if the man struggles to come back, period. A shame, really, because with a healthy Peja the Hornets could be sitting in the driver’s seat for the 8th seed in the Western Conference… though playing the Mavericks in Round 1 isn’t a fantastic postseason reward.

Vladimir Radmanovic, Forward: from LA Clippers to LA Lakers

“Slalom Vlade” recently became an instant Empty the Bench favorite after first saying his separated shoulder was caused by slipping on an ice patch, but later fessing up that he lied and that it actually happened while snowboarding in Utah (snowboarding is strictly forbidden in Vlade’s contract). While the Lakers are certainly better off with him in the lineup, Slalom Vlade wasn’t exactly posting world-beater numbers: his per-game averages sit at 6.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 42.5 FG PCT. Overall, he is experiencing a decrease from last year’s stats in every category.

DeShawn Stevenson

DeShawn Stevenson, Guard: from Orlando Magic to Washington Wizards

Despite losing the now-infamous three-point shootout to teammate and all-around nut Gilbert Arenas, Stevenson has been a mostly positive addition to the Wizards squad this year. We’ve always thought the man had potential to be a better player than his stats revealed, and this season he’s certainly improved, if not overwhelmed. His numbers are nearly identical to last year’s with the Magic, but considering that he’s the fourth scoring option behind Arenas, Caron Butler, and Antawn Jamison, it’s pretty impressive that he’s been able to keep it up. Stevenson posted his best game of the season against the Minnesota Timberwolves on February 20 with 23 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 9-11 shooting.
Speaking of the Timberwolves…

Mike James, Guard: from Toronto Raptors to Minnesota Timberwolves

Mike James easily had his career season last year in Toronto. As the unequivocal starter for the first time, the journeyman point guard finished up his contract year with per-game averages of 20.3 points, 5.8 assists, 2 three-pointers, and 47% shooting. Very solid numbers. Timberwolves fans may want to stop reading here, though (although I bet you know what’s coming, unfortunately). Fast forward to James’ first year in Minnesota, where he’s finally, rightfully lost his starting job to rookie Randy Foye after repeated pantomine performances of the 2005-06 James: 10.8 points, 4 assists, 1 three-pointer, 42% shooting. ‘Wolves fans will be happy to know there’s still 3 years left on his contract. Believe me, if I had GM Kevin McHale’s email address, I’d publish it for you.


Nazr Mohammed, Center: from San Antonio Spurs to Detroit Pistons

The Pistons were left to scramble after Ben Wallace left for Chicago and Joel “The Vanilla Gorilla” Pryzbilla decided to stay in Portland and fight with Jamaal Magloire and LaMarcus Aldridge for minutes at the center spot. Mohammed started the season as a starter for Detroit, but it was clear from the beginning that while Mohammed was playing decently, the all-important chemistry just wasn’t there between him and his all-star caliber starting mates. So after being bought out by the rebuilding Philadelphia 76ers, Chris Webber signed with the Pistons, immediately took over for Mohammed, and effectively ended any significant minutes for the 29th pick in the 1998 NBA Draft. Nazr has put up 6.4 points and 5 boards for the season, but he’s riding the bench now with the Pistons’ other free-agent signee that hasn’t panned out as hoped, combo guard Ronald “Flip” Murray.

Jared Jeffries, Forward: from Washington Wizards to New York Knicks

Touted as the difference-maker on defense the Knicks were sorely lacking, Jeffries broke his wrist and missed the first 20 games of the season, and then was involved in the brawl at Madison Square Garden with Carmelo and the Denver Nuggets. That resulted in a four-game suspension. For the season, Jeffries has only scored in double digits twice, and is averaging less than 4 rebounds a game as well. There’s still a gluttony of tweener forwards on the Knicks’ roster… we’re still not sure why Zeke brought in another one, despite the defensive prowess he showed in Washington.

We’re going to stop there. In looking over this list, the most surprising thing that sticks out is that none of these players, save for perhaps DeShawn Stevenson, have exceeded or even lived up to the expectations of their respective employers. While the names here aren’t nearly as big as the ones that’ll be out there this coming offseason, it’s clear that like in fantasy sports, NBA GMs should not chase last year’s stats when deciding who to “make it rain” on.

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