Free-agent guards, wings: It all starts with Chauncey's choice
June 21, 2007
By Tony Mejia
CBS SportsLine.com Staff Writer
The Lakers might or might not be concerned -- they should be -- about Kobe Bryant's potential departure, but Jerry Buss and friends will be able to form a support group come July 1, which is the date free agents can officially be courted.
Chauncey Billups will exercise the early termination clause in his contract, looking for the big payday that has eluded him throughout his career. Whether he gets it remains to be seen, but Pistons president Joe Dumars has vowed that Billups' situation won't be like Ben Wallace's, who ended up signing with a division rival.
New Jersey's Vince Carter will go for the big bucks, too. Seattle's Rashard Lewis has already walked away from $21 million, opting for more long-term security and a deal that would pay him an average of $15 million per year.
Sacramento's Mike Bibby can also walk away, but is said to be leaning toward trying to make things work under new coach Reggie Theus.
With Charlotte's Gerald Wallace, New Orleans' Desmond Mason, Orlando's Grant Hill and Milwaukee's Mo Williams also free to go, guards and wings are definitely the positions of strength on this year's free-agency market.
The team with the most money to play with -- and, quite frankly, most in need of another scoring option -- is Orlando. If the Magic decide to let Darko Milicic test his own market value, they can afford to make a play at a Billups, Carter or Lewis, the three biggest free-agent prizes out there.
Of that trio, Billups is the most likely to end up elsewhere, despite Dumars' assurances that won't be the case. Billups, 30, has been playing at an affordable bargain rate -- Detroit's full mid-level from a few years back -- for far too long, and now he wants to make that last big score while he still can. The two-time All-Star covets long-term security, big bucks and all the perks that go with them. He'd prefer to stay in Detroit, but this will be a business decision first and foremost.
Lewis will command a lot of attention, coming off his most complete season as a pro despite missing 22 games. The Sonics challenged him to improve defensively and rebound more effectively, and he responded. Because of the injuries, it's expected that Seattle has first crack, because the Sonics are the only team that can give him a six-year deal. There are rumors that New York's Isiah Thomas will try and arrange a meeting early in the recruitment process.
Carter has stuck around New Jersey's training facility to work out, postponing his expected exodus to the Central Florida area. The Nets seem determined to keep him, and like their chances after making a run to the Eastern Conference semis without injured center Nenad Krstic. Working out something long term with Carter is of major importance to a team that wants to bring a marquee name to the Brooklyn stage for 2009-10. Carter is walking away from $16.3 million to sign what will likely be his final hefty contract, which is why popular opinion is that he will return to his backyard to play for the Magic.
Charlotte has the space available to sign Carter and, like the Magic, would benefit from the draw of having a superstar guard with local ties. Unlike Orlando, Michael Jordan's team will probably hold off on making a significant move. Re-signing Wallace is the Bobcats' top priority, though getting another quality wing at a reasonable rate, someone like Mason, would be ideal.
Wallace is a player teams would love to get at a rate significantly less than his future earning potential, so you might hear his name a lot in July. He can play either wing spot and even performed well as an undersized power forward due to his athleticism. Wallace is coming off a breakout season, finishing with career-highs across the board, including an impressive 18 points-per-game average. The best part is he's still somewhat raw, turns just 25 on July 23, and will have his best days ahead of him. Of fairly affordable free agents with significant upside, he's the most coveted. In 2007, he scored 30 or more points eight times.
Mason has likely played his last game for the Hornets and is probably looking at the full mid-level if he can find a contender that would give it to him. The high-flying swingman does have value even though he hasn't quite lived up to some people's expectations.
Williams is the best point guard available after Billups and Bibby and might fit into the same mold as Wallace. Williams has had some huge games for the Bucks and seems perfectly suited for an up-tempo system. Milwaukee wants to keep him, but can guard against a potential departure if it takes Mike Conley Jr. with the No. 6 pick. If that develops, Williams is certain to wind up elsewhere.
Both Atlanta and Memphis would be able to afford him to fit an area of need. A notch below Williams at the point are Steve Blake, Chucky Atkins and Earl Boykins, all of whom started last year and could be looked at as stop-gap starters or elite backups.
Cleveland can match any offer made to starting shooting guard Sasha Pavlovic, who had a solid postseason despite disappearing in the Finals. Golden State has that same luxury with swingman Mickael Pietrus, though it might not be a fiscally responsible move to do so. He's one of Don Nelson's favorites, but the Warriors might not have the funds to sign him and take care of future free agents down the road.
Luke Walton, James Posey, Matt Barnes and Eddie Jones will all be unrestricted free agents attracting various levels of interest from their current employers. Jones, it has been said, will not be back in Miami.
The most intriguing free agent might be Orlando's Hill, who will be pulled in three separate directions when he ponders his next, and likely final move. He could re-sign with the Magic, which is what the local sentiment is in Orlando. Since he tied up so much cap space without being able to contribute all those years, some fans feels he owes the franchise. Hill, having just played his healthiest season since suffering the most damaging of his ankle injuries, might want to retire on a high note. He has many other interests besides basketball and could feel it's time to tend to those.
Odds are, however, that the lure of a ring will be too strong, and Hill will emerge as a mercenary in either San Antonio or Phoenix, potentially tipping the scales as far as next season's NBA favorite is concerned. Door bells and cell phones will start ringing at 12:01 a.m. ET on July 1. The moratorium on signing free agents ends July 11.
Joe Dumars may not have much of a chance to keep Billups if he really wants to go so not much different to Ben Wallace situation. Reckon the Magic will go hard after Rashard Lewis if Carter decides to stay in the Nets (unlikely) so they wil be a real contender next season. The real interesting player is Grant Hill and whether he will go to the Suns or another contender. He would make a real difference if he gets the court time and could just make the Suns that little better that makes them able to overcome San Antonio
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migya make the ring fall on ya
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