Posted Aug 9 2010 1:04PM
There probably is a pretty good science-fiction movie or, at least, a sci-fi short story lying within the NBA's approach to well-known players and their big-money contracts.
Film or print, it would be set in some futuristic, monochromatic concrete-and-steel place where the inhabitants have bad haircuts, never smile and walk around in the mock-turtle and Nehru-jacket collars. Beyond the usual hover-cars and tiny robotic household helpers, we would find a world where people are people only up to a certain point -- after which they are processed through The Machine and emerge on the other side a little groggy, a bit shaken and with their names surgically altered.
No more John Jones. Now he's "the expiring contract of John Jones."
Into that crazy, whacked-out culture drops our hero. And since Charlton Heston no longer is available and Mark Wahlberg is too busy, the lead role will be played by Michael Redd. Of the Milwaukee Bucks (though not for long).
Redd has been ripe for this expiring-contract treatment for a while. The elders had been pondering the day ever since Redd signed his six-year, $90.9 million deal back in August 2005.
Back then, he was a rising, if minor, star with inordinate leverage: Soon to be 26, fresh from one All-Star season and an even better (non-All-Star) follow-up, for a Milwaukee Bucks team badly in need of an anchor. Solid citizen, Midwestern guy, content to play and live in southeastern Wisconsin -- the Bucks dutifully overpaid and hoped for the best.
They got it for a while. Redd averaged 24.8 points a game over his next three seasons, though he ominously was limited to 53 appearances in 2006-07 by issues with his left knee. That's the left knee Redd blew out midway through 2008-09, the same knee that shut down his comeback attempt last season with a pop! against the Lakers in January and sent him back for a second round of ACL/MCL surgery.
Redd already was fading from the Bucks' plans as management retooled around sleeper point guard Brandon Jennings and talented center Andrew Bogut, who has enough durability issues of his own. Naturally, Redd exercised his player-option for 2010-11 -- he would have had trouble finding any takers at all in free agency, never mind at the $18.3 million he's due to be paid this season -- but in that instant, he became the leading man of our little tale and another notable player relegated to that particular underground movement.
You can just picture Redd stumbling into some catacombs beneath the city and coming upon a haven of other NBA players, once so valuable, now decked in tatters. Fellows who preceded Redd to this place, such as Raef LaFrentz, Tracy McGrady, Malik Rose, Austin Croshere, Matt Harpring and Eric Snow. All went through the "expiring contract" process and were stripped of every perceivable attribute beyond their salary numbers.
They're NBA discards, hugely rewarded in their time but discards all the same.
Once in a while, one of them will talk excitedly about one of their own. "Theo made it! Did you see? Did'cha?" someone like Antoine Walker will say. It's true: Ratliff, once the poster guy of expiring-contract exiles, just signed to play for the two-time defending champion Lakers, three years after he was the lynch pin -- as salary-cap relief -- in the blockbuster Kevin Garnett trade.
For most of them, though, there's no escaping this nether world. And they're soon to be joined by others, such as Denver's Kenyon Martin ($16.5 million), New Orleans' Peja Stojakovic ($14.2M), New York's Eddy Curry ($11.2M) and Houston's Jared Jeffries ($6.8M).
At this point, though, it will be on Redd to lead the way back to ... what? Viability? Relevance? Merely a role and some minutes would be nice, way better than a suit and a seat behind the bench. For Redd, that's going to be especially tough.
He'll turn 31 on Aug. 24 and he's still as much as six months away from daring a return. By then, it'll be February, with the league's trading deadline poised to snare the expiring-contract players. The Bucks had moved on a year ago, even before Redd completed his previous rehab and return, and put more distance between themselves and Redd with their summer transactions.
The ironic thing is that, just as everyone is prepping for a parting, Redd is the sort of player -- if healthy -- that the Bucks really could use. His shooting range, good out to the 3-point line and beyond, would be perfect to spread the floor and give Jennings more lanes to the basket. He'd be an ideal inside-out outlet for Bogut.
But not in his condition and not at this price. Not with his background as the franchise face, either, since there's a different pecking order in that locker room now and Redd, even in the best of times, wasn't the most engaged leader. Then there is coach Scott Skiles and the defensive demands he would put on Redd's rickety left knee.
So Redd is ready to be processed. And ripe to be the lastest hero of the NBA underground. He even has a name suited to a sci-fi story -- Michael Redd, sort of like Jonathan E. in "Rollerball."
Except that Redd's name doesn't really matter anymore, replaced at this point by a number. His days suddenly are numbered too.
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