Sam Smith: End of the road for Iverson and other NBA players?

The point is the recession finally is coming to NBA players, and there are going to be a lot of surprised--and disappointed--players.
Sam Smith at

End of the road for Iverson and other NBA players?

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Allen Iverson
Don't count on Allen Iverson wearing a Bulls uniform next... or quite possibly any NBA uniform for that matter.

(Allen Einstein/Getty Images)

Perhaps first we can take a look at the players whose NBA careers have a good chance of being over.

My list would include Allen Iverson, Wally Szczerbiak, Jerry Stackhouse, Chris Mihm, Steve Francis, Jamal Magloire, Damon Jones, Stromile Swift, Sean May, Stephon Marbury, Jake Voskuhl, Bobby Jackson, Malik Rose, Theo Ratliff, Donyell Marshall, Jason and Jarron Collins, Tyronn Lue, Brevin Knight and Juan Dixon.

"As the summer goes on," Denver Nuggets coach George Karl told Denver media, "there's going to be a lot of players disappointed with what money's left to spend."

Yes, there was a burst of free agent activity last week with Ben Gordon getting the biggest deal. Hedo Turkoglu changed his mind and seems to be going to Toronto. Charlie Villanueva joins Gordon in Detroit. Ron Artest is going to the Lakers and Trevor Ariza to the Rockets. Marcin Gortat to the Mavs probably to re-join Jason Kidd with David Lee and Paul Millsap still out there. Rasheed Wallace has been courted by the Celtics, Magic, Cavs and Spurs with the mid-level exception. The holdup supposedly is him wanting a sign-and-trade from the Pistons so he can make more money. But reports are Wallace will sign with Boston, a coup for the Celtics given Wallace being recruited by top teams. Though Wallace seemed to be failing physically last season, his size will help the Celtics and make them favorites to return to the Finals assuming Kevin Garnett is healthy. It would seem unlikely now they try to keep Glen Davis as they also pursue Grant Hill. The big loser appears to be the Cavs, who have whiffed on several free agents, including Wallace, Ron Artest and Trevor Ariza.

Lamar Odom seemingly will return to the Lakers, though their payroll could then exceed $100 million, and who knows where Shawn Marion ends up now after being renounced by the Raptors so they can sign Turkoglu. Marion likely doesn't get offered more than that approximately $5 million exception. The salary cap and luxury tax numbers will be released this week with official signings to begin July 8.

The point is the recession finally is coming to NBA players, and there are going to be a lot of surprised--and disappointed--players.

Which also means there are going to be opportunities for a team like the Bulls if they wait.

The Bulls, obviously, have a gap created by the departure of Gordon. They will be signing a guard. They might get a better one than they could have imagined with the veteran's exception. The league chips in with veteran players so the Bulls can sign one and possibly two veteran players and they'll earn $1.3 million while the team can still stay below the luxury tax level. The Bulls also have a qualifying offer of about $1 million out to Aaron Gray, though that still can be rescinded. So even near the luxury tax line the Bulls can make some moves to make up for the loss of Gordon.

They won't get a player as good, but certainly they can get a fourth guard who is better than expected.

The Bulls have four guards coming to summer league who could challenge for the spot. They are Anthony Roberson and DeMarcus Nelson, who were with the team last season, along with guys with NBA experience, Taureen Green and Julius Hodge.

But more interesting is the guys they could get. I can't imagine guys like Knight, Vaughn, Szczerbiak, Lue and Dixon getting more than a veteran's minimum. Hey, it's still more than $1 million and you're in the NBA.

Most teams next season are committed to staying at the roster minimum of 13. With almost 30 rookies coming in with guaranteed contracts, that's a severe loss of roster spots. So a lot of players who have been making more money and see themselves being worth more may find that the $1.3 million salary is all they can get to remain in the NBA. And the best way to show your value is to remain in the NBA.

One guy who always comes up lately is former Bull Jannero Pargo. He overplayed his hand last season and ended up in Europe struggling to be paid and wanting back in the NBA. Pargo had a $3 million deal with the Hornets when they were able to get James Posey. So they took the offer off the table. The Hawks were interested, but at less than $3 million. Pargo balked, so the Hawks signed Flip Murray. When Pargo couldn't find another offer, he went back to the Hawks and said he'd take the $2.5 million. Too late. It was gone. Shawn Marion is about to find that out after rumors that he wouldn't accept $34 million over four years from the Raptors.

So consider some of these guys with no teams and whose names are not coming up among the free agent talks: Anthony Parker, renounced so the Raptors could sign Turkoglu. He could return to Europe, where he was successful. But he's from Naperville and could establish himself for the 2010 free agency with a year with the Bulls.

There's Flip Murray, Shannon Brown, Dahntay Jones, Anthony Carter, C.J. Watson, Luther Head, Rashad McCants, Von Wafer, Rodney Carney, Keith Bogans, Kareem Rush and Ronnie Price. Those are the guards, and you figure that's where the Bulls will look for help.

But there seems to be way more free agents out there than jobs.

What about Drew Gooden? I haven't heard anything about interest for him. How about one time high draft pick Shelden Williams? Channing Frye? Chris Wilcox? Melvin Ely? Gerald Green? Leon Powe?

There are going to be some terrific bargains out there for the teams that are patient while the players become anxious. Between the economic squeeze and teams looking to avoid contracts to stay under the cap for 2010, there's going to be a lot of teams looking for minimum salaried players. The best places for those players to go is where they can establish themselves and raise their value for 2010. It gives top contending teams the edge. But for a guard, the Bulls would be an inviting team because of the opportunity with Gordon having left.

No, there's zero chance the Bulls acquire guard Allen Iverson no matter what he's willing to play for. There was a buzz about this last week with a suggestive column on a Chicago web site and talks alleged by a national web site. There were no talks and never will be. Anyone who pays any attention to the Bulls--and Iverson--would know it would be impossible to put Iverson in a backup role on a young team. Heck, he was with a veteran Pistons team and they had to send him home for the season given the disruption he was causing with playing time and roles. Anyone see a pattern here? Duh. Leaves Denver. They go to the conference finals. Sent home from Detroit and they sign Ben Gordon. So the Bulls are going to go over the luxury tax line for a sign and trade for Iverson? If they would do that, why wouldn't they keep Gordon? Of course, they would have tried much harder.

Say Iverson wants to play for $1 million just to play. He's going to be happy as a backup to John Salmons (you can't start two small guards and improve your defense as the Bulls say they will)? He's going to replace Derrick Rose? He's going to be happy being the lowest paid player on the team? Plus, Iverson is the classic loner. Pistons players say while he was no problem, he rarely, if ever, spoke to anyone. Just played, dressed and left. The bigger issue with Iverson as a player is he shoots all the time and stops the offense as everyone else watches. And he's no longer good enough to make up for that with 30 and 40-point scoring outbursts. No, he doesn't practice much as he's hurt a lot. He'll be in the Basketball Hall of Fame. He may not be in the NBA again. The Bulls never entertained the thought of having him on the team. Check the free agent rumors. Iverson said he was interested in Memphis. I didn't hear Memphis express interest. There was some talk of interest by the Heat, which is looking for a point guard to replace Mario Chalmers. If you are a Bulls fan you'd have to root for the Heat to sign Iverson. That certainly would send Dwyane Wade running as a free agent for Chicago if he thought that was the Heat's answer to improving the roster.

Cream of 2010 crop could think twice

-- The Bulls are among several teams eying the summer of 2010 for a big score in free agency to put their teams in contending position. It's hardly a revolutionary idea now given how many teams are pursuing similar plans. Obviously, most will be unsuccessful for the biggest stars. There are an unprecedented number of top players who may become available. But there's one big risk everyone is facing: Will a player be willing to give up maybe $40 million to change teams? That is, of course, if the player is a maximum salaried player. The assumption is the top potential free agents like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Amar'e Stoudemire are, though you'd have to think twice, I believe, before making max offers to Bosh and Stoudemire. Which may be why those two are the most likely to be traded. The rub is the new NBA economics. The key is the salary cap and luxury tax set in the summer of 2010. Even NBA commissioner David Stern already has said publicly the cap and thus the luxury tax threshold could be down as much as 10 percent next summer.

So here's what happens if that occurs. If the cap drops 10 percent (two percent decline expected this July for next season), the cap is about $52.6 million. For players going into their seventh season at that point, like James, Wade and Bosh, a max player can receive a top offer of 30 percent of the team's salary cap if he changes teams. That would be about $15.8 million to start. The raises would be eight percent annually in a five-year deal for about $91.5 million.

A player who elects to stay with his own team for a similar max offer would be eligible for a six-year deal (instead of five) starting at $17.4 million (10.5 percent above their final season). The annual raises would be 10.5 percent instead of eight. That contract would total $132 million.

So if Bosh or Wade or James were to stay with their own teams-assuming the Stern predicted salary can decline-and get a max deal they would be able to sign contracts for $132 million compared with about $91.5 million. What would you do? It's also why executives like Toronto's Bryan Colangelo aren't acting anxious to trade their stars this summer. The belief is because of the potential disparity in the contracts, players who want to leave will insist on a sign-and-trade. Meaning a team also better have some tradeable players going into the summer of 2010 because they may need them to acquire the big name talent. There is an exception if the salary cap falls below a certain level that would enable a team trying to acquire a top free agent to pay him the same salary despite the 30 percent rule as the team he is leaving. And so then, the difference would be the two percent in the annual raise, which would be an advantage for a team trying to attract a free agent.

Houston's window closed quickly

-- Well, that window after taking the Lakers to seven games closed quickly for Houston. It's difficult to see the Rockets as a playoff team next season after apparently losing free agent Ron Artest to the Lakers and the question of whether Yao Ming can play. When Yao went out in the series with the Lakers for his fourth surgery in three years, warning bells went off all over the NBA that this was serious. No one realized then how serious. But when the Rockets said Yao's fracture wasn't healing properly, it signaled the worse. Then reports flew from media of Yao missing anywhere from part of the season to all season to the rest of his career. With the Rockets trying unsuccessfully the last month to trade Tracy McGrady, who might not ne ready to play until during the season, the Rockets suddenly have become an entire team of undersized role players. Where Trevor Ariza fits. We saw this phenomenon with the Bulls for years: Guy hits some shots in the Finals and teams rush to sign him, figuring he hits big shots and can do that for them and more with more playing time. Not. Think Scott Williams, Luc Longley, Jud Buechler. They do those things because they played with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Ariza's a nice role player who can score seven points, maybe, if the defense doesn't have to concentrate on Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Yao is one of the most decent people in the NBA and a great competitor. It will be sad if his career is shortened. But many around the NBA always have wondered how anyone's legs and feet could support that size. McGrady comes off the cap after next season, and maybe they get a retirement exception with Yao and can rebuild. Because without Yao all they can do is start over.

No ACLs, no problem?

-- No one is hoping DeJuan Blair fails. But there are a lot of general managers who will be second guessed if he doesn't. The Pitt powerful forward fell to the Spurs in the second round because he has no anterior cruciate ligament in either knee. Blair said he never once had a problem in college and never missed a game or practice. The condition was found at the Chicago predraft physicals, and Blair told San Antonio media he had no idea and was surprised, though he did have two knee surgeries. "I've won a lot of games on these knees," Blair said. His high school team won 57 straight games and he was 58-15 at Pitt, fourth in the nation in rebounding at 12.3 per game with 23 rebounds against Hasheed Thabeet, Memphis No. 2 pick. Pitt coaches liken him to former Bullets star Wes Unseld. "No ACLs," he said, "no problem."

Winds of change in Motown

The Pistons may be struggling to get a veteran coach. Doug Collins declined the Pistons' advances and Avery Johnson, making $4 million from the Mavs this season, has told friends he'd need to be paid substantially more to go back to coaching now given he gets $4 million plus his TV salary for just doing TV. Another issue is Detroit's economic troubles. The Pistons season ticket renewal rate is believed to be the lowest in the league and suite holders are going bankrupt and backing out. The new coach supposedly will have to keep the former assistants since they are on contracts. ... The Timberwolves, with really nowhere to go with Ricky Rubio apparently returning to Europe, supposedly are offering $2.2 million for two years for their coaching job. ... Houston GM Daryl Morey asked Rockets fans via Facebook and Twitter to send messages declaring their desire for Marcin Gortat. Reminds me of the bands and cheerleaders who showed up at O'Hare in 2000 to greet free agent McGrady, who then quickly signed with Orlando. Gortat committed to Dallas.

NBA news and notes

-- With apparently no offers, it is assumed Anderson Varejao returns to the Cavs. ... Curious lack of action regarding Jazz free agent Paul Millsap. One hesitation, like with David Lee, is the seven-day match period in which a team can hold the pursuing team's money hostage while other free agents sign. Though one coach told me when Millsap faced taller players he had difficulty getting over the top with his size. The Jazz are said to be trying to deal Carlos Boozer, who supposedly wants a big contract extension in any trade. The feeling most teams seem to have is given Boozer is in his final season, why bother and if you are interested get him as a free agent after next season. ... Detroit has been mentioned as a possible destination for Tyson Chandler in trade, though it seems unlikely the Hornets would take the contracts of Tayshsaun Prince or Richard Hamilton, the latter longer than Chandler's. Chandler also has been mentioned as a possibility for the Suns for Ben Wallace and then Wallace retiring with a buyout. ... I guess Rudy Fernandez isn't allegedly upset anymore, as he supposedly was by the recruitment of Hedo Turkoglu. Had Turkoglu gone to Portland, there was a chance the Bulls would have been engaged in a deal, presumably for small forward Travis Outlaw and a guard. Now that seems unlikely, though Hinrich still is on the Trail Blazers list of interest.


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