Changing Of The Guard
Going into the offseason, 2005 looks to be the year of the guard. Nearly every big free agent this year just happens to be a shooting guard. At the head of the free agent class was Ray Allen. The 30 year old scorer might have led the SuperSonics to the Finals last year, if not for the key injuries his Seattle teammates suffered before their matchup with the Spurs. However, before teams could pry him away, Ray chose to stay in Seattle for 5 more years.
Allen’s early signing opened the door for the other shooting guards looking to improve their bank accounts. With Ray unavailable, Michael Redd instantly became the best available free agent. However that was short lived as well, when the Bucks decided to keep their shooting guard for a tune of 6 years and $90M. New Yorkers silently snickered that the deal was awfully close to what Allan Houston received, a contract that has ominously loomed over the organization for the last 5 years. However there are two major differences between the two deals. First is that Redd is three years younger than Houston was, which means that Milwaukee will be paying him through his peak, not after. Second is that Redd is far more productive than H20 ever was. While both guards are listed at 6’6, Redd gets twice as many rebounds per minute, and turns the ball over at 1/3 the rate. Although last year was his worst full season, Redd’s 18.3 PER was still better than Houston’s best year (17.7). While it remains to be seen if Redd was overpaid, his deal is not as bad as Scott Layden’s.
The Cleveland Cavs, failing to sign either of the above players and a shooting guard rotation comical enough to make Drew Carey’s guffaw, turned to plan C. General Manager Danny Ferry with cap space burning a hole in his pocket grabbed the next best free agent who happened to be another shooting guard: Larry Hughes. The Cavaliers will be Hughes’ 4th team, who was drafted by the Sixers at the tender age of 19. The oft-injured shooting guard has only had 2 seasons where he has played in more than 70 games, so his health will be under constant scrutiny in Cleveland. Although he has a reputation for being a fine defender, earning first team all defensive last year, it’s not entirely validated statistically. While the Wizards’ defense was 3.3 points better per 100 possessions with him on the court, opposing guards enjoyed a healthy 18.6 PER. It doesn’t seem to be a one year fluke, as the year before those numbers were 2.9/20.9. Hughes appears to be a good gambler, grabbing nearly 3 steals a game last year, but he’s not a lockdown defender like a Prince or Bowen.
While he hasn’t suited up in 7 seasons, Nate McMillan will be patrolling the sidelines in Portland next year. The former Sonics guard and last year’s coach sited a desire “to develop, to teach” among the reasons he left. In Portland, the disciplinarian will have plenty of opportunities to expand Darius Miles’s vocabulary, teach Zach Randolph how to drive to Vancouver, and maybe develop a few young basketball players with his free time. Nate’s departure from Seattle caught a few people by surprise, as his nearly 20 years in Seattle earned him the nickname “Mr. Sonic”.
Just recently the Atlanta Hawks have gotten Joe Johnson to sign a $70M deal, albeit one that the Suns have the option to match. One of the rumored reasons that Phoenix gave up Richardson was to clear up some space to resign Johnson, the other being that Bryan Colangelo gets perverse pleasure out of sending his poor defenders to Isiah Thomas. So it’s likely that Johnson will stay put as well.
Although more of a swingman than shooting guard, the Milwaukee Bucks signed Bobby Simmons to $47M as well. Meanwhile teams might be able to sign Michael Finley or Allan Houston, as their respective teams look to save money with their one time luxury tax loophole. While Finley is still productive enough to provide help to a team needed some scoring, Houston’s career is still in serious doubt. Allan remains firm in his belief that he will return to the court, which means the number of people that think Allan Houston will contribute positively to an NBA team is still stuck at one.