Friday, July 7, 2006

NBA free agency

When Peja Stojakovic opted out of his contract, he said he wanted to stay with the Indiana Pacers. Apparently, that desire was not all that strong, considering that he agreed to sign with the New Orleans Hornets less than a week later.

First, let me say I have absolutely no problem with Stojakovic going to New Orleans. The NBA is a business, first and foremost. If the Pacers thought they could improve their team by trading Stojakovic, they would do so in a heartbeat. Players should not be expected to be loyal to teams that, at the end of the day, have no loyalty to them. I wish all free agents the best of luck in trying to find a situation where they feel they will prosper, both financially and from a basketball standpoint.

However, please do not lie about it. Do not say you want to stay with the team when you declare yourself a free agent, because everyone knows you are testing the market for a better deal. The only purpose the "I want to stay with my team" lie serves is to placate the fans in the event that re-signing with your current team turns out to be the best option for you. Basketball fans are not stupid, and they see right through this ploy.

Only on very rare occasions would I look down on a player's free agency decisions. One of these times is the case of Carlos Boozer, who was under contract to the Cleveland Cavaliers when he convinced the team to make him an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2004 by promising to re-sign with them. Boozer was lying the whole time, and instead signed with the Utah Jazz. Boozer's deception was almost universally condemned because he took advantage of Cleveland's generosity.

Meanwhile, the Central Division looks to be a lot more wide open, since Pistons center Ben Wallace signed with Chicago. This ought to make things very interesting, especially if the Indiana Pacers manage to pick up former Pacer Al Harrington via trade or free agency. Harrington would be a better fit for Indiana than Stojakovic anyway, so losing Stojakovic may benefit the team. Harrington is three years younger, and averages more assists and rebounds than Stojakovic.

Of course, how anything looks on paper is irrelevant until things actually fall into place during the season. The Pistons still have time to make some moves, and they still have several good players. Even with Harrington, the Pacers have to prove they have the heart to be contenders. The Miami Heat are still the team to beat, but can they pull another championship run out of several aging veterans? It will be fun to watch.