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kriD
06-26-2006, 06:23 AM
BEN OR BUST: Wallace likely to test market

BY KRISTA JAHNKE
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER

By week's end, the game of tug-of-war, the negotiations and rumors, and the courtship of unrestricted free agent Ben Wallace will begin.

On Saturday, Wallace, a four-time defensive player of the year who has helped carry the Pistons to the NBA Finals twice and to a championship once, will become the most coveted player in a mostly mediocre free-agent market.

And while for much of the past season it seemed a lock for Wallace, a blue-collar icon in Detroit, to remain a Piston, nothing, it seems, is certain anymore.

It seems Wallace plans to explore his options around the league.

Wallace recently had this to say in the Orlando Sentinel about his impending free agency: "Nothing in this league is automatic.

"I was never supposed to leave Washington. I was supposed to retire in Orlando. Strange things happen. It's not automatic."

In the same interview, he said, "it's not always just about the money. It's about having an opportunity to do what you're comfortable doing."

Wallace's new, high-powered agent, Arn Tellum, did not return a call for comment, and the Pistons can't talk about Wallace before the free-agency period begins Saturday.

One of his biggest bargaining chips might be offensive involvement.

Wallace doesn't want to be a 20-point scorer, but he has stated many times that he doesn't appreciate being completely shut out of an offense. That's been a point of contention in Detroit. Pistons coach Flip Saunders rarely ran plays with Wallace as the main option.

But money is no secondhand matter, either, not when this is the biggest and most lucrative contract of his career.

Wallace earned $7.35 million last season, the last of a six-year, $30-million deal he signed in 2000.

This time around, he will command at least $10 million a year for four seasons.

A maximum contract would pay him upward of $14 million a year for five or six seasons (only the Pistons can offer Wallace a six-year deal).

There is an assumption that Pistons owner Bill Davidson would never offer a post player more than four years.

But those who work closely with him say that isn't so. They classify Davidson's thinking differently.

They say the billionaire owner certainly has principles he prefers to live by, but that he'll toss them out the window in a heartbeat if people he trusts tell him there's a better way to build a winning team.

That also means -- if team president Joe Dumars can convince Davidson that it's worth it -- the Pistons could wind up going over the salary cap and paying a luxury tax, which the team has long avoided.

The Pistons won't know the tax threshold (or the salary cap, for that matter) when they begin negotiations with Wallace on Saturday, and Alan Ostfield, the team's chief operating officer and assistant general manager, prefers not to make educated guesses.

"I think some teams try to project based on truly complicated formulas," Ostfield said, "but I firmly believe that that's the kind of thing you spend 19 hours trying to project it and then you're wrong. It's not even worth it."

Last season, the cap was $49.5 million, with the dollar-for-dollar luxury tax kicking it at $61.7 million.

Those numbers will likely rise.

The Pistons have already committed $49.07 million to their nine players under contract for next season, meaning the Pistons will go over the cap and approach the tax threshold if they give Wallace anything more than $10 million.

Being so close to the cap means the Pistons should either retain Wallace or lose him only through a sign-and-trade.

That's because if he signs with a team with cap space -- only Chicago, Atlanta, Charlotte and Toronto have enough room to woo him without a sign-and-trade -- then the Pistons will be left with nothing in return and no cap space with which to work.

Still, it's questionable how much interest there will be for Wallace around the league.

With such limited offensive abilities and an especially bad reputation for free-throw shooting, his game is a unique one that wouldn't work well in every system.

And Wallace did get some negative publicity this season for failing to re-enter a game in Orlando and speaking out against his coach in the playoffs.

Regardless, people close to the team say rumors that they've grown sick of Wallace's act are baseless.

As the biggest name on the market, Wallace will be the instigator in free-agent action, not only in Detroit but around the league as well.

Once his status is settled, the Pistons have two exceptions to spend. The mid-level exception is worth $5 million and can go to one player in whole or can be split among multiple players. They also hold a $1-million biannual exception.

Both those exceptions can be used despite a team's salary cap status, but they do contribute to total salary in terms of luxury tax.

Who's out there for the taking?

The biggest names are guards Jason Terry, Al Harrington, Speedy Claxton, Bonzi Wells, Peja Stojakovic (he can opt out), Sam Cassell and Mike James (also will opt out), forwards Nene (restricted), Reggie Evans, Drew Gooden and Toni Kukoc, and centers Alonzo Mourning and Nazr Mohammed.

Pistons guards Lindsey Hunter and Tony Delk will both be unrestricted free agents.

Hunter is questioning whether he will retire, while the Pistons expect Delk to take the player opt-out on his contract.

It's not a superstar class, but as Wallace said, nothing is automatic.

Once the free-agency period begins and general managers start chatting, trades come down, players move, and you can't predict much of anything at all.

"While the draft is the most unpredictable thing because you're talking about such unknown quantities," Pistons vice president John Hammond said, "free agency is generally much more predictable. But once the movement starts happening and players signing and sign-and-trade scenarios pop up, who knows? I'd hate to say this is a poor class.

"On paper, there have been better and stronger, but I don't want to take anything away from this class, especially with a guy like Ben Wallace at the front of it."

vjz
06-26-2006, 03:30 PM
As a direct result of the Darko debacle, the Pistons *have* to re-sign him at any cost.
If not, they are done as an elite team.

Five-ofan
06-26-2006, 03:33 PM
Which is funny because they traded darko to be able to resign him.

nashtymavsfan13
06-26-2006, 04:00 PM
Will Detroit resign him? If not who is the most likely too?

MightyToine
06-30-2006, 09:52 PM
Will Detroit resign him? If not who is the most likely too?

Chicago or Washington.

nashtymavsfan13
07-01-2006, 01:18 AM
Chicago or Washington.

Thanks, wow either of those teams have a chance to go pretty far next year if they get him.

Nash13
07-01-2006, 01:59 AM
Chicago's not going anywhere. They're pretty average at every position. And i don't think Washington would do too much better than last season. There problem wasn't there frontcourt, it was the fact they, like us, have no outside threat besides Arenas.