I’m not much for trade rumors and trade mongering. You could sit around all day and say, “OK, how about 2012′s unprotected first rounder, the rights to DeVon Hardin and Chucky Atkins’ expiring contract for Chris Paul. Come on, the Hornets would have to do this.” It kind of gets old. It’s just hypothesizing about trades that will almost never, ever, ever happen. But sometimes it’s fun. And sometimes, it makes complete sense.
So with the word on the street being that the Pistons want to break up their trio of Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace, I think you’ve got to look at options. I mentioned back in - heck, I don’t know when I mentioned it – but I mentioned sometime how much I like Hamilton’s game for this team (I also said I sort of liked Grant Hill, but to a lesser degree). Quality defender, smart offensive player, great veteran leader that still has some gas in the tank and most importantly, fills the dead body slot at two-guard.
The Pistons just recently signed Hamilton to a five-year, $55 million contract. I don’t really like how big that number is and I definitely don’t like the length of the contract considering Rip is 31 with nine years and 742 games on his odometer. I think at some point within the next five years, Hamilton will have one, maybe two seasons of where he misses 20-30 games with some nagging injuries. The most he’s missed during his career was 15 this year. But the fact is, RIGHT NOW, Hamilton is still an excellent shooting guard. He’s 6-7 and has averaged at least 17 points a game since his second season. And while I wrote about Ben Gordon’s gunner mentality and how that doesn’t work because he’s a 16 shot a game guy and at least 1,000 shots a season, Hamilton does almost the exact same thing averaging 15.6 shots a game and took 1,043 this season.
So what makes him work?
1) Because he’s a smart veteran that doesn’t have that same “shoot first” mentality. He’s a guy working within the offense and was even willing to go to the bench for the sake of the team this year.
2) Because he’s older and he’s going to realize that he’s not going to be the scorer anymore. Again, sort of like Grant Hill has done later in his career. He’s still a quality guy worth the money, but he’s not “The Man” for much longer.
3) Because something’s got to be done with shooting guard. I love Thabo, but he’s not much more than a defensive whiz right now. I love Kyle Weaver but he’s got a ways to go. And if this team wants to start competing NOW, a move like this should be made. He’s the jumpshooting two OKC needs and can provide scoring and serviceable defense while still leaving room for Thabo and Weaver to get minutes.
4) Because Rip Hamilton is NOT Ben Gordon. Gordon is a guy that can douse the scoreboard with gasoline and throw a molatov cocktail on it. He can light the thing up. But he’s 37 points, 1 rebound and 0 assists waiting to happen. Hamilton is 18 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists waiting to happen. They may both be from UCONN and have similar career averages across the board, but they’re entirely different.
The downside is his contract and the potential of aging/injury issues. Has he lost anything? Is he still the quality defender that can match up with other elite shooting guards? Would he really be willing to accept a lesser role and play fourth fiddle to Durant, Westbrook and Green? Would he be OK with going from 18 points a game on 15 shots to 14 points a game on 12 shots? Do I really want a guy on my teams that wears one of those plastic masks all the time? Those are tough questions with tough answers. Those are quality reasons to balk at such a bold move. I could certainly see why someone would hesitate. Though he does pass one of my first and most difficult questions. Can I actually picture him in a Thunder uniform? Yes, yes I can.
But again, Hamilton’s not a free agent. You’ve got to give up something to get him. Detroit wants to clean house, but they don’t want dirt in return. They’re going to want something worth their while. So let me pose the scenario:
OKC gets the No. 4 pick in the draft. Nobody’s willing to deal for the Thunder to move into Griffin/Rubio territory. Do you trade Chucky Atkins and Earl Watson (ESPN Trade Machine says YES!) but they’re going to want more) plus your first round pick for Rip Hamilton? Basically, you’re trading James Harden/Hasheem Thabeet/Demar DeRozen for Hamilton and his five-year, $11M contract. Is that a worthy trade? Obviously, Sam Presti was willing to take on Tyson Chandler’s $11M per, so taking on Rip’s wouldn’t hurt him that much. The only thing is that the move feels a little out of character for Presti. It’s not that slow, patient, well-executed, well-conceived deal that’s “all part of the plan.” It’s a bit more abrupt, more aggressive and more bold. I don’t know if that’s like him. It’s sort of high risk, high reward instead of low risk, high reward.
Maybe I’m setting the price too high and the Thunder could trade their late first rounder or maybe even next year’s unprotected No. 1. Maybe. I don’t know how Joe Dumars is thinking. I do know he’s trying to dump salary for 2010. And Chucky Atkins and Earl Watson have expiring contracts… But I’d assume he’d ask for this year’s top pick. If not, then bully for us.
I look at Hamilton a bit like what the Spurs did with Michael Finley. That’s right THE SPURS MODEL. He was 32 years old and a former two-time All-Star. He averaged 15.7 ppg his last season in Dallas and the Spurs got him with the idea to be a veteran shooter/scorer for Tony Parker to dish to and for Finley to defend his position well. He was a great leader that was willing to accept a role (like Hamilton). In Dallas, he had five straight seasons of averaging 20-plus a game, but his first season in San Antonio, he put up 10.7. That team won a franchise record 63 games and lost the Mavericks in a grueling 7-game series but then won another NBA title the next season. Safe to say Finley worked. And for the same reasons, I think Hamilton could in OKC. Though, it’s hard to say if Rip’s ready to tug back on the reins like Finley did at about this time in his career and become “Richard Hamilton: Role Player” instead of “Richard Hamilton: Star Player.” Every guy is different and it’s impossible to know.
So while we can probably agree Hamilton fits, the question is, is he worth the price? Not just the contract, but is an aging, 31-year-old solid veteran better than a 21-year-old potentially solid rookie? I’m the kind of guy that says worry about next year when next year gets here. Sure the Celtics could have taken the slow route and kept Al Jefferson and Jeff Green and had a strong nucleus and a budding team that could compete long term, but don’t you think their fans are enjoying that 17th banner the recent success? Anything short of the top two picks and if Detroit’s willing, I’m making the deal. It may be high risk, but the reward. Oh baby, the reward.