28 June 2007

The Orlando Magic Free-Agency Countdown, Part Four: Gerald Wallace

As the July 1 start of NBA's free-agency period comes closer, 3QC is taking a look at the free agents who may be able to help the Magic the most by counting down from the 5th-best option to the best option. Today's post concerns the player who should be the Magic's second resort: Gerald Wallace.

Earlier this summer, high-flying swingman Gerald Wallace was my top choice for the Magic. Admittedly, I'm biased; I have an inexplicable fondness for the Charlotte Bobcats, the team with which he spent the past three seasons. He also provides highlight-reel footage each night, mostly featuring his own acrobatic dunks, but occasionally involving ridiculous defensive plays, like this blocked dunk of Golden State's Al Harrington:

There's more to Wallace than what shows up in SportsCenter's Top 10. His freakish athleticism makes him very versatile: although naturally a small forward, he's quick enough to defend shooting guards, but long and strong enough to defend power forwards. He can also jump out of the gym. Those qualities apply on the offensive end as well. Gerald Wallace is not a Jack-of-all-trades in the manner Magic Johnson was, but he's a Jack-of-three-positions, and that's valuable.

Free-agent-to-be Gerald Wallace has become a star by combining incredible athleticism with strong fundamentals, like the jump shot shown in this photo. If he played in a bigger market, he'd be a household name by now.

For all his strengths, this potential Magic free-agent signee is -- and stop me if you've heard this before -- an injury risk. Bethlehem Shoals of FreeDarko, writing about Gilbert Arenas' season-ending injury after a collision with Wallace, imparted this wisdom about Gerald:
Wallace is a force of nature whose productivity depends on how out of control he can get. And he's a former football enthusiast who still looks like one.
Indeed, Wallace's health has to be a big concern for teams interested in signing him. As frustrating as it sounds, the Magic may actually have to decline Wallace and his services, or at least put them lower on their wishlist, because there's no telling if he'll be able to play an entire season. Make no mistake, though: If Wallace were capable of playing 75 games and post last season's per-game averages of 18 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block, the Magic would have to prefer him over everyone else available. However, Wallace has played in just 197 of a possible 246 games, or 80%. If that sounds low, it should. Amazingly, 80% is exactly double the rate of games in which Grant Hill has played with the Magic in his tenure here, so go figure.

Injuries aside, there's another reason not to sign Wallace: it'd be a Department of Redundancy Department move. Why? The Magic already have one long, versatile, athletic small forward who lights up the highlight reels: Trevor Ariza. If he's is as good as the Magic believe he is, then Ariza will be posting Wallace-like numbers within three years anyway. What good does it do the Magic to have two players with the same skill-set and who play the same position on their roster? None, really.

That aside, however, the Magic need to consider Gerald Wallace a top priority even ahead of proven players Vince Carter and Chauncey Billups, both of whom are a bit too old to make the Magic a contending team. I can understand, begrudgingly, why the Magic would be hesitant to rate him so highly. It wasn't too long ago when we spent big bucks on a free agent with a history of injuries, and that didn't turn out so well.

Magic fans know the sight of Grant Hill, the team's last big free-agent acquisition, in street clothes all too well: he has appeared in only 40% of the games the Magic have played over the past six seasons.
Photo by Fernando Medina, Getty Images

If the Magic are interested, Wallace will be available. Yesterday, he declined an extension with the Bobcats and will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. If the Bobcats get involved in a bidding war for Wallace, they'll likely lose, as they are notoriously stingy. Will the Magic roll the dice on the high-risk/high-reward free agent with the Presidential-sounding name? There's no telling either way right now, but they sure as heck could do worse.

Monday: Part One in 3QC's Free Agency Countdown: Vince Carter.
Tuesday: Part Two in 3QC's Free Agency Countdown: Mo Williams.
Yesterday: Part Three in 3QC's Free Agency Countdown: Chauncey Billups.
Tomorrow: Part Five in 3QC's Free Agency Countdown.

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