Good as gone, it's now a matter of personal choice
By PHIL JASNER
John Salmons was named the Most Outstanding Player in the Boston summer league in 2003. He played well every summer. He was loose, free, confident. But in four seasons with the 76ers, that translated to the regular season only sporadically.
There is a theory that some players, in order to reach their potential, need to be traded at least once. At 26, the 6-6 Salmons seems to fit that mold. And a trade, actually a sign-and-trade, appears to be on the horizon.
Salmons has been deciding between a deal that would send him to the Phoenix Suns and one that would land him with the Toronto Raptors. In either case, the Sixers would sign him and acquire a second-round draft choice and a trade exception. Various reports indicate that the onetime Plymouth-Whitemarsh High star, who grew up in the Mount Airy section of the city, could end up with at least $22 million; the dollar figures and length of term remained fluid as of yesterday.
"We're waiting on Johnny to make a decision," Sixers president and general manager Billy King said. "He's trying to decide which team he's going to go to."
King was able to comment yesterday, as the NBA's July 1-11 moratorium on free-agent signings and trades ended. The Sixers quickly signed restricted free agent Shavlik Randolph to a 2-year contract believed to be worth a little more than $ 2 million; later in the day, they finalized a deal with restricted free agent Willlie Green that could be worth about $17 million over 5 years, roughly similar to a contract offer that was withdrawn last summer when Green underwent knee surgery.
Randolph, undrafted as an early entry in 2005, averaged 2.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in 8.5 minutes over 57 games, making one start. Green came back to appear in 10 games, averaging seven points in 15.3 minutes, including two starts.
With Phoenix, Salmons would slide into a $3.6 million trade exception the Suns acquired in the deal that sent Joe Johnson to the Atlanta Hawks; by rule, a team is permitted to add $100,000 to an exception. With Toronto, Sal-mons could receive as much as $4 million. Since the capped Sixers are not taking back a player in either of those cases, they would create a trade exception, about $1.8 million from the Suns or $2 million from the Raptors.
A source in Phoenix said the Suns believed as late as Sunday that Salmons was coming to them, only to learn that he still was deciding.
Here is part of Salmons' decision-making process: With the Suns, he clearly would have an opportunity to win more games and would be tried as a backup to MVP point guard Steve Nash, at the same time also being used as a backup at shooting guard and small forward. With Toronto, he might be able to challenge for a starting berth on an improving young team.
"I think Johnny is someone that will have a good career in this league," King said. "There were times he played well. Maybe it's a change of scenery [that is necessary]; I'm not sure.
"Johnny did a lot of good things for us. For some reason, sometimes things don't work out. I think we may be looking back and people will be saying, 'Gee, they had that guy.' But I think, for Johnny, a change of scenery is probably best. I think whichever team [he chooses] will be a great situation for him."
Salmons averaged a career-best 7.5 points last season, appearing in all 82 games and starting 24; he also contributed 2.7 assists and 2.7 rebounds in 25.1 minutes.
"He's a playmaker, but he can shoot," the Suns' James Jones, who played three seasons with Salmons at the University of Miami, told the Arizona Republic. "In his situation the last couple years, they needed him to be a playmaker. If you ask him to score 30, he can. He's deceptive with his shot.
"He's a real playmaker. At [6-6], he's a unique guy. Boris [Diaw, of the Suns] is similar to him. You don't see many guys who are [that size] who can handle the ball, pass the ball and always make the right plays."
Um, so he might not be going to Phoenix after all. But he will be gone. I still don't see what everyone sees in him. I don't think he can score 30, and I don't think he always makes the right plays.