J-Rich’s Future First Issue Post-Lockout

If there were not a lockout imposed, free agents would be preparing to officially sign contracts at about this time of the year. July usually brings the frantic decisionmaking and scrambling for sources to figure out where free agents are going. If you look at ESPN today, there might be more anticipation and worry for the free agent class of 2012 than the 2011 class. We just do not know when the 2011 class is going to be officially on the market for NBA teams.

The Magic do have an eye on that 2012 class for obvious reasons. But they still have a pretty important decision to make once free agency opens.

Starting shooting guard Jason Richardson is a free agent and it is still unclear how much the Magic are willing to spend to retain him.

On one hand he is a veteran and a guy who has proven he can score and produce offensively in this league. He had some great moments in Orlando, notably stepping up at the end of games and making big shots to keep his team in the running for a win.

On the other hand, he is coming up on the wrong side of 30. The athleticism that was his calling card in his younger days is going away and he is hardly the defender the Magic thought they were getting. His time with Orlando also was not very productive. In 55 games, he averaged 13.9 points per game and shot 43.3 percent along with 38.4 percent from the 3-point line. That 52.8 percent effective field goal percentage ranks highly among his career numbers, but the raw numbers tell the story better here.

Richardson was a disappointment. He was not the go-to scorer the Magic desperately needed to balance Dwight Howard in the post and his low usage rate — 18.6 percent — attests to his struggles to really fit in.

Otis Smith has still said it is a priority for the Magic to bring him back. There is some faith that J.J. Redick can be a season-long starter, but at 6-foot-4 and with some limited skills as a full-time shooting guard, there are still questions whether he can take the job full time. Richardson, despite all his struggles in Orlando, might be a better option.

A lot of it is going to come down to what Richardson wants.

The Magic may not have a ton of money to offer — he made $14.4 million last season — even though Richardson is surely expecting to take a pay cut in his latest contract.

Richardson might be looking to stay with a winner which would figure to the Magic’s advantage. But rumors have the Bulls, who are also in desperate need for a supporting shooting guard to play alongside Derrick Rose, interested in Richardson. And based on last year’s record, Chicago might be more of a “championship contender” than Orlando right now.

It appears then that even if the Magic want to keep Richardson, many things are working against them. They simply do not have the cap space or money with the second highest payroll in the league and seem too far from a championship for Richardson. Simply, if Richardson wants to stay in Orlando he will.

Once the lockout ends, Orlando’s hunt for a shooting guard, whether it is Richardson or not, will be an interesting one. And the first question Smith may need to answer is whether Richardson is worth bringing back.

Photo via DayLife.com.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily

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