Jason Richardson is issue number one for the Magic coming out of the lockout. He is quite likely the top shooting guard on the free agent market (whenever that occurs). Depending on collective bargaining rules, Richardson may have the pick of the litter of teams and suitors.
The Magic quite possibly are at or near the top of Richardson's list. Most important for Richardson though is playing for a winner.
"I want to go to a great place for my family," Richardson told Hugh Bernreuter of The Saginaw News on Wednesday. “I’ve been blessed by God to play in the NBA for a lot of money. I’d like to go someplace that has a chance to win a championship."
Richardson added he would like to go someplace to stay. At 30 years old, Richardson knows he is entering the downside of his career. He averaged 13.9 points per game on 52.8 percent effective field goal percentage in 55 games with the Magic. His 13.2 PER with Orlando would have been the lowest mark in his career (add in his time in Phoenix and his 14.9 PER was the worst since his second year with Golden State in 2003).
Richardson struggled even more in the postseason with 10.0 points per game on 41.2 percent effective field goal percentage, good for a paltry 9.6 PER.
However it is worth noting that it was just Richardson's third appearance in the postseason in his 10-year career. He has made his money, earning approximately $81 million according to Basketball-Reference over his career and just completed a 6-year, $70 million contract the Warriors gave him in 2005. He now wants to win.
His numbers from last year suggest he is not quite the player he once was. Maybe seeking, and publicly seeking, a smaller role. Not that he thinks he should have a smaller role. But it was clear in Orlando he is no longer the kind of player that can break down defenses off the dribble and be a primary scoring option. That is what the Magic needed more of from him and he simply did not have it in him.
As Zach Lowe of The Point Forward points out Richardson likely would make a great third or fourth option on a championship-caliber team. The Magic are likely looking for him to be a second or third option. The question for Orlando is what other shooting guards are out there and can J.J. Redick be a viable starting option? Those are questions to look at once we know the rules in the new collective bargaining agreement.
Richardson has become a spot-up shooter-plus as someone who can occassionally attack the basket, but is likely best as a perimeter threat. Orlando can be a place for that, but the Magic would have to add another player to get where they want to go.
"Orlando will be a quality team as long as it can surround Dwight Howard with capable players," Lowe writes of Orlando's chances of retaining Richardson. "Plus, the Magic might not feel comfortable handing over the shooting guard position full-time to the combination of J.J. Redick (the likely starter if Richardson bolts), Gilbert Arenas and another possible free-agent signing.
"Orlando might be a step behind Miami and Chicago (and possibly Boston) in the East, but it’s a small step, and one the Magic could take with a little luck. They may still provide the best combination of fit, minutes and money, since Richardson could be leaving some significant cash on the table."
Of course if money is more of an issue, there are lots of teams that could be interested in chasing Richardson in free agency. Lowe lists Chicago, Boston, Dallas, the Lakers, Memphis and New York on the trail.
The Bulls could be especially interesting for Richardson. They need a starting shooting guard and someone who can space the floor after Miami exposed that weakness in the Eastern Conference Finals. Chicago is about as close to a title as Richardson might be able to get on paper. The other teams are quality teams that should expect to compete for the 2012 title. And the Grizzlies need a veteran on the perimeter to help them out.
Orlando likely has the inside track as some sort of Bird Rights might exist in the new collective bargaining agreement. But the Magic will be competing for Richardson's services. Richardson should have his pick of championship teams lining up for him. And that apparently is the position Richardson is taking with his upcoming free agency.
Photo via DayLife.com.