In my opinion, the toughest decision facing the Sonics this offseason will be the re-signing of Vladimir Radmanovic. At times this season, Vlad was nearly unguardable, hitting jumpers, running the floor well on fast breaks and forcing defenders to honor his range as a shooter, which freed up room on the floor for other players to operate, especially Ray Allen and Antonio Daniels. His presence also made it more difficult for Sonic opponents to double team Rashard Lewis with another forward. At other times, however, he was the sole architect of many a brick outhouse and was a sieve on defense.
In Vladâ€™s defense, he battled injuries during much of the second half of the season, including a stress fracture suffered in mid-March that kept him out nearly six weeks, and an ankle injury sustained during the Spurs series. But this is becoming a familiar refrain for Sonic followers. In his four years in the league, Vlad has missed at least 10 or more games in three of his four seasons. Overall heâ€™s played in 273 of 328 possible games, or 83%. Thatâ€™s not bad, but it seems that every time he seems ready to build on a good week or month, he goes down again.
Vladâ€™s +/- ratings as determined by 82games.com (click here) indicate that he was the Sonics second most valuable player for the time he was on the floor for last season. But last year, which was clearly his most impressive season to date, he shot only 40.9% from the field, compared to 38.9% from 3 range, puzzling numbers for a shooter of his supposed caliber. This also indicates that his reputation as a deadeye marksman is being honored by defenses even though his stats seem to indicate he is an average shooter for the most part inside the arc. Whether or not this will continue as teams begin to scout him further remains to be seen.
Radmanovic is represented by David Bauman of the SFX group, which in and of itself is bad for the Sonics. SFX is a very large sports agency representing athletes in all major sports (Nomar Garciaparra, Greg Norman, T-Mac, Pedro Martinez, Jerry Rice and Andre Agassi are probably their biggest clients in terms of name recognition) and their specialty is cross-marketing, something that's been very difficult to do with Seattle-based athletes since Ken Griffey Jr. left town. SFX hasn't been as contentious or cantankerous as some of the smaller agencies, (Goodwin Sports and especially Lewis' agent Carl Poston come to mind) mostly because with their client list and the contacts of SFX President Arn Tellem, they don't have to be. During Vladâ€™s tenure here he has made it known both through Bauman and in his own words that he has been dissatisfied at times with his role as a 6th man and that his role on the team hasnâ€™t always been clearly expressed to him. I feel this is fair criticism as the Sonic coaching staff has often vacillated between a starting role and a bench role, all the while praising Vlad in the local press as an indispensable part of the Sonics core even though he plays the same position as Rashard Lewis. With the news last week that Radmanovic has sold his Seattle home and has offers in excess of the mid-level exception it surely seems from his perspective that he is anxious to put his Seattle days behind him and move to a team that can offer him a starting position.
So what are the Sonics choices? More than ever this year they are dictated by the market. Because Radmanovic is a restricted free agent, they are allowed to match any offer he receives from other teams if they choose to do so. Iâ€™m going to postulate that the Sonics are prepared to match any offer up to the mid-level exception but not more, due to the number of other free agents that need re-signing and the fact the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the NBA and the players is expiring in days.
If Vlad receives an offer over the MLE, Seattle can't really afford to
take on a contract of that size unless the player they're getting in
return can not only fill the #6 hole in the rotation but fill it
well. And Seattleâ€™s reluctance to commit to large contracts in the past might make that difficult, as they would more than likely be taking on another teamâ€™s problem rather than receiving what they would consider equivalent value. It is possible they could talk to other teams in a similar situation with their Class of 2001 draft picks. The Chicago Bulls, for example, have Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler. It is possible the Bulls could be interested in a sign and trade swap of Radmanovic for either of those two players, should Curryâ€™s health issues not prove problematic, or if they feel Radmanovic is a better fit going forward than Chandler. Washington might entertain a swap of Kwame Brown for Radmanovic, though itâ€™s unclear if the Sonics would do that. And itâ€™s certainly debatable whether any of those players would be worth a slightly over MLE contract for the number of years they would be signed for.
The one exception could be if the Sonics are able to sign and trade Vlad to a team under the cap, for example the Cavaliers, who could not only afford to give Radmanovic the substantial pay raise and playing time he craves, but could also afford to send the Sonics back a player they would consider useful and absorb the additional salary involved. With Clevelandâ€™s front office currently in flux and their future direction not yet resolved, this may not be possible within the timeframe needed.
Radmanovic could also refuse to accept a sign and trade by taking the one year tender offer and becoming an unrestricted free agent next year. Stromile Swift employed this same tactic with the Grizzlies last season and look for Vlad and David Bauman to use this to their advantage. It's pretty much the only hammer Vlad can hold over the Sonics and it does carry some risk, but the payoff down the line could be worth it if Vlad explodes and has a great season next year.
All in all, I think the Sonics are a better team with Vladimir than without him. However, few players are truly indispensable or irreplaceable. His role on the team can be filled, perhaps even by Damien Wilkins. I think Wilkins would make a superb energizer off the bench in the Ruben Patterson mold, and he also provides a better defensive presence than Radmanovic, who has been a bit of a redundant part behind Lewis, but nevertheless valuable. We will see what the next few weeks bring and whether the sometimes contentious relationship between Vladimir Radmanovic and the Sonics comes to an end.