NBA Sunday: Pachulia’s Free Agent Stock Climbs
The NBA game has changed from the days of multiple dominant centers roaming the paint around the league. But despite the game’s shift, one thing still holds true. Consistently productive big men still come at a premium and are highly valued by front office executives throughout the league.
The 2012 center free agent class was headlined by Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez and Indiana’s Roy Hibbert receiving max contracts. But players such as Houston’s Omer Asik, New Orleans’ Robin Lopez and Indiana’s Ian Mahinmi also received lucrative new deals in free agency despite all of them averaging less than 20 minutes per game last season.
The 2013 center class will be headlined by Los Angeles’ Dwight Howard, Philadelphia’s Andrew Bynum and Utah’s Al Jefferson once free agency begins, but solid talent will still exist down the board.
Atlanta Hawks reserve center Zaza Pachulia’s position in this center class continues to rise as the ten year veteran is averaging 6.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game in just 23 minutes of action this season.
A lot of the buzz surrounding Pachulia started early last season when the veteran filled in as a starter for the injured Al Horford and averaged 8.7 points and 8.8 rebounds on 51 percent shooting from the floor.
“Free agency, it’s not my first time,” Pachulia told HOOPSWORLD on his upcoming free agency. “I’ve been there before. This is my third free agency. It gets less stressful every time, maybe because I’ve established a name. My mentality is to keep working hard and playing the right way. I should be okay in free agency. I’m not worried.”
While Pachulia has been through the free agent process numerous times in the past, one thing is clear; Atlanta is a place near and dear to his heart. The veteran center owns a business in the area and has fully embraced the city as his home. But the business side of the league will also force him to evaluate offers from around the league as they arrive next summer.
“Honestly it’s too early to start thinking about if I want to leave Atlanta,” Pachulia said. “Of course I am happy here. This is my eighth year in Atlanta. I’ve been enjoying living here. I call Atlanta my home. But like for everybody else, this is a business.”
“I’m all about the team right now,” Pachulia added. “So we’ll see summertime. I’ve been there before and I’ve been in the league long enough that teams know me, what I can do and what I bring to the table. That’s for the future, when I’ll be worrying about that.”
The Hawks currently own the third best record in the Eastern Conference and appear poised to reach the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season. The success has come despite the trade of six-time All-Star guard Joe Johnson to Brooklyn and the integration of multiple players into the nightly rotation.
Pachulia says the early success of the team this season has allowed him to just play ball and not focus as much on the future.
“I’m enjoying this season so much I can’t even think about free agency,” Pachulia said. “I enjoy playing with this team right now. Great guys. Great group. Especially when you’re winning. That’s a blessing. You want to enjoy it as much as possible because you never know what’s going to happen. I definitely want to enjoy every minute of this success with this team, with this group of guys.”
The Hawks currently have $18 million in guaranteed salaries for the 2013-14 season, which could give the team up to $40 million in salary cap room to sign free agents or acquire players via trade.
The team’s top priority will be re-signing forward Josh Smith who will be among the most coveted players in the league next summer. The team will also need to address point guard Jeff Teague who is likely headed to restricted free agency after both sides couldn’t agree to a new deal during the early extension process.
One way or another Pachulia’s play on the court has positioned himself to earn a lucrative deal next summer, but the center is focused on making that ever elusive trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.
“I’m not thinking about the summer right now,” Pachulia said. “I’m just thinking about the last 50 games. Our goal is to make the playoffs. We need to take advantage of this opportunity because if your team is playing so good, then why not have the best year possible?”
J.R. Smith Redefining His Image In New York
The New York Knicks own the league’s fifth best record and one of the primary drivers in the team’s success has been the consistently play of shooting guard J.R, Smith.
Smith is averaging 16.7 points and 5.2 rebounds this season as the Knicks’ top reserve in head coach Mike Woodson’s nightly rotation. The guard has always been known to put up prolific scoring numbers but there has been an added level of maturity to his game this season.
“In the past my priorities weren’t what they are now,” Smith told the New York Post. “I won’t lie to you. It’s been tough. It’s been an adjustment. It hasn’t been easy at all.”
Once known as a guy who routinely clashed with his head coach, Woodson says Smith now embraces the input received from the coaching staff.
“He’s a guy who wants to be coached,” Woodson said. “I think most guys in the league want that, but he’s done everything to make sure he could take advantage of the things that have allowed him to get better. He’s worked hard at it. It’s paid off.”
Smith signed a two-year deal worth $5.7 million last summer. The second year is a player option and one Smith may decide to explore given his strong play to start the season.
The Knicks currently have $74 million in guaranteed salaries for the 2013-14 season which would put the team in luxury tax territory as it stands today.
Other NBA Notes
- Here comes Houston: The Houston Rockets have won eight out of their past ten games and are currently sixth in the Western Conference standings. The team continues to be paced by shooting guard James Harden on the outside and center Omer Asik on the interior. Both were added to the roster prior to the start of the season. The return of power forward Patrick Patterson to the lineup gives the team additional frontcourt depth. The Rockets haven’t reached the playoffs since the 2009 campaign.
- According to a SI.com report, Washington Wizards guard John Wall will return to lineup within the next two weeks. Wall has yet to play a game this season as he continues to rehab from a left knee injury. The Wizards own the league’s worst record at 4-27 in a season where some thought they’d be in the playoff hunt.