LOU WILLIAMS wants to be playing for the 76ers this upcoming season. President Rod Thorn and coach Doug Collins want him to be back in his normal role as scoring guard off the bench.
But Williams also wants to see how much interest there is in him throughout the league and what kind of contract might be offered to him by other teams. It is the reason he has decided to opt out of his final contract year with the Sixers. He was scheduled to make $6.39 million in the final year of a 5-year, $25 million deal.
Williams has spent each of his seven seasons with the Sixers, mostly in a reserve role, starting just 38 of his 455 regular-season games. He led the team in scoring this past season with 14.9 points a game (a career high), becoming the first player since Dell Curry in 1993-94 with the Charlotte Hornets to be the team's top scorer despite not starting a game. For his career, Williams, 25, has averaged 11.3 points on 42.1 percent shooting.
There is little doubt the Sixers would want to keep the 6-1 guard, since scoring was a problem most of last season and losing the leading scorer would certainly hurt. Plus, Collins is a big fan of having scoring punch coming off his bench, an advantage for his team this past season.
"We'd like to sign him, if at all possible," said Thorn. "He wants to test the waters. To become an unrestricted free agent doesn't happen often, maybe once or twice in a career. He wants to see what's out there. He has said he wants to stay with us, but we'll have to wait and see what happens."
A league source said the interest in Williams throughout the league is "significant" and that a contract to land him could be "in the Thaddeus Young range." Before this past season, Young signed a 5-year deal worth close to $43 million.
"It's impossible to gauge [how much a team would be willing to pay] because there are so many teams who have money and Lou certainly is a good player," Thorn said. "The natural inclination is for teams who have money to spend some of it, of course. The last couple of years, there are a lot of teams that have gotten way under the salary cap and I'm sure that Lou will get some interest from teams."
The Williams situation is just one of many facing the team. Starting center Spencer Hawes is an unrestricted free agent and, as the league source said, "There are a lot of teams interested in him. Who wouldn't be? He's a big man who can do a lot of things and is only 24 years old." Several sources have said Hawes could garner anywhere from $5 million to $7 million a season.
The team also needs to decide whether it will amnesty the contract of Elton Brand, who is scheduled to make $18.16 million next season. The team would pay Brand that money, but it would come off their salary cap. Doing this seems to be a no-brainer, if the new ownership group is OK with writing that check. If they do amnesty Brand, and can't sign Williams and/or Hawes, that would free some money, perhaps allowing the team to go after a coveted free agent (maybe Orlando's Ryan Anderson, a restricted free agent).
They would like to keep Temple product Lavoy Allen, whose 1-year rookie deal is up. Allen's play in the playoffs probably upped his price range to about $2 million a season. The Sixers, already short on strong, big men, can ill afford to lose Allen.
Those decisions don't even include the all-important draft on June 28. The Sixers will have picks at the 15th, 45th and 54th spots. They have stated they want a big, athletic type, but that may hinge on whether they feel Williams is likely to return. If they feel he isn't, do they target a scoring guard with the 15th pick (Washington's Terrence Ross or Duke's Austin Rivers)?
"We can make contact [with Williams] on the first [of July]," Thorn said. "We certainly would like to know what's going to happen out there, but at the same time you've got to be cognizant of your salary cap in moving forward." n