The Washington Post

Nick Young, other NBA free agents play a waiting game

Nick Young was the Wizards’ leading scorer last season at 17.4 points per game. (Morry Gash/AP)

When the NBA decided to have the free agency signing period coincide with the start of training camps, it was bound to create a dilemma because most deals take considerable time to consummate. What used to be resolved between July and October now has to get done in less than three weeks if free agents hope to play on opening night.

As the Washington Wizards continue to hold two-a-day practices in his absence, restricted free agent Nick Young finds himself in a difficult position. He likely can’t sign an offer sheet with another team until other free agent signings (Nene, Arron Afflalo) or trades (Chris Paul? Dwight Howard?) occur and teams know how much salary cap space is available.

Only a few shooting guards have been taken off the market.

Marcus Thornton re-signed with Sacramento, Shannon Brown took a one-year deal in Phoenix and Tracy McGrady landed in Atlanta. Thornton signed a deal (four years, $31 million) that is closer to the annual salary that Young would prefer, but few teams have the means to offer that much. New Orleans and New Jersey have money, but the Hornets are trying to deal Paul and the Nets are in pursuit of Howard.

Jamal Crawford, Rodney Stuckey, the recently bought-out Richard Hamilton and the recently amnestied Gilbert Arenas are also competing for the same jobs, though Arenas can likely be had at a much lower cost. Hamilton also appears set for a two-year deal with Chicago that would eliminate another potential location for Young.

But while Young waits to get the sizeable contract that he desires, the Wizards’ ability to retain their other free agents — Maurice Evans and Josh Howard — remains somewhat on hold because the team doesn’t know how much money it would have available to spend — especially if Young signs a front-loaded offer sheet.

Evans and Howard are speaking with other teams in the interim. Evans would like to come back, but has drawn interest from New York.

Howard continues to keep the Wizards in the mix despite getting offers from San Antonio and Utah, according to people with knowledge of the situation. Howard met with the Jazz in North Carolina on Tuesday, a league source confirmed. He is also considering Portland, New Jersey and Denver.

The Wizards have tendered a $3.7 million qualifying offer to Young that he may have to settle for if the situation drags on much longer. Washington will play its first preseason game against Philadelphia on Friday and starts the regular season on Dec. 26.

With that in mind, Coach Flip Saunders and his staff can’t plan for anyone who isn’t around, so the starting spot that Young had when he last played isn’t assured when or if he comes back.

Saunders has repeatedly praised Jordan Crawford for his efforts in practice, and Roger Mason Jr. has also played well and provided leadership for the second unit.

“Everyone that’s here is ahead in the depth chart. We don’t have those guys right now,” Saunders said of Young, Evans and Howard. “They are not on the depth chart right now.”

Young, the Wizards’ leading scorer last season at 17.4 points per game, played regularly during the lockout and is working out on a daily basis in Los Angeles. But he hasn’t played an NBA game since March 27 and missed 16 of the final 18 games of the regular season. Crawford filled in admirably at the end of the last season, developing chemistry with John Wall and averaging 19.3 points in 18 starts. He isn’t interested in returning to the bench after getting most of the first-team repetitions through the first five days of practice.

“I’m looking forward to going out there and starting, and if Nick come back, he’ll be a great asset to the team,” Crawford said.

Young has been working out each morning but getting back in game shape could take awhile.

“I think anybody that comes in is going to be behind,” Saunders said. “No matter who you are, you can’t be in a situation where you’ve missed four practices, four days or whatever, come in and you haven’t played organized basketball in 10 months, and you’re going to step in and be able to compete at the level that these guys are. That is the negative of our guys that don’t get here.”

Young’s desire to get a long-term deal is understandable, since there is considerable risk to signing a qualifying offer to become an unrestricted free agent a year later. Since rookie scale contracts were established in 1995, only 10 players have taken that route, including Spencer Hawes, who signed his one-year, $4.1 qualifying offer from Philadelphia before this season.

Restricted free agents are at a decided disadvantage because teams have to be confident that they can retain a player before tying up their money for three days. Marc Gasol flirted with Houston before signing a four-year, $58 million deal with Memphis; Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan signed an offer sheet with Golden State that was eventually matched; and Philadelphia tied up Thaddeus Young for $42 million without much delay.

Either way, the Wizards have plenty of power with the first right of refusal on any deal Young signs, and they certainly aren’t putting the season on pause as he deliberates.

“The positive is, you have guys here and we are comfortable with the guys that we have that they are going to step in and it’s not like we’re taking a big, big step back,” Saunders said. “What happens is, it hurts you depth-wise. Hopefully, we’ll get some things resolved in the next few days and see what happens.”



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