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The NBA's 2015 free agency period hasn't even officially begun yet, but it's hard to imagine a more surprising and bizarre story unfolding than the one in which Luke Ridnour has starred over the past week. After being employed by five teams over the course of a 12-year NBA career, the veteran point guard has now been employed by — or, more accurately, had his rights owned by — five teams in the span of six days.
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The latest team to get into the Luke Ridnour business: the Toronto Raptors, who picked him up from the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday in exchange for the rights to Tomislav Zubcic, a 25-year-old big man whom Toronto selected late in the second round of the 2012 NBA draft.
Zubcic has played his whole pro career in Lithuania and Croatia, and is considered "unlikely to ever join the Thunder and may never make his way over to the NBA," according to Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman, who first reported the trade. The Thunder also reportedly sent Toronto some cash in the deal, creating a $2.85 million trade exception that general manager Sam Presti can use in a deal at some point over the next year.
This is the fourth time Ridnour's been traded in less than a week, beginning with his move from the Magic — for whom he made 47 appearances last season, averaging four points and two assists in 14.5 minutes per game — to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for the rights to Latvian forward Janis Timma, a 2013 second-rounder currently playing overseas. Next, the Grizzlies sent the reserve point guard to the Charlotte Hornets — with whom he'd spent the latter part of the 2013-14 season, back when they were called the Bobcats — in a swap for swingman Matt Barnes.
The Hornets promptly flipped Ridnour and a conditional 2016 second-round pick to the Thunder for young wing Jeremy Lamb. And now, after five days of relative calm, Ridnour's on the move again, as our own Kelly Dwyer suggested last week that he would be.
All this movement has led to some jokes:
You may be asking: What's made Ridnour, a 34-year-old caretaker type, such a compulsively movable piece all of a sudden? The answer: his $2.75 million contract for the 2015-16 season is totally unguaranteed, and doesn't become guaranteed until July 11.
That means any team that acquires him can use him as a chip to match up salaries with a prospective trade partner or waive him and instantly create $2.75 million in cap space. It's a no- or low-cost path to free cash, some additional deal-making flexibility and/or an open roster spot to add a new piece or sign a draft pick. According to NBA.com's John Schuhmann, other players with significant nonguaranteed contracts for next season include Denver Nuggets shooting guard Randy Foye, Milwaukee Bucks forward Caron Butler and Cleveland Cavaliers center Brendan Haywood.
Ridnour's weird week calls to mind the NBA-trotting journey of Alonzo Gee, who signed a three-year, $9.75 million contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the fall of 2012, in which the final season was wholly unguaranteed. Once that final year hit, Gee became an NBA pinball, bouncing from Cleveland to Charlotte to New Orleans to Houston to Sacramento in less than three months before eventually convincing the Kings to waive him and let him out of that deal.
Freed from his non-guaranteed pact, Gee inked a one-year, $1.1 million league-minimum deal with the Nuggets ... who then sent him to the Portland Trail Blazers at the trade deadline as ballast in a deal headlined by Arron Afflalo.
“Nobody thinks about this side of the business,” Gee told Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins after the deal. “[...] This feels different. They don’t just want the contract. They want me.”
Gee's now a free agent, free to sign with any suitor he chooses. While Ridnour's reportedly a favorite of Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, who was an assistant coach with the Seattle SuperSonics when Ridnour broke into the league in 2003, he's expected to be waived or traded by Toronto again before the July 11 guarantee date, and could join Gee in unrestricted free agency. After their compressed trips around the NBA world, you'd figure neither would be especially keen on signing any more contracts with unguaranteed final seasons.
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