BOSTON – Free agency the second time around proved different, less stressful and exponentially more rewarding for James Posey. He wasted little time in cashing on his burnished image as consummate glue guy, role player extraordinaire and overall locker-room gray eminence by signing with the New Orleans Hornets for four years and $25-plus million.
New Orleans’ gain is Boston’s loss, for Posey played an integral part in the Celtics’ first NBA championship in 22 years. “Without James Posey, there is no championship,’’ Danny Ainge said. He’s right about that. But the Celtics were unwilling to go to four years out of the mid-level exception slot for Posey and, as the 31-year-old forward had insisted all along, “this is a business.”
Business is booming for Posey right now. He signed in the third week of July after getting attractive offers from a number of teams. He got what he wanted in terms of money and years. You could have made a case that he was the most valued free agent on the market after other marquee names (Baron Davis, Elton Brand, Corey Maggette) had moved on to other teams.
You could also make a case that Posey was deserving of everything he got this time around – and not just because of what he did on the court for the Celtics. He was due for some peace of mind after last summer, when he was also a free agent (but not nearly as hot) and whose team was coming off a four-game sweep in the first round (rather than an NBA title.)
He also was facing a charge of reckless driving in Miami, a bogus situation (he hadn’t even been behind the wheel) that was, nonetheless, out there at the time and went unresolved until August, when he pleaded no contest.
“It was one of the most stressful summers of my life,’’ Posey said. “I was thinking bad thoughts. It was a very long summer for me, very frustrating not knowing what was going to happen.”
Just as he had hoped to return to Boston this time around, and his teammates lobbied hard for him to come back, Posey had hoped last summer to return to the Miami Heat, despite their disappointing playoff performance. But Miami, like Boston, had luxury-tax concerns even though Heat owner Micky Arison (of Carnival Cruise Lines fame) can light his grill with $100 bills and never know what he’s lost. (The Heat still ended up sending a check for more than $8 million to the NBA as, yup, a luxury-tax payer in 2007-2008. That worked out to about $500,000 per victory.)
“I thought we’d saddle up again and make another run,’’ he said. “We still had Shaq. We still had D-Wade. Why not come back all committed and try it again?”
Then, Posey thought he had a deal lined up with the New Jersey Nets. But the Celtics’ coaching staff and future teammate Eddie House went into full-bore recruitment mode over the phone and convinced Posey to come to Boston, even though the Celtics were offering $3.2 million, half of what he had made in Miami the year before.
Posey took it, convinced, of course, that there was an excellent chance of winning. But he also had the second year as his option and, after his strong performance in the playoffs, he became exactly what he had not been the year before.
“Yes, it is different,’’ said Posey’s agent, Mark Bartelstein. “The big difference I think is that people once again got to see how valuable he is. If you’re simply going to look at his numbers, you are not going to understand how important James is. You won’t see the charges taken. You won’t see the defense. You won’t see him getting the loose balls. There are so many little things that he does to help a team win.”
Posey had spent the first two days of this week back in Boston, attending a reception on Monday night for the premiere of a DVD on the team’s championship season (where those in attendance chanted, “Re-sign Posey, Re-sign Posey”) and then appearing at a bookstore in Boston for more DVD-related publicity. Fans everywhere pleaded for him to re-sign with the Celtics. He said all along that Boston was his first choice and Boston clearly made Posey its top priority, but was unwilling or unable, to go where the Hornets went.
“It keeps coming back to you that this is a business,’’ Posey said. “For them (the Celtics) and for me. And, at the end of the day, they’re going to do what’s best for them and I’m going to do what’s best for me. You just have to sit back and see what happens. Everything happens for a reason.”
It certainly didn’t hurt Posey’s cause that he was on the NBA’s best team and made big plays time and again for them with much of the basketball world watching in the playoffs. There was his big steal from Tayshaun Prince in the closing stretch of the Celtics’ series-clinching win against the Pistons in Game 6 at the Palace of Auburn Hills. There were the back-breaking three-pointers against the Lakers in the big comeback win in Game 4 and again in Game 6.
In 74 games, Posey averaged 7.4 points and 4.4 rebounds. He shot 38 percent from three-point range. He was a big defensive presence and annually is among the best in the league in taking charges. But just as critical, or even more critical, was his off-the-court presence, which caused Doc Rivers, the Celtics coach, to say, “I had no idea he was this good in the locker room.”
That side of Posey was visible to everyone in giving encouraging hugs to all the starters before every game, or to just his teammates, when he stood up in a jubilant Boston locker room after the clincher over the Pistons to remind the players not to be too giddy, that there was more work to be done. The Hornets are the beneficiaries of that now and if he can impact them the way he did the Celtics, it is one wise signing.
The one potential downside of a four-year deal is that Posey will be 35 during Year No. 4. and likely earning in the range of $7 million. That might have scared away a number of teams who were in the Posey Hunt, including his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. (That noise you just heard was LeBron James firing needles into his Danny Ferry voodoo doll.) But recent history has shown that even under-performing players in the last year of their contracts have an inherent value in that they can morph into that treasured NBA commodity known as the “expiring contract.” (see: Ratliff, Theo.)
And the Celtics had to know that Posey’s history, both in the last year and throughout his career, indicated no hesitation whatsoever in relocating. The Hornets will be his sixth team as he begins his 10th year in the NBA.
“We always say we’re going to reward the guy who is selfless, who cares only about winning, who plays his role,’’ Bartelstein said. “And then we never reward the guy who is selfless, who cares only about winning, who plays his role.”
Posey was rewarded. The Hornets answered the only remaining questions: how much and by whom. And in so doing, they made it a lot easier on Posey this time around. He didn’t sign with the Celtics until Aug. 27 last summer. He’ll already have had nearly six weeks as a Hornet by the time that anniversary rolls around in 2008.