Brent Barry is an MVP of a different sort--a most versatile
player. And that makes the SuperSonics guard a desirable
commodity during the trading season. Barry's chameleon ability to
change roles may mean he'll be changing uniforms after the Feb.
19 trade deadline.
The Sonics, 19-19 and 10th in the Western Conference at week's
end, don't want to trade the 6'6" Barry, who leads the team in
assists with 5.3 per game and is hitting 44.2% of his
three-pointers, fifth best in the NBA. But they're aware that
someone might make an offer they can't refuse--preferably an
explosive big man. Top contenders such as the Pacers and the
Rockets would benefit from Barry's playmaking, scoring and
leadership. Rebuilding teams covet him too, because when he
becomes a free agent this summer, they can erase his salary of
$5.4 million from the books. "A lot of people will want him for
different reasons," says Seattle coach Nate McMillan. "We have to
be careful with what we do, because he's the glue to our team."
Barry's leadership is a key reason why the young, perimeter-heavy
Sonics are contending for a Western playoff spot. The nine-year
veteran has held the team together despite injuries to main
scoring threat Ray Allen, who missed the first 25 games while
recovering from ankle surgery, and to rookie power forward Nick
Collison, who was expected to be Seattle's low-post scorer until
shoulder surgery ended his season before it had begun. McMillan
might wish the 215-pound Barry, an athletic slasher, were a
little more selfish--he's averaging 10.8 points per game, fifth
on the team--but Barry is comfortable shepherding his teammates.
"I really don't think the scoring mentality is in me, which
sounds funny to old-school NBA people when you mention the name
Barry--they tend to think, Shoot first, and shoot second," says
Brent, referring to the legacy of his Hall of Fame father, Rick.
"But my job is to help guys along and pull guys aside, which is
good for the team."
While phone lines are always busy as the midseason deadline
approaches, most teams are looking to unload high-priced
baggage--Portland's Rasheed Wallace, Dallas's Antawn Jamison and
Antoine Walker, Miami's Eddie Jones and Brian Grant, and
Atlanta's Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Theo Ratliff and Jason Terry.
Barry is an exception, and Seattle general manager Rick Sund
seems willing to move him under either of two conditions: If
Barry indicates before the trade deadline that he probably won't
re-sign with Seattle this summer or if a team proposes a
multiplayer package that gives the Sonics the dynamic inside
player they need to keep pace in the West.
If no deal materializes, Sund and McMillan will spend the second
half of the season trying to sneak into a playoff spot,
evaluating their wealth of young shooters and trying to sniff out
the 2004 draft's version of Jamaal Magloire or Brad Miller. In
the summer they'll be able to outbid rivals for Barry, though
money may not be the determining factor if Barry decides he wants
to spend his remaining years playing for a contender--something
he's never done while bouncing from the Clippers to the Heat to
the Bulls before landing with Seattle in 1999.
The Sonics would also need to decide how many years to offer a
32-year-old player who's occasionally bothered by knee
tendinitis. "He did a real good job alongside Gary Payton, and
now he's adjusted very well to Ray Allen while playing an
entirely different role," says Sund, who joined the Sonics last
season. "I respect Brent's game a lot more now that I'm seeing
him every day."
COLOR PHOTO: JEFF REINKING/GETTY IMAGES Barry's leadership on the floor is as valuable to Seattle as hisability to create.