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SI: Ben Wallace’s return not a slam dunk

Will Ben Wallace return next season?Marty Burns of Sports Illustrated rasies the question: Is Ben Wallace's return to Detroit as automatic as most people assume?

For most of the season it has been assumed that Ben Wallace, a free agent this summer, will re-sign with Detroit. The Pistons have said all along they want to keep their 6-foot-9 center, and Big Ben has said he is happy in Motown. Given that the Pistons can offer Wallace more money than any other team, it seems like a no-brainer.

But money often complicates simple matters. And the Big Ben situation is going to involve a lot of money. Perhaps as much as $100 million over six years.

Are the Pistons really willing to shell out that much for a soon-to-be 32-year-old whose game is so dependent on athleticism and energy? Won't GM Joe Dumars at least have to wonder if an aging Wallace can play at such a high level three or four years down the road? Keep in mind, any new deal for Big Ben might push Detroit over the luxury tax next season, and almost certainly in 2008 or '09.

Throw in a possible early Pistons' flameout in this year's playoffs, and it could get even more interesting.

"Detroit will re-sign him because they're not going to have to pay him [the max]," says one veteran agent. "You don't see many max deals anymore. And the only teams with [significant] cap room, like Chicago and Atlanta, probably aren't going to make him that kind of offer."

Now, before you get too excited, bear in mind that the article doesn't actually present any new information, it's merely exploring a possibility which has existed all season. The quote from the anonymous agent is interesting, but many Detroit fans have guessed as much already.

Everyone always mentions the Bulls, who'll have $12 million to $15 million of cap space to play with this summer, as a possible destination for Wallace if he doesn't return to Detroit, and as Burns goes on to say, it'd be a win-win situation for Chicago GM John Paxson to show interest: he'll either improve his frontcourt or drive up Wallace's contract with the Pistons.

It's true that Wallace has been relatively underpaid the last few years -- he's been the face of the franchise both on and off the court. However, you also can't deny that his skillset is based entirely upon his athleticism, and at the end of a six-year deal, he won't be nearly the same player as a 38-year-old as he is now at 32. It's a conundrum: do you overpay for him as a reward for everything he's done, or do you anticipate a decline and plan accordingly?

I have complete trust in Joe Dumars, and I'll respect whatever decision he ends up making, but this is going to be a hard one. What do you think?

Big change for Big Ben? [SI]