Due to a troublesome left wrist injury, Raja Bell has largely stayed off of NBA radar this year.
Then again, it’s tough to say how how prevalent a blip on the radar screen Bell would have been even if he had played. Though once regarded as a lockdown defender, Bell’s lateral movement had already begun to decline during his season with the Charlotte Bobcats in 2008-2009. He still has worth as a stand-still three-point shooter, but the defensive skills and tenacity Bell used to earn a spot in the league are a bit diminished.
That isn’t to say Bell is no longer a good defender, just that he doesn’t quite have the mobility to keep up with elite perimeter scorers. Bell can still be a horse in the defensive stable, but should probably be the second or third horse in line. Only this particular horse has the opportunity to choose his own stable this summer, and this metaphor has quickly gone from pretty bad to incomprehensible.
Anyway, Bell, who despite losing lockdown defender status is still a serviceable NBA player, is an unrestricted free agent at this very moment (he does not have to wait for free agency to begin because he was not on an NBA roster at the end of the 2009-2010 regular season), and will make his comeback next year. According to Bell, the Miami Heat are his first choice, should Pat Riley require Raja’s services.
It’s tough to say whether this move is motivated by basketball or personal affairs, mostly due to the potential for turnover with the Heat’s roster. The only players guaranteed a contract for next season are Michael Beasley, Mario Chalmers, Daequan Cook, and probably Joel Anthony. It seems more and more likely that Dwyane Wade will come back to the Heat in 2010, but right now the situation is anything but certain. There’s definitely potential for Miami to be a quality playoff team next season in the East, but we won’t really know until we know, will we?
Miami is also Bell’s hometown, where he played both high school and college ball (Florida International).
It’s unclear exactly what kind of salary Bell could command at this point, but assuming the Heat are looking to surround a core of Wade and another star with veterans, Raja could get the call. He won’t be a high salary player, and could definitely be a target to fill in the role on the wing that James Jones was supposed to occupy, but hasn’t been able to.