- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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If the NBA's 2002 draft were re-staged today, it's not a major stretch to suggest that a slender, long-limbed lefty named Tayshaun Prince would be a top-three overall pick instead of No. 23.
At the very least, Prince is now the third-richest player to emerge from the first round of that draft.
That was confirmed Sunday evening, when the Detroit Pistons and their perimeter defensive ace reached an agreement in principle on a five-year contract extension believed to be worth at least $47 million.
Pistons president Joe Dumars and Bill Duffy, the agent for Prince, told ESPN.com that the deal will be formally signed Monday, just in time to beat the Halloween deadline on extensions for players entering their fourth season. Without an extension before the Oct. 31 buzzer, Prince would have become a restricted free agent July 1.
The only fellow 2002 first-rounders ahead of Prince monetarily are Houston's Yao Ming (taken No. 1 overall) and Phoenix's
Amare Stoudemire (No. 9), both of whom recently received maximum five-year extensions worth in excess of $70 million. Carlos Boozer, selected in the second round by Cleveland in '02, signed a six-year deal with Utah worth $68 million before last season.
Denver power forward Nene (No. 7 overall), New Jersey center
Nenad Krstic (No. 24) and Golden State swingman Mike Dunleavy (No. 3) also rank as '02 successes, but Prince is the only member of that draft class with a championship ring, having played a significant role on the Detroit teams that made back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals.
"The Pistons have believed in Tayshaun from the start," Duffy said. "This is where he wants to be. Many teams overlooked him, but Joe Dumars has always recognized Tayshaun's talent and his resolve."
After more than a month of negotiations, with the Prince camp seeking $50 million and the Pistons hoping to keep the deal in the $45 million range, Sunday's accord means Detroit will have only one prominent free agent to re-sign next summer instead of two.
Ben Wallace, Detroit's defensive anchor, becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1. Although the 31-year-old is sure to attract considerable interest on the open market, no one really expects Wallace to leave the team and city where he became an All-Star rebounding machine and a cult hero synonymous with the Pistons' hard-hat style.
In the interim, Prince joins Rasheed Wallace (four seasons left at nearly $48 million) and Richard Hamilton (five seasons left at just over $50 million) on the list of Pistons starters with long-term deals. The 6-foot-9, 215-pounder added some offense to his game last season, averaging a career-best 14.7 points and 5.3 rebounds.
Billups quickly became classified as a bargain when the well-traveled point guard was named NBA Finals MVP after leading the Pistons to a 4-1 rout of the favored Lakers for the 2004 championship. He has three seasons left on his contract, at $19.1 million, but Billups also has an opt-out in his contract after the 2006-07 season and will almost certainly exercise it to seek a raise.
Milicic, drafted No. 2 overall behind LeBron James in the 2003 draft, will also be eligible for an extension in the summer of 2007. If Milicic continues to build on the early hints of progress seen under new coach Flip Saunders, and if the Pistons decide they want to keep him, they face the rare prospect of a payroll with six lucrative long-term deals entering the 2007-08 season.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
2hMarc Stein and Mike Mazzeo
4dIan O'Connor, ESPN Senior Writer