Cavs' Wallace hints at retirement

Updated: May 31, 2009, 10:59 AM ET
By Chris Broussard | ESPN.com

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Cleveland Cavaliers' crushing defeat at the hands of the Orlando Magic Saturday may not have been their only loss. Ben Wallace, their enforcer and starting center for most of the season, said after the game that he may retire.

"I'm going to sit down and talk with my family, weigh my options and come up with a decision," the 34-year-old Wallace said after Cleveland's 103-90 loss. "Nothing's definite, but there's a strong possibility that this was my last season."

Ben Wallace
Wallace

Wallace has one year and $14 million left on his contract. He has not yet spoken with Cavaliers management about retirement or a buyout.

"I haven't talked to Ben at all about his future," said general manager Danny Ferry, who was surprised to hear about Wallace's comments.

Wallace, a veteran of 13 seasons, sighted his declining health as a major reason he may hang up his sneakers. He missed 25 games due to injury this season, sitting out with a right forearm laceration, a fractured right fibula, a bruised left knee and a strained left patella tendon.

"It's tough being on the sidelines when you're banged up," he said. "Then you've got to put in all that work to get back in the rotation. It's becoming a young man's game."

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If Wallace chooses to retire, he will almost certainly seek a buyout since retiring outright would cost him next season's salary. But he said money will not be the determining factor in his decision.

"I think I deserve [a buyout]," Wallace said. "But if I don't get one and I've just got to give it up, that's what I'll do."

Despite Wallace's declining production, losing him would be a big blow to the Cavaliers. With Anderson Varejao, who replaced Wallace in the starting lineup during the playoffs, and Joe Smith both becoming free agents, the only returning big man in their rotation would be Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who will turn 34 next week.

A Wallace retirement would also give Varejao added leverage in contract negotiations this summer. As a restricted free agent last year, Varejao sat out nearly half the season due to a contract dispute. He's unrestricted this year and his agent, Dan Fegan, is likely to seek a long-term deal worth about $10 million annually.

But re-signing Varejao at that type of number could hinder the Cavaliers' ability to sign a star free agent such as Chris Bosh in the summer of 2010.

Wallace, who was nicknamed "Body" by his teammates because of his imposing physique, has been one of the most inspiring stories in the NBA. Undrafted out of Virginia Union, he became a star in his fifth season.

Traded from Orlando to Detroit in 2000 as part of a package for Grant Hill, he became the league's premier rebounder and shot blocker. A four-time all-star and four-time Defensive Player of the Year, he anchored the Pistons' championship team that upset the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004.

After signing a four-year, $60 million deal with Chicago as a free agent in 2006, Wallace was traded to Cleveland last season.

He's averaged 10.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks for his career, including a career-high 15.4 rebounds in 2002-03. Wallace averaged just 6.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks for the Cavs this season. Coming off the bench against the Magic, he averaged 2.7 rebounds in 12 minutes this series.

Wallace, who is less than a year's worth of credits away from graduating from Virginia Union, said he plans to earn his bachelor's degree and then attend law school once he retires.

Chris Broussard is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.