On a March evening at the Staples Center in 2008, the Sacramento Kings could breathe easy knowing that they had just survived a last-second game winning attempt by Kobe Bryant and the powerhouse Los Angeles Lakers. The struggling Kings escaped with a 114-113 win after two game winning free throws by Beno Udrih, the game's unsung hero who capped off his 44 minute night with 25 points, 10 assists, and a solid 6-for-6 performance from the free throw line. That win would be one of Sacramento's best of the season, and one of many excellent performances that would convince the Kings to give the Yugoslavian point guard a five-year, $32.3MM extension during that upcoming summer.
Today, Udrih finds himself as a backup in Milwaukee behind Brandon Jennings following a trade on draft night last year. After four consecutive seasons of averaging above 30 minutes per game (including a career high 34.1 minutes per game with the Kings last year), Beno has been relegated to Scott Skiles' bench and has averaged only 16.6 minutes per game this season. In his latest appearance, he tallied five points and three assists in only nine minutes.
It is no secret that his unhappiness is brewing, and Udrih recently vented his concerns a few days ago to Gery Woelfel of the Journal Times: "It's been frustrating; I'm not going to lie. Everybody that knows basketball a little bit knows it's tough coming from 34 minutes to 15 minutes."
The 6'3" guard makes $7.2MM this year and will be able to opt out of his contract this summer to enter free agency, but would be walking away from a guaranteed $7.8MM next year to do so. With very little playing time and sparse opportunities to prove his worth right now, it is not likely that other teams will offer a better annual salary next year.
In years past, Beno has shown that he can be productive with significant minutes. Just one season ago, he averaged nearly 14 PPG, 5 APG, and shot an excellent 50% from the field with 10 attempts per game. In the penultimate game of last season against the Thunder, the former Sacramento King delivered 21 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, and 4 steals in his matchup with Russell Westbrook. With a few solid performances this season in limited action (6 points and 7 assists in 15 minutes against the Rockets, 4 points and 7 assists in 16 minutes against the Lakers), there is reason to believe that he can return to old form on a team willing to give him consistent and significant playing time.
Should the Lakers fail in their apparent pursuit of Cavaliers point guard Ramon Sessions and/or unsuccesfully attempt to use their $8.9MM trade exception in another deal, focusing their attention toward acquiring Beno Udrih might certainly be a chance worth taking. Nearly four years after one of his best performances as an NBA player, the 29-year-old point guard may find a home with the team that he earned his stripes against that night. On the same token, with an aging Derek Fisher and Steve Blake struggling to find his shot, the Lakers could welcome a change at point guard with open arms.