If you're not up on your mid-90's Bullets history, it's easy to forget Jim McIlvaine (who turned 43 on Thursday) started his NBA career in Washington.
After spending two years behind the Bullets' deep front line of Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Rasheed Wallace and Gheorghe Muresan, McIlvaine signed a 7 year, $33 million deal with the Sonics. Seattle was looking to beef up their frontline to make another run at the Bulls after falling short in the 1996 NBA Finals. Problem was, when the Sonics signed McIlvaine to that monster deal, they didn't bother to re-work Shawn Kemp's deal. This angered Kemp to the point where he asked for a trade a year later.
It's hard to blame Kemp for wanting a new deal. McIlvaine made more money than Kemp in Seattle, even though he averaged 14.9 points and 6.0 rebounds less than Kemp. In hindsight, the Sonics were a little too far ahead of the game when it came to valuing big men who can protect the rim, and the overpay cost them a chance at maximizing the prime years of the Payton-Kemp duo.
Still, it's hard to blame Seattle, considering how he finished his tenure in Washington. Some late season injuries for the Bullets opened up playing time for McIlvaine to finish the season, and he took full advantage of it. He started the last final six games, and established himself as an excellent rim protector. He had a 12 point, 8 rebound, and 5 block game against Minnesota, and had two six-block performances in that stretch as well.
But the performance that made him a big target in free agency came in the final game of the season, against the Chicago Bulls. Michael Jordan and company has already won 71 games that season, and only trotted their key players out for nominal playing time on the road at the USAir Arena.
McIlvaine saw an opportunity to pad his stats against the Bulls' reserves and ran with it. He finished with six points, nine blocks and 11 rebounds to set the stage for a big payday that summer. If only he could have gotten some more touches from Juwan Howard (who shot 28 times in the loss, and like McIlvaine, was about to hit free agency) he could've possibly put himself in position to end the season with a triple-double.
In a different time and on a better contract, maybe we could have appreciated Jim McIlvaine's for who he was, rather than the contract that defines his career. But since we can't, just enjoy the highlights.