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OutletPass
07-01-2003, 06:50 AM
Free-agent market has star power
By Terry Brown
NBA Insider
Monday, June 30
Updated: June 30
11:19 AM ET


Most NBA fans probably don't know John Salmons from Randy Halcomb, but throw in Mark Bryant and you've got the package the San Antonio Spurs sent to the Philadelphia Sixers for point guard Speedy Claxton on June 26, 2002.


Almost one year later, Claxton would score 13 points on 5 of 8 shooting to go along with four assists in only 23 minutes in the sixth game of the NBA Finals as the Spurs defeated the Nets to win the 2003 title.

Now, it is June 30, 2003, and most NBA fans don't know that Speedy is now a restricted free agent from a team openly courting Jason Kidd with Tony Parker already on the roster probably because there are also names like Jermaine O'Neal, Elton Brand, Karl Malone, Gary Payton and Gilbert Arenas already on the market.

But even with all of those big names out there, chances are Speedy or somebody just like him through trade or free agency could help determine the 2004 NBA Title.

With all 29 teams able to begin talks with free agents beginning tomorrow and actually sign them on July 16, here's the news from around the league with one four-player trade already in the books:

Minnesota Timberwolves: "This definitely is just a beginning,'' team owner Glen Taylor told the Pioneer Press shortly after trading Joe Smith and Anthony Peeler to the Milwaukee Bucks for Sam Cassell and Ervin Johnson. "We've got a lot more work to do." Even with Johnson on the roster, the Timberwolves are concerned about incumbent center Rasho Nesterovic who is drawing interest from Toronto and New York even though Minnesota would love to talk to Alonzo Mourning. "I think we just want to know where we sit with Rasho," Taylor said. "But Rasho's our No. 1, so that's what we prefer to do." Of course, Terrell Brandon's name came up over the weekend. "We've got a deal that we can do,'' Taylor said. "We're just seeing if we can get it better, or if there are a couple of other deals that might be better. We've got a couple of other teams that have asked us to wait and see. Each deal gives us about three players, but we want a starter, and (with) the other two we're just helping the other team out. So they've got to be good bench guys for us. I think we've got to be patient on the Terrell thing."

Milwaukee Bucks: "We feel good where we are right now," Bucks general manager Ernie Grunfeld said in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Our first option is (signing) Gary; obviously we want to retain him. If that doesn't work out, we will have some money to use to get other players. We will see how the whole market goes, see what type of player we need and act accordingly." Well, that was obviously said before Grunfeld became the former GM of the Bucks but it doesn't change the fact that Milwaukee is the only team that can offer Gary Payton $14.18M for one season while most other suitors can offer him only the mid-level exception expected to be around $4.8M.


Antoine Walker could be headed to New York.
New York Knicks: The New York Daily News is reporting that the Knicks are attempting to trade for all star power forward Antoine Walker. The story says that the Knicks are opening up talks by offering Latrell Sprewell since both players will make about $28M over the next two seasons but will also consider a package that would include Kurt Thomas, Charlie Ward, Clarence Weatherspoon and/or Othello Harrington.

Houston Rockets: Already stocked with young talent in the form of Stevie Francis and Yao Ming, the Rockets are looking for some seasoned players in free agency. "As we identify the positions that we want to fill on the team, we'd like to have people that are veterans to stabilize," Carroll Dawson said in Houston Chronicle. "It doesn't have to be old people, but it has to be somebody that is established in the league. Whether we are able to get some of those or not, we have to go through the summer league and see what happens and fill in the team along that vein. Right now, it's hard to say whether there will be any of those or not."

Orlando Magic: If Grant Hill isn't going to work out for the Orlando Magic, how about Lamar Odom? "If things broke perfectly, there are some good things that could happen for us," coach Doc Rivers said in the Florida Today. "But certain teams out there have to act normal and that's kind of scary for us right now." With Hill expected to miss the upcoming season, the Magic could have three salary-cap exceptions available to sign free agents: the $4.8 million medical exception for Hill, the $4.8 million mid-level exception and the $1.5 million veteran's exception. "We still have a chance to look like a very young team with the acquisition of one or two more players that are in their age group, that can play together for the next 10 years. That would be tremendous for us," GM John Gabriel said in the Orlando Sentinel. "We always believed that Grant Hill, in good faith, would be back. So we put our finger in the dam with [Patrick] Ewing and Horace [Grant] and Shawn [Kemp]. Now we're taking the approach that, at this point, Grant won't be back and that maybe it's not the best thing" to sign an older veteran. It hasn't worked as well for us."

Los Angeles Lakers: Today could very well be the last day for Robert Horry as a Los Angeles Lakers. The Los Angeles Times is reporting the team will not exercise the $5.5M option on his contract which would make him a free agent on Tuesday. "We're not closing the door regardless of what happens on Monday, that's for sure," Coach Phil Jackson said. "Robert Horry misses one shot that goes in and out of the basket that could have made a difference between a championship year and being disappointed we're going home. He did not have a playoff that was up to his standards or up to his qualifications as a player. And, yet, he's serviced us extremely well here and played very well under my tutelage here. I'm very proud he played with us for the four years he has. He was probably the most important player for me as a clutch player and an intelligent player on the floor. No way we can walk away from that without thinking about him, what his talents can do for us as a team, and what the sacrifices are we have to make." The Lakers are expected to offer him the veteran's minimum of around $1.4M and then go after a younger power forward.

Denver Nuggets: It isn't often that an NBA club gets $18M in salary cap space and Denver GM Kiki Vandeweghe plans on taking full advantage of it. "We only get one swing at this," he told the Denver Post. "A general manager gets to spend $18 million ineffectively only once in his career. So we've got to do it right . . . Why wait? Why not go for it?" And going for it could mean center Alonzo Mourning who is said to admire coach Jeff Bzdelik from previous years of working together in Miami. It could also mean re-signing power forward Juwan Howard. "Honestly, I don't know what they're talking about," Howard told The Denver Post of reports of him going to several different teams. "I'm not locked to go to either (the Lakers or Bulls). I don't know where they get these rumors. But I haven't spoken to (the Lakers or Bulls), and I'll wait and see on July 1 about who would like to have me on their team next season. And that's Denver included . . . Denver is a possibility. I never once ruled Denver out from the day that I knew I'd be a free agent this summer. I've always admired the organization. They're a first-class organization. They've always treated me with respect and supported me. I want to give the same to them in return." It could also mean getting a new point guard in Gilbert Arenas. "I spoke to (Arenas) about Carmelo Anthony when they selected him. And of the players that were available in the draft, (Anthony's) the guy that he wanted to play with the most," agent Dan Fegan said in the Denver Post. "He felt that Carmelo, by proving it in college, was ahead of the game of a high school player (LeBron James). He was very excited that Denver drafted Carmelo. At the end of the day, it's Denver's job to show Gilbert where they are going, how they are going to get there and make the commitment financially."

Philadelphia 76ers: Philadelphia has made a qualifying offer to power forward Kenny Thomas in order to retain their right of first refusal should another team come after the restricted free agent. The Daily News is reporting that President Billy King has said re-signing forward Kenny Thomas is the 76ers' top priority, saying: "you need big guys in this league." Philly Daily News. Thomas made $1,557,683 last season and the qualifying offer is worth $2,225,526, but is open to negotiation.

Utah Jazz: Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller wasn't born yesterday and this isn't the first time he's had contract negotiations with Karl Malone. "If he went to Dallas, or if he went to San Antonio, I don't think he'd get enough chances." he said to the Boston Globe of the Hall of Famer's chances of becoming the NBA's all time leading scorer. "If he goes to LA, how is he going to get 20 touches a game? I don't think it's a slam dunk. He has a difficult decision to make. But we owe it to him to let him do whatever his heart tells him to do and then try to facilitate that the best way we can." But that doesn't mean the Jazz aren't going to try to keep him in the fold, either. "The first phone call we're going to make is to Karl and (agent) Dwight (Manley)," said Kevin O'Connor, the Jazz vice president of basketball operations, in the Deseret News. "We'll meet with them as soon as they can, and as soon as they want." But Malone's camp isn't new at this, either. "The team, as it sits now, is not at the level of past Jazz teams, competitiveness-wise," agent Dexter Manley said. "The other thing is (Jazz owner) Larry (H. Miller) is telling Karl he must take a big pay cut to get these so-called big free agents that are out there. OK, who are they? Karl wants to know, 'Who are they?' All he's saying is 'Who?'"

Dallas Mavericks: Everybody's saying that Dallas is in the running for Jason Kidd. Everyone, that is, except head coach Don Nelson. "We've got two All-Stars at that position [point guard]," he told the Dallas Morning News. "When you think of the Dallas Mavericks, that's not the first thing that jumps to your mind as an area [that needs] improvement." Nelson would rather talk about specific needs like interior scoring and rebounding and how Alonzo Mourning or Karl Malone might be able to help the team should they accept the $4.8M or $1.5M exceptions available to the Mavs.

Chicago Bulls: Realizing that they may have to eventually settle for the likes of Ira Newble, Chicago is still trying to sign former Bull Scottie Pippen, who is looking for the mid-level exception and a post-playing position. The Bulls won't offer him any form of minority ownership, but the Chicago Sun Times is reporting that GM John Paxson might offer him an assistant GM position after the season ends.

Los Angeles Clippers: Mark Heisler sticks his tongue in his cheek and outlines the plan to, once and for all, make th Los Angeles Clippers a contender in an open letter to notorious tightwad Donald Sterling. "With Brand at $10 million a year, Olowokandi at $6 million, Odom at $7 million, Maggette at $5 million, Andre Miller gone (he probably won't stay if you try to keep him), your payroll will be $43 million. You'll net at least $10 million next season, plus $8 million in rebates for staying under the luxury-tax threshold and $10 million in expansion fees from Charlotte. That's $28 million which should boost your profits for the last four seasons over $50 million."