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07-01-2003, 01:11 PM
Sterling holds key to many teams' plans
By Chad Ford
NBA Insider
Send an Email to Chad Ford Tuesday, July 1
Updated: July 1
1:46 PM ET


Donald Sterling is driving the bus.


The NBA Draft may have been about LeBron James. The NBA Finals may have been about Tim Duncan and Jason Kidd.

But at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, Sterling became the biggest player in the NBA free agent market.

Tim Duncan might technically be a free agent. Jason Kidd might visit San Antonio, Dallas, Denver and anyone else who will kiss his feet. Jermaine O'Neal might be going crazy in Indiana, but not enough to switch conferences and face the likes of Duncan, Chris Webber, Kevin Garnett every night.

Alonzo Mourning has Mark Cuban and Kiki Vandeweghe on his doorstep. Gary Payton, Karl Malone and Juwan Howard are the silver-haired, blue-light specials of free agency.

That's all a given. But no one is going to have bigger impact on what happens to the balance of power this summer than Sterling. He has eight free agents. Five of them, are highly coveted throughout the league. Four of them are restricted. Most of them want to get the hell out of there. None of them have a clue whether they'll be playing in L.A. next year.

And the league's 28 other GMs are clueless on that point, too. If Denver is going to make a huge leap this summer, if the Spurs are going to add real depth to their roster, if the Jazz are going to replace John Stockton, if the Heat are going to add a real center, then this summer Sterling is going to have to do what he does best -- nothing.

Elton Brand
Power Forward
Los Angeles Clippers
Profile


2002-2003 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
62 18.5 11.3 2.5 .502 .685


For those of you following Insider's 18-month obsession with all things Clippers, you know the questions here aren't anything new. Last year, the debate raged all summer: Will the Clippers re-sign Michael Olowokandi? Will they extend Elton Brand, Lamar Odom or Corey Maggette? Will they lock up Andre Miller after trading Darius Miles for him last summer? No. No. And, well, no.

Sterling didn't deviate from the script. GM Elgin Baylor mumbled something at a few press conferences, Sterling talked about doing the right thing, and then the Clippers sat.

The season was a disaster. The team is in disarray. And as of late Monday night, Baylor still was sticking to the plan.

"Our plan is to try to make every effort to get our core group back for next season," Baylor told the L.A. Times. "We'll wait and see and do something of substance and start talking to agents [today]."

That has been the plan for the past three years. Talk. Maybe Baylor is still waiting while archeologists search for Sterling's wallet, buried thousands of years ago somewhere near the ancient city of Tanis.

Or maybe Baylor is shrewder than we all believe. Maybe he knew all along that by not blinking (apparently a side-effect of the cryogenic freezing process) his players would do his work for him. That they would disintegrate under the pressure, torpedo their own draft stock and make it much, much easier to swoop down and pick up the pieces.

Maybe.

But GMs are privately acknowledging that the biggest game of chicken isn't between Sterling and his players. It's between Sterling and the other 28 NBA teams.

Brand, Miller, Odom and Maggette are the big issues. The Spurs and Jazz would love to get their hands on Brand. The Heat have been high on Odom for years. And the Nuggets are in love with Maggette. But who is going to take the risk?

Who is going to extend an offer sheet and wait the 15 days (and you know the Clips will make you wait) sweating out whether Sterling and Baylor will match the offer? Meanwhile, all of the other top free agents are signing up with the first guy to offer them the cash.

"Sterling's in control," one GM told Insider. "He's got young, exciting players whose value has tarnished a bit from playing in L.A. Teams want them, but no one's sure how to go about getting them. It could really bog down the whole process. My guess is nothing gets resolved until August at the earliest."

That has the players nervous. One Clippers free agent told Insider last weekend about his fears. "There is no communication at all," the player told Insider. "We don't know what Mr. Sterling is going to do. I know other teams are interested, but you don't want to get stuck signing with another team thinking you're going to get out, only to find out you're stuck in L.A. for the next six years. It's going to be a long summer."

So what happens with the Clippers this summer?

Olowokandi is easy. He's an unrestricted free agent. Sterling has told Baylor he doesn't want him back. With a sign-and-trade likely out of the question, that leaves Olowokandi with three real options -- Denver, San Antonio and Miami.

Look for Brand to either take the team's one-year tender (making him an unrestricted free agent next year) or sign a deal at big numbers to stay in L.A. with an opt out after three seasons. Sterling is highest on Brand, and Brand wouldn't mind getting paid if he saw evidence the Clips were going to sign at least one other decent free agent. The Spurs and Jazz are making a hard push for Brand, but both believe the Clips would match any offer.

Lamar Odom
Small Forward
Los Angeles Clippers
Profile


2002-2003 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
49 14.6 6.7 3.6 .439 .777


Odom appears to be the next-highest player on their list. The problem for him? Ascertaining value. Injuries and substance-abuse problems have hurt his stock. He's a max-type talent with a mid-level head. Will he wait another year, try to turn things around and become an unrestricted free agent? Or will he try to get an offer sheet for something just over the mid-level and pray the Clips don't match? The Spurs, Nuggets and Heat all have the cash and interest in Odom to offer him more, but none of them appear sold on him as the savior. Numerous teams are interested at the mid-level mark, but everyone believes the Clips would match that type of offer sheet.

Miller has a much clearer road. With Marko Jaric and Keyon Dooling at the point, L.A. doesn't need him. He struggled in L.A. last season, impressed no one on the team and wants out badly. The Jazz and Nuggets appear to be duking it out for his services, but it still appears the Jazz will be the team that wins out. Why? The Nuggets like Miller but prefer Gilbert Arenas. Arenas' agent, Dan Fegan, is asking for too much money right now. Miller becomes the bargaining chip. If Fegan believes Denver really will sign Miller instead, will he back off his demand for a $9 million starting salary for Arenas? If he does, Gilbert will be in Denver next season.

Maggette is the most interesting of the Clips four restricted free agents. He was the only Clipper to have a great year, and many feel he's on the verge of becoming a superstar. At just 22 years of age, he's got a big, big upside. The Nuggets have really keyed in on him, but they will have a tough time figuring out how much to offer. Would the Clips match $6 million a year? Probably. $7 million? Maybe. Eight? No, but would the Nuggets be overpaying?

Only Sterling knows for sure. With only $11.7 million in committed salaries next season, Sterling is going to have to pay someone to stay in L.A. The league has minimum payroll requirements that will force Sterling to write checks for a couple of unlucky souls. Who will they be? That's what everyone else in the NBA would like to know.

Around the league
Karl Malone
Power Forward
Utah Jazz
Profile


2002-2003 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
81 20.6 7.8 4.7 .462 .763


Jazz forward Karl Malone got a rude awakening when owner Mark Cuban decided to woo Alonzo Mourning, not Malone, on Monday night.

"Obviously, Alonzo is one of their top priorities, and with them being there [in Miami], you'd have to say he's their top priority," Malone told the Dallas Morning News. "Let's be realistic: I don't consider myself one of the top one or two or three free agents. But when you start getting around four or five, then I think that's legitimate. I'm realistic about my age," said Malone, who will turn 40 on July 24. "I know that's a factor. But to say I'm No. 10 or No. 8 on the [free agent] list, you insult my integrity."

If the Mavs can find a way to land Mourning, and if he can stay healthy, their chances of winning an NBA title next season increase exponentially.

Gilbert Arenas or Andre Miller in Denver? Here's what Arenas thinks. "I have a great relationship with Kiki," Arenas told the Denver Post. "They have a young team that is hungry. I'm a hungry young player, too. That would be a good fit for me."

Leave it to the 76ers to set the player salary curve ridiculously high. With Larry Brown out of there, we thought we'd seen the end of the crazy spending in Philly. However, the Philadelphia Inquirer is reporting that the team will offer Kenny Thomas a six year, $50 million dollar deal. Ouch. That will screw up negotiations with a lot of teams. If Thomas who averaged 10.2 ppg and 8.5 rpg for the 76ers last year can command that -- what will the Pistons have to pay Rip Hamilton?

The Pistons began negotiations with restricted free agent Richard Hamilton. How much will it take to keep him in Detroit? Hamilton's name doesn't come up much among the few teams looking for free agents but don't be surprised if he at least gets a look from the Spurs. The need another scorer to help out Duncan, and Hamilton is as consistent as any other free-agent small forward out there. With that said, it's likely the Pistons would match any offer.

The Bulls are looking for a swingman who can play some defense. So it should come as no surprise that the agents for Corey Maggette and Ira Newble got calls from GM John Paxson last night. Maggette, a hometown product, would be a great fit in Chicago. However, they'd have to work out a some sort of sign-and-trade with the Clips to get that done.

All of the talk about the Knicks landing a major free agent is B.S. They, like everyone else, only have the mid-level exception, and they may have to use a large part of that to pay second-round pick Maciej Lampe. Realistically they're looking at someone like Elden Campbell in the middle or a guy like Speedy Claxton at the point.

Scratch Keon Clark off your free agent lists. Clark decided to exercise his option on the second year of his contract with the Kings taking him out of the mix. He'll become an unrestricted free agent next season.

With limited cap space, look for the Magic to take a look at Blazers' unrestricted free Antonio Daniels with their mid-level exception.

Antoine Walker
Forward
Boston Celtics
Profile


2002-2003 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
78 20.1 7.2 4.8 .388 .615


New Celtics GM Danny Ainge laughed off rumors that he was sending Antoine Walker to the Knicks for Latrell Sprewell -- a move that made almost zero sense for the Celtics.

''It's definitely not true, any of it,'' Ainge told the Boston Globe. ''I don't care if it's from the New York Post or the Boston Globe. I have serious talks with everybody, but there's nothing close to happening. What is a serious trade talk? If it's where you exchange ideas, I've had many serious trade talks, but nothing that has been close to happening. Nothing is close to happening with Antoine.''

Vince Carter is pushing the Raptors to trade draft pick Chris Bosh. "I would prefer to trade him and get a veteran," Carter told the Daytona Beach News. "We need to win right now, not in a couple of years. We need experience."

Mandyahl
07-01-2003, 01:18 PM
interesting that carter wants to trade bosh...

madape
07-01-2003, 01:40 PM
Vince Carter the GM. That's hilarious.

Drbio
07-01-2003, 01:44 PM
Vince Carter has a tough enough time playing basketball. He should shut his pie hole and try to stay on the court.

Mandyahl
07-01-2003, 01:44 PM
it is pretty hilarious. but i think he does have some sway up there.

mattyd
07-01-2003, 01:51 PM
Vince Carter is becoming more and more of a joke. He's a locker room cancer...

Mandyahl
07-01-2003, 01:52 PM
it still makes me laugh that i was at a tornoto board and some of the fans were talking about trading carter straight up for kobe.

DNNF
07-01-2003, 02:05 PM
Originally posted by: Mandyahl
it still makes me laugh that i was at a tornoto board and some of the fans were talking about trading carter straight up for kobe.

How about the whole damn team and some cash for Kobe.

Mandyahl
07-01-2003, 02:06 PM
hmmm maybe now that they have bosh that trade might be doable.

Tony tha Mavs fan
07-01-2003, 05:20 PM
How can you install confidence in a rookie when your already saying you would have wanted him traded before you even play a minute with him? That was really disrespectful by Carter.

ClipFan
07-01-2003, 05:47 PM
Brand and Odom will both be Clippers next year, as for the rest? Who knows....................