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hero = dirk
07-07-2003, 12:05 PM
Going, going . . . staying?
by Chad Finn / July 5, 2003

All right, I think I've got it figured out. I think I finally understand how the NBA free-agency game is played these days.

It goes little something like this: A premier, universally coveted free agent-to-be -- for our purposes, we'll call him Jermaine-Jason O'Kidd -- plays out his contract with his current team.

Then, approximately 3.2 seconds after the season's final buzzer sounds, he declares that "he's keeping his options open," a statement this is unanimously interpreted to mean: When someone shows me the money, I am so outta this place.

His agent immediately schedules visits in a few choice NBA cities, allowing Jermaine-Jason to flirt in person with his suitors. He chats up the owner, checks out the sights, tries on his Texas Free Agent Tour 2003 T-shirt, and
parties like it's 1999.

But once that last visit has been made, then Jermaine-Jason gets serious. He sits down with his best girl and his most trusted posse members, and makes the decision . . . to re-sign with his old team.

And so it goes. So much for that free-agent feeding frenzy, huh? The official signing period began at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, and with 140 players and 13 former All-Stars available, it was eagerly anticipated that the fun would begin, oh, sometime around 12:02.

Instead, the NBA grapevine is telling us something else: the finest members of the 2003 free-agent class will be wearing the same jersey next season as they wore in the past one -with at least one notable purple-and-gold
exception, that is. (More on that in a moment.)

Jason Kidd is reportedly close to returning to the Nets. Can't blame him. Who would want to leave scenic East Rutherford?

Jermaine O'Neal is said to be pleased with the pace of life in Indianapolis.

Gary Payton could become somebody's bargain -- the Lakers', perhaps? -- but if he wants the big bucks, he'll probably have to remain a Buck.

Perhaps this year's free-agent elite are determined to prove an old axiom: Home is where the heart is. Hey, you come up with a better explanation.

It's not like the market has dried up. There are lots of teams with much to offer, monetarily and otherwise.

The San Antonio Spurs have the cash and the cache: the freshly-crowned champs have at least $16 million to spend. The Denver Nuggets can't beat the Spurs on the court, but they might beat them in a bidding war. They can ante up $20 million from their pot of gold. The Utah Jazz, for the first time since Cyndi Lauper was cool, are shopping for a point guard -- and quite possibly, a power forward. (Again: More on that in a moment.)

The Dallas Mavericks have a $4.9 million exception and a lovable lunatic of an owner who can't wait to dole out more Benjamins. The Minnesota Timberwolves have the exception and a charismatic superstar in desperate
need of a supporting cast. The L.A. Lakers have the exception and -- never to be underestimated -- the lovely and talented Laker Girls.

These teams may not get our guy Jermaine-Jason, but they've gotta spend their money on somebody, right?

Right. So . . . who?

Thought you'd never ask. Let's start with . . .

- Gilbert Arenas, guard, Golden State. When the Warriors passed up point guards Marcus Banks and Luke Ridnour on draft night in favor of French forward Mickael Pietrus, many hoopheads took it as a sign that they would retain Arenas. Could happen . . . but only if no one else meets his asking price. Arenas wants $9 million a season. The Warriors can't offer the reigning Most Improved Player more than $4.5 mil. Kiki Vandeweghe will
eventually fork over a sum that falls somewhere between the two figures, and Arenas will team with Carmelo Anthony, Nene Hilario and possibly Corey Maggette to form an intriguing young nucleus of Nuggets.

- Elton Brand, forward, L.A. Clippers. Fortunately for Brand, he is the player the Spurs truly covet. Unfortunately for Brand, he is a restricted free-agent, and the one player that the Clippers are willing to pay. Looks like he's stuck in basketball purgatory for at least another year . . . unless the Spurs somehow pull the wool over Donald Sterling's eyes. It's been done before.

- Juwan Howard, forward, Denver. If there's any justice, the six-time captain of the All-Overpaid Team will have to sign for the veteran's minimum with the Los Angeles Sparks. Too bad just about every team in the league could use a forward with Howard's various if underutilized skills. Bet on the T-Wolves, this time at a reasonable rate.

- Karl Malone, forward, Utah: The Jazz's cornerstone has been rumored to be joining forces with just about every contender west of . . . well, the Eastern Conference. Turns out the moment has arrived. There are reports
that Malone had verbally agreed to terms with the Lakers. Yes, the Mailman will change his zip code. I guess Malone really does want a championship ring as much as wants Kareem's scoring record.

- Andre Miller, guard, L.A. Clippers: Now here's a match that simply must happen. Miller starred for four years at the University of Utah. The Jazz need a savvy floor leader to replace John Stockton. Now, if they could just
find a power forward.

- Alonzo Mourning, center, Miami. 'Zo is as honorable as he is intimidating, and he may feel obligated to stay with Heat; they did pay him megamillions the last two years while he fought to recover from a kidney ailment. Then again, he's 33, his health is forever uncertain, and that championship dream is fleeting. It may be his last shot. After much deliberation -- and much pleading from Cuban -- he'll take that shot in Dallas.

- Scottie Pippen, forward, Portland: Hey there, Phil. Yeah, nice to hear from you again. What's that you say? You want me to join you in L.A.? So thoughtful of you. Yes, of course, I'd love to play with Shaq and Kobe and
Karl . . . yes, and maybe Gary, too. Okay . . . you've got a deal.

Huh . . . what's that you say, Phil? Hmmmm . .. no, can't say I've ever heard of anyone named Jermaine-Jason O'Kidd.

You know, Phil, all that Zen stuff makes you weirder by the year.