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07-08-2003, 08:52 AM
Ford: Waiting for the dominoes to fall
By Chad Ford
NBA Insider
Send an Email to Chad Ford Tuesday, July 8
Updated: July 8
9:42 AM ET

We're now into Day 8 of the NBA free-agent recruiting period, and GMs and agents are beginning to get a little weary.

"I really wish they'd shorten the period to a week," Jazz GM Kevin O'Connor told Insider. "That gives everyone enough time to contact who they need to contact, and it gives everyone a shot at a guy before he makes up his mind. But when it goes longer than that ... I think we all start getting a little anxious."

The Jazz are one of several teams with big bucks waiting for the first free-agent domino to fall. While deals cannot become official until July 16, there's nothing stopping teams from making handshake deals with players, and there's nothing to stop players from verbally and publicly committing to teams.

Those dominos could start falling today. Several teams are beginning to issue ultimatums to players, telling their targeted free agents that they'll give their mid-level exception to the first guy who commits. No one wants to be the guy left without a chair when the music stops.

Worst-case scenario for the second tier free agents? Jason Kidd signs with San Antonio. Jermaine O'Neal signs in Miami. Karl Malone decides to stay in Utah. Gary Payton bolts to the Lakers. And Alonzo Mourning works something out with the Heat. If that happens, the rest of the free agents will be left with only two teams -- Denver and Utah -- with significant money to spend beyond the mid-level exception.


Domino No. 1: The Lakers are waiting by the phone for Gary Payton to give them the green light. His agent, Aaron Goodwin, has indicated the decision could come as early as today.

For the past few days, Goodwin has maintained the Lakers were the favorites to land Payton. Miami is a possibility if it forks over all its cap space (highly unlikely), and the Blazers have a shot if they can work out a sign-and-trade with the Bucks.

But sources inside the Lakers feel that ultimately, Payton wants to play in L.A. Goodwin has been pushing the Lakers to work out a sign-and-trade with the Bucks, but L.A. really doesn't have anything the Bucks want.

If Payton comes, Jazz forward Karl Malone could be right behind him. Malone reportedly has committed to the Lakers for their $1.5 veteran's exception if they can land Payton.

If the Lakers do land Payton and Malone, other free-agent hopefuls like P.J. Brown, Juwan Howard and Scottie Pippen can scratch the L.A. off their lists.

If Malone leaves Utah, the Jazz will have roughly $19 million in cap room to sign free agents. If Malone were to stay, that number likely would be cut in half.


Domino No. 2: Jason Kidd left San Antonio on Monday night to return to New Jersey. It's still unclear whether he will visit with the Mavs or any other team.

While Spurs officials publicly say they're optimistic Kidd will come, privately several officials told Insider they believe Kidd ultimately will choose to re-sign in New Jersey.

If Kidd does re-sign with the Nets, the Spurs likely will try to sign a couple of free agents, rather than one max-type guy. Right now they seem to have focused on Minnesota's Rasho Nesterovic and the Clippers' Lamar Odom.

If Kidd opts for San Antonio, it's likely Nesterovic's only option will be the T-Wolves. Odom's best bet probably will be to stick it out in L.A. for another year.


Domino No. 3: The Pacers continue to insist they're confident of re-signing Jermaine O'Neal.

At least one of O'Neal's representatives agreed, claiming O'Neal isn't interested in Miami, Denver or any other rebuilding situation.

"He likes to win too much," O'Neal representative Deddrick Faison told the Indianapolis Star. "Jermaine won't leave Indiana because of weather. He loves Indiana and the organization and the people. It would take a lot for him to leave."

That's somewhat at odds with what other people close to O'Neal are saying. While everyone maintains O'Neal's first choice is to remain in Indiana, his scheduled visits to San Antonio and possibly Miami seem to contradict that.

Faison told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that O'Neal canceled a trip to San Antonio today because of a family emergency. However, Faison said O'Neal still planned to visit both the Spurs and Mavs during the same trip to Texas, and he also has a visit scheduled in Miami.

If O'Neal does decide to remain in Indiana, that frees up one or possibly two free-agent spots in Miami and San Antonio. If he bolts the Pacers, either Miami or San Antonio will pretty much be done shopping.


Domino No. 4: An intense bidding war for the services of Alonzo Mourning could be coming to an end soon. The Mavs were thought to be the front-runners for weeks, but the latest intelligence has Mourning also seriously considering a return to the Heat. Mourning sounds more inclined to work something out with Miami now that they've landed an extra $4 million under the cap.

"I think we could get a ring here given the situation that's happening as far as us attaining more flexibility in the free-agent market,'' Mourning told the Sun Sentinel. "They got $11 million now, and they could sign myself and another significant player if they want that to happen.''

It's not quite that easy. To get that cap room, the Heat are going to have to waive Mourning. If he takes $5 million (his take with the mid-level exception) the Heat will be left with only $6 million. That won't be enough to lure the type of free agent the Heat want to land.

A real dark-horse in the Mourning race is Detroit. Mourning is convinced his best shot at getting a ring is by staying in the East. Like several other top free agents, Mourning has identified the Pistons as being the up-and-coming team that could get him there.


Domino No. 5: Once the smoke clears at the top, watch for Gilbert Arenas' decision. He's in a heated point guard battle with Andre Miller right now. The Nuggets and Jazz are vying for both players. The Heat also might come into the picture for Arenas if they can't lure a big man.

If Arenas works something out with Denver, Miller will go to Utah, and the free-agent noose will tighten even further on everyone else. If Miller works something out with Denver, Arenas could be in trouble. Miami has interest, but no one is sure how much interest now that they have Dwyane Wade in the fold. The word out of Miami is the team would prefer to add a big man. The Jazz also have interest, but Arenas doesn't want to play in Utah. In other words, Arenas could be one of the guys left without a chair and be forced to return to Golden State for the mid-level exception.

Around the league
Elton Brand
Power Forward
Los Angeles Clippers

62 18.5 11.3 2.5 .502 .685

With all of the fuss being made over Jason Kidd, Jermaine O'Neal and Gary Payton, why isn't Elton Brand getting more love? Well, apparently he is. The Jazz met with Brand late last week and told the restricted free agent they'd open the vaults and give him a six-year, max deal if he'd come to Utah.

The only hitch? Brand's agent, David Falk, isn't sure how the Clippers would react. If L.A. matched, Brand would be stuck in a long-term deal there without assurances the team will re-sign anyone else. That's Brand's (and Falk's) worst nightmare.

The Clippers have been telling teams all week they'll match any offers for Brand, Maggette and Odom. Is anyone willing to call their bluff? At least one decision-maker would be surprised if the Clippers matched a max-type deal.

"If you use history as a guide," one NBA GM said, "then the answer is clearly no. I tend to trust history. I can't imagine that they'd match that salary. On the other side of things, they've been unusually aggressive in telling teams that they intend to match. It's a gamble, but if I was Brand's agent, I'd take it. Worst case scenario is that Brand has a max deal in L.A. Someone's going to make an offer to Maggette, as well. If the Clippers are being consistent, they'll match Maggette too. That's not a bad team."

Andre Miller
Point Guard
Los Angeles Clippers

80 13.6 4.0 6.7 .406 .795

Speaking of the Clippers, guard Andre Miller will be in Denver and Utah this week trying to make a final determination on his future. While Miller is clearly No. 1 on the Jazz's list, there's growing evidence that he's also No. 1 on the list of many in the Nuggets front office.

If the Jazz and Nuggets both make an offer to Miller, which will he choose?

"I don't know," Miller's agent Lon Babby told Insider. "That's why he's excited to make these visits. He's kept an open mind about the process. Right now he's looking for the best fit and the place he'd feel most comfortable."

While other teams have contacted Babby with interest in Miller, doing a deal with any team other than Denver or Utah likely would require a sign-and-trade -- something the Clippers historically are loathe to do.


P.J. Brown was in Orlando on Tuesday talking to representatives from the Magic and Pistons (who are in town for the Orlando Pro Summer League). Today he's off to San Antonio for a visit. He's also looking at visiting Denver and Utah, according to his agent Mark Bartelstein.

Right now Bartelstein is trying to get Brown a deal that exceeds the mid-level exception, but at the moment the Spurs and Jazz are the only teams on Brown's list that can afford to pay him that straight up. He also could be a candidate for some of Miami's money. Brown has a great relationship with coach Pat Riley.

Is there any chance Brown will just decide to re-sign with the Hornets?

"Sure," Bartelstein told Insider. "But I think right now he's really focused on finding a team that he can help win a championship."

Wouldn't that seemingly push Denver and Cleveland out of the mix? "P.J. has great relationships with [Cavs coach] Paul Silas and [Nuggets coach] Jeff Bzdelik. He's just making sure he's explored every option."

Utah is leaving no stone unturned right now. In addition to visits with guys like Brand and Andre Miller, the team also plans to host Corey Maggette this week. Maggette, who already has visited Denver, also has a visit scheduled with San Antonio.

Carmelo Anthony has decided to delay his signing so that an estimated $500,000 can be applied to the Nuggets' cap space and used to help lure another free agent to the team. "That's a pretty special young man," Nuggets GM Kiki Vandeweghe told the Rocky Mountain News. "So many guys are thinking about themselves first and the team second. That goes to show you this young man is thinking team first."

Drafted rookies count against the cap based on the NBA's rookie salary scale, even before they sign. However, teams customarily give first-round picks a 20 percent bump in pay over the salary scale. That extra 20 percent does not count on the cap until the player actually signs. Which leaves the Nuggets an extra $500,000 to play with until Anthony signs.

The Philadelphia Daily News is reporting that Sixers GM Billy King is close to signing Kenny Thomas to a seven-year deal believed to be worth between $40 million and $60 million while also holding ongoing negotiations with Brian Skinner and Derrick Coleman. The Philadelphia Inquirer is also reporting the team is after 6-foot-10 Andrew Declerq, who averaged 4.7 points and 4.4 rebounds last season for the Magic.

John Paxson is looking at Ira Newble as the Bulls' small forward of the future. "Ira's just a real good kid, and he's very interested in playing for the Bulls," his agent, Steve Kauffman, told the Chicago Sun Times. "He knows he fits in and would bring what they need." The Bulls are expected to offer Newble a portion of their mid-level exception and use the remaining money on either Kendall Gill, Voshon Lenard or another player of that caliber.

Summer Love

Fans will get their first look at LeBron James tonight at the Pepsi Summer Pro League in Orlando. It sounds like coach Paul Silas has already seen enough. "I think his game will speak for itself," Silas told the Orlando Sentinel. "He's so confident in his ability to get it done. You would never think this kid is 18 years old. He handles things better than any 18-year-old I've ever seen."

The No. 2 pick in the draft, Darko Milicic, won't be able to play because of contract issues with his team in Yugoslavia. However, he has been practicing with the Pistons since Saturday. GM Joe Dumars has been watching the prodigies progress. "Let's just say we're all real happy," Dumars told Insider. "He's just trying to absorb a lot right now, but you can really see that talent shining through. He's going to be real good."

The Grizzlies played their first game in L.A. on Monday, defeating the Canadian National team 102-81. Free agent DerMarr Johnson scored 25 points, including 18 points in the third quarter, to lead the Grizzlies. Johnson is attempting to get back into the league after being injured in an automobile accident last September. At one point Hawks team doctors weren't sure if he'd ever be able to play again. However, Johnson has been working out at IMG all summer in Florida and looks great, according to several players who have seen him play. A strong summer league performance could make the former No. 6 pick a hot commodity. Rookie Troy Bell added 19 points and point guard Earl Watson had 15 points and 10 assists. The Grizzlies' other first-round pick, Dahntay Jones, missed the game with a mild knee injury.

The Lakers continued to get strong performances by Jannero Pargo and Kareem Rush on Monday at the L.A. Summer Pro League. Pargo finished with 22 points and Rush had 20 points in the Lakers' win over the Dallas Mavericks. Rookie Brian Cook put on a nice show during his second game. scoring 19 points and grabbing eight rebounds.