View Full Version : Mark Stein: Lakers could lure Peja -- in 2006

10-06-2004, 05:21 PM
Lakers could lure Peja -- in 2006

By Marc Stein

SAN DIEGO -- First impression from Lakers training camp: It's going to be a long two or three seasons for Kobe Bryant, waiting for his team to have the salary-cap room to get Bryant and Lamar Odom the help they clearly need to haul the Kobes back up into the league's elite.

Fair? OK, maybe not. Bryant's Lakers probably deserve more than one practice under Rudy Tomjanovich before we start making firm judgments about what they can do in Year 1 of the Kobe Era.

However ...

Throwing out that idea now sets up an easy transition to the topic of just whom the Lakers can hope to lure with what should be a decent chunk of cap space in the summer of 2007, or maybe 2006 if general manager Mitch Kupchak can do some maneuvering.

Yao Ming and Amare Stoudemire, both potentially free agents in July 2007, are the names you hear most. But those guys are fantasies. You have to expect the managements in Houston and Phoenix to have both of those young franchise bigs locked up to long-term extensions before they ever see the open market.

More likely than Yao in Lakerland someday: Peja Stojakovic.

Stojakovic, as you know, is one of the many NBA stars who took up the league's new official summertime sport: Demanding A Trade. Peja, though, just might be the league's most underpaid player, with only two guaranteed seasons left on a contract signed before he achieved All-Star status.

The Kings don't want to trade Stojakovic, no matter how tense it gets in Sacto between Peja and Chris Webber. Of course, even if they wanted to, it's difficult to get anything close to equal value because Stojakovic is making just under $7 million this season and $7.6 million in 2005-06. Neither figure is much higher than the league's average salary of nearly $5 million.

Because Webber's massive contract is perhaps even more difficult to move, given the concerns about Webb's long-term health, these two might have to co-exist for a while. Yet Stojakovic can opt out of the final season on his deal and proceed into free agency in July 2006.

Kings boss Geoff Petrie is too smart not to get something for Stojakovic if he knows he's going to wind up losing him for nothing. Mind you, if Peja is determined to wait for free agency and lets teams know that, interested suitors will be hesitant to give Sacramento anything good for a guy who's set on going where he wants.

So file this one way, because it's hardly far-fetched to envision Stojakovic playing two more seasons with the Kings and then finding the Lakers on his doorstep ... with a powerful lead recruiter.

No, not Bryant. Try new/old Lakers center Vlade Divac, who remains Peja's closest friend stateside.

Kobe, naturally, doesn't care what we think. Not surprisingly, he's not about to say that it might take two or three years before the Lakers are contenders again. Not as all-conquering as he feels today, with the threat of prison time suddenly wiped away after he carried it for a whole season.

"I feel great physically, mentally and emotionally," Bryant said Tuesday, publicly addressing his freedom for the first time.

Asked if he ever harkens back to how he felt last October, when he showed up for training camp in Hawaii with no muscle on his bones just two months removed from rape allegations in Colorado, Bryant said: "Sometimes I do, and then I just count my blessings, because I've seen many long days. I'm just thankful that they're all behind (me) now."

Vince Carter's ludicrous trade demand hasn't come close to getting Carter to the Knicks, as he hoped, but it might eventually achieve a small something for the wantaway star. Pay attention to see if Carter's constant complaining affects his popularity north of the border. If it does, Toronto will inevitably like the idea of dealing Vinsanity a lot better than it does presently.

Until now, a big reason the Raps have been reluctant to move him is Carter's ability to sell tickets. As covered in this cyberspace before, Toronto applies the Allen Iverson Principle when it comes to Carter -- a principle stating that teams never trade a marketable star unless they can get a similarly marketable star in return ... or a sure difference-maker in terms of playoff success.

That's because, if you're not contending for a championship, the next priority is making money. Which is why Toronto would never trade Carter straight-up for Baron Davis, even if that rumored swap were based in fact. Davis won't sell tickets or elevate the Raptors' status in the East, so New Orleans would have to include Canadian center Jamaal Magliore for the Raps to consider such a deal.

But ...

If Carter's approval ratings dips significantly because of his summerlong lobbying to be dealt, and ticket sales fall off noticeably, the equation changes. The Raps would then be in a better position to apply more pure basketball logic to a Vinsanity trade scenario.

Of course, trading Carter depends on someone out there wanting him. Which hasn't happened yet.

Those poor Hornets are the team that will be featured in the second season of NBA TV's reality mini-series "Real Training Camp." The first episode airs Oct. 15, with embedded cameras and microphones in place to chronicle New Orleans' first days as a Western Conference resident and whatever might be bothering Baron next.

Besides the considerable emphasis on defense he's demanding, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is leading the citywide chorus encouraging Dirk Nowitzki to make this the season that the Mavs become his team.

Members of Nowitzki's inner circle have likewise urged the German to be more assertive late in games, telling him to make it clear to coach Don Nelson that he wants the ball on end-of-game possessions.

Nowitzki, for his part, says "I definitely want to take more responsibility" in the wake of Steve Nash's defection to Phoenix. Yet he also makes it clear he's not going to change his personality and start telling Nellie what to do.

"I don't know if the other players think that way," Nowitzki said when asked if the Mavericks are now his Mavs. "That's all I care about, what my teammates think. I don't care what the media says or anybody else. I care what the (other) players think, so we'll see how that goes in camp."

Ten of the 16 available spots have already been filled for the Warriors' Run With TMC fantasy camp in November. Warriors boss Chris Mullin conceived the idea to raise money for Manute Bol, who is recovering from injuries sustained in a recent car accident.

For the tidy price of $5,000, each participant gets to dine with Mullin, Mitch Richmond and Tim Hardaway on the night of Nov. 19, rest up at the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco and then spend the next day practicing with the legendary trio. The camp concludes with a game broadcast by Warriors announcers Bob Fitzgerald and Jim Barnett, followed by luxury-suite accommodations to watch the Warriors' game against Memphis later that night.

Campers also receive a personalized and authentic Warriors jersey, official Warriors practice gear, an unofficial NBA contract and press conference and mementos such as a DVD of the game (including the play-by-play) and an autographed Run TMC ball. Contact the Warriors at (510) 986-5712 before Nov. 12 if you're interested.

In a major upset, we found someone even happier than us that all the chatter about Michael Jordan coming back at 41 was just ridiculous speculation.

Sayeth Sir Charles Barkley, in a recent ESPN Radio interview with Dan Patrick: "That would be stupid. ... Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player ever. I love him like a brother. ... (But) if he came back again, it would just be like: 'You know what, I just can't give it up. I can't give adulation up.' And that would disappoint me greatly. I'm very content being as good as I was. If Michael can't be content being the greatest basketball player ever, it becomes a point where your ego just runs amok."

10-06-2004, 05:56 PM
Long way away, and many things will happen between now and then.