View Full Version : Pickings even slimmer in free agency

08-21-2002, 05:44 PM
Pickings even slimmer in free agency
By Chad Ford

The summer of 2002 is already poised to go down in NBA annals as the league's version of the Great Depression -- no players and no money equals no signings. Rashard Lewis and Bonzi Wells are up for the part of Tom Joad in the film adaptation -- the "Free Agents of Wrath."

The national drought known as the NBA free-agent market hits its one-month anniversary this week, and the pickings are getting pretty slim for the majority of free agents who remain unsigned.

It has been a cruel, cruel summer for players looking for multi-year, big-money deals. So far only three players -- Mike Bibby, Raef LaFrentz and Malik Rose (think that was a favor for Mr. Duncan?) -- have signed contracts worth more than the mid-level exception. Only two players, Baron Davis and Shawn Marion, have signed max extensions.

All in all, only seven teams -- the Bulls, Pistons, Lakers, Nets, Kings, Jazz and Wizards -- have used their full $4.5 million, mid-level exceptions. Four teams -- the Grizzlies, Knicks, Blazers and Sixers -- have used part of their exceptions.

That leaves 17 teams out there (the Clippers are under the cap and therefore don't have an exception) sitting on their full salary-cap exception for this summer. Of those teams, only the Mavericks are a virtual lock to use their full money. The T-Wolves, Cavaliers, Nuggets, Warriors, Rockets, Pacers, Heat and Magic could use part of their exception if the right player comes along. The other eight teams have indicated publicly that they're unlikely to use their exceptions because of luxury-tax issues.

Still, if your team happens to find some loose change between the couch cushions, here's a look at the best free agents still looking for a warm bed and a bowl of soup.

The Top Five

1. Michael Olowokandi, center, Clippers (restricted)
The Skinny: Is anyone surprised that Clippers owner Donald Sterling has yet to open his wallet? Olowokandi is looking for the max, or close to it. "Michael Olowokandi won't play for less than Mike Bibby," agent Bill Duffy told ESPN.com. Bibby just signed a seven-year, $80 million contract with the Kings. Duffy calls that contract a "baseline" for negotiations with the Clippers. However, the two sides haven't spoken in several weeks. If Duffy doesn't get his way, Olowokandi will likely take the team's one-year tender and become an unrestricted free agent next summer. No other teams are seriously in the running to sign him this year.

2. Rashard Lewis, forward, Sonics
The Skinny: The team met with Lewis over the weekend, but he left Seattle with nothing resolved. The Sonics held firm to their offer of a seven-year deal worth $60 million with additional incentives of $15 million, while Lewis maintained that the offer is insufficient and below market value. Lewis has maintained that he'll sign a contract for the $4.5 million, mid-level exception with either the Mavericks or the Rockets if the Sonics don't increase their offer. Expect a resolution soon. "The fact that he's so young and this is the city that he started in, Rashard has the opportunity to do what very few NBA players do, and that is to play with one team," owner Howard Schultz said. "We feel that strongly about him."

3. Bonzi Wells, guard, Trail Blazers (restricted)
The Blazers have been stalling on Wells. The team is balking on his contract demands (he's looking for around six years for $40 million). The word around the league is that Wells is on the trading block. The Blazers haven't made an offer to Wells, instead forcing him to get an offer sheet somewhere else."We will be fair with Bonzi," team president Bob Whitsitt told The Oregonian. "I'm not sure what fair means in terms of a number, but we will be fair." Talk of a deal involving Damon Stoudamire and Wells (in a sign-and-trade) for Wally Szczerbiak, Terrell Brandon and Anthony Peeler is apparently going nowhere. The Pistons have shown an interest in Wells but they would have to part with Jerry Stackhouse to get a deal done.

4. Rasho Nesterovic, center, Timberwolves (restricted)
The Skinny: Agent Bill Duffy is still waiting by the phone, hoping the Timberwolves submit a contract proposal. Duffy wouldn't specify how much money the Wolves' starting center wants, but he said he expects it to be "an interim-to-long-term" contract. "This will be a very important decision in his career, and we're eager to see what the Timberwolves are looking at," Duffy said. If Nesterovic doesn't get a long-term agreement for more than the mid-level exception, he might accept the Wolves' one-year tender and become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

5. Michael Redd, guard, Bucks (restricted)
The Skinny: Redd's unbelievable play last season in the absence of Ray Allen has a lot of teams buzzing. He's a good long-range shooter and can put the ball on the floor. Redd has been playing the field a bit, but the Bucks are determined to match just about any offer.

The Best of the Rest
6. Travis Best, guard, Bulls
The Skinny: The Bulls won't need to re-sign the diminutive point guard now that they have Jay Williams. Several teams -- like the Bucks, Knicks, Heat, Warriors, T-Wolves and Pacers -- are looking for a point guard, but right now, most teams are balking on Best's demands of a long-term deal.

7. Wang Zhizhi, center, Mavericks (restricted)
The Skinny: Wang really turned some heads with a strong performance in the L.A. Summer Pro League. Wang played for the Warriors' summer team and would be a perfect fit in Golden State. However, Mavs owner Mark Cuban has said he'll match any "reasonable" offer for Zhizhi. The Knicks, Heat and Blazers have also shown interest.

8. Rod Strickland, guard, Heat
The Skinny: The Heat are offering Strickland a one-year deal. He has been shopping himself around the league looking for something better. The Pacers have some interest, but two years seems like too much for Strickland.

9. Shawn Kemp, forward, Trail Blazers
The Skinny: Once Kemp clears waivers (expected on Thursday), he'll be an unrestricted free agent. He's working with a personal trainer six days a week in an effort to convince teams that he's worth the gamble. Kemp will reportedly receive installments for the next 10 years from the Blazers, which means he's probably willing to play on the cheap if he can join a contender that will give him playing time. The Magic need inside players in the worst way. Doc Rivers wants to win right now, and a one-year contract for Kemp would probably be worth the gamble. Don't count out Mark Cuban. The Mavs have only two players, Dirk Nowitzki and Raef LaFrentz, under contract who are capable of playing power forward. Kemp is the type of wide-body rebounder the Mavs have needed down low the last few years. The Lakers also need more size up front. Phil Jackson did it with Dennis Rodman. Could he sit Kemp's huge butt down on his couch and convince him that it's 1995 all over again?

10. Bryon Russell, forward, Jazz
The Skinny: The Jazz unceremoniously dumped Russell in favor of Calbert Cheaney. That's gotta hurt. Russell thought he had something worked out with the Mavs, but with Rashard Lewis now in the picture, Russell's money could quickly evaporate. The Heat have also been considering Russell, but they seem to be leaning toward bringing back Jimmy Jackson if he'll take a one-year, $1 million contract.

08-21-2002, 07:25 PM
Dooby, see number 9....