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03-07-2003, 01:00 AM
Kidd-to-Spurs rumors heat up again
by Chad Ford

On Wednesday everyone got excited about the possibility of Jason Kidd landing on the Clippers. While Kidd in a Clippers jersey is probably a fantasy, rumors that he's interested in teaming up with Tim Duncan in San Antonio are much more real. With the Nets playing in San Antonio tonight, as you would expect, the hype is spinning out of control.

"We've worked hard to make sure this was the summer we had money to add a star to our team, and it's worked out well," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told the San Antonio Express News. "We've also had some good fortune along the way."
Most people believe Kidd will be their primary target this summer. In fact, Popovich said the chances of the Spurs using the money on a big man (read Michael Olowokandi) are pretty slim. "There are no David Robinsons out there," Popovich said. "He's not going to be replaced. That's an impossibility. We need to figure out with the young crew we have what's the best route to take and who fills it the best. Those are the discussions we'll be keying on between now and July 1." Kidd has been coy when talking about his free-agent plans this summer.

"Why be in a rush?" Kidd said. "I'll take my time and the right time will present itself . . .A lot of changes will take place probably this summer. You just don't know how it will play out." He has, however, made a few things clear. First, he wants to win a championship. Second, he absolutely intends to explore all of his options. Third, New Jersey is his first choice if he's convinced the Nets have what it takes to win it all. However, when asked recently whether the Nets were a championship-caliber team, his answer had to knock GM Rod Thorn off his chair.

"No," he told the N.Y. Times. "I'm looking right now at the bigger picture. Maybe not the way we're playing now, but if we get on a roll."
Meanwhile, Kidd said he does have fond feelings for San Antonio. "I've always enjoyed San Antonio as a player," he said. "All the stuff is on the side and I have no control of that." The San Antonio Express News is reporting today that Kidd could actually net more money by playing in San Antonio because New Jersey has state income tax. He's also close with Duncan and has made no bones about his desire to play with a dominant big man. Combine that with a desire to finish his career somewhere on the West Coast and joining the Spurs this summer sounds like a slam dunk.

Almost ...

There are a few obstacles. First, if the Spurs use all their money signing Kidd this summer, they'll be very thin everywhere else. Including Duncan and Kidd, the team would have only six players under contract at that point with very little cap room remaining. With David Robinson retiring, Stephen Jackson hitting the free-agent market and no mid-level exception to work with because the team is under the cap, can a combo of Kidd and Duncan do it alone?

Second, the play of second-year point guard Tony Parker complicates things. He's been phenomenal in the second half of the season and some inside the Spurs believe he's just a few years away from being an elite point guard in the league. Factor in that Parker's just 20 years old and the Spurs have to seriously think about what direction they need to go. Parker makes just $850,000 next season. Would the money be better spent adding a big man and an athletic, scoring small forward instead? Or do the Spurs believe Kidd and Parker can coexist in the same backcourt? Given the fact that both players are pure points, not scoring points like Gary Payton and Sam Cassell in Milwaukee, it could be a big problem. Parker acknowledges that all the talk has been a distraction. "I can do nothing about it," Parker said. "He's the best point guard in the NBA and the NBA is a business. The only thing I can control is to play hard and make my team win."

Can the Spurs keep Duncan?

Of course, all of the talk about Jason Kidd heading to San Antonio this summer is based on the assumption that Tim Duncan wants to stay in San Antonio.

One year ago, that was anything but a given. The Magic were clearing cap room and seemed confident that Duncan would join up with them once David Robinson retired. But a huge hit to the salary cap, along with some cap mismanagement by John Gabriel and company, has basically put the Magic out of reach. "Tim doesn't want to go anywhere," Robinson told the San Antonio Express News, "and they're going to do whatever they need to do to keep him here." With the Magic out of the picture, it's not like he has a lot of choices. The Nuggets, Clippers, Jazz and possibly the Wizards are the only teams with enough cap room to sign him straight out.

Duncan could try to force a sign-and-trade, but he'd have to take less money. Duncan's actually better off financially not opting out of his contract this year. If he does, his maximum salary can be either 25 percent of the salary cap or 105 percent of this season's salary. Both of those numbers are below the $13.3 million he's slated to make next season. Still, the Spurs will be cautious. If they're unable to land Kidd or another top free agent like Jermaine O'Neal or Elton Brand, Duncan's eyes may start wandering. "We will not take anything for granted with Tim," Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said. "From (Spurs chairman) Peter (Holt) to Pop to the players, everybody is performing in a way we hope will convince Tim he can play for championships here."

Mailbag: Is there hope for the Clips?

Wow! The reaction to my Page 2 piece on how the Clippers could build a championship contender in one summer has been overwhelming. First, to a few readers who got a little carried away ... the article was meant to be entertainment -- a companion piece to another Page 2 story naming the Clippers the worst franchise in pro sports. It's not based on any inside knowledge of the Clippers' plans, nor do I think anything is in the works. If it were, that would be tampering.

Not only did the reader e-mails come flowing in, but I had several interesting calls from folks in the league who chastised me for writing the piece. Their point, a valid one I suppose, is why wake up a sleeping giant? Many teams have had a latent fear for the past few years that Sterling, if he ever had a change of heart, could build a monster with all the talent he possess.

Let's get to the e-mails ...

Q: Chad, your new Clippers with Brand, Duncan, Kidd would be one hell of a team. It might even be the best team of all-time. One problem. It would never happen. The Clippers just don't have enough to offer in a sign-and-trade to one of those teams, let alone both. First off, giving the Spurs Wilcox in return for Duncan may be nice compensation, but it doesn't work under salary-cap rules. The Clippers would need to give up equal salary, and Wilcox makes a rookie salary.
-- Danny Green, Jehrico, N.Y.

FORD: The scenario I wrote about about works under the current collective bargaining rules. Teams only have to match salaries when they are over the cap. Both the Spurs and Clippers would be far enough under the cap that a sign-and-trade like this would work. Why would the Spurs do it? It's better than losing Duncan for nothing. Remember the Pistons relented and worked out a sign-and-trade for Grant Hill in 2000 after saying they wouldn't. It brought them Ben Wallace. Not too shabby.

The Nets are over the cap, but the key is that they're taking back much less than they're sending out. The Clippers have enough room to absorb the difference. The collective bargaining rules regarding trades are very complicated, but you'll have to trust me on this. The scenario's been run through several cap experts, and they've all given the thumbs up.

Q: Where's Lamar Odom in your Clippers scenario? He's Donald's favorite. I can't see them doing anything without Odom as part of the scenario.
-- Jeff Christie, San Diego

FORD: I agree he's one of Sterling's favorites and would be a great fit. The problem is his salary causes problems under the cap. The problem for the Clippers is a concept called cap holds. All free agents have a cap hold that applies to a team's salary cap in the summer. The cap hold remains until a player is either signed or is renounced. If you renounce one of your own players, you can no longer go above the salary cap to re-sign him. Elton Brand's cap hold next season, for instance, is $6,364,234. It's basically 130 percent of the salary he made last season. All of those cap holds take up so much space that it's almost as if the Clips aren't really under the cap. The only way to clear the cap room necessary to sign someone like Duncan is to renounce the player. If the cap stays around $41 million next season, there was no way to have Duncan, Brand, Kidd and Odom all on the books.

Q: I know everyone from coast to coast is beginning to refer to that lovable guy, Donald Sterling, as Darth Donald, but is Donald really that cheap and bad for the Clips? Lets face it ... the guy is a smart businessman -- he might not know basketball but he knows business. In his mind, how would he justify paying max contracts out to players who haven't been able to take the team to the playoffs for the past six years? I would be bashing Sterling too if the Clippers even made it near the playoffs and he wasn't paying up, but the Clippers just keep losing!
-- Sang Noh, Los Angeles

FORD: While all of us believe Sterling would never make that type of financial commitment, think about this for a minute. Sterling does want to win an NBA championship, and he'd theoretically be willing to spend the money to do it. But, (and it's a big but) he's been pushing his front office guys like Elgin Baylor and Andy Roeser to give him guarantees. That's impossible. There are no guarantees in this league. One Grant Hill-type injury, and the season is over. However, there may not be a surer thing out there than a combo of Duncan, Kidd and Brand.

Sterling is already skeptical of his current roster. Baylor has been telling Sterling the group he's put together has the talent to win it all someday. Sterling looks at the 19-41 record and laughs. You can't blame the guy for not wanting to keep together one of the worst teams in the NBA. But at some point, if Sterling ever wants to win, he'll have to take a leap of faith. Top players won't come play for you unless they get long-term deals. They also won't come if they aren't going to be surrounded by other good players. That takes faith. So far, Sterling has been too risk-averse to ever make that happen.

Q: Several times you have mentioned that Brand fears the Clips will match an offer sheet, thus trapping him in Clipper-land for years, a la Ricky Davis. Why can't a team offer Brand a large one year contract? If the Clips match, Brand will make more money and still be a free agent next year. If not, the offering team gets him and he can sign a long-term contract next year.
-- Matt Freed, Salt Lake City

FORD: Again, the collective bargaining rules get in the way. Brand will be a restricted free agent this summer. If a team wants to tender him an offer sheet, it has to be for at least three years. The league specifically put that rule in there to avoid the type of scenario you just described. Unless Sterling proves to Brand he's going to add more top-tier talent to the roster, he'll take the Clippers' tender offer and become an unrestricted free agent in 2004.

I think that's enough Clippers questions for the moment.

Q: With respect to your comments on Jay Williams' most recent excuse-making, the Bulls barely run the triangle offense anymore, and I don't know what else they can do to help Williams make shots. I watched the game against Orlando on Monday, and he flat-out stunk. I don't understand how the wrong offense or Jamal Crawford caused him to miss so many shots. He looks like an average player at best. Maybe that's all he is.
-- Robert Stephan, Chicago

FORD: It makes you wonder. I think the triangle criticism by Williams is a fair one. But Monday night, when Williams criticized it, I was told that the Bulls only ran the triangle on two offensive sets. The triangle thing has been a crutch for Williams all season. Now that it's not the hurdle it used to be, he's reaching a bit. No wonder Jalen Rose called his comments after the game "stupid." I think Williams' problem is that there's a huge disparity between the talk and what actually happens on the basketball court. You can't lead a team on pedigree alone. Once Williams starts playing consistently well, his teammates will follow. Right now, with the poor shooting, turnovers and finger pointing, no one's listening. Check out Rose's comments on Wednesday about Williams.

"In the NBA everybody has to earn their stripes," Rose told the Chicago Tribune. "Nothing is given to you. There is no red-carpet treatment. You can get all the promotion, but at the end of the day you're going to be judged by your peers and what you do between those lines." I think that's his problem in a nutshell. Williams is demanding respect, but he hasn't earned it with his teammates. I think it will come. It will just take more time.

Q: You do not list the Wizards as free-agent players during the summer. Is that because Jerry Stackhouse may or may not exercise his opt out? I know some bad contracts come off this summer.
-- Charles Smith, Woodbridge, Va.

FORD: The Wizards would have between $5 million and $7 million in cap space even if Stackhouse doesn't opt out of his contract this summer. Given the harsh financial realties of the day and the stellar free-agent class, I think he may actually lose money if he did. If he doesn't opt out, the Wizards would owe him $6.5 million in 2004 and $7 million in 2005. As good as Stackhouse is, I just don't see enough teams under the cap that could give him anymore. If Stackhouse does opt out, and the Wizards renounce him, the team would have enough cash to offer someone the max. Right now, I just don't see that happening.

Q: I am a life long Bullets/Wizards fan and to say the least I have seen losing season after losing season. I have seen one bad trade after another land us right back in the lottery year in and year out. So to read an article about teams finding ways to lose is sickening. I thought this was the purpose of the lottery, to prevent teams from doing this. Do you honestly think losing games by scoring 60-75 points is going to make a young team better?
-- Omar Stokes, Washington, D.C.

FORD: You've got to love Pat Riley's line on tanking. ''You always take the attitude that you never die before you're dead.'' As any GM will tell you, since the lottery started in 1984, only two teams with the worst record in the league -- the Clippers in 1998 and the Nets in 1990 -- have actually won the lottery. You can play the Lebron Lottery game and get a good feel for how often someone other than the Cavs land in the top spot. There's always a 75 percent chance that someone else will get the top pick.

However, that doesn't mean teams aren't playing for good draft position. Even if Cleveland doesn't win the lottery, it'll still slip no further than the fourth pick. There's a big difference between pick No. 4 and pick No. 11. It matters. Again, I know there's a huge stigma around tanking the season. But teams like the Cavs are playing for something -- they're playing for the future. You may not like it, but in a warped sort of way, it's progress.

I also don't have a problem with throwing the young kids out there and seeing what they can do. The problem with so many of the rookies today is that while they have immense physical tools, they don't have a lot of game experience. Finding ways to get them 20 to 30 minutes a game greatly increases the learning curve. I'm not for teams deliberately gutting their roster at the start of the season. But once you're eliminated from the playoffs, I think it's time to start exploring what else you have.

Peep Show

Los Angeles Lakers: Owner Jerry Buss said he's willing to pay whatever amount it takes to keep the Lakers' core together. Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant can both opt out of their contracts after next season. "I certainly would like to keep Kobe and Shaq and Phil," he told the L.A. Times. "I think the future lies with them." Asked if the numbers (an estimated $185 million in extension) are daunting, he said, "Not really. I get more upset at the thought of not extending them."

Orlando Magic: Grant Hill told Florida Today that the stress fracture on his left ankle continued to show up in X-rays. That means Hill will have to stay on crutches indefinitely. "I guess you could say that nothing has changed," Hill said. The revelation casts even more doubt on a possible Hill return before the playoffs. "In my condition, I'm just taking it one day at a time and trying to get healthy," Hill said.

Cleveland Cavaliers: If the tanking accusations already don't have enough momentum, what's up with the Cavs pulling leading scorer Ricky Davis out of the starting lineup the last two games? For the second straight night coach Keith Smart has gone with a starting lineup of Dajuan Wagner, Milt Palacio, Darius Miles, Carlos Boozer and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Davis had just six points and three rebounds in Wednesday's loss to the Hawks.

Houston Rockets: Yao Ming is starting to take over games for the Rockets. Yao made the game-winning play on one end and the defensive stop on the other to lift the Rockets over the Raptors Wednesday night. "You are watching," Antonio Davis said, "the future of the NBA." Yao also got big praise from his teammates. "He doesn't even fall into (doubt)," Maurice Taylor told the Houston Chronicle. "He's a big-time player, regardless of being a rookie. He's one of the most poised rookies I've ever seen. He never gets flustered. You never see him get out of his comfort zone or anything like that."

Memphis Grizzlies: Stromile Swift continues to blossom since the trade that shipped Drew Gooden to Orlando. Swift's 24 points, 10 rebounds and six blocked shots against Denver on Wednesday had coach Hubie Brown gushing. "Without a doubt, this is Stromile's best all-around game," Brown told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "This was better than the Philadelphia game (Nov. 20 when he had 12 points, 16 rebounds and 8 blocks). . . . Anytime you put together a game of 24, 10 and six, you are working."

Utah Jazz: DeShawn Stevenson looks like he's ready to start breaking out in Utah. His 13 points off the bench on 6 of 7 shooting versus the Sonics comes behind a career high of 18 points on Sunday. "DeShawn is playing really well," John Stockton told the Salt Lake Tribune. "He's playing with a lot of confidence, he's executing and he's making the open shot."

Phoenix Suns: The return of Penny Hardaway and a healthy Tom Gugliotta seem to have the Suns back on track. Hardaway played only 15 minutes in his first game back on Wednesday but coach Frank Johnson said he'll return to the starting lineup eventually. "He was vital to us up to the point when he was hurt," Johnson told the Arizona Republic. "We saw what he was able to do in terms of crunch time, in terms of giving Steph (Marbury) a break in ballhandling, in terms of leadership. And defensively, he's a very good team defensive player."

Boston Celtics: Will Vin Baker be back this season? His agent, Aaron Goodwin says "absolutely." But you have to wonder. Goodwin also told the Boston Globe that "This kid is under a tremendous amount of pressure and 75 percent of it is because of the Boston Celtics." Piece that together with the fact that Jim O'Brien could care less if Baker comes back and you have the roots to what could be a big problem down the road. Baker has three more years on his contract after this season. How long can you ignore a guy? The Globe's Peter May foresees a Shawn Kemp-like buyout in Baker's future.

Washington Wizards: The Washington Post's Tom Boswell has one of the best articles on Michael Jordan that I've read this season. In an age when players don't leave it all on the floor, Jordan is fighting back pain and age to get his team to the playoffs one last time. "The doctor talked to him before the game, I was standing right there, and he said, 'Michael, there's a chance your back might spasm up again,' " coach Doug Collins said. "Michael said, 'Is it life-threatening?' The doctor said, 'No.' Michael said, 'Then I'm going to play.'"