View Full Version : Free agency rumors

07-08-2001, 04:45 PM
First free-agent impressions
July 07, 2001

The first full week of NBA free agency has passed without a single commitment, verbal or otherwise, from a free agent, high-profile or otherwise.

Teams, players and agents may believe it's too early in the process to reach conclusions.

We are under no such constraints.

Here are our first conclusions:

• The Pistons' meeting with Chris Webber was mostly window dressing. Privately, the Pistons know their chances of landing Webber are minuscule, but to appease Michiganders still in love with the former Fab Fiver, Joe Dumars arranged a meeting with Webber, who was in Detroit visiting family anyway.

• The Spurs are serious about taking a hard line with center David Robinson, who now says he wants "market value,' instead of a 50% pay cut. Robinson is going to find it very difficult to get that market value from another team for which he would even consider playing and the Spurs know it. The Spurs still want both Robinson and Derek Anderson back on their roster, but are willing to check out other options after what happened to them in the Western Conference finals. Those include sign-and-trade deals that could involve Robinson and/or Anderson.

• The Raptors are in no mood to facilitate a sign-and-trade deal with Orlando that will make Antonio Davis a Magician. That means Davis is apt to wind up back in Toronto.

• The Hawks have told Nazr Mohammed to test the free agent market and then let them know what it will take to bring him back to Atlanta. They are confident he will return, and if he does, they look more and more like one of the top six teams in the Eastern Conference.

• Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss doesn't want to pay the luxury tax any more than most other owners but may have no choice. A quick glance at the 10 guaranteed contracts he has for next season shows his team perilously close to the luxury tax trigger figure. And the Lakers have to have 12 players, even if they do have Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, who will take up $32.8 million salary cap room between them next season.

• The Kings, far from being held hostage by Webber, are nicely positioned for the future after dumping Nick Anderson's onerous contract in the Mike Bibby-for-Jason Williams deal. If you think that means the Kings might be dealing Brent Price before the season begins, give yourself an "A" in creative general managership.

More conclusions. Here is what I expect to happen this week, now that players and agents have discovered a new, more fiscally stingy attitude among NBA clubs:

• Webber will keep all of us guessing his intentions all week.

• The Spurs will reach accord with both Robinson and Anderson.

• Avery Johnson will announce his intent to continue his career in Denver, where the Nuggets will be willing to sign him for three seasons.

• The Lakers will replace Horace Grant with Samaki Walker and Grant will sign a deal to return to Orlando after Davis takes the Raptors' money and returns to Toronto.

• The Sixers will reach agreement with both Dikembe Mutombo and Aaron McKie, which will bring them perilously close to paying the luxury tax, too.

• About 80% of the available free agents are going to begin screaming at the top of their lungs that the collective bargaining agreement now in place isn't fair, which is what a lot of their agents were trying to tell them two years ago.

The most obvious conclusion of all after one week is this:

Fiscal responsibility is at work in the NBA in the form of the luxury tax.

David Stern knew the owners had to be rescued from themselves, but even Stern likely is surprised at how well his little life raft is doing in the roily seas of financial strife.

Nobody truly wants to pay the luxury tax, with the possible exception of Mark Cuban, who sees it as a competitive advantage for the Mavericks.

Some teams will pay the luxury tax as a matter of competitive survival. The Blazers, Kings and Knicks fall into this category.

Every other team has been chilled by the prospect of the tax to the point.

A refresher course:

• If player salaries and benefits exceed 55% of what is called "basketball-related income,' player salaries must be reduced by as much as 10%, across the board, to get the percentage down to 55.

• If that percentage still exceeds 55% after the players give back 10% of their compensation, then the luxury tax kicks in. That means any team whose player payroll exceeds a level based on 61.1% of basketball-related income must pay a dollar-for-dollar "tax" above that level.

Bottom line for fans who didn't major in economics or labor law:

• Teams have been told the players percentage will, in fact, exceed 55% this season even after they give back 10% of their pay and the trigger number for the luxury tax is expected to be around $53.7 million.

It's that $53.7 million that is staring the Maloof Brothers in the face in Sacramento, if not now, then next summer, when Mike Bibby's contract will come up for rookie scale extension, starting at about $8 million.

It appears the Maloofs are willing to pay the dollar-for-dollar it will take to remain one of the challengers to the Lakers in the Western Conference. It is merely a matter of how much luxury tax they are willing to pay.

By this time next week, they ought to have a much better idea.

Of course, Webber waffles weekly, so this thing could drag on beyond July 18.

Some things take longer to reach conclusion than others.

07-20-2001, 09:11 AM
Kings of the off-season
July 19, 2001

Many free-agent deals remain to be completed, but now that Chris Webber has decided to stay put, it’s not too early to pick winners and losers in the NBA’s all-important summer recruiting season.

The world loves winners, so let’s start with them.

Sacramento Kings

No team had more to lose this summer than Sacramento. After finally rising to elite level after decades of mediocrity and worse, the Kings stood to suffer a blow to their credibility as a potential title contender that could have crippled them for years.

Had Chris Webber chosen to go elsewhere the Kings would have remained a playoff team in the West. They might even have been able to sign a serviceable replacement at power forward. But ask the Nuggets or Pistons what happens to teams that lose franchise players to free agency. Denver hasn’t been back to the playoffs since losing Dikembe Mutombo. Detroit will be feeling the effects of losing Grant Hill for years to come.

Since draft night the Kings have solidified their position in the upper echelon of NBA teams. Depending on what happens over the next week or so in San Antonio, they may even have moved solidly into the No. 2 spot in the West, behind only the Lakers.

Toronto Raptors

Antonio Davis told the world he wanted to play for the Magic because he lives in Orlando in the off-season and that’s where his family wanted him to be. Then he insisted he was ready to sign with the Bulls because his wife’s family is from the Chicago suburbs and he already had picked out a home and a school district there. By being remarkably patient and persistent and creative with an offer, Raptors GM Glen Grunwald secured the return of one of his key players. Once Grunwald got Davis, Jerome Williams fell right into place and it will be a surprise if point guard Alvin Williams doesn’t re-sign, giving Grunwald a nice trifecta payoff.

Further, by doing what they had to do this summer to remain one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams, the Raptors have optimized their chances of re-signing Vince Carter next summer.

Atlanta Hawks

The roster momentum the Hawks gained when they made the best draft-night trade of the past several years would have been lost had they not been able to re-sign Nazr Mohammed. They waited patiently while Mohammed tested the market, having assured him they were ready to do what they had to do to keep him. And they kept him.

Chicago Bulls

This would have been a much easier tab had they not gotten involved in that little contretemps involving Antonio Davis, but at least they are going to get one of the free agents they actually wanted this summer. That’s in stark contrast to last summer, when they got played like a fiddle by one free agent after another and had to grossly overpay Ron Mercer to keep from getting shut out altogether.

This time, the Bulls added a very talented young player, Eddie Robinson, who is going to get better for years, and they didn’t have to overpay to do it. In fact, in another year or two Robinson is going to wonder why he’s underpaid.

Tim Floyd is the real winner. For the first time since he agreed to replace Phil Jackson on the Bulls bench he can look forward to going to training camp.

There were losers among the teams, too.

Los Angeles Lakers

Because Dr. Jerry Buss made it clear he doesn’t want to pay the luxury tax this season GM Mitch Kupchak was saddled with financial constraints unlike any of his GM brethren. He was asked to fill out the Lakers roster with less than $3 million. That’s why Horace Grant went back to Orlando and why Tyronn Lue ended up in Washington. They are going to miss the defensive intensity both players brought to last season’s playoffs, when Grant did such a tremendous job of handling three straight superstar power forwards in the Western playoffs (Rasheed Wallace, Chris Webber and Tim Duncan) and Lue was so helpful in slowing Allen Iverson in the finals.

The Lakers are going to get Mitch Richmond as a replacement for retiring Ron Harper, Samaki Walker to replace Grant and will re-sign Mike Penberthy to be their backup point guard.

In the end, though, they may still end up over the luxury tax threshold.

Orlando Magic

A team that put so much effort and emotion into the pursuit of Antonio Davis ended up settling for two old veterans, Grant and Patrick Ewing. Further, they may lose John Amaechi to the Jazz.

Eventually, they may turn this moderately disappointing recruiting season to their benefit in 2003, when Tim Duncan again becomes a free agent and they won’t have Davis’ big salary on their cap.

San Antonio Spurs

They will re-sign David Robinson and, eventually, Derek Anderson. But they took a big hit in their public relations posterior when they asked Robinson to take a huge pay cut for the good of the team. Then, when they had to swallow hard and give Robinson what he thought he was worth, nearly $10 million, they had to make an offer to Anderson he thought was unworthy.

The Spurs also lost Walker and Avery Johnson, both starters for portions of last season.

Oh, wait. They’re going to re-sign Danny Ferry.

On second thought, don’t wait.