View Full Version : Elite Free Agents -Top to Bottom.

06-30-2003, 07:43 AM
Star-Ledger Staff

Believe it or not, this isn't all about Jason Kidd.

It will only seem that way, because when your job description is "best point guard of this generation," you are basically recession-proof.

Still, there will be some activity in the NBA free-agent market, which opens today, particularly among those teams that have money to spend. Those teams are Denver, San Antonio, Utah and the Los Angeles Clippers, and those first three will use every means at their disposal to get two quality players each.

The Clippers, meanwhile, have an army of restricted free agents, which they can re-sign regardless of what offer they receive from other teams. The problem with the Clippers, however, is they have re-signed only two free agents since Donald Sterling has owned the team (Loy Vaught, Eric Piatkowski), and despite management claims to the contrary, that trend is likely to continue. Each summer, they are transformed from The Team to Watch into The Team to Leave.

The vast majority of other NBA teams, meanwhile, is going Draconian: Fear of expanding the payroll and entering luxury tax territory is forcing most teams to curtail spending, so much that they won't even use the exceptions -- those extra funds available to teams over the salary cap -- on free agents.

Indeed, the mid-level exception, which is expected to carry a value of $4.8 million once the new salary cap is announced in a few weeks, could buy a terrific player in this buyer's market. Utilizing this exception can allow a team to offer a six-year contract in excess of $35 million, and many of the aging stars of yesteryear (Alonzo Mourning, Gary Payton, Reggie Miller, Scottie Pippen) may find themselves with no other option but to take it.

Last summer, however, only five teams used the mid-level on a single player -- Washington (Larry Hughes), Detroit (Chauncey Billups), and Sacramento (Keon Clark), Seattle (Jerome James) and the Lakers (Devean George) -- and there probably won't be more than five again until the economy improves. For example, Boston president Danny Ainge says that use of the exception this summer would be "irresponsible business," even though the Celtics desperately need to add a player to remain competitive.

Another popular way nowadays to acquire free agents for capped-out teams is via a sign-and-trade agreement. That is probably the route Miami will take with Mourning, Milwaukee with Payton, and the Nets with Kidd, if he decides that capped-out Dallas is his next destination.

But Kidd is the guy to watch. He will be the first domino to tumble, followed in short order by All-Star forward Jermaine O'Neal of Indiana, and the other big names will be snatched up fairly quickly when the moratorium on signings ends on July 16.

Here's a review of who's for sale, and where they might be headed:


Players who could receive as much as the market can bear, if not maximum deals.

Tim Duncan:

He'll get seven years and $120 million from the Spurs, no haggling necessary.

Jason Kidd:

Three options: Re-sign with the Nets, sign a max deal with San Antonio, or force a sign-and-trade to Dallas. And it still hasn't been established whether he will be the Spurs' top priority.

Jermaine O'Neal:

It will take a great sales job to pry him away from Indiana, but it isn't impossible.

Gilbert Arenas:

He's a restricted free agent, but a special case. Since he was a second-round pick in 2001, and given only a two-year deal, the Warriors can only match up to a $4.9 million first-year salary. Denver will offer much more than that.

Alonzo Mourning:

Think he could be done? His accountant won't think so. Miami is likely to look elsewhere, but he's high on the list for title contenders (Dallas, San Antonio, Lakers). The question is how his kidney ailment will affect the bidding. If healthy, he's still the league's second-best center.


Players who won't be maxed out, but will probably receive more than exception money.

Michael Olowokandi:

Yes, he has underachieved, but there aren't many 7-footers to be had. Denver is expected to make the most lucrative offer (say, in the six-year, $45-million range), but Miami could put in a sizable bid as well.

Brad Miller:

Another center, and they're rare. The Pacers will overpay to keep him if O'Neal gets away. And if O'Neal stays in Indy, Miller could be the Spurs' fallback choice.

P.J. Brown:

Everybody's Plan B. The Hornets can offer him a bundle to stay, but he has to see where that franchise is going, and may consider taking someone else's exception money, just to escape the George Shinn circus.

Karl Malone:

He says he wants to stay in Utah, Larry Miller says he wants him back, but in the end someone's going to say something stupid and the whole thing will blow up. He has targeted the Lakers, Spurs and Mavericks.

Gary Payton:

Ernie Grunfeld said the Bucks will re-sign him, but Grunfeld isn't around anymore, and this guy turns 35 next month. His market could dry up quickly: If he doesn't get a good offer from Milwaukee, he'll be forced to take the mid-level from the Lakers or Warriors. ... or perhaps even the Nets, if Kidd splits.

Keon Clark:

He flew under everyone's radar last year, and it won't happen again. The Kings are willing to pay to keep him away from their West rivals.


Players likely to settle for the mid-level exception.

Juwan Howard:

He'll take a considerable pay cut from his $20-million salary last season, but he's a good, stable piece for a contending team.

Scottie Pippen:

If he doesn't get a sniff for the first few weeks, someone's going to steal him. Going on 38, he's still as good as anybody when his knee holds up.

Rasho Nesterovic:

Minnesota needs to hold on to him, especially now, since the pieces are coming together. But if the Spurs can't get someone from their A-list, he could hear from them.

Derrick Coleman:

There's no telling what the market will be for a 35-year-old who is playing well, but injury-prone. A good team may split the mid-level and offer him half.

Dale Davis:

Same boat as Coleman. At 34, he still has much to contribute, and teams like Boston or Orlando could really use him.


Players who can solicit a big contract, but whose offers can be matched by current teams.

Elton Brand:

The best of the restricteds, and worthy of a max deal. He'll have two options: Sign a one-year deal with the Clippers and become unrestricted next year; or sign a whopper offer sheet with another team and hope the Clippers don't match. Sterling says he'll match. Surprise: Nobody believes him.

Andre Miller:

Utah wants him, needs him, and probably will get him. After all, the Clips can't match every offer sheet that is dropped on Elgin Baylor's desk.

Lamar Odom:

Probably a good choice for the Knicks, but it will take a sign-and-trade deal to get it done, because the Clippers want to keep him.

Predrag Drobnjak:

Another second-tier big man, the Sonics want to retain him.

Kenny Thomas:

He was the Sixers best forward last season; he's not going anywhere.

Richard Hamilton:

On the verge of becoming an All-Star in Detroit, so he's not getting away, either.

Jason Terry:

Regardless of who owns or operates the Hawks -- AOL Time-Warner is still trying to get out of the way -- they can't afford to lose him.

Corey Maggette:

Nice player with room for improvement, he might slip through the cracks in Clipperland, where Sterling is expected to re-sign three or four guys and then close the vault.

06-30-2003, 12:52 PM
they're still talking about the kidd thing. interesting.

06-30-2003, 01:07 PM
Originally posted by: mavsfanforever
Jason Kidd:

Three options: Re-sign with the Nets, sign a max deal with San Antonio, or force a sign-and-trade to Dallas. And it still hasn't been established whether he will be the Spurs' top priority.

Jermaine O'Neal:

It will take a great sales job to pry him away from Indiana, but it isn't impossible.

I can't wait to see what happens beginning tomorrow. Don't forget that nothing can be written down and taken to the bank until July 16th. But at least beginning tomorrow, clubs will have to start showing their hands. Including the Spurs, Parker will probably lose a little sleep the next couple of days until it is known what their intention is.

06-30-2003, 01:13 PM
More importantly, we will know if teams did not make tender offers for restricted free agents; or if any team renounced the rights to certain players. In particular, Malone and Mourning.

06-30-2003, 01:21 PM
we will be able to find out a lot starting tomorrow. i am leaving the country on july 17, so i hope i have a good idea of what is going on before then!

06-30-2003, 01:32 PM
You should. And the NBA is becoming a more popular league worldwide, so you should have no problem keeping up with the transactions.

06-30-2003, 01:34 PM
yeah, it will just be in a foreign language, and i think my traveling partners will kill me if i obsess too much about the mavs. they are sick of it already, i think.

06-30-2003, 01:36 PM
Originally posted by: Mandyahl
yeah, it will just be in a foreign language, and i think my traveling partners will kill me if i obsess too much about the mavs. they are sick of it already, i think.

Where are you going? And have you not brought your friends to the good side of being Maverick fans?

06-30-2003, 01:43 PM
to spain. and i have brought them to the good side...they just don't happen to be quite as obsessed as i am.

Tony tha Mavs fan
06-30-2003, 02:59 PM
Have fun in Spain Mandyahl, I hope you get a chance to see the great Jorge Vazquez play for national team there, he's supposed to be a lottery pick next year. Naw, i'm kidding Jorge is the guy who cuts my grassi/expressions/face-icon-small-wink.gif, but it seems like everyone is lookin for the next big from Europe, thought i'd add his name too.

06-30-2003, 03:00 PM
good one tony...

Tony tha Mavs fan
06-30-2003, 03:00 PM
stayin on topic, i'd like to see Dale Davis, and Karl Malone in Dallas next year, they'd greatly help in adding some rebounding and toughness this team needs.