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Old 07-03-2001, 02:00 PM   #1
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"By Marc Stein
Special to ESPN.com

There's a reason, friends, why half the NBA was traded last week in a 72-hour span.
Dallas' Finley is on the hot list of most-wanted free agents.

Reason being: It's much more financially friendly to shuffle salaries already on the books, as opposed to spending wildly in the summer.

That's the way teams think in the new NBA, where every owner not named Paul Allen or Mark Cuban is openly fearful of the forthcoming luxury tax. "Spooked" is the word used by Seattle president Wally Walker, and most of the other words in circulation are unprintable. No one wants to pay the dreaded dollar-for-dollar tax, which will be assessed to clubs with payrolls above $56 million.

Mind you, until a leaguewide audit is completed, that figure is just an estimate. The threshold could wind up a little higher than $56 million, or maybe a little less. So easiest thing, GMs figure, is to just stay as far away from the mid-50s as possible. Which could mean splitting up that meaty $4.5 million salary-cap exception between two players, as opposed to burning it on one body.

Still, there are roughly 150 free agents out there as of Sunday at 12:01 a.m. ... and the cap-less NHL isn't going to have all the fun. Come July 18, when the NBA's moratorium on signings and trades is lifted, there's going to be action. More trades, certainly, to follow those blockbusters involving Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Elton Brand and Jason Kidd/Stephon Marbury. The few teams way under the cap -- Chicago, Detroit and LA Clippers -- are eager for the opportunity to join in the wheel-dealing as third-party facilitators.

So you'll still need ESPN.com's annual Rough Guide to free agency. And here it is:

Fab Five

Kings forward Chris Webber: Free-agent life isn't as luxurious as it used to be, thanks to that blasted tax. Apparently no one was waiting with a plane at midnight Saturday to whisk Webber to a lavish recruiting trip, which might be because his options seem to be dwindling. The Bulls and Clippers were never going after him, and even Webber's hometown Pistons don't give themselves much of a chance. Detroit acquired Clifford Robinson instead, to serve either as a handy fallback or to give them an extra piece to work with as a third-team helper in a Webber deal. So, what does that leave? Knicks or Pacers in a three-way deal, which looms as CWebb's only likely escape route to the cushy East. Otherwise, he'll be back scanning the stands at ARCO Arena, taking last looks at the fans who just saw him swept again by the Lakers.

Mavericks swingman Michael Finley: He might be going somewhere ... on a recruiting visit or two. Just to remind the Mavs' faithful not to take his return for granted. But that's as far as it goes. Every other team in the league does see Finley's return to Dallas as a formality, even if he caused a nervous heartbeat or two last month by declining to show at a local awards banquet he historically attends.

Sixers center Dikembe Mutombo: Five games in the Finals against Shaquille O'Neal merely confirmed what the wise ol' warrior already knew. Which is: Stay in the East. Stay with little A.I. If only Philly could be so sure about Larry Brown and Pat Croce.

Raptors forward/center Antonio Davis: The move to Orlando seems so inevitable that some folks mistakenly assume he has already joined the Magic. Truth is, though, no one in this upper tier seems as certain to relocate as Davis -- not even Webber. The Magic are trying frantically to create the requisite cap space, which means a lucky team with cap space is about to land Bo Outlaw for nothing more than a second-round pick. You can hear the Raptors' panic from here.

Knicks guard Allan Houston: It's not quite a Finleyesque formality, but it's close. No one expects Houston to be sporting anything other than Knicks colors for the max unless team and player work together on a sign-and-trade.

Next Five

Spurs guard Derek Anderson: The X-factor believes his name should be scribbled with those in the tier above. Unfortunately, Anderson averaged only 11 points on 32 percent shooting in the playoffs -- and we mean before he was decked by Juwan Howard. San Antonio faces quite the quandary now. Anderson joined them last summer for a paltry $2.25 million, and now expects no less than $7 million next season. Trouble is, if Anderson and David Robinson consume all of their cap space, the Spurs won't be able to recruit the needed replacements for Avery Johnson and Sean Elliott. It's going to be awfully tough to stand up to the Lakers if they bring back the same team, which has the Spurs praying Anderson and Robinson will be reasonable in their demands.

Sixers guard Aaron McKie: Should the Spurs make the determination that Anderson isn't worth the cash he seeks, expect them to look here. With his defensive prowess and toughness -- Finals excepted -- McKie would make a fine Spur. Lots of teams would like him, actually, but Philadelphia remains foremost on that list and will fight to keep him.

Heat forward Anthony Mason: Pat Riley has made it clear that the free-spending days are over in Miami, so score another one for the luxury tax. As a result, every big name Heater apart from Alonzo Mourning has been mentioned as a candidate for exile. Common sense says Riles would rather part with Mason before he moved Brian Grant or Eddie Jones. Question is, how much Mase interest will there be beyond the $4.5 exception level? It probably takes a sign-and-trade to get Mase the money he expects.

Rockets forward Maurice Taylor: Could just be a Webber smoke screen, but the recent buzz in Houston has the Rockets more excited about retaining Taylor and lining him up alongside Eddie Griffin than splashing out for the summer's marquee man. Taylor, for his part, is equally intent on re-signing, talking confidently about how much more he has to offer. We'll see. Figure for now that Taylor stays, with judgment reserved on the Griffin partnership.

Raptors forward Jerome Williams: Imagine if Toronto lost its Junk Yard Dog in addition to Davis. Fact is, it isn't that hard to imagine. Williams is going to draw lots of feelers from teams that will see him as a cost-efficient option to the higher-priced rebounding specialists. Vince Carter could be getting awfully lonely in a hurry.

Generation Next

Raptors guard Alvin Williams: If we're talking about keeping Carter, from a Toronto perspective, this might be the most important Williams. It's probably unfair to the Raptors that everyone assumes Antonio, Jerome and Alvin are all gone, but you'd struggle to find anyone suggesting that they'll keep all three. Alvin, like the other two guys, is going to attract serious attention after a fine playoffs.

Hornets guard Eddie Robinson: Here's another athletic prospect on the rise (Miami's Bruce Bowen is another) who certainly boosted his stock in recent months. Charlotte's penny-pinching reputation isn't the real roadblock here, since it can only offer the $4.5 million exception because of cap constraints. It's the tough competition that has the Hornets worried; Robinson got calls from six teams Sunday when free-agency season opened and could be one of the summer's most chased commodities.

Hawks center Nazr Mohammed: Everyone needs a center, and Mohammed played one in Atlanta after getting traded and getting his chance. Nazr, post-Sixers, averaged 13 points and nine rebounds. He's going to get some calls.

Warriors center Marc Jackson: Like Mohammed, Jackson is bound to make the phone purr despite ringing up his success over a short span. Golden State doesn't think it'll lose Jackson as long as no one offers more than the $4.5 exception. If someone puts a richer chunk of cap space on the table -- the same circumstances Dallas faces with Calvin Booth -- the Warriors will have no recourse to keep Jackson from bolting.

Lakers guard Tyronn Lue: Yes, it does seem like every last Jerry West draft pick pans out. Lue is yet another who, after two seasons of near-silence, became a factor in the Finals. A tiny one, true, but still a factor. Lue was dubbed by one L.A. wag as "The Answering Machine" for his efforts opposite Allen Iverson. He might have done just enough to earn some free-agent money elsewhere, since the Lakers are fast-approaching the luxury-tax threshold and will be reluctant to spend on a situational player.

Generation Ex

Spurs center David Robinson: The Admiral heads an array of big names from a previous life. Were this 1996, or maybe even 1998, there would be an absolute frenzy surrounding such a dreamy array of Olympians. Not now, though. San Antonio, for example, is simply hoping Robinson re-ups for two more seasons and less than half of last season's $15 mil. Gregg Popovich flew straight to Hawaii once free-agency season started to sell the plan to Robinson immediately.

Jazz guard John Stockton: Raul Lopez is a long, long way away, given that Utah's first-rounder remains under contract to Spanish power Real Madrid through 2007. Stock won't last that long, but he'll come back for at least another year or two.

Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon: Again, if this is really the new plan, Dream might be right there with Mo Taylor atop the list of Houston targets -- ahead of Webber. It would certainly be nice, in the spirit of this Cal Ripken-Tony Gwynn summer, for Olajuwon to go out a Rocket. Especially since Seattle's Patrick Ewing, another free agent who hit the market a little late, is headed for his third team.

Heat guard Tim Hardaway: In the potential Riley clearout, Hardaway is a prime contender, since Timmy won't want to stomach the pay cut Riles has in mind. The good news? The Mavericks want to reunite Hardaway with Don Nelson, preferably in a big sign-and-trade swap featuring Howard Eisley. Since Miami would be reluctant to take on Eisley's huge contract, a straight signing is more likely -- although Chicago, Hardaway's hometown team, thinks it can convince him to sign on and tutor all the high school kiddies. There will be other suitors as well, surely.

Wizards guard Mitch Richmond: Courtesy of his buyout from Washington, Richmond joined the other Run TMCers -- yeah, Golden State's Chris Mullin is available, too -- in the free-agent queue. He wants to go to the Lakers or Heat, but might find that both teams want to give him only part of the $4.5 million exception. As mentioned way up above, there could be a lot of that going around. Speculation is already spreading that Portland, New York and Dallas will be the only teams willing to use the whole $4.5 mil. on one player ... although Minnesota probably has to consider it if Kevin Garnett is ever going to get some more help.

Fallen ... and they can't get up

Lakers guard Isaiah Rider: Reduced to volunteering for LA's summer-league team and begging Phil Jackson to give him one more chance. Much as he revels in these no-hope cases, Phil probably will provide it.

Sonics guard Ruben Patterson: Should have been one of the off-season's most intriguing free agents. The intrigue now surrounds how many teams will be willing to add him after Patterson was sentenced May 15 to a year in jail, with all but 15 days suspended, under a modified guilty plea to an attempted rape charge.

Cavaliers forward Chris Gatling: The Blazers' Rod Strickland was another option here, but we couldn't overlook poor Gatling. Yup, you guessed it: He's on the move again. Cleveland isn't expected to bring Gat back, which would force him onto team No. 7 in the past two seasons. Told you hockey can't hog all the player movement."


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Old 07-03-2001, 08:03 PM   #2
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Free-agent watch
MacCulloch madness taking hold
JULY 3, 2001

As the NBA's "third" season, which follows the regular season and postseason, commences with clubs imploring free agents to sign on the dotted line, we plan to keep you in the know with frequent updates on the rumors being heard and the deals being sealed around the league.

Here is some of the free-agent chatter going around the league:

From the "surprise, surprise" file comes word that plenty of teams are interested in Philly's Todd MacCulloch. Clubs like the SuperSonics and Knicks may be willing to take a chance on MacCulloch, who has a nice shooting touch, but isn't a great talent.

Lots of teams want big bodies, but demand is exceeding supply, so teams may end up paying more for lesser talents like MacCulloch. Still, the buzz is that Allen Iverson likes the way the big guy plays, so MacCulloch may end up staying in Philly with fellow free agents Dikembe Mutombo and Aaron McKie, who are virtual locks to stay in the city of brotherly love. . .

The Knicks have said they want to keep Allan Houston and Houston's agent has said his client wants to retire as a Knick. Of course, whenever something seems as certain as Houston remaining in New York, it usually means it won't happen. The numbers being thrown around for Houston's deal with Knicks are $115 million and seven years.

But New York could re-sign Houston and ship him out of Gotham in a sign-and-trade deal, which Houston would have to approve. Stay tuned. . . .

A glance at the NBA's list of free agents provides some interesting data, especially when you scan down to the list of Miami's free agents. Of the 13 players listed on the club's active roster at the end of the season, nine are free agents, a group that includes starters Bruce Bowen, Tim Hardaway and Anthony Mason. Given the club's first-round flameout against the Hornets, and Pat Riley's promise of changes aplenty, don't be surprised if the club re-signs less than five of its free agents. . . .

At the opposite end of the numbers game are the Hawks and Clippers -- each team has just two free agents. This pair of perennial also-rans already has made some noise on the player movement front and could make more moves in the pursuit of free-agent talent. . . .

The Jazz have a dicey situation brewing in regards to who is going to play center for the club next season. Olden Polynice, who started 79 games for the club this past season, opted out of his deal and is now a free agent.

While Polynice will never be mistaken for Shaquille O'Neal (or for the promising Marc Jackson), he was an effective contributor for the Jazz at times. If Polynice decides to play elsewhere, Utah may end having to overpay for an even-lesser talent because the franchise likely couldn't swing a deal for a restricted big man given its cap concerns. . . .
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Old 07-03-2001, 08:17 PM   #3
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As luxury tax looms, teams scramble to sign free agents
July 2, 2001
By Mike Kahn
SportsLine.com Executive Editor

Chris Webber's phone began ringing off the hook the minute the NBA's free-agency period officially began Saturday night.

Allan Houston's agent, Bill Strickland, pieced together a fax of interest to ship off to 10 different teams.

The Washington Wizards gave Mitch Richmond $10 million just to leave.

And at 12:01 (ET) Sunday morning, Antonio Davis reluctantly answered the front door of his palatial estate and it was the entire management contingent from the Orlando Magic without rings on their fingers, but certainly with bells on their toes.

Ah, yes, free agency in the NBA. All contracts that ran through the 2000-2001 season officially ended precisely at midnight Saturday, and the war for about 150 players or so has begun.

The team that ended the regular season with the best record in the NBA, the San Antonio Spurs, have a whopping 10 free agents to consider, led by David Robinson and Derek Anderson both of whom they'd love to keep, but eight others who are very much up in the air.

The Miami Heat have nine, with some pretty heavy duty decisions to make on veterans Tim Hardaway and Dan Majerle. There has been plenty of talk about Hardaway, despite his knees and feet rendering him virtually helpless the past two playoff seasons, signing for one more year in his hometown of Chicago or maybe even spot duty for his old coach Don Nelson, now with the Dallas Mavericks.

On paper, the New Jersey Nets have eight free agents, but two of those -- Soumaila Samake and Johnny Newman -- have been traded to Phoenix with Stephon Marbury for Jason Kidd and one of its free agents, Chris Dudley. Consequently, that deal and no other involving unsigned contracts can be completed until July 18.

Nevertheless, the war for players is on and nobody is talking above a whisper, or on the record about particular players, as each of the 29 teams is jockeying for position at the basket for reasons that range from rebuilding to taking another run at the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers or to just managing to avoid the luxury tax.

For the first time in NBA history, teams will be asked to match dollar for dollar to the league if they exceed what is believed to be approximately $55 million in basketball related income. In other words, any team which is at $65 million will actually have to give the NBA $10 million in additional money as a tax on overspending.

"That's just one of the reasons why I think this will be an unusually active period of player movement," Seattle SuperSonics general manager Rick Sund said. "The luxury tax gives everybody another reason to look over their roster."

In other words, to see who is a good investment, and who is not, which opens up the trade market. The Sonics have been shopping both Vin Baker and Gary Payton. Baker, a 6-11 former All-Star and Olympian, has fallen off the charts with his most ineffective season as an NBA player. Still only 28, he has asked to be traded. Payton, who shares the same agent as Baker, maintains he prefers to stay with the Sonics, but wants at least a two-year extension. But Payton, 33 next month, already will make $14 million next season and with a 15 percent kicker if he's traded, makes it extremely difficult to deal him.

But many of the free agents will be signed and then traded. Richmond was bought out of his contract for $10 million and now is a free agent who might just go home to play in Miami for the $1 million minimum (for 10-year veterans) considering the buyout money. There also had been talk of him going to the Lakers for the minimum.

There also will be a mid-level exception for teams over the cap, and that figure, although unofficial, has continuously been talked about at $4.5 million. Spread out over five years, suddenly that becomes a large contract that might cause problems toward luxury tax, too, so many teams might very well break it up into pieces for more than one player if they are over the cap.

All that aside, there are few marquee players on the market this season, unlike last year with Tim Duncan, Grant Hill, Tracy McGrady and Eddie Jones. Accordingly, we will rank the Sweet 16 free agents and their early scenarios.

Chris Webber, Sacramento Kings: This is Webber's first shot at controlling his own destiny, even if the best scenario might end up being with the Kings. He wants to go to New York and play with his buddy Latrell Sprewell, but the Knicks are over the cap and would have to give up Marcus Camby and Allan Houston to get him, which then would make the Knicks at best a middle-of-the-pack team in the East. Houston has cap space, as does his hometown of Detroit, but neither will work for different reasons. Indiana won't trade Jermaine O'Neal to make a sign-and-trade work, so Orlando might be the only viable option for a sign-and-trade.

Michael Finley, Dallas Mavericks: Finley opted out of his contract if only to get bigger money and no doubt Mark Cuban didn't even let him blink before a maximum seven-year contract was placed before his eyes. OK, he can't sign it yet, but he's allowed to drool all over it. It doesn't really matter. He's not going anywhere.

David Robinson, San Antonio Spurs: Like Finley, there is little or no chance of Robinson moving. Robinson was in shock, like everyone else, after the Spurs were trounced by the Lakers in the Western Conference finals, but he's still an effective center and many teams would love to have him. With his 36th birthday approaching, he isn't about to leave Tim Duncan now.

Dikembe Mutombo, Philadelphia 76ers: Mutombo isn't going anywhere either after savoring the opportunity of playing in his first NBA Finals. The long and the short of it, Mutombo and Allen Iverson make this team tough, and if everybody around them finally gets healthy, they'll battle for the Eastern Conference title again.

Antonio Davis, Toronto Raptors: Sources say the Magic have backed off from Webber based on the improbability of signing him, thus the appearance at Davis' front door. In the Eastern Conference, despite being undersized at 6-9, Davis is as effective as any of the other centers. And with the money the Magic have opened up under the cap, this could be the most likely pure free-agent transition among the best players. That is provided Davis will take a couple million below the maximum. The Rockets and Pacers might bid for him, too, but Davis does have a new home in Orlando and this seems as if it will happen.

Allan Houston, New York Knicks: Strickland reportedly faxed engaging letters to the Pistons, Blazers, Knicks, Kings, Raptors, Bucks, Rockets, Bulls, Heat and Hawks as places he'd be willing to play. That opens up numerous trade possibilities, but it seems the Knicks are very unlikely to move him unless he wants out, which doesn't appear to be the case.

Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets: The Dream looked done by mid-season last year, then bounced back strong. It appears he has another year or two of effective play in his weary knees and in this landscape of no centers in the NBA, he can help the Rockets compete if he stays, or help another team be that much tougher if he's so inclined.

Derek Anderson, San Antonio Spurs: Anderson was a key component to the Spurs run to the best regular season record in the NBA last season. On the other hand, he was ineffective in the first round of the playoffs, separated his shoulder in the second round, and when he returned against the Lakers, he was awful. This will be a real interesting situation to watch play out considering how close Anderson was to signing with other teams last year.

Maurice Taylor, Houston Rockets: Taylor was another guy last year that sparked a lot of talk, but no action and signed the one-year, mid-level deal like Anderson. Now it seems the Rockets are inclined to give him some decent money in a long-term deal to grow with the young nucleus of Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and rookie Eddie Griffin. But there's always the possibility of the Pistons coming at the Michigan product with big dough.

Doug Christie, Sacramento Kings He had everything to do with the Kings' defensive turnaround. He's almost 6-6 and very athletic, but he remains erratic offensively despite skills at all facets of the game. It's hard to fathom the Kings letting him go, but the Blazers, and particularly his hometown Sonics, like him very much. But best guess is he sticks with the Kings for a chance to win.

Arvydas Sabonis, Portland Trail Blazers This mountain of a man is the biggest question, so to speak. Every move he makes appears painful, and with his 37th birthday in December, odds are those battered knees and Achilles' tendons aren't going to improve with 300 pounds bounding up and down the floor even at a crawl. Will the Blazers talk him into playing another couple years and at what price?

Marc Jackson, Golden State Warriors: Jackson was an NBA phenomenon last season after spending a couple of seasons in Turkey. At 6-10, 270, everybody went gaga over his sweet touch and wide body. But he only played 48 games and there is plenty of suspicion out there over a long-term commitment to a guy who has had so few effective NBA games.

Alvin Williams, Toronto Raptors This could get real interesting, real fast. Williams was exceptional in the playoffs and, on that stage, his value soared. Despite Toronto being this fabulous international city and Vince Carter being a great teammate, players just don't like the hassle of going through customs on every flight to and fro, and the exchange rate, etc.

Patrick Ewing, Seattle SuperSonics: Tough to gauge what the big guy has left, although it isn't quite what Olajuwon has. But he will always work his tail off in practice and bring the warrior mentality to every game. Washington and Miami seem the most likely destinations for him next season.

John Stockton, Utah Jazz: Could it be that owner Larry Miller really said it isn't worth paying tax to keep Stockton around? A more egocentric superstar would be out of there by now. Instead, Stockton just dished the comment into the trashcan and ignored it. It's hard to fathom Stockton playing in any other uniform unless it says "USA" or "Gonzaga" on the front of it. But this has been a bit dicier than anyone could have imagined for this team aging faster than your Firestone radials, considering Stockton will be 40 during next season.

Christian Laettner, Washington Wizards: Isn't it hard to believe he was actually a member of the "Dream Team" as the lone collegian instead of Shaquille O'Neal? That's always the first thing that comes to mind with him ... that and his unique ability to alienate all of his teammates. And yet, it seems Phil Jackson wants him for the Lakers. How ironic that would be, with Shaq getting to keep Laettner in line after all these years. He does have skills that fit the triple post, that's for sure.

Best of the rest
Nazr Mohammed, Atlanta
Todd MacCulloch, Philadelphia
Tim Hardaway, Miami
Jerome Williams, Toronto
Joe Smith, Detroit
Chris Gatling, Cleveland
Shandon Anderson, Houston
Ruben Patterson, Seattle
Aaron McKie, Philadelphia
Shawn Bradley, Dallas
Anthony Mason, Miami
Avery Johnson, San Antonio
Mitch Richmond, Washington
Kendall Gill, New Jersey
Horace Grant, L.A. Lakers
Shammond Williams, Seattle
Mario Elie, Phoenix
Danny Manning, Utah
Clarence Weatherspoon, Cleveland
Tyronn Lue, L.A. Lakers
Corliss Williamson, Detroit
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