Tag:2010 FA Buzz
Posted on: June 30, 2010 7:29 pm
Edited on: July 1, 2010 2:51 am

Free-Agent Buzz (UPDATE)

The Atlanta Hawks officially extended a six-year, approximately $120 million offer to retain free agent Joe Johnson at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, the first salvo in the most anticipated free-agent negotiating period in NBA history, a person with knowledge of the offer told CBSSports.com.

The interest Johnson has generated, particularly from the Knicks, Bulls, Heat, Mavericks and Clippers, forced the Hawks' hand and resulted in the first of many surprises anticipated in the feeding frenzy over LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and other marquee players who hit the market a minute after the stroke of midnight.

Johnson agreed to meet with a contingent of Knicks officials led by his former coach in Phoenix, Mike D'Antoni, in Los Angeles shortly after official contact was permitted by league rules. The Knicks, who also planned to meet with free-agent shooting guard Mike Miller and at least speak by phone with D'Antoni's former power forward in Phoenix, Amar'e Stoudemire, are hoping to gage the desire of potential running mates before a Thursday meeting with James and his team of advisers, which is expected to take place near James' home in Akron, Ohio.

Johnson’s intentions have been difficult to read, with sources indicating that he’s been intent on hearing what other teams have to say before deciding whether to return to Atlanta. But the additional $25-plus million that Atlanta can offer him, with bigger raises and a sixth year, is expected to speak volumes in his decision. It would be a huge commitment on the Hawks’ part, one that would price Johnson’s many suitors out of the market.

It’s feasible that the max offer could simply be parlayed into a sign-and-trade arrangement, with Johnson going to the Knicks or Clippers, believed to be his two most likely destinations if he were to leave the Hawks. But if that’s the case, why would Atlanta show its cards this early? If they were preparing for Johnson to leave, they’d wait for him to bring offers to them and then react. Not the case here.

If Johnson stays, the options for teams in pursuit of LeBron are diminished exponentially. A wild card for the Knicks would be to sell LeBron on coming to New York and letting him recruit Johnson to join him. But short of landing LeBron, the Knicks’ chances of landing Johnson with a five-year deal – the most they could offer – would be close to zero. Not only would Johnson be insane to leave that much money on the table at this stage of his career – he’d be 34 in the sixth year of the Hawks’ deal – but his personality is such that he wouldn’t want to be the consolation prize for LeBron in New York. Being a franchise player has never been Johnson’s desire or strong suit, much less in the glare of New York.

With the free-agency free-for-all now upon us, here’s the rest of the buzz culled from team executives and agents throughout the day and night:

UPDATED 2:51 a.m.

The main event, of course, begins Thursday, when James is expected to host the Nets and Knicks at a location near his Akron home, with the Bulls, Heat, Clippers and, of course, Cavs also on the guest list through Friday. People with knowledge of James' strategy believe he will take the presentations very seriously and will wait until he has heard from all parties before formulating his game plan. Wade and Bosh, whose shared agent, Henry Thomas, is based in Chicago, have chosen to meet with teams Friday in the Windy City as opposed to traveling to New York. Knicks officials are trying to persuade Stoudemire to visit New York over the weekend, but a person with knowledge of Stoudemire's strategy indicated that he's lukewarm on the Knicks unless they add a major piece besides him.

* Knicks president Donnie Walsh, who recently had surgery to remove bone Spurs from his neck, did not travel with the team's contingent to Los Angeles for the meetings with Johnson and Miller, but will be in Ohio for the all-important pitch to James.

* Rockets GM Daryl Morey tweeted early Thursday upon the completion of a free-agent visit with Texas native Chris Bosh. "He's about winning so I focused on how w/Houston he can win a championship," Morey wrote. With Yao Ming opting into his $17.6 million contract for next season, with a backcourt of Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin, with defensive gurus Shane Battier and Trevor Ariza, and with respected coach Rick Adelman, Houston has a lot to offer Bosh. But Morey is smart enough to realize that he also has assets that would be attractive to Toronto GM Bryan Colangelo in a sign-and-trade -- which could be even more important. Colangelo has all but accepted the fact that Bosh is leaving, so he will push hard to get assets back. The Rockets also have extra draft picks acquired from the Knicks in the Tracy McGrady trade, which put the Knicks on track to clear cap space for two max free agents. The key piece is the Knicks' 2012 first-round pick, which is only top-five protected.

* Sources say David Lee and restricted free agent Rudy Gay are scheduled to visit the Timberwolves, who have a shade under $13 million in cap space. Lee, whose rights would have to be renounced by the Knicks to clear space for two max free agents, also has meetings through the weekend set up with the Bulls, Heat and Nets. Lee, a gifted rebounder whose offensive game has flourished under D'Antoni, could benefit from a willingness to sign for less than the max while the Knicks are in a holding pattern as they court LeBron and other higher-profile free agents. The Knicks reached out to Lee's agent, Mark Bartelstein, shortly after midnight to express their desire in keeping him. But the Knicks are hoping Lee will wait to make a decision until they know if they'll have cap space left.

* Thunder GM Sam Presti wasn't chasing any free agents early Thursday, but he was laying the groundwork for the all-important extension talks with his own superstar, Kevin Durant. Using the payroll flexibility he has created, Presti's No. 1 priority for the offseason is retaining Durant, who became eligible for an extension at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

* Bulls free-agent center Brad Miller heard from Cleveland, Houston, Chicago and Boston and expects to meet with those teams over the next few days, a person with knowledge of the conversations said.

* The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Jazz GM Kevin O'Connor reached out to Carlos Boozer early Thursday and is intent on continuing the dialogue. Boozer is expected to attract serious interest from the Heat, Bulls, Knicks and Nets. Miami president Pat Riley also is said to be focused on Johnson and Stoudemire.

UPDATED 12:54 a.m.

The Heat and Cavs expressed immediate interest in center Brendan Haywood, with the interest level from the Cavs described as "very high." Cleveland will need a center to replace free agent Shaquille O'Neal, and a person with knowledge of the negotiations said a double sign-and-trade scenario was brewing that would result in the Cavs and Mavs exchanging Haywood for O'Neal. "That's got legs," the person said. Miami, in hot pursuit of one of the elite free-agent power forwards, also is after Haywood as a center to play alongside one of the free-agent power forwards it's chasing.

UPDATED 10:58 p.m. ET

Atlanta's decision to max out Johnson means restricted free agent Josh Childress, who had been playing in Greece, stands to score big in free agency because there's no chance the Hawks will match given their expected commitment to Johnson, sources say. Though Childress left the Hawks for Greece two summers ago, his restricted free-agent status remains frozen on the NBA clock and the Hawks still have the right to match any offer sheet.

* In addition to Miller, point guard Raymond Felton is expected to be an early mid-level target of the Knicks, who will pursue him while courting LeBron, Johnson and other more decorated stars. Short of dumping Eddy Curry's $11.3 million salary, that's a sign of a possible backup strategy if the Knicks lose out on LeBron: get a commitment from a point guard or a shooter, use that acquisition to entice one of the top free agents, and keep Lee.

UPDATED 8:30 p.m. ET

In a surprising move, Spurs forward Richard Jefferson opted out of his contract, leaving $15 million on the table and a lot of people sitting around tables scratching their heads. Jefferson never fit as well as anticipated in San Antonio's system and culture, but his decision seems to be, believe it or not, financially motivated. It's a calculated gamble based on the expectation that the new CBA will dramatically reduce his earning potential on a new contract next summer. Although Jefferson will never make $15 million a year again, he obviously believes he'll do better in the long run by signing a multi-year deal this summer under the current rules as opposed to waiting for the uncertainty of next summer. Even with Jefferson's $15 million coming off the Spurs' books, they still don't have cap money to spend on free agents. But Jefferson's decision frees them from luxury-tax jeopardy for now.

• Stoudemire’s decision to invoke his early-termination option and become a free agent Wednesday was a foregone conclusion, but the line of communication between Suns owner Robert Sarver and Stoudemire’s agent, Happy Walters, remains open. Sarver, Walters, coach Alvin Gentry and Stoudemire met Tuesday night in Los Angeles to continue negotiations on an extension. Sarver and Walters followed up on the phone Wednesday, but the Suns’ offer still hadn’t reached the max level. Stoudemire, meanwhile, has no free-agent visits scheduled as the teams with the most cap space are focusing on the big prizes first – LeBron, Wade and Bosh. Stoudemire and Boozer will come into play quickly once the options for the Big Three become apparent. Stoudemire, according to a source, is open to meeting with the Knicks out of respect for his former coach, D’Antoni. But the Knicks are completely focused on making their pitch to LeBron Thursday in Akron.

• In an online video discussing the arrival of July 1, Bosh said he’ll probably be in Dallas awaiting offers . Since Bosh recently cut his dreadlocks, it’s not clear how long ago the video was shot. 

• Another free agent not named James, Wade or Bosh is expected to attract significant interest: Steve Blake. Blake could be had for roughly half Felton's price. One of the first inquiries is expected to come from the Lakers, who view Blake as a reasonably priced upgrade over Jordan Farmar as a backup to Derek Fisher and eventual starter. Indiana is a potential destination for Farmar, sources say.

Chris Paul notwithstanding, the wild card in the point-guard market remains Tony Parker. Once source said the Spurs are “hellbent on moving him,” but that will take time to play out. The Knicks are the most likely destination for Parker, but they need to address their top priority – LeBron – before they go down that road.

• The Trail Blazers’ GM position remains Danny Ferry’s job to turn down, and that’s exactly what Ferry is expected to do, a high-level coaching source familiar with the situation said. The meddling ownership elements that resulted in the demise of Kevin Pritchard and Tom Penn are still in place, and that’s a concern for Ferry, who may not be eager to step back into such a situation after an exhausting experience in Cleveland.

• Spurs assistant GM Dennis Lindsey is the only candidate to have interviewed for the Suns’ opening, sources say. Phoenix is focused on re-signing Stoudemire before further addressing the job vacated by Steve Kerr.

Category: NBA
Tags: 2010 FA Buzz
Posted on: June 30, 2010 2:01 am

Free-Agent Buzz

If you’re all LeBron-ed out … if you don’t care whether there was a free-agent summit or not … you’ve come to the right place. Here’s some free-agent news that has nothing to do with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, or Chris Bosh:

While those elite free agents prepare for an unmitigated frenzy set to begin at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, a certain gentle giant who’s a couple years away from any such courtship is quietly beginning to formulate a plan that he’d like management to execute. And it turns out that Dwight Howard, the most physically gifted big man in basketball, wants to team up with the most physical gifted little guy in basketball: Chris Paul.

On the eve of the most anticipated free-agent signing period since 1996, when Howard was 10 years old, the Magic center has formulated a short list of players he’d like GM Otis Smith to pursue this summer. No. 1 on the list, according to a person with close ties to Orlando management, is Hornets point guard Chris Paul.

Reports in the past week have noted that Orlando was one of several teams to inquire about Paul’s availability – mostly after CP3 was quoted as saying he’d be open to a trade if New Orleans wasn’t committed to investing in a championship-caliber roster. It turns out Smith was either prescient or had a pretty good idea of what acquisition would please Howard the most.

The idea of Paul tossing alley-oop passes to Howard is tantalizing, to say the least. But is it realistic? George Shinn, the Hornets’ lame-duck owner, issued a joint statement last week with prospective buyer Gary Chouest that reaffirmed the team’s commitment to building around Paul but didn’t rule out any avenues to improve the team. Whoever winds up owning the Hornets would prefer not to move Paul, a franchise cornerstone in every sense of the word. But financial and competitive realities – the Hornets won 37 games last season and are due to be a tax-paying team again in 2010-11 – have conspired to put all options on the table. Even trading Paul.

The Hornets have a point-guard-in-waiting, Darren Collison, who would mitigate the loss of Paul on the court, if not at the ticket office. Any team in the mix for Paul would have to agree to take back Emeka Okafor, scheduled to make $11.8 million next season and $53.2 million over the next for season. The last three seasons will come under a new collective bargaining agreement, in which owners are seeking to dramatically slash salaries. So the full magnitude of taking on such a contract is unknown at this point – but certainly not pleasant.

But one Western Conference executive called the scenario “plausible,” if nothing else because the Magic have shown themselves to have “deep, deep pockets,” the executive said.

To soften the blow from losing Paul, New Orleans would likely insist – and the Magic would agree – on the inclusion of Jameer Nelson in any such trade. Nelson was exposed as a liability in the Magic’s conference finals loss to the Celtics, but could bridge the gap to Collison with a cap-friendly contract that pays him $8.1 million in each of the next three seasons. The Magic have internally explored including Vince Carter in various trades they’re considering, sources say, but Carter’s $17.5 million salary next season might require a third team to get involved or force the Magic to explore another deal for him.

Another player on Howard’s short list, sources say, is Utah free agent Carlos Boozer, who would allow Howard to flourish as a defensive and rebounding force without having to handle the bulk of the scoring on the block, too. The capped-out Magic, of course, would have to acquire Boozer via a sign-and-trade arrangement. The Jazz might be enticed by Brandon Bass and free agent J.J. Redick, for starters.

As an aside, Howard and I obviously think alike. Some of you may recall the “Perfect Team” exercise I performed over several weeks during the 2009-10 season – putting together what I deemed to be the best possible roster that adhered to the $57.7 million salary cap. My center: Howard. My point guard: Paul. It’s not clear whether those two teaming up in Orlando would be perfection. But they would be formidable and fun to watch, for sure.

Here’s some more free-agent buzz with less than 24 hours to go before LeBron-a-Geddon:

• As the Knicks put the final touches on their pitch to James, unofficially scheduled for Thursday in Ohio, team president Donnie Walsh continues to ramp up efforts to trade Eddy Curry and his $11.3 million contract. The extra cap space that would be added to the Knicks’ $34.1 million would either facilitate the pursuit of three max free agents – a new wrinkle in the Knicks’ plan – or allow them to get two max players and retain unrestricted free agent David Lee. SI.com’s Ian Thomsen wrote that the Knicks plan to allow James to play fantasy GM on Thursday and choose his own sidekicks. The Knicks will suggest, SI.com reported, that James consider Atlanta free agent Joe Johnson as a better fit than Dwyane Wade, who like James is at his best when handling the ball the majority of the time. The problem with the plan, short of an unlikely salary dump of Curry’s contract, is all three free agents (James, another wing, and a power forward such as Chris Bosh or Amar’e Stoudemire) would have to accept significantly less than the max to fit into New York’s cap space. One rival executive described New York’s attempts to peddle Curry “a tough, tough sell,” and noted that the only way a team under the cap would be willing to absorb Curry is if Danilo Gallinari were included in the trade.

• While Miami completed the anticipated buyout of James Jones to creep closer to the space needed to combine two max free agents with Dwyane Wade, the Nets are on the verge of clearing more space with a buyout of forward Kris Humphries, sources say. If the Nets could trade Humphries’ $3.2 million contract to a team that’s under the cap, they’d achieve the coveted space to import two max free agents. But with no takers for Humphries so far, a mere buyout would require further housekeeping to secure the necessary space.

• There are strong indications that a decision could be coming by the end of the week from Doc Rivers on whether he’s stepping down as the Celtics coach or returning for another championship run – assuming Boston’s core will stay together. That’s an open question, and Rivers’ future and the potential return of free agents Ray Allen and Paul Pierce are as intertwined as they could be. Former Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro, who would be a strong candidate to replace Rivers if he steps down, had dinner with Donald Sterling Tuesday night to discuss the Clippers’ job for which he’s a finalist with former Timberwolves coach Dwane Casey.

Lakers assistant Brian Shaw leaving Cleveland without a job offer from the Cavs – while Byron Scott’s agent, Brian McInerney, was publicly congratulating him – provided the latest strange twist in the Cavs’ offseason. A person with knowledge of the situation said Tuesday that Shaw and the Cavs were entering the negotiating phase, but it’s not clear how that’s done without a job offer.

• Amar’e Stoudemire and his agent, Happy Walters, sat down with Suns owner Robert Sarver and coach Alvin Gentry in Los Angeles Tuesday in what sources described as a productive meeting aimed at keeping Stoudemire from opting out of his contract and hitting the free-agent market. It wasn’t clear if Sarver, who has taken on the role of conducting basketball business with GMs and agents after GM Steve Kerr and assistant David Griffin left the front office, increased his contract offer to the maximum. Either way, sources with knowledge of Stoudemire’s situation believe there’s a strong possibility that not even a max offer would keep him from opting out and testing the market with teams that have cap space, such as the Knicks, Nets, Bulls and Heat.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com