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By Chad Ford
Send an Email to Chad Ford Monday, January 26
Updated: January 27
9:35 AM ET
Cap space. It's priceless.
That's the mantra being pushed around the NBA as we approach the Feb. 19 trade deadline. The Rasheed Wallace sweepstakes are essentially an attempt by several teams (read: Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit) to dump a big salary or two so they'll have money to burn this summer as they eye the free-agent class of 2004.
Such an approach begs the question: Are there any free agents worth writing home about? And, even more important, will any team have enough cash and a good enough sales pitch to land the ultimate prize -- Kobe Bryant?
Los Angeles Lakers
2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
34 21.9 4.9 4.4 .422 .852
Bryant has been hinting all year that he's serious about opting out of his contract and exploring free-agency. He's had issues with coach Phil Jackson and teammate Shaquille O'Neal, and those close to him reportedly feel Bryant is looking for a team of which he can be the leader.
If Kobe had doubts about rejoining the Lakers before, comments by Jackson over the weekend won't help matters. Jackson reiterated that the Lakers were O'Neal's team and that Bryant would have to continue to take a back seat for the next few seasons.
"I think, ultimately, that's going to be one of the understandings about Kobe coming back and being part of the Lakers, is to what extent does he want to be a coachable player in the structure that we have as a team in the present day?" Jackson told the L.A. Daily News. "Which would include Shaq being here. Shaq's going to be the focal point."
"This is what we committed to," Jackson added. "We have (two) more years with Shaquille, and it's $50 million-plus out there that are still going to paid to Shaquille, so that's all part of the package. We're not going anywhere from that. Kobe has complemented Shaq extremely well, when he's wanted to. And there's never been playoff runs like we've had. And so we know that it's possible when we want to get to that point. And that's the direction we're headed this year. We want to get to that point this year."
That, to Insider, sounds a lot like an ultimatum to Kobe. If what everyone is saying about Kobe is true (and, of course, assuming he is acquitted of the charges now against him) teams are going to have a great shot at landing him this summer.
Who? That's the real issue. If last summer was any indication ... things don't look too good. The Spurs were the big players last summer. Unfortunately for San Antonio, its big score was not Jason Kidd. Instead, the Spurs settled for Rasho Nesterovic. The Heat struck out on Elton Brand before nabbing Lamar Odom. The Nuggets claimed Andre Miller from purgatory but had to stop the rebuilding effort there. The Jazz, who had more money than anyone, convinced Corey Maggette and Jason Terry to sign offer sheets but ultimately walked away empty handed.
The common denominator? Last summer just about everything went through Kidd or the Clippers. Unlike the rest of the free agents out there, Clippers free agents are sure thing. Buy 'em a drink and they'll get into bed with anyone. They'll do anything to get out of L.A.
Will this year be any different?
Assuming the cap rises to $45 million, six teams will have enough cap room to make some noise. To get next year's cap figure, Insider took into account a team's committed salaries for '04, free-agent cap holds for players the team is likely to keep, minimum roster holds for teams that have fewer than 11 players under contract, and first-round pick cap holds based on their current standings.
2004 Cap Space
Team Proj. Cap Space
Jazz $30 million
Bobcats $23 million
Nuggets $13-21 million
Clippers $11.8 million
Spurs $11.3 million
Suns $6.5 million
The results? The Jazz, Bobcats and Nuggets will be the only teams with "max" cap room without major adjustments. The Nuggets can increase their cap space to roughly $21 million if Marcus Camby either opts out of his contract or the team decides to waive him before the start of the season. The last year of Camby's contract is not guaranteed if he chooses not to opt out. The Bobcats, although they have the room, have to sign an entire team and are unlikely to go after a big-name free agent.
The Clippers stand at $11.8 million and can increase that cap room to $13.8 million if they choose not to pick up their option on Marko Jaric. The Spurs also have a signficant amount of room, but they have two players in restricted free agency, Emanuel Ginobili and Hedo Turkoglu, that they are interested in re-signing.
The Suns' previously reported $9 million in cap room is lowered by the fact they have two first-round draft picks (their own and the Knicks') that figure to be in the lottery. The cap holds for those two picks should reduce their available cap space by $3-4 million.
The Pistons could be looking at $6 million in cap room but will use it to try to re-sign Mehmet Okur. The Cavaliers and Wizards will have some cap room, but not enough to make a run at a major free agent.
Here's Insider's first peek at the free-agent class of 2004. While the names on the board may leave fans breathless, there's little chance most of these guys ever leave home.
1. Kobe Bryant, G, Lakers (PO)
The skinny: Assuming Kobe isn't serving time in Eagle County, Kobe's dilemma is this -- is there enough money out there from a good team to lure him out of L.A.? I can't imagine him playing for the Jazz or Nuggets, based on geography more than the make-up of the team. The Spurs, Suns and, to a lesser extent, the Clippers would be more desirable options. The Spurs would be able to get close, if they give up on everyone else. The Suns would need to dump their two first-round picks or another player to get close to what Kobe will be looking for money-wise. The Clippers could get far enough under the cap to make an offer, but will Kobe come? They would be much better with Kobe in the backcourt, but without a point guard or a center, would they be a championship contender? Sign-and-trades are always possible, but the Lakers are in the driver's seat.
2. Steve Nash, G, Mavs (PO)
The skinny: Nash likely will opt out, but chances are he will stay in Dallas. Nash is one of the few guys in the NBA who is actually underpaid at the moment. Surely, Mark Cuban will throw a lucrative long-term contract at him to keep him in Dallas. If that's not enough for Nash, the Suns and Clippers are in desperate need of a point guard, and both teams would be willing to throw the cash his way.
3. Antoine Walker, F, Mavericks (PO)
The skinny: After all the abuse and trade rumors, will Walker exercise his player option and look for a better situation? It depends on how deep Cuban's pockets are. He already has Dirk Nowitzki, Michael Finely and Antawn Jamison locked up to max-type contracts. With Nash also looking for a big deal, can Cuban afford both? If he can't, is Walker willing to take a pay cut to move on? It's hard to imagine the Jazz, Nuggets, Clippers or Spurs throwing max money at him. Teams would be interested in the $8-9 million range, but not at the $14 million rate he's going for.
4. Rasheed Wallace, F, Blazers
The skinny: It's hard to believe Wallace will be a Blazer next season. One, for the first time in awhile, it appears Paul Allen is serious about cutting some payroll. Two, for the first time in awhile, the Blazers are emphasizing character again. Neither factor bodes well for Wallace. The question is, where does he go? Not to a young team like Denver or Utah. Not to a veteran team worried about chemistry. And coming off a $17 million-a-year contract, just how much of a pay cut will he be willing to take? In other words, people will be interested, but at what price? Conventional wisdom says the Knicks, Rockets and Mavericks will be the big players this summer. But none of them has the cash to offer him anything more than the mid-level exception.
5. Kenyon Martin, F, Nets (R)
The skinny: Martin is looking for a six-year, $90 million deal from the Nets. Team president Rod Thorn is understandably balking. The Nuggets will have interest and could offer him a lot of money and still have room, especially if Camby is gone, to go after their other favorite, Quentin Richardson.
6. Mehmet Okur, C, Pistons (R)
The skinny: There's a dearth of big men available, and a number of teams are going to show interest in Okur, starting with the Pistons. Team president Joe Dumars has been trying to clear cap space to make sure he can re-sign him. Right now Dumars is looking at roughly $6 million in room. Will that be enough? The Jazz, Nuggets, Suns and Clippers all like him and would be willing to offer more depending on what the top five free agents decide to do. Dumars is working the phones trying to get one more contract off the books. Okur will fall right in that $6-8 million range this summer. That's cutting it awfully close.
7. Jamal Crawford, G, Bulls (R)
The skinny: Crawford wants out of Chicago, and there are plenty of teams willing to take him. The Bulls' decision to move Crawford exclusively to the two dampens his value. Teams that believe Crawford could be a good point guard in the league are going to be the most interested. Look for the Clippers and Cavaliers to make the most noise. If the Cavs dump Jeff McInnis this summer, they should be able to make an offer for Crawford above the mid-level exception.
8. Emanuel Ginobili, G, Spurs (R)
The skinny: The Spurs want to keep him. But if they get wrapped up in the Kobe sweepstakes or get involved in a trade, Ginobili could be in play. The Jazz and Nuggets both love him and won't let him slip if he, for some reason, wiggles out of the Spurs' grasp.
9. Erick Dampier, C, Warriors (PO)
The skinny: Dampier opting out of his huge contract was inconceivable last summer, but he's having the type of season that may cause him to reconsider. There are plenty of teams that need a big man, and if the Jazz or Nuggets show some interest, it may be his best and only chance to get out of the bay.
10. Quentin Richardson, G, Clippers (R)
The skinny: The word on the street is the Nuggets love him. The speculation is met with a chuckle when posed directly to Nuggets brass. He does fit the system and seems like an upgrade ... but what's the price? The Clippers own his Bird rights. If they can't get Kobe, they'll want to keep him, and Denver GM Kiki Vandeweghe won't overpay.
Best of the Rest
Player Option: Marcus Camby, C, Nuggets; Latrell Sprewell, SG, T-Wolves; Gary Payton, G, Lakers; Karl Malone, F, Lakers; Kurt Thomas, F, Knicks; Stephen Jackson, G/F, Hawks; Jerome James, C, Sonics; Penny Hardaway, G, Knicks; Mark Blount, C, Celtics; Troy Hudson, G, T-Wolves; Zaur Pachulia, C, Magic.
Unrestricted: Vlade Divac, C, Kings; Adonal Foyle, C, Warriors; Brent Barry, G, Sonics; Antonio McDyess, F, Suns; Ron Mercer, G, Spurs; Eric Williams, G/F, Celtics; Keon Clark, F, Jazz; Greg Ostertag, C, Jazz; Jon Barry, G, Nuggets; Rodney White, G/F, Nuggets; Slava Medvedenko, C, Lakers; Toni Kukoc, F, Bucks; Charlie Ward, G, Spurs; Tom Gugliotta, F, Suns; Trenton Hassell, G, T-Wolves.
Restricted:: Stromile Swift, F, Grizzlies; Carlos Arroyo, PG, Jazz; Mo Peterson, F, Raptors; Darius Miles, F, Cavs; DeShawn Stevenson, G, Jazz; Gordan Giricek, G/F, Magic; Zeljko Rebraca, C, Pistons; Jake Tsakalidis, C, Suns; Marcus Fizer, F, Bulls; Chris Mihm, PF, Celtics; Joel Przybilla, C, Bucks; Keyon Dooling, G, Clippers; Etan Thomas, F, Wizards; Courtney Alexander, G, Hornets; Hedo Turkoglu, G/F, Spurs.
Jan. 26 - GM John Gabriel has been shopping Howard, along with swingman Gordan Giricek, since mid December. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the Magic may be interested in swapping Howard for T-Wolves center Michael Olowokandi.
The Chicago Tribune reported that Jalen Rose has been pushing the Raptors to make a trade for Howard. The Cavs, Sonics, Nuggets and Pistons have also reportedly shown interest.
Jan. 26 - The latest 'Sheed rumor over the weekend, courtesy of the Newark Star-Ledger, involved a three-team trade that would have sent Wallace to Atlanta, Shareef Abdur-Rahim to New York and Keith Van Horn to Portland. However, talks reportedly broke down because the Blazers insisted Kurt Thomas also needed to be part of the deal. The Knicks still appear to be the team most interested in Wallace, with the Cavs, Rockets and Nets also keeping tabs on him.
Donnie Nelson and Blazers GM John Nash met last week to discuss a trade that would send Wallace to Dallas for Antawn Jamison and Tariq Abdul-Wahad. The meeting lasted about 20 minutes and ended without a deal. Nelson told the Dallas Morning News that the talks with the Blazers are "dead" and "it never really was alive." ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported this weekend that owner Paul Allen decided he wanted to keep Wallace for now. Does that mean that 'Sheed is officially off the trading block?
Jan. 26 - Is Zydrunas off the block? With so many teams in need of a big man, Ilgauskas has been a pretty hot commodity. The Mavs (for Antawn Jamison), Knicks (for Keith Van Horn and Frank Williams) and Blazers (for Rasheed Wallace) have all tried to pry Ilgauskas away, but so far GM Jim Paxson isn't biting.
Now comes word from the Akron Beacon Journal on Sunday that Ilgauskas is off the block and will remain with the team for the rest of the season.
Jan. 26 - The O.C. Register reported Friday the Clippers were shopping little-used power forward Melvin Ely, who's mired on the bench behind Elton Brand, Chris Wilcox, Chris Kaman and Peja Drobjnak. "It's hard to get all the minutes around at that position," coach Mike Dunleavy said. "We have Brand, we have Kaman, Wilcox and Drobnjak. On a given night, you're only going to play three, maybe four guys."
The Chicago Tribune reported Monday the Bulls might be interested in an Ely-for-Marcus Fizer swap. Fizer is in the last year of his contract, which would allow the Clippers to get further under the cap this summer to make a run at Kobe Bryant.
Jan. 21 - On Tuesday Insider first reported that Bulls GM John Paxson had recently dangled Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler in trade discussions. While sources claimed that Paxson was in no way giving the Baby Bulls away, the fact that the two were no longer untouchable was significant. Paxson essentially confirmed the story in Wednesday's editions of the Chicago Sun-Times. "I played with one guy who was untouchable or untradeable," Paxson said of Michael Jordan. "There are maybe a handful of guys in the league right now who fit in that category. The fact we're 12-29 answers whether any of our guys are untouchable."
While Paxson said he's not inclined to deal Curry or Chandler, he's got to start looking at the opportunities. "I'm disappointed, and I know our fans are disappointed," Paxson said. "But I can't afford to panic. When you look at our two big, young kids, it's hard to make an argument to give up on them. They're still in their infancy in this league. . . I'm not panicking. But I'm not going to be super-cautious, either. You just have to believe that what you do will significantly help your team."
Keith Van Horn
Jan. 20 - It sure sounds like Keith Van Horn's days in New York are numbered. Isiah Thomas keeps talking about landing an athletic forward to run with Stephon Marbury -- a not so subtle dig at Van Horn. The question is whether Thomas can get someone to take on the last two years, and $30 million of Van Horn's contract. Thomas has tried to convince Portland and Cleveland to take him, to no avail. Is there another team out there that wants Van Horn? Conventional wisdom says no.
Jan. 20 - The Chicago Sun-Times reported Sunday that Bulls GM John Paxson and Knicks president Isiah Thomas had spoken about a Crawford-to-the-Knicks trade. According to the New York Daily News, the Knicks offered Shandon Anderson and Frank Williams for Crawford and Eddie Robinson. While the Bulls are exploring trade options for Crawford, it's unlikely that they'll pull the trigger on the Knicks trade.
Jan. 20 - The Sixers quietly have been exploring a Snow trade for the last few weeks, but they aren't finding any takers. While a number of teams love him as a player, the five years remaining on his contract are a killer.
Jan. 20 - The Spurs have been trying to move Mercer for about a month. The Pistons have been trying to get him from San Antonio, but don't have anything the Spurs want in return. The two teams have tried to find a third team to make something happen, but so far, nothing has worked out.
Jan. 19 - He's safe for now. Trade talks with the Blazers broke off over the weekend, meaning Jamison can breathe a little easier for now. The Cavs also have shown some interest, and the Mavs have pursued Zydrunas Ilgauskas in the past, but Mavs owner Mark Cuban continues to claim he's happy with the team and isn't inclined to make a trade.
Jan. 19 - The interest in Abdur-Rahim around the league is enormous. The Akron Beacon Journal reported Sunday that Abdur-Rahim wants out and the Cavs wouldn't mind taking him off the Hawks' hands. The New York Post reported the Blazers are trying to send Rasheed Wallace to Atlanta for Abdur-Rahim and Chris Crawford.
The question is whether the Hawks actually will trade him. Don't count on it, unless two things happen. One, the sale of the team finally is approved by the league sometime in January. And two, the Hawks find takers for Theo Ratliff and Jason Terry. If they can get those guys off the books, trading Abdur-Rahim gives them lots of cap flexibility.
Blazers Jan. 15 - The Orlando Sentinel reports the Blazers called the Magic about a McGrady-for-Rasheed Wallace swap. GM John Gabriel denied McGrady was on the block. McGrady's response to the rumor? "I don't believe any of that, but I did hear the Rasheed rumor," McGrady said. "I think there would be a lot of disappointed Orlando fans if that happened." No kidding.
Jan. 15 - Isiah Thomas called Nuggets GM Kiki Vandeweghe over the weekend about Camby's availability but reportedly was shut down. The Nuggets are leaning toward keeping Camby around, given their success in the West this year. That doesn't mean Camby isn't available at the right price, but the Knicks have nothing the Nuggets really want.
Jan. 15 - Terry has been pushing Hawks management to make a trade, even if he has to be included in it. Plenty of teams are interested, but Terry is a base-year compensation player, making a one-for-one swap virtually impossible. Unless he's paired up with someone like Theo Ratliff or Shareef Abdur-Rahim in a blockbuster-type trade, Terry's going to have to ride out the storm in Atlanta.
Jan. 15 - Ratliff's ongoing feud with coach Terry Stotts has put him in the crosshairs. There's talk the Blazers want Ratliff and would be willing to swap Rasheed Wallace for him if the Hawks also included Terry. Terry is a base-year player, which makes that trade more difficult, but it is doable with the right add-ons.
The Grizzlies also have interest in Ratliff, but they're running out of ammo to get him. A combo of Stromile Swift, Jake Tsakalidis and Shane Battier might be enough, but is the injury-prone Ratliff really worth that price?