On a day when the Charlotte Bobcats fleshed out their inaugural roster through the expansion draft, the buzz around the National Basketball Association continued to revolve around Shaquille O'Neal and Tracy McGrady, the two superstars who have asked their teams for trades.
More than 20 of the league's 30 teams have called the Los Angeles Lakers, inquiring about O'Neal, according to an Eastern Conference executive. Though Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers' general manager, has recently suggested that he wants to keep O'Neal, the club is entertaining several possible trades, most notably with the Dallas Mavericks.
The Mavericks are one of the more realistic landing spots for O'Neal, who will make $27.7 million next season, because they have the high-salaried stars necessary to make such a deal, and their owner, Mark Cuban, is a big spender. According to the Eastern Conference executive, Dallas is offering Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash for O'Neal. The Nets, who would be willing to part with Kenyon Martin and Kerry Kittles, are among the clubs pursuing O'Neal.
It was widely believed that McGrady would be headed to Houston this morning in a trade for Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato. But that deal hit a snag yesterday. Though he is under contract for several years and has no veto power over trades, Francis made it clear that he does not want to play in Orlando, causing the Magic to reconsider the trade.
Several league executives and player agents were baffled by Orlando's hesitation since Francis would have no choice but to play for the Magic.
"John Weisbrod is setting a bad precedent by caving in to this guy," one agent said, referring to Orlando's general manager and speaking on condition of anonymity.
Looking elsewhere, the Magic entered into serious discussions with Phoenix yesterday, and the Suns are offering Shawn Marion, the up-and-coming Joe Johnson and this year's first-round pick (seventh overall), for McGrady. That would give Orlando an all-star small forward in Marion, a potential All-Star shooting guard in Johnson and the first and seventh picks in tomorrow's draft.
Indiana, which is willing to trade anyone on its roster besides Jermaine O'Neal, has been trying to engage Orlando in talks for McGrady, but the Magic has not been moved by any of its offers.
In the end, several league executives believe the trade with Houston, which would also send Tyronn Lue, Juwan Howard, Reece Gaines and possibly Andrew DeClerq to the Rockets, will eventually be made because McGrady is saying Houston is the only team he will stay with longterm.
McGrady, who is able to opt out of his contract after next season, has great leverage because he can threaten to leave any team that trades for him after just one year. If the trade happens, it is believed the Magic might turn around and trade Francis.
Regarding O'Neal, the Nets' initial thoughts were that they would stay out of the bidding for him because they did not think they had realistic chances of obtaining him. But the club's new ownership group, headed by Bruce Ratner, is willing to spend big for O'Neal, who would turn the team into a major box-office draw and enable it to recoup some of the losses that have piled up in recent years.
"Ratner would give up the bank to get Shaquille or Kobe, but has been thwarted by the pessimism of his basketball people," a person close to ownership said.
The pessimism is based in reality. The Nets are not willing to include Jason Kidd or Richard Jefferson in a trade, according to one club official, and a package headlined by Martin, Kittles and Nenad Krstic, their 7-foot forward from Croatia, is not likely to bring O'Neal to the Meadowlands. A couple of factors potentially working in the Nets' favor are that O'Neal was born and raised in Newark and that the Nets might be willing to give O'Neal the contract extension he wants (two years, $60 million) because his presence would be a boon when the team moves to Brooklyn, according to a member of ownership.
Still, their chances appear slim.
Charlotte did as expected in the expansion draft, avoiding big-name, big-money players and instead selecting youngsters with small contracts. The 19 players they selected might not have a legitimate starter among them, the most recognizable names being Marcus Fizer from Chicago, Gerald Wallace of Sacramento and Jahidi White of Phoenix.
In exchange for selecting White, Charlotte acquired a future first-round pick (from Cleveland in the first season that Cleveland qualifies for the playoffs) and cash considerations from Phoenix.
Charlotte acquired the second pick in the draft on Monday and sent its No. 4 pick to the Los Angeles Clippers. The Bobcats will select either Emeka Okafor or Dwight Howard, whichever player Orlando does not take with the first pick.
The N.B.A. draft could be a trading bonanza; several teams, less than enamored with the talent in this draft, are looking to unload lottery picks.
While O'Neal future drew most of the attention in Los Angeles, Kupchak and the Lakers' owner, Jerry Buss, reportedly met with Rudy Tomjanovich about their coaching vacancy. Tomjanovich is the front-runner, but a team official said the club would interview other candidates and probably make a final decision next week.
The Lakers also witnessed an about-face by Gary Payton. After threatening all season to wash his hands of Los Angeles this summer, Payton informed the club that he would not opt out of his contract for next season. The Lakers expected as much since no other team was likely to offer Payton anything near the $5.4 million the Lakers owe him next season.
Also, the departure of Phil Jackson, whose triangle offense was despised by Payton, made Payton enthusiastic about returning. But in a landscape as shaky as any, it is not certain that Payton will be a Laker next season.
Though it will not be easy to trade him, the Lakers will most likely shop him on the open market to see if The Glove can fit elsewhere.