Money. Greed. Betrayal. Revenge. $52 million wedding gifts.
We had it all on Thursday. The NBA game itself may have enough problems to make it uninteresting to some. But you don't have a pulse if you haven't been enthralled with this summer's NBA free-agent wooing process. It's just a matter of time before NBATV gets involved in this thing and runs daily episodes in the morning to compete with the Days of Our Lives.
Soap opera writers can't make this stuff up.
On Wednesday morning Insider reported that Cavs GM Jim Paxson should be sweating bullets over the status of Carlos Boozer. By the afternoon, Insider was the first to report that the Jazz were on the verge of offering Boozer a six-year, $68 million deal that he would likely accept.
By Thursday night, Boozer had taken the money, the Cavs were essentially calling Boozer a liar, Paxson was sweating his job and Jazz GM Kevin O'Connor was cementing his status as the front-runner for executive of the year.
The Jazz's deal to Boozer may set the Cavs back years. I say "may" because the Cavs may not be out of this thing yet. They still have until July 29th to try to clear enough cap space to match the Jazz's offer. It's the only way for the Cavs. Talk of arbitration, lawsuits and the like are pointless.
When Paxson agreed to not pick up the team's third-year option for Boozer, he opened the door to something like this. Sources claim that it was Boozer's agent, Rob Pelinka, who asked the Cavs to not pick up the option. They also claim that there was a verbal deal in place with the Cavs for Boozer to sign a six-year, $41 million deal with the Cavs.
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The problem for Paxson is that there's no way to enforce it. If it was agreed to before July 1st, then it was an illegal agreement that would have caused the Cavs to be disciplined by the league and would've been voided. If it was agreed to after July 1st, it wasn't binding. Nothing is binding until the player movement moratorium is lifted on July 14th and players can begin officially signing contracts and offer sheets.
Can they clear the cap space? It's unlikely. Assuming there's a $46 million cap, the Cavs are roughly $2.5 million under the cap after signing Luke Jackson. Sources told Insider that the Jazz's offer sheet with Boozer is flexible enough that the team can and likely will front load the contract and then have it go down in the remaining years. When you add in a signing bonuses and the like, the Cavs may have to clear up to an additional $10 million to get far enough under the cap to match Boozer's offer.
To get that far under, the Cavs will have to try to trade several of their players to teams under the cap. Teams like the Hawks, Bobcats, Nuggets and possibly the Clippers still have money under the cap. The team could dangle players like Tony Battie, Dajuan Wagner and Kedrick Brown to those teams in an effort to clear the space. But it won't be easy. The Cavs cannot offer a first-round pick under league rules because they've already traded away their conditional first-round pick for next year (the Bobcats actually own it). That means they have to convince teams to take these players off their hands for nothing.
Just as importantly, do the Cavs even want to gut their team to bring back Boozer? After his betrayal, does the team really want to re-sign him? Boozer will be enemy No. 1 in Cleveland. Trading away all of the assets will set the club back anyway. In other words, the Cavs are damned if they do, damned if they don't with Boozer at this point.
If Pelinka and Boozer did verbally promise the Cavs that they would re-sign, then what they did was despicable. But I haven't talked to a GM in the league who would've opened the door the way Paxson did. GMs uniformly agreed on July 1st, when news first broke that the Cavs had agreed to not pick up the option, that it was a bad idea.
Verbal, wink-wink deals go on all the time in the NBA. But they rarely happen with an asset as valuable as Boozer -- especially when the Cavs were so limited in what they could do if the plan backfired. And let's stop the talk about how benevolent the Cavs were being by agreeing to pay Boozer more this year. They knew that they were getting him to agree to a long-term, below-market deal for added security next season. They had powerful financial motivations to let Boozer out and lock him up at a cheaper rate. No one in Cleveland wanted to pay him what the Jazz eventually offered.
"This is one of the biggest blunders I've ever seen in the business," one GM told Insider. "You've got to protect your assets. As a GM, I just don't know how I could explain this to my owner. I think the whole thing is depressing. It's tough to know who to trust these days. My guess is that this deal will fundamentally change the way we do business in the NBA. Teams don't like the 14-day waiting period because things like this can happen. I think you'll see a push to get rid of it. Had the Cavs been able to have deal in place for Boozer to sign on July 1 at 12:01 a.m, this never would've happened. The long wait opened the door."
Paxson may not be at fault the way Boozer and Pelink are here. But the bottom line is that he was the guy who opened the door to Boozer's exodus. If Boozer leaves, the franchise will be set back years. After making a promising run at the playoffs last season, the team suddenly is without a power forward, period. Let alone the one they had who averaged 11.4 rpg.
After the numerous mistakes Paxson has made in the draft (Trajan Langdon, DeSagana Diop and Dajuan Wagner to name three), in free agency (remember Ira Newble and Kevin Ollie's big deals last year) and trades (Andre Miller for Darius Miles, who was then traded for Jeff McInnis), how can Gordon Gund keep him in Cleveland? No one should be fired for one mistake, especially one that's caused by deceit and betrayl from another party. But when you look at the litany of problems Paxson has been part of Cleveland, he shouldn't be fired. He should do the right thing and resign.
As for the Jazz? The Boozer signing tops off a best-case scenario summer for the Jazz. The team needed bigs and it added three very promising big guys -- Boozer, Mehmet Okur and rookie Kris Humphries. They needed a potential star in the backcourt and got one in rookie Kirk Snyder. The Jazz neeeded to make these signings this summer. With Andrei Kirilenko looking for a huge extension this fall, this was Utah's last shot to spend a ton of money in free agency.
The Jazz have made some serious upgrades this summer and all of them look like perfect fits for Jerry Sloan's system. Barring injuries, I think the Jazz are a lock for the playoffs next season and could cause some damage in the West. In my mind, Kevin O'Connor has got to be the front-runner for executive of the year. Given the limitations in place in Utah, he's really made the most of what he can do.
Ginobili was also seeking an offer from the Nuggets. However, after the Spurs got within the right range, his agent, Herb Rudoy, shut down negotiations with Denver. Ginobili had stated several times that his preference was to remain in San Antonio. Ginobili is in Argentina at the moment preparing for his wedding on Saturday. Not a bad wedding present.
ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported Thursday night that Atlanta had made Kenyon Martin a max, six-year offer to join the Hawks. However, Martin has not told the Hawks whether he'll sign the offer sheet.
With Ginobili gone and Martin close to being off the board, the Nuggets are in a pinch. They could extend a max offer to Martin, hope he chooses them, and then hope that the Nets don't match it. However, by doing so, they take themselves out of the Kobe Bryant race.
Bryant has told several teams that he plans to make up his mind as soon as this weekend, and it sounds like the Nuggets are inclined to wait until they are officially eliminated. While most sources report that Bryant is seriously considering only the Lakers and Clippers, two league sources told Insider on Thursday that Bryant did have legitimate interest in the Nuggets.
It's going to be a tough call for the Nuggets. Kiki Vandeweghe has a close relationship with both players. The team likes Martin, but both sides agree that Martin's first choice is to remain in New Jersey. The Nets can match any offer and the Nuggets know there's a good chance they'll do just that. Even if they won't, I'm not sure they're convinced Martin is a true max player. However, given the market this year, he just might be.
The Lakers are still considered the heavy favorites to land Bryant. The Clippers are still believed to be running a close second. While the Nuggets fit the criteria that Kobe is looking for, a young talented team with a great front office, Bryant's legal problems in Colorado and the smaller market for the team are working against the Nuggets right now.
If the Nuggets lose out on both players, a distinct possibility, expect them to use their multiple first-round picks and cap room in an attempt to facilitate a trade or two.
The Heat, Mavericks and Pacers appear to be the four teams with the best shot of landing Shaq. Numerous league sources told Insider late on Thursday that the Heat may be the front-runners to land Shaq.
The Heat are offering Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and Malik Allen. The Lakers want Caron Butler as part of any deal there. I'm not sure how this trade makes sense for either team. The Lakers essentially become the Heat last year -- a talented team without much size. The Heat become Shaq, Dwyane Wade, Eddie Jones and a bunch of role players. Still, Pat Riley admits he's interested.
"I mean Tracy McGrady got traded, he was on the market," Riley told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "I've heard three or four other great-name players that are on the market, Shaq being one of 'em. You've got to pursue 'em. You're foolish if you don't try to pursue 'em and at least listen. Nothing's happened. Everything right now is so premature."
The Mavericks are offering anyone on their team with the exception of Dirk Nowitzki. The Pacers are unwilling to give up Jermaine O'Neal. A Ron Artest, Al Harrington, Scot Pollard and Austin Croshere deal works under the cap, but the Pacers aren't on Shaq's short list of preferred destinations.
"Shaq's one of the few guys in the league that I just don't think you can ever say no to," Pacers president Donnie Walsh told Insider. "I think you have to figure out something if you have the opportunity."
Of course, to make that happen the Bulls have to take back a bad contract -- Shandon Anderson's -- in return. So far they've been reluctant to do even that. They've been pushing for the Knicks to send Dikembe Mutombo, Othella Harrington and Frank Williams back in return for Crawford. Mutombo and Harrington are in the last year of their contracts, offering the Bulls more long-term salary cap relief.
Still, despite the snags, expect something to happen here soon. It's pretty clear that the Bulls don't want Crawford back (his agent, Aaron Goodwin claims they haven't even made an offer) and the Bulls are reluctant to pull the trigger on their free-agent favorite -- Brian Cardinal -- until they figure out what to do with Crawford.
The other team their talking to, the Heat, may be able to offer a slightly better deal -- Caron Butler and Eddie Jones for Crawford, Williams and Robinson -- but they're a little preoccupied with the Shaq deal at the moment and aren't offering Crawford as lucrative of a contract.
Thomas averaged 8.9 ppg and 6.7 rpg but is considered an undersized center at just 6-foot-9. The Wizards would have until July 29th to match the offer. The Wizards need bigs in the worst way, but will they really drink that Kool-Aid?
Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.