Tuesday, June 30, 2009

On the NBA: Free Agent Frenzy

By John McMullen

Philadelphia, PA - They say that at some point, life stops giving you things and starts taking them away.

When a pair of superstars from my youth, Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett, passed away last week, I started to fear that I may have turned that corner.

And trust me...that's a bad part of town.

NBA free agency is a lot like life. It can give a team plenty, but it's also adept at swiping things without notice.

This year's version of the NBA's Hot Stove kicks off at midnight eastern on July 1.

The league's general managers will quickly begin jockeying for position as they try and pull the trigger on various signings and trades, maneuvers that could keep them from rounding a scary corner that leads directly to the unemployment line.

With that in mind, here are the latest rumblings around The Association...


A couple weeks ago, Houston Rockets general manger Daryl Morey boldly claimed his club was the second-best team in the NBA. It was a defensible position. Despite being without Tracy McGrady and Dikembe Mutombo and then losing Yao Ming during their series with LA, the Rockets gave the champs a tougher time than either Denver or Orlando.

Now, Houston might have trouble making it back to the playoffs next season after a grim report surfaced Monday claiming Yao may never play again due to his broken left foot.

According to YAHOO! Sports, the Rockets and Yao's reps are frightened over his future. "The realization has hit them that this is grave," one NBA general manager told YAHOO!

For now, the Rockets are expecting Yao to need a full season before being able to return to basketball due to a troubling re-fracture of his navicular bone.

"It sounds like he's missing most of next season, if not the entire 82 games," another league exec told Yahoo! "That's all that [the Rockets] will concede quietly, but they know it's probably much worse."


It looks like Ricky Rubio, the fifth overall pick in Thursday's draft, wants no part of the Twin Cities and will try to force a trade.

Ricky Rubio went fifth overall in Thursday's draft.
Tim Shea, a former Knicks European scout who is a consultant for Rubio's agency, Winners Factory in Spain, told the New York Post that Rubio will be getting a formal offer from a Turkish club this week for $1 million, with another $2 million going toward the $6 million buyout for his Spanish team, DKV Joventut. Real Madrid, meanwhile, is also in talks with Joventut about Rubio, according to Shea.

Rumors have already surfaced that Minnesota turned down a deal with Houston that would have sent the lightning quick Aaron Brooks and defensive stalwart Shane Battier to Minneapolis, meaning Wolves president of basketball operations David Kahn is serious about luring Rubio to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

"I think (Kahn) understands he has a gold nugget," Shea said. "The price of gold is always going up. He's only 18, so Rubio's stock will go up next year. (Kahn) drafted so many point guards because of this. He's in the driver's seat. He doesn't have to trade him to the first suitors."

In an online letter to the Wolves' fans, Kahn said he's willing to wait one or two years on Rubio. A surprising tactic considering that the team has had trouble giving away $7 dollar tickets since the disastrous trade that sent the face of the franchise, Kevin Garnett, to Boston.

I guess the Minny fans can hope the Mall of America or the impending arrival of Brett Favre will change Rubio's mind.


You would never know it by the way he plays on the floor, but Andre Miller has wanted out of Philly since the day he arrived in the City of Brotherly Love as part of the Allen Iverson deal in December of 2006.

A west coast guy, Miller, who is an unrestricted free agent, wants back on the left coast badly. A sign-and-trade deal could have Miller on his way to Portland for a package that would include Steve Blake.

The scenario makes sense. The Blazers think they are a true point guard away from being a serious contender, while Blake played for new Sixers coach Eddie Jordan in D.C. and could hold down the fort while Jrue Holiday develops in Philly.


The Jazz are concerned that Oklahoma City may be ready to make a run at restricted free agent forward Paul Millsap. Troy Weaver, the former director of player personnel in Salt Lake City, is now an assistant general manager with the Thunder, and Okie City is expected to have in the neighborhood of $11 million in salary-cap space. The thinking is that the Thunder could offer a contract in the neighborhood of five years and $65 million to Millsap, one of the league's top-tier rebounders and emerging stars.

Jerry Sloan need not worry, however. It's unlikely Thunder general manager Sam Presti will make a major splash. Presti wants ample space to lock up Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook over the next few years, and essentially brought in two significant "free agents" late last season when he signed center Nenad Krstic and traded for defensive stopper Thabo Sefolosha.

"We've been fortunate to create some (salary cap) flexibility," Presti told The Oklahoman. "But at the same time, we'll continue to be methodical about decisions on how we build our team."


The Amare Stoudemire-to-Golden State deal unraveled after last Thursday's draft, when the Warriors balked at parting with the No. 7 overall pick Stephen Curry. The Warriors remain interested, however, and still have Andris Biedrins, Brandan Wright and Marco Belinelli on the table. Meanwhile, Stoudemire wants a contract extension when he is eligible later this summer, and his agent will be looking for a maximum-salary deal, averaging more than $20 million per season.

"This is all normal business," Suns basketball chief Steve Kerr told the Arizona Republic. "I don't see any of this as out of the ordinary. We love Amare. He's been an incredibly productive player for us. He's going to weigh his options, and he has the right to do it."

Stoudemire is an All-Star-level player but he's no max-contract guy and Curry strikes me as a one-dimensional NBA player. Shipping Amare off to Oakland for the underrated Biedrins and a pair of players that still have upside in Wright and Belinelli might not be the worst thing Kerr could do.


Future Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd, an unrestricted free agent, is a lot closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but that doesn't mean he's not going to generate a lot of interest on the open market.

Kidd, who made $21 million last year, is expected to get overtures from a number of teams including Cleveland, Portland, Boston, New York and the world champion Lakers.

Most of those teams are hamstrung by the salary cap, however, and will try and convince Kidd to play for the mid-level exemption, which will be between $5 million and $6 million.

The Mavericks can pay Kidd anything they want, and that's why the smart money has the multi-time All-Star returning to Dallas, absent a sign-and-trade deal.


Charlotte Bobcats managing partner Michael Jordan isn't very fond of speaking to the media, but he did address the impending free agency of talented guard Raymond Felton.

"I don't see any situation where he's not with us," Jordan told the Charlotte Observer. "I anticipate us keeping Raymond Felton, without a doubt."

Felton can see plenty of "situations" and "doubts."

Several teams are expected to make a run at the North Carolina product come Wednesday. Felton is also open to extending his career in tobacco country, but only if the money is right.

"Of course I want to stay in Charlotte. It's close to home, close to UNC," Felton said at his recent basketball camp. "I want to be there, but we got to reach an agreement with some things. It's just one of the things where it is a business for them and it is a business for me. I want to go wherever they want me."


Rip Hamilton's days in the Motor City are still in question. A blockbuster trade that would have sent Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince (among others) to Boston for Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo fizzled, but it's no secret that the star shooting guard hasn't been on the same page with coach Michael Curry since he was benched after the team acquired Iverson early last season.

Fences will have to mended for Hamilton to remain in Auburn Hills next season.

"As far as the relationship being strained, it was a difficult season," Curry told the Detroit Free Press. "Was Rip very upset that he had to come off the bench? He was very, very upset. He was upset that he had to split time with (Allen) Iverson. He was upset that Iverson was here and Chauncey (Billups) wasn't. Rip was upset with a lot of things this year, but I don't put much stock into what that means with our relationship."


When you are 7-feet tall and skilled, you are going to get plenty of chances in the NBA. Darko Milicic got another one when the New York Knicks acquired the big man from Memphis on draft day.

Milicic, the second overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft by Detroit, right behind LeBron James and ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, just turned 24 and Knicks president Donnie Walsh is hoping the tutelage of an offensive specialist that knows the ins and outs of the European game, Mike D'Antoni, can ignite the Serb's career.

"There's three or four coaching staffs that really haven't gotten anything [out of Milicic], so we're not saying, 'Oh we can't'" D'Antoni told the New York Post. "Just sometimes in a person's career it's the right time. He's having a kid, he's married, maybe he's settled down. He's in the last year of a contract. We'll get the best out of him that he has. Is it good enough? We don't know. It's a shot in the dark."

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