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Teams that will make the biggest free agent splashes

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by ron413, Jul 1, 2002.

  1. ron413

    ron413 Contributing Member

    May 29, 2002
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    Monday, July 1

    Clips, Bulls have most chips on the table

    By Chad Ford

    There were no private jets zooming across the country. Doc Rivers didn't show up at anyone's doorstep at 12:01 a.m. The hangover from the Chris Webber free agent world tour has finally passed. And Bennie the Bull was sound asleep as the clock struck midnight.

    There may not be enough free agent cash for Rashard Lewis to get paid.
    The free agency negotiating period got off to a whimper at 12:01 a.m. Monday morning. That's appropriate given the pathetic free agent market this year. A postcard and a check with seven figures will do it for most players this summer.

    Teams now have until July 17 to negotiate contracts with this year's top free agents. But dire cap situations for most teams and the looming luxury tax will make things much quieter this summer.

    With only a handful of teams even planning to use their mid-level exceptions this year, capped-out clubs will strike a major blow to players like Rashard Lewis, Keon Clark and Bonzi Wells who think their games are worth max money. The Sonics, Raptors and Blazers are likely to just sit back and see if anyone offers them anything other than the $4.5 mid-level exception.

    Meanwhile, a few teams that would normally be players -- like the Magic, Spurs, Wizards, Sonics, Nuggets, Heat, Cavaliers and Hornets -- are all saving their money for next summer when Tim Duncan, Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, and Alonzo Mourning become free agents.

    Here's a look at who will and who won't be players in this year's free agent frenzy.

    Teams with significant cap room
    Los Angeles Clippers

    Projected cap room: Approximately $10 million.

    Likely targets: Forget about it. The Clips have all the room, but have enough problems under their own roof to deal with. Restricted free agent Michael Olowokandi is seeking a maximum contract. Jeff McInnis wants a big raise, too. Elton Brand, Lamar Odom and Corey Maggette are all up for big contract extensions this summer and don't forget that the Clippers have been out trying to land Baron Davis and Andre Miller. Both of them are looking for big deals as well. With Donald Sterling on the verge of opening up his wallet for the first time ever, don't expect any other free agents to get a piece of the pie.
    Chicago Bulls

    Projected cap room: Approximately $6 million.

    Likely targets: The Bulls have just enough money to offer a player like Lewis or Clark a nice raise above the mid-level exception. However, operations chief Jerry Krause is still obsessed with adding a few older veterans as mentors to his baby Bulls. Instead of going after the big names, look for them to make a run at a veteran role player or two like Popeye Jones, Scott Williams or Chris Gatling.
    Teams who will use their full mid-level exception
    Dallas Mavericks
    The Mavs are looking for a tough defender who can rebound and do all of the dirty work in the paint. The primary target has been the Knicks' Kurt Thomas, but he's not a free agent. Players like Clark, Jerome James, Jones, Williams, and Darvin Ham will all get a look.

    Detroit Pistons
    The need a back-up point guard for Chucky Atkins in the worst way. There aren't a lot of options out there, but the Clippers' McInnis, the Bulls' Travis Best and the Wolves' Chauncey Billups would all make some sense here.

    Los Angeles Lakers
    They're frugal, but if they see a player who will help, they'll spend the money. They freed up significant cap room to go after Devean George by trading Lindsey Hunter. Their top two targets this summer are Spurs forward Malik Rose and the Wizards' Jones. If they don't re-sign George, expect them to make a run at a player like McInnis, Tyrone Nesby or Donyell Marshall.

    Minnesota Timberwolves
    They need a point guard in the worst way. With Terrell Brandon coming off season-ending knee surgery and Billups opting for free agency, their point guard situation couldn't be anymore unstable. The Wolves will focus on trying to re-sign Billups, but he's looking for a commitment from the team that he'll be the starter. Right now, the Wolves aren't ready to go that far. McInnis and Best would both fit in nicely, but the team really pines for a top-flight guard like Miller or Davis. They've dangled Wally Szczerbiak in an attempt to get into the sweepstakes, but right now no one is biting.

    Miami Heat
    After letting Anthony Mason, Bruce Bowen and Tim Hardaway slip away last summer because of fear of the luxury tax, Pat Riley is determined to get the Heat back in the playoffs. The Heat won't start throwing around cash until next summer, but they already took a huge step in the right direction by drafting Caron Butler. That will likely kill all of the George-to-the-Heat talk. Priority No. 1 is bringing back Rod Strickland to run the point. He was on his best behavior last season and Miami needs his veteran leadership until Anthony Carter gets his legs. If Strickland wants to play elsewhere, Best is a great second option. He's flirted with the Heat for the last few years and brings an energy Riley loves. The Heat also will try to bring back Jimmy Jackson, Vladimir Stepania and Eddie House, but only if they'll re-sign on the cheap. Now that Riley will likely be allowed to use their mid-level exception, expect the Heat to add a shooter to the mix. Former Heat sharpshooter Voshon Lenard can be had cheap.

    Memphis Grizzlies
    Jerry West is the new sheriff in town and he's cleaning house. He's already added another power forward in Drew Gooden and two more shooting guards in Wesley Person and Gordan Giricek. What's next? West was the guy who drafted George and he still has the jones for him. Would George be willing to share the spotlight with Shane Battier? If anyone can sweet talk him into it, West can. He's also shopping Brevin Knight and isn't sold on Jason Williams (who is?). Adding a player like McInnis or Best may allow him to sleep a little better at night.

    New Jersey Nets
    The Nets desperately need to improve their perimeter shooting. They would have drafted either Casey Jacobsen or Freddie Jones had either still been on the board. Now, they'll have to address the need via free agency. Luckily, ownership will allow team president Rod Thorn to go over the luxury tax to keep Jason Kidd happy. Bryon Russell has the playoff experience and versatility to play two positions. Michael Redd is a top-notch shooter, but he'd probably cost the Nets their full mid-level exception to bring him on board. The Nets also need to find a more reliable backup for Kidd. There aren't a lot of great point guards in the market right now. Jacque Vaughn has the experience, court savvy and energy the Nets are looking for in a backup. He'll also come cheaply. Chris Childs is another option, though he may be unwilling to play for the veterans exception.

    The Lakers aren't the only ones who want to sign Devean George.
    New York Knicks
    Luckily for GM Scott Layden, the team will spare no expense in trying to get back in the playoffs. The Knicks addressed their power forward needs when they traded for Antonio McDyess, but still need a starting point guard and someone in the middle to replace Marcus Camby. The Knicks are still pursuing Miller, Davis and Nick Van Exel in trades, but chances are they only have a shot at landing Van Exel. If they strike out there, McInnis has the size and scoring ability to run the point. Best is also another solution, although he's more of a scorer. As for replacing Camby, Thomas filled in admirably at center last season, but the Knicks would like a bigger body blocking shots and crashing the offensive boards. Rasho Nesterovic really came on for the T-Wolves last season and has the height and fundamentals. Jerome James is a much rawer prospect, but has the athleticism and shot-blocking skills the Knicks covet.

    Philadelphia 76ers
    Expect them to use their full $4.5 million exception to land a more athletic small forward or power forward. The team needs more scoring punch and Brown is determined to get it this summer. The Sixers have a bunch of good options. George has the outside shooting, athleticism and toughness Brown has been looking for. Clark is a match-up nightmare, great shot blocker and solid rebounder, but will the Raptors let him slip away? Remember, he's a restricted free agent. Rodney Rogers is one of the best long-distance shooters available and Brown has coveted him for some time. The Sixers will even take a long look at Larry Hughes, who Brown still believes can be a point guard.

    Portland Trail Blazers
    The Blazers like to burn money and with a huge hole in the center of their defense, you can expect them to throw the whole mid-level enchilada at a player like Nesterovic. They've been working the phones for the last month in an attempt to land either Dikembe Mutombo or Olowokandi in a trade. They're striking out there, but Nesterovic would give them a servicable center who knows how to pass out of the post. He's not an antidote to Shaq, but who is? James and the Celtics' Mark Blount may also get a look by Portland.

    Washington Wizards
    The first order of business will be to re-sign Jones. His toughness was the glue that held the Wizards together in MJ's absence. The team drafted a promising young combo forward in Jared Jeffries, but the Wizards won't be shy in pursuing top free agents like Lewis and George. Both are unrestricted and have indicated an interest in playing in Washington. Lewis would have to take a pay cut to play in D.C., but it isn't out of the question. The Sonics aren't thrilled about paying Lewis the max, and Lewis' eyes have been wandering for months. George is a more realistic possibility. Spending a few years under the tutelage of Phil Jackson has got to make him a Jordan favorite.

    Teams who will sit this dance out
    Atlanta Hawks
    They are right on the verge of paying the luxury tax and have their own lower-level free agents to deal with.

    Boston Celtics
    They have one real goal this offseason: re-sign Rodney Rogers. GM Chris Wallace has the OK to exceed the luxury tax to get Rogers in the fold, but after that he doesn't have much flexibility.

    Cleveland Cavaliers
    They're desperately slashing payroll. If they are able to re-sign Ricky Davis and trade Miller, they'll call it a summer.

    Denver Nuggets
    The team still has holes to fill at point guard and center, but right now the Nuggets are more concerned about their cap situation next season. If they do sign a free agent, it will be a one-year deal.

    Golden State Warriors
    The team is a mess and they're close to paying the luxury tax. Expect the team to add any missing pieces via trade. Danny Fortson, Chris Mills and Erick Dampier are all on the trading block.

    Houston Rockets
    They've got all of the pieces in place and are looking at a big extension for Steve Francis this summer. They can't afford to do much more, though they'd love to workout a sign-and-trade with the Sonics for Lewis.

    Indiana Pacers
    They still need a veteran point guard to back up Jamaal Tinsley, but it won't be a big signing. Someone like Vaughn, Kevin Ollie or Childs should do the job.

    Milwaukee Bucks
    They'll try to re-sign Redd and will also talk with Williams about coming back for another year or two, but they have to be careful. They are close to the luxury tax and are trying to find ways to get around it. They also need a back-up point guard for Sam Cassell. Ron Murray may be a find, but he's a few years away.

    New Orleans Hornets
    They're on the verge of the luxury tax and they're in for a big fight with Davis about a contract extension. Don't expect them to do much in the way of free agency.

    Orlando Magic
    They could end up making a run at McInnis or a player like Jones, but the real prize for the Magic is next year. They won't do anything to jeopardize their cap situation.

    Phoenix Suns
    The team is capped out and now in rebuilding mode. That will stop them from making any major free agent plays this summer.

    Sacramento Kings
    They'll give Mike Bibby the max and call it a summer.

    San Antonio Spurs
    They're ready to sign former second-round pick Emmanuel Ginobili and they'd like to bring Bowen and Rose back. After that, they're protecting cap room for next summer.

    Seattle Supersonics
    The cost conscious Sonics are still pondering exactly what to do with Lewis. If they can get him to re-sign and bring back James somehow, they'll hit the beach for the rest of the summer.

    Toronto Raptors
    At this point, they're not sure they have enough money to re-sign their own free agent, Clark. If they get it done, there won't be money for anyone else.

    Utah Jazz
    The team doesn't have to worry about the luxury tax, but the always frugal Jazz will be happy if they get Raul Lopez and either Marshall or Russell back in the fold.

    Chad Ford is the NBA columnist for ESPN Insider.
  2. MysticRyder

    MysticRyder Member

    May 20, 2002
    Likes Received:
    Let's be honest here. There are not that many free agents out there that will help a team anyway. Now next year is a wow possible.
  3. RocksMillenium

    RocksMillenium Contributing Member

    Dec 28, 2000
    Likes Received:
    I agree with Mystic, besides I think the Rockets are locked and loaded, and ready to make a run at the playoffs next year. They have an answer at every position, and as long as Rice and Mo are healthy, Griffin is improved, and Ming and Nachbar come along well this team should win 50+ and make the postseason. I feel that if the Rockets were healthy last year they would have beaten out the Jazz or Sonics for a playoff spot. Now the Rockets appear to be MUCH better.
  4. bigboymumu

    bigboymumu Member

    Oct 15, 1999
    Likes Received:
    I guess this luxury tax has given the power back to the owners.

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