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Will Big Free Agents Stay or Take Off?
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prodson
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6/18/2003  3:21 PM

By STEVE ASCHBURNER


Playing God is terrific, but the line is too long.

Playing NBA general manager is OK as a second choice, but you have to immerse yourself in too many intricacies of the salary cap, the luxury tax and trade restrictions, while memorizing the laws in various municipalities governing the use and possession of assorted illegal substances. Besides, there's always a chance Abe Pollin will fire you.

So I've decided to play NBA super agent, the man who will negotiate, orchestrate and agitate this summer's free-agent market. The role is open anyway, with David Falk a little past his prime and Bill Duffy not quite in his. It's a little like playing air traffic controller, trying to deliver the right player to the right team at the right time for the first price -- while avoiding mishaps like Grant Hill in Orlando, Calvin Booth in Seattle and Joe Smith in Minnesota.

Here is what ought to happen this summer for some of the game's biggest free agents:

-- Jason Kidd: Stays in New Jersey.
With the Nets, Kidd is on the verge of a second consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. He and his team, in the nation's largest sports market, have rendered the cross-river Knicks irrelevant. He has a pair of young teammates in Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson who will run with him, stick with him and keep his assists totals fat. He has a front office that figures to offer him a maximum contract and a general manager, Rod Thorn, who is creative enough to dig out from under the Dikembe Mutombo mistake.

Playing in the Eastern Conference, Kidd and the Nets only have to figure out a way each spring to beat the West's best team four times in seven games. No small feat, but way easier than having to survive three best-of-7 preliminary series on that side of the NBA board, before getting a shot at whoever takes the Kidd-less Nets' place atop the East.

Going to San Antonio wouldn't assure Kidd of any trips to the Finals in the West, not as long as Shaq and Kobe are together in L.A., nor would it address the Spurs' greatest need (size). Besides, Kidd's work against the Celtics and the great Bob Ryan-Joumana Kidd brouhaha embedded him further in a true Atlantic Division rivalry. He should take the Nets' money, help them get that new arena built and stay right where he is.

-- Jermaine O'Neal: Signs with San Antonio.
The Spurs don't need Kidd, Gary Payton or any other big-name backcourt player as much as they need someone to slip into David Robinson's role alongside Tim Duncan up front. And O'Neal would be a much-preferred option to Clippers center Michael Olowokandi, who would have to make the transition, personally and professionally, from one of the NBA's least-disciplined outfits to one of its most straight-laced.

O'Neal became an All-Star with the Pacers and already has shown maturity in his desire to get better and advance in the postseason. But Indiana doesn't have the pecking order to help him flourish; joining the Spurs would allow O'Neal to slip into the "little brother'' role that Duncan filled so long, and so well, under Robinson. Now Duncan could be big bro, while having a long, lively body next door to help with the heavy lifting inside.

The backcourt of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili would get better the moment the Pacers' young star arrived. And the Spurs might appreciate the notion that, if you can't beat one O'Neal (Shaq), sign the other.

-- Gary Payton: Sign-and-trade to Golden State.
Payton's stay in Milwaukee over the final two months had a smile painted on it that wouldn't have fooled the Mona Lisa. It's not his sort of city and let's face it, there's a stench about the Bucks these days. The team is up for sale, Ernie Grunfeld is getting mentioned as a candidate for the Portland GM job and George Karl might go into a full-blown Col. Kurtz any minute.

A deal with Golden State would deliver Payton back to his hometown of Oakland, fill the backcourt void created once Gilbert Arenas' worst-kept secret plan to sign with Denver plays out and replenish the Bucks with some of the Warriors' overflow talent. A couple of guys like Mike Dunleavy and Erick Dampier, maybe a Danny Fortson in the mix, could beef up the Milwaukee roster without siphoning too much from Golden State's roster.

-- Olowokandi: Signs with Denver.
Frankly, this guy needs to prove that it truly was the Clippers' mismanagement and depressing environment that turned him into Joe Barry Carroll reincarnate. What better way to show it than to go to another young team in need of help in the middle, getting himself an eight-figure do-over? Though Olowokandi did reveal some dog last season, he remains a 7-footer with a strong body and solid skills, the likes of which there are maybe two or three others in the entire league.

-- Elton Brand: Signs one-year deal with the Clippers.

Brand is only a restricted free agent, which means he's stuck. While Clippers boss Donald Sterling might not match deals offered to guys like Andre Miller or Corey Maggette, he surely would lock up Brand long-term if the power forward were lured into signing something juicy elsewhere. So the only way for Brand to escape is to wait another year for unrestricted status. Heck, if he seems determined enough, maybe the Clippers would blink and package him in a sign-and-trade to some place like Portland, where they could use a good citizen like Brand.

-- Andre Miller: Sign-and-trade to Minnesota.
John Stockton's retirement suggests that Miller might end up back in Utah, site of his college exploits. But with Karl Malone a possibility to leave, Miller would find himself in another version of Cleveland, with young teammates and hard times.

A better option would be to head to Minnesota in a sign-and-trade, where Miller could shake off a lost season and slip into No. 2 status between Kevin Garnett and Wally Szczerbiak. A sign-and-trade for, say, Troy Hudson (value never higher) and Marc Jackson or Anthony Peeler might get it done.

-- Lamar Odom: Sign-and-trade with Boston.
It's one way to get Antoine Walker out of Beantown. The deal would have to be broadened to accommodate Walker's salary and Odom's base-year compensation hitch but they could get it done. Then Walker could launch his 3-pointers without conscience, or playoff implications.

-- Rasho Nesterovic: Stays in Minnesota.
The 7-foot Slovenian actually was developing some high-low chemistry with Garnett late in the season. He likes the idea of living in New York, but he quickly could become Frederic Weis II to fans there if he were slow to deliver.

-- Alonzo Mourning: Signs with Dallas.
All the Mavericks lack is a strong inside presence. Dallas has a deep enough roster to manage Mourning's minutes.

-- Juwan Howard: Signs with Boston.
He has rehabbed his "overpaid'' image and is a good community guy. Plus he would give the Celtics better inside play than they've ever gotten from Walker or Vin Baker.

-- P.J. Brown: Signs with Lakers.
This is the guy, more than Howard or Karl Malone, that Mitch Kupchak should go after to quietly chip in 13 points and eight rebounds nightly to the Shaq & Kobe show.

-- Keon Clark: Stays in Sacramento.
He can't do any better than the role he has with the Kings.

-- Karl Malone: Signs with New Orleans.
It would be the perfect place for the Mailman to finish his career, playing in his home state in the city that lost any shot at his services when the Jazz moved to Utah. Malone could play a big enough role in the Hornets' attack to chase Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's points record (38,367), which probably means more to him than a ring anyway. Averaging a respectable 16.0 ppg, he could get it in about a season-and-a-half.
all those years as a fan and now i'm the anti-knick. life is crazy aint it.
AUTOADVERT
prodson
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6/18/2003  3:21 PM
okay i'm bored
all those years as a fan and now i'm the anti-knick. life is crazy aint it.
Pike
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6/18/2003  3:31 PM
... notice the Knicks are nowhere to be found.

Vescey swears O'Neal is a lock to re-up with Pacers but, I agree with this guy. The Spurs are a perfect fit for Jermaine.

Payton to Warriors... hmmm. The key to that franchise though is finding a way to keep Gilbert Arenas.
prodson
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6/18/2003  3:34 PM
i agree pike. arenas would be crazy going to denver.
all those years as a fan and now i'm the anti-knick. life is crazy aint it.
Pike
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6/18/2003  3:42 PM
Problem being, Denver's going to offer him Kobe money and the Warriors are CAP strapped and can't pay him...
prodson
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6/18/2003  3:44 PM
in that case, he would be crazy to stay in golden state


all those years as a fan and now i'm the anti-knick. life is crazy aint it.
ARES
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6/18/2003  3:49 PM
jason kidd is so gone.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK BIG CITY OF DREAMS, BUT EVERYTHING IN NEW YORK AINT ALWAYS WHAT IT SEEMS
Pike
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6/18/2003  4:38 PM
... the only question is... which Western team. If I'm Thorn, I'd listen to the Kings sign and trade offer very seriously... the Kings are no fools, they don't want to see Duncan and Kidd together... Kidd would probably love to play in Sac.. two, Bibby and Turkelo is a lot better than coming up empty when he decides to bolt NJ.
prodson
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6/19/2003  3:23 PM
karl malone would make sense in new orleans too.

my gut instinct tells me kidd is gone if what he says is true about winning a title
all those years as a fan and now i'm the anti-knick. life is crazy aint it.
Will Big Free Agents Stay or Take Off?

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