Thu, Jul 15, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Squads may soon see big changes as trading begins

AP , NEW YORK

Kobe Bryant wasn't tipping his hand as the clock ticked down on the final hours of the NBA's two-week moratorium on trades and free agent signings.

Eager to learn his choice, but uncertain when that decision might come, the LA Lakers and LA Clippers awaited word from Bryant or one of his agents Tuesday.

Both clubs made formal presentations to the free agent guard on Monday.

The end of the moratorium was to coincide with the league releasing the new salary cap figure for the 2004-2005 season, an announcement that will impact the size of Bryant's new contract -- and those of several other free agents.

Bryant will be eligible to receive a starting salary equal to 30 percent of the cap, which was US$43.84 million last season.

Several lesser free agents also were awaiting salary cap calculations to determine the amount of the average salary, which will be the starting salary in 2004-2005 for any of them who receive the full midlevel exception from a team already over the salary cap.

While Bryant made everyone in Los Angeles wait, and while his agent, Rob Pelinka, again did not return several phone messages, the process of trading Shaquille O'Neal was being set in motion.

The Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat were expected to complete a deal Wednesday sending O'Neal to the Heat for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and a first-round draft pick.

A few free agents were expected to sign offer sheets after the moratorium expired at 0400 GMT Wednesday, while others -- most notably Steve Nash going from Dallas to Phoenix -- would finally be allowed to sign the deals they agreed to during the first two weeks of this month.

other top free agents

Among the top free agents whose plans were not yet known were Rasheed Wallace of the NBA champion Detroit Pistons, Erick Dampier of the Golden State Warriors, Karl Malone of the Los Angeles Lakers, Vlade Divac of Sacramento, Derek Fisher of the Lakers, Darius Miles of Portland and Kenyon Martin of New Jersey.

Martin was weighing whether to sign an offer sheet with Atlanta or Denver after sign-and-trade discussions between the Nuggets and Nets broke down.

Malone, puzzled by the breakup of the Lakers, was being courted by the Spurs.

"Without a doubt I'm serious [about the Spurs]," Malone told the San Antonio Express-News. "I've had serious dialogue with them, and more than once. I've talked to Coach [Gregg] Popovich two or three times and [general manager] R.C. [Buford] one or two times. They call about every other day. I've had great dialogue with them."

Malone, however, said he will not make a decision on next season until he knows whether he can perform at 100 percent of his capability. He recently underwent surgery on his left knee, which he sprained twice last season.

Boozer's story

The Utah Jazz were waiting to see whether Carlos Boozer would accept their six-year, US$68 million offer sheet.

The Cleveland Cavaliers believed they had an understanding with Boozer when they did not pick up the third-year option on his contract, but Boozer denied any agreement was in place and accepted US$27 million more than Cleveland could pay him.

"For [the Cavaliers] taking shots at my character is incredibly wrong, and I don't understand that," Boozer told The Plain Dealer for a story Tuesday.

"I thought I had a great relationship with them. Maybe they're trying to save face or trying to make up stuff and kill my character. And if that's the road they want to take, that's OK."

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