The bidding for NBA free agents officially begins Friday morning with few top stars available, but a deep summer crop nonetheless.
The shooting guards Ray Allen and Michael Redd are the brightest names on the marquee, and centers such as Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Tyson Chandler and Kwame Brown are expected to be in demand.
The Seattle SuperSonics offer the best one-stop shopping on the market. Nine players became free agents, highlighted by Allen, the franchise player, and the core players Antonio Daniels, Vladimir Radmanovic, and centers Jerome James and Vitaly Potapenko.
"In the last couple of days, we've had renewed discussions about an extension, which has been more of a reaffirmation of the Sonics desire to re-sign Ray," Lon Babby, the agent for Allen, said Thursday.
A season of stalled talks -- the sides were as close as US$5 million apart- prompted Allen to explore free agency. "Let's see what the market will bear," Babby said.
Only a handful of teams have flexibility under the salary cap to sign maximum contracts with players not their own: the Cavaliers, Bucks, Hawks, Clippers, Hornets and Bobcats.
"Unless you're one of the teams that have enough money under the cap, you're looking at guys that are basically role players and possibly starters," said Rob Babcock, Toronto's general manager.
Teams can begin negotiating Friday, but terms of the new collective-bargaining agreement (approved in principle by the league and union) will not go into effect until July 22, the first day players can sign. Maximum contracts are reduced by a year, to six, for teams re-signing their own players and are limited to five years for other players.
The new rule that will allow teams to buy out one player without paying the luxury tax on his salary offers a fresh avenue in free agency. The Mavericks are expected to waive the shooting guard Michael Finley, making him the most serviceable veteran who is expected to be cut. Others include the Knicks' Allan Houston, the Lakers' Brian Grant and possibly Portland's Theo Ratliff. The Suns, whose first priority is to re-sign guard Joe Johnson, are interested in bringing back Finley and reuniting him with Steve Nash.
The biggest buyer on the market will likely be Cleveland. With new ownership and Danny Ferry, the recently installed general manager, the Cavaliers are under pressure to provide the right pieces around LeBron James to keep him happy in his home city.
The Cavaliers have a payroll of about US$21 million, giving them the most room under a salary cap that is expected to be slightly more than US$49 million. Cleveland has been interested in Redd, the pure shooter from Milwaukee, and still hopes to negotiate to keep the 30-year-old Ilgauskas.
But the Bucks cleared cap space by trading Keith Van Horn and appear inclined to keep Redd, especially now that they have strong balance inside with the No. 1 draft pick, Andrew Bogut.
Wizards guard Larry Hughes will garner interest, although Washington would like to keep its backcourt together. A wild card from abroad, the 29-year-old point guard Sarunas Jasikevicius of Lithuania, has spent seven seasons starring in the Euroleague since leaving the University of Maryland. Half-court offensive teams like Indiana, Boston and Cleveland are believed to be the most interested.
The veteran forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim could offer a team like the Nets a chance to bolster its front line. The Bulls seem inclined to re-sign Eddy Curry (his heart condition makes him a risk for other teams), although a young team like Atlanta could go after the Bulls' other 7-footer, Chandler.
Center Samuel Dalembert is a highly regarded restricted free agent, which means the Philadelphia 76ers can match any offer. He clashed with the former coach, Jim O'Brien, but now that Maurice Cheeks is coaching, the Sixers will likely keep him.
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