Vegas chatter: Trades, restricted free agents and the Artest sweepstakes

  • Marc Stein [ARCHIVE]
  • ESPN.com | July 17, 2008

LAS VEGAS -- Herewith is our second helping of dish from the stands of the NBA Summer League at UNLV, culled from discussions with the many executives, coaches and agents in attendance.

(Starting, again, with a visit to Clipperland )

Elton Brand and Corey Maggette for Baron Davis and Marcus Camby?

Marcus Camby
Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty ImagesMarcus Camby brings defense and rebounding to the Clips... but is he too similar to Chris Kaman?

Would you make that trade?

The Los Angeles Clippers basically just did and I like it a lot more than I don't. Even after factoring in a long-standing admiration for Brand and unshakable memories of how he repeatedly shredded the Phoenix Suns in a second-round series just two years ago -- while also conceding that Davis and Camby can't compare to the Brand-and-Davis tag team they were expecting to unveil -- one certainly can argue that the Clips are in a better spot now than they were when free agency began July 1.

"We've been able to get ourselves a big-time point guard, which is probably the toughest position in the league to attain," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "So on that basis alone, you'd probably say you have to do that deal."

Agreed. You'd have to do Brand and Maggette for Davis and Camby under those circumstances.

Yet there are more skeptics here at summer league than I expected after the Clips got so much for so little. The question I keep hearing from some of their rivals: Aren't Camby and Chris Kaman too similar (and offensively challenged) to play together?

My retort: Isn't that a more appetizing problem for the Clippers than what they were looking at a week ago? You can understand L.A.'s panic after Brand chose to sign with the Philadelphia 76ers, when so many folks around the league -- including the Clips -- were sure he'd stay as soon as they landed the homegrown Davis.

"No question we were put into scramble mode by Elton leaving," Dunleavy said.

So

"You jump on the sure thing for sure," Dunleavy continued, explaining why they didn't hesitate to capitalize on the Denver Nuggets' desperation to shed salary as opposed to signing one of the A-list restricted free agents -- Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith, Charlotte Bobcats forward Emeka Okafor or Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng -- to an offer sheet that would have required a seven-day wait to see whether the offer was matched.

"Marcus Camby is maybe the premier team defender in the league right now. He blocks four shots a game, rebounds 13 a game, [is a] great passer [and is] offensively very efficient in what he does. For us, that [move] was a dream come true.

"I think [Camby and Kaman] can play as well as Elton Brand and Kaman played together. Maybe there's times when [other teams] will decide to go smaller, but both guys are very mobile bigs. It wasn't even a thought."

How could it be a concern when the Clippers essentially got Camby for free?

And don't forget that Camby should be pretty tradeable if his pairing with Kaman doesn't work, even at nearly 35, with only two seasons left on his contract at just less than $20 million. Or that Camby's new team, most crucially, was able to get this deal done without surrendering a future first-round draft pick.


Leaguewide curiosity now shifts from how the Clips would respond to the heartbreak of Brand's defection -- probably the second-deepest cut in the team's tortured history, next to how close they came to signing Kobe Bryant away from the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 2004 -- to what happens to those aforementioned restricted free agents.

Josh Smith
Brian Babineau/Getty ImagesWord is Josh Smith prefers to take his high-flying act elsewhere.

The Memphis Grizzlies are the last team with salary-cap space to throw at the likes of Smith, Okafor, Deng, Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala, Golden State's Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins, Chicago's Ben Gordon and Atlanta's Josh Childress. But the Grizzlies have made it clear they aren't spending any of that money this summer, content to field trade offers for guards Kyle Lowry and Javaris Crittenton and maybe even 2007 first-round pick Mike Conley.

So the league's top restricteds can only create leverage to either secure the level of compensation they desire or force a sign-and-trade by threatening to sign a one-year qualifying offer that would lead to unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2009.

Who will succeed?

Iguodala was in Vegas early in the summer league to watch the 76ers play and sounded, even before the Clippers had landed Camby, like he was expecting to go nowhere. "If I stay," Iguodala said, "we're going to be a great team. We're going to keep getting better as a young group with Elton."

The Warriors are likewise expected to re-sign Ellis (very soon) and Biedrins without any significant threat. Gordon already was a well-chronicled candidate to be traded, irrespective of the tight market for restricteds, because sources keep saying that Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf (who seems to be taking a much more active role in his basketball franchise) would rather move Gordon than Kirk Hinrich.

The most intriguing cases, then, are Smith, Okafor and Deng.

Plugged-in sources say Smith thought he was on the verge of getting an offer sheet from the Clippers before the Camby deal moved along so quickly. Rumblings persist that Smith would prefer to relocate in spite of his Georgia roots.

Deng was likewise scheduled to meet face to face with the Clippers in Las Vegas this week, until the Clips got Camby.

Okafor, meanwhile, continues to be mentioned by chatterers as the restricted free agent most likely to leave his current employer via sign-and-trade. Although new Bobcats coach Larry Brown recently said he hopes Okafor is re-signed -- because Okafor played for Brown on the Olympic team in 2004 and "plays a position that is very hard to find" -- Charlotte's interest in bringing him back has been questioned ever since it offered what sources say was a five-year contract starting at the $5.6 million midlevel exception to DeSagana Diop earlier this month. Diop preferred to return to the Dallas Mavericks when the Mavs matched Charlotte's offer.


After reading on ESPN.com that Ron Artest was planning to represent himself as "my own agent," Artest's long-standing agent Mark Stevens demonstrated that he still has some sway over the mercurial forward. Stevens this week convinced Artest to "get out the media," in Ron-Ron's words, and at least temporarily avoid interviews after a series of e-mails in which Artest voiced his loudest frustrations to date about passing on the chance to opt out of the final year of his Sacramento Kings contract before July 1 and become an unrestricted free agent.

Ron Artest
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Lakers are still the favorites to win the Ron Artest sweepstakes.

It naturally remains to be seen how long Artest's silence will last. I imagine we'll be hearing from him again well before July 25, when Artest is scheduled to join Chicago Bulls forward Joakim Noah and New York Knicks guard Nate Robinson on the ESPN campus in Bristol, Conn., to face the winners of a Wii sweepstakes event. Yet it appears that Kings co-owner Joe Maloof, for the short term, was successful with his rebuke in Tuesday's Sacramento Bee that essentially urged Artest to hush before his ongoing commentary hurt the Kings' attempts to find him a new home.

Fact is, though, that Sacramento likely will continue to attract trade interest in Artest no matter what he says, with Artest down to the final year of his current contract at a very tradeable $7.4 million. Maloof himself acknowledged to ESPN.com on Sunday that "the Lakers do want him" as do "about six other teams."

Yet the Kings continue to insist that the team that ultimately gets Artest will have to take Kenny Thomas' contract as well. NBA front-office sources say the Mavericks were told several days ago, for example, that an offer of bruising power forward Brandon Bass, veteran swingman Jerry Stackhouse and $2 million to cover Stackhouse's guarantee in the 2009-10 season would not be enough to reunite Artest with new Mavs coach Rick Carlisle. (Dallas has no interest in a Josh Howard-for-Artest swap in any incarnation.)

The Miami Heat also have liked Artest for some time, but the Heat received the same message from Sacramento that the Lakers got. Unless the Kings budge from their current stance, Miami would have to send over Shawn Marion and absorb Thomas' remaining $16.5 million over the next two seasons to get Artest. Although Thomas' contract wouldn't interfere with the Heat's intent to have cap room to spend in the summer of 2010, it's hard to see the appeal of such a deal for Pat Riley and rookie coach Erik Spoelstra.

Cleveland is another team you can expect to hear linked with Artest, with the Cavaliers possessing numerous options -- Wally Szczerbiak for Artest and Thomas, just to name one -- to join the bidding. It simply depends on how willing the Cavs are to add to their luxury-tax bill. But nothing has happened yet to budge the Lakers from the role of favorites in the Artest sweepstakes, although ESPN.com reported Sunday that -- fond as they are of Artest and confident as they are that they can get the best out of him through Phil Jackson's coaching and Artest's respect for Kobe Bryant -- L.A. is reluctant to part with Lamar Odom in an Artest swap.

That stance, if the Lakers don't relent, almost certainly will force Sacramento to look elsewhere for a trade partner.

The good news for Lakerland dwellers hoping Artest eventually will arrive this summer to address the defense and toughness issues exposed by the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals: Maloof has shot down the oft-cited theory that the Kings, because of their fierce on-court rivalry with the Lakers early in the decade, are reluctant to make a trade with their divisional neighbors.

"Absolutely not [true]," Maloof said. "We're rivals with the Lakers, but we respect them as an organization. If we can make a move that improves our situation, it doesn't matter who the other team is."

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.

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