Marc Stein: Free-Agent Chatter



We're inside the final two weeks of what was initially forecasted to be a very busy extension season for the NBA's class of 2011.

The updated forecast?

After news of the league's monstrous new TV deal leading into the 2016-17 season landed so loudly on Oct. 7, uncertainty about exactly when -- and how drastically -- the NBA's salary cap will start rising has been rampant. So making predictions about who will and won't receive extensions before the Halloween deadline, as a result, got a lot tougher.

To date we've seen four class of 2011 players score extensions: Team USA standouts Kyrie Irving (Cleveland) and Kenneth Faried (Denver), along with the Phoenix Suns' Morris twins.

But this particular October was thought to comfortably possess double-digit potential in terms of total extensions, compared to the mere six members of the Class of 2010 who scored new deals before the Halloween buzzer in 2013.

There's still sufficient time, of course, for a late rash of deals before Oct. 31, but the list of players in limbo is l-o-n-g. League sources say that the following players are all in the midst of active extension negotiations with their respective teams as the end of the window -- and restricted free agency for those who aren't extended -- draws ever closer:

San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard, Golden State's Klay Thompson, Minnesota's Ricky Rubio, Charlotte's Kemba Walker, Chicago's Jimmy Butler, Cleveland's Tristan Thompson, Oklahoma City's Reggie Jackson, Milwaukee's Brandon Knight and Orlando teammates Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris.

Just to name 10.

(You could also throw in the Utah duo of Enes Kanter and Alec Burks, as well as New York's Iman Shumpert and Miami's Norris Cole, if you need a few more names actively pursuing new deals.)

Yet the most confounding case of them all, on this scorecard, is Klay Thompson's. You've undoubtedly seen the reports about the annual gulf of $3 million or so between Thompson's camp and the Warriors, but the Warriors appear to have more to lose than any team in that mix above if they can't ultimately come to terms with Thompson by month's end.

It was essentially 12 months ago that our suggestion that Gordon Hayward would get a max offer in restricted free agency if the Jazz didn't lock him up was roundly scoffed at. The Charlotte Hornets duly stepped up in July with a four-year max offer sheet for Hayward in excess of $60 million that Utah was forced to match, which wound up costing the Jazz more than $10 million extra compared to what Hayward was willing to take in October 2013 to avoid restricted free agency altogether.

And now I'd argue that Thompson is even more of a lock to attract a four-year max in the summer of 2015 if he winds up in the RFA Club. Worse yet for Golden State: One real option, I'm told, is Thompson pursuing an offer sheet from a new team modeled after the loaded three-year contract structure Chandler Parsons scored from Dallas this past summer.

Which is to say that Thompson, were he to pull a Parsons and sign a three-year deal with a player option to return to free agency in Year 2, would be setting himself up to hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent in 2017 ... at the exact same time as Splash Brothers sidekick Steph Curry.

Don't think the Warriors want that.

The sense I get is that Warriors owner Joe Lacob, after capitalizing on Curry's myriad ankle problems over the years to secure one Splash Brother at a bargain extension of $44 million over four years, is trying to pull off a similar trick with the very durable and defensive-minded Thompson. But it's a different marketplace in 2014-15. And Thompson is poised to hit that market in a stronger position than Curry found himself in October 2012 because of those old ankle woes.

Thompson, like Faried, was a breakout star for Team USA at the FIBA Basketball World Cup over the summer, quietly finishing second on the squad to James Harden in scoring and emerging as one of Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski's favorite players because of his dogged D.

Although some skeptics remain, given his modest statistical production beyond points per game, Thompson is nonetheless making a case to succeed Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade as the NBA's foremost two-way guard. At the very least, at a mere 24, Thompson has established himself as an undeniable impact player at both ends, known as much today for hounding perimeter players of all different sizes as he is for his 3-point prowess.

There are other fascinating extension situations around the league, whether it's the ongoing Rubio stalemate with Minnesota or the Spurs' Kawhi Conundrum, after Leonard unexpectedly played his way to an NBA Finals MVP trophy in June.

The Spurs, though, have already been to the NBA mountaintop, which puts them in a more secure position than the Warriors. Leonard's determination to keep a Spurs-ian low profile, furthermore, makes him look born for San Antonio as much as any Spur we've seen since that Timothy Theodore Duncan fellow. With Leonard, whether a deal gets done now or takes until summer, you really have to twist yourself into a pretzel to imagine a scenario where he isn't in South Texas for the long term.

Thompson's long-term future? I'm not so sure. It strikes me as far riskier for the Warriors to let this month pass without Thompson being signed and sealed, imagining the sort of toxic offers he'd get in restricted free agency from the likes of the Los Angeles Lakers, who've already tried unsuccessfully to trade for Thompson in the past.

The Warriors would still retain their fair share of say in the matter if terms can't be reached with Thompson over the next two weeks. As a restricted free agent next July, Thompson wouldn't be able to walk unless Lacob was prepared to let him go.

Yet you have to ask: Did the Warriors ultimately walk away from the months-long Kevin Love trade talks with the intention of letting Thompson sign a short-term, booby-trapped max deal with an early opt-out and fat trade kicker that creates a whole new set of challenges?

Don't think they want that.

Sources: Pistons to sign Hasheem Thabeet

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
4:56
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The Detroit Pistons are bringing former No. 2 overall pick Hasheem Thabeet to training camp, according to team sources.

Sources told ESPN.com on Wednesday that Thabeet, 27, will get a one-year, nonguaranteed contract that gives him a chance to make the Pistons' roster in camp.

Thabeet became a free agent late last month after being waived by the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers had acquired Thabeet and cash considerations from Oklahoma City for a protected second-round draft pick in 2015 on Aug. 26. The deal also created a $1.35 million trade exception for the Thunder.

Thabeet, selected No. 2 overall in the 2009 draft out of UConn, has averaged 2.2 points and 2.7 rebounds per game over five seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers and Thunder.

The 7-foot-3 defensive specialist from Tanzania played in 66 games in 2012 and averaged nearly a block per contest. But playing time was limited last season in Oklahoma City when first-round pick Steven Adams emerged as the Thunder's backup center.

Risk is on both sides in Bledsoe saga

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
1:20
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Eric BledsoeChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesStill unsigned, Eric Bledsoe is seeking the five-year max from Phoenix worth $85 million.
BILBAO, Spain -- Catching occasional glimpses of Goran Dragic here at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, even when he's wearing the green of Slovenia, inevitably makes you think of Eric Bledsoe.

Especially because it's already September.

Inside a month to go before the Phoenix Suns and the rest of the league open up their training camps, Bledsoe remains unsigned, just 25 days and change away from the Suns' scheduled return to work in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Which raises the unappetizing possibility that Bledsoe won't even be there for that first day of camp to reunite with Dragic. The deadline for the Suns' prized restricted free agent to sign his qualifying offer isn't until Oct. 1. And these parties have been locked in a stalemate for months.

As ESPN.com reported in August, Bledsoe is seeking the five-year max from Phoenix worth $85 million. The Suns' offer has topped out, to this point, at a reported $48 million over four years. The resulting impasse -- and tension -- has led to both parties exploring sign-and-trade options while Bledsoe himself inches closer to playing next season on a $3.7 million qualifier that would allow him to become an unrestricted free agent in July 2015.

Going the latter route would be an undeniable risk for Bledsoe, coming off a second knee surgery that limited him to 43 games last season, but make no mistake: Phoenix would be facing tremendous risk here as well. Should Bledsoe decide to sign the qualifying offer, as appears increasingly likely if no sign-and-trade materializes, Bledsoe can't be traded without his consent for the whole season ... and would instantly set himself up to join Dragic as an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Consider that last sentence again.

If Bledsoe elects to go the rare qualifying offer route, Phoenix would suddenly face the very real possibility of losing both of its two best assets without compensation in 2015 free agency.

The Lakers, for example, are just one team league sources say would likely make a hard run at both of them, based on the premise that the Suns couldn't afford the cost of paying both at that point, theoretically making either Bledsoe or Dragic gettable. Sources say that Houston, furthermore, has Dragic on its list of potential targets next summer given how he's blossomed since leaving the Rockets for Phoenix in the free-agent summer of 2012.

If Bledsoe signs the qualifier, furthermore, you can pretty much bank on him leaving Phoenix as soon as he gets the chance, because players don't take that sort of gamble and then bury the bad feelings months later to re-sign with the incumbent team. And that would naturally increase Dragic's leverage in the process, because Phoenix simply couldn't stomach losing its two most valuable players, who both happen to play what is routinely regarded as the most important position on the floor in the modern NBA.

So it's quite a quandary for the Suns. As sensible as their four-year, $48 million pitch to Bledsoe sounds and as outlandish as the player's demands might seem -- given what Kyle Lowry just got in Toronto -- I have to believe Bledsoe's agent Rich Paul thinks he can get much more than what Phoenix is offering next summer. He wouldn't be turning down Lowry money now if he didn't already know.

You'll recall Utah's Gordon Hayward was roundly questioned after passing on a similar four-year, $48 million extension offer from the Jazz last October when he was said to be seeking $52 million. Hayward wound up scoring a max offer sheet from Charlotte worth $64 million over four years, which Utah was forced to match.

Now it's Bledsoe's turn. And Greg Monroe's. The Detroit big man is also weighing whether to play out the coming season on a qualifying offer if he isn't presented with a sign-and-trade scenario to his liking before Oct. 1, fully believing that there's more money available next summer as an unrestricted free agent than the Pistons are offering now. And if you don't think Monroe has the gumption to go that route, you're forgetting that he's represented by the fearless David Falk.

My sense is that Bledsoe and Paul are indeed prepared to take the qualifying offer despite the rarity of the strategy. And you can't help but wonder, in the Suns' case, what sort of season awaits the NBA's plucky darlings of 2013-14 if that's how it plays out.

It would appear that Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek faces quite a challenging sophomore season, after his fantastic debut as a head coach, given that the harmony and chemistry that played such a big role in the Suns' success is bound to be shaken by the uncertainty surrounding the future of their two franchise players. Free agency is also looming, incidentally, for Gerald Green (unrestricted) and twins Markieff and Marcus Morris (both restricted) in July 2015.

Some solace for the Suns: Oct. 1 is the likely the longest they'll have to wait before seeing Bledsoe ... assuming they (A) can't hammer out a deal with Bledsoe through an 11th-hour round of negotiating or (B) don't opt to sign-and-trade him.

The league's new labor agreement in 2011, thanks to one of the union's many concessions, moved up the deadline for signing qualifying offers to Oct. 1. Otherwise this saga potentially could have dragged out even longer.

Or have you forgotten Anderson Varejao's foray into restricted free agency in the summer of 2007?

In that instance, Varejao's agent, Dan Fegan, rejected what he felt was an unworthy offer from the Cleveland Cavaliers and waited until December before he landed the offer sheet he felt Varejao deserved. Charlotte eventually came through with a two-year, $11 million pact that the Cavs ultimately matched ... after playing without Varejao for the first two months of the season.

Seven years later, even though both Bledsoe and Monroe do still possess the option to stage an old-fashioned holdout once their respective qualifying offers expire, Oct. 1 looms as the likely end to both of these dramas.

At least as far as this seemingly endless summer goes.
Add the San Antonio Spurs to the list of teams pursuing sharpshooter Ray Allen.

ESPN.com has learned that the Spurs are trying to barge their way into the race to sign Allen ... which first, of course, requires one of the 39-year-old's suitors to persuade him to play next season.

Allen announced last month that he's still deciding if he wants to play what would be his 19th NBA season.

The uncertainty, mind you, has had zero impact on interest. The reigning champs from San Antonio join Doc Rivers' Los Angeles Clippers and, of course, LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers on the list of elite teams pursuing Allen. The Dallas Mavericks have also tried to make a play for Allen this summer, and there are surely other suitors yet to be identified since he remains available.

The Spurs have only one open roster spot at the moment but, as ESPN.com reported Friday, have also registered interest in Mexico star center Gustavo Ayon while remaining hopeful of re-signing reserve center Aron Baynes, whom Australia is relying on heavily at the FIBA World Cup in Spain with Andrew Bogut absent.

"It's August, and I don't want to rush to judgment," Allen said earlier this month at the Jim Calhoun Charity All-Star Classic in Connecticut. "I want to get to September and see how I really feel."

Allen has been a member of championship teams in Boston (2008) and Miami (2013), and he holds the NBA record for most 3-pointers made both in regular-season play (2,973) and the postseason (385).

The Washington Wizards will acquire veteran forward DeJuan Blair in a sign-and-trade deal with the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, according to sources close to the process.

A trade call with the league is scheduled for later Wednesday, sources said, with Dallas not looking for anything back beyond the nominal draft considerations required to make such a deal official.

Blair posted a tweet referencing his new NBA home Wednesday afternoon.

ESPN.com reported Sunday that the Wizards and Mavericks were in advanced talks on a sign-and-trade deal that would land Blair alongside Paul Pierce and Kris Humphries as new additions to Washington's up-and-coming roster.

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Miami's Dwyane Wade and New York's Carmelo Anthony are the latest stars to secure a no-trade clause rarely seen in the NBA, according to sources familiar with their new contracts.

NBA rules dictate that players can add a no-trade clause to a new contract only if they have a minimum of eight years of service time and four years with the same team.

Wade easily qualifies under those conditions after spending his entire 11-year career with the Heat, but Anthony is the beneficiary of a favorable rules interpretation to join Wade, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett in this exclusive club.

Anthony hasn't spent a full four seasons with the Knicks, but because he has finished each of the past four seasons in New York, it was ruled that Anthony qualifies to have a full no-trade clause added to his new five-year, $124 million contract with New York.

Bryant, Duncan, Nowitzki and Garnett were the only four players in the league last season to possess a full no-trade clause in their contracts.

Bryant and Nowitzki retained their respective no-trade clauses in their new deals, with the Los Angeles Lakers' star about to start a two-year, $48.5 million extension this season and Dallas' Nowitzki having finalized a new three-year, $25 million deal Tuesday.

Garnett's no-trade clause, meanwhile, carried over from Boston to Brooklyn after he waived the clause in July 2013 to allow the Celtics to deal him with Paul Pierce to the Nets in exchange for a package that included three first-round draft picks.

No-trade clauses are harder to secure in basketball than they are in other sports because they can be introduced into new contracts only. League rules preclude no-trade clauses from being added to extensions.

The star players with the leverage to negotiate a no-trade clause, furthermore, often sign lucrative extensions before they have the requisite service time. Had Wade, for example, signed an extension with the Heat in June instead of opting out, going onto the open market and then landing a new deal, he would not have been eligible to receive one.

In Major League Baseball, by comparison, players automatically earn veto power over trades through the "Ten and Five" rule, which stipulates that players with at least 10 years of service time and five in a row with the same team are granted the power of consent on trades.
Dirk Nowitzki has taken an even bigger pay cut than expected to help Mark Cuban fortify the Dallas Mavericks' roster, according to sources with knowledge of the star forward's contract.

Sources told ESPN.com that Nowitzki's new contract, which was officially announced Tuesday, is actually a three-year deal worth a mere $25 million.

When Nowitzki agreed to the deal early in free agency, sources would only say that Nowitzki had accepted a three-year deal similar in structure to the last contract signed by San Antonio's Tim Duncan, which was a three-year, $30 million pact.

Sources say that Nowitzki received strong interest in free agency from the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers to leave Dallas for max-level money but refused to engage in negotiations with either team.

Nowitzki consented to such a steep pay reduction -- from last season's $22.7 million to the roughly $8 million he'll get for this coming season -- to give the Mavericks added flexibility to strengthen the supporting cast around him.

Read the full story here »

Beno Udrih to re-sign with Grizzlies

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
4:30
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The Memphis Grizzlies struck a deal Thursday to re-sign guard Beno Udrih, according to sources close to the process.

Sources told ESPN.com that Udrih, who was claimed off waivers from New York last season by the Grizzlies, will sign a two-year deal to stay with Memphis that starts at the league's bi-annual exception valued at $2.1 million.

Read the full story here »
The Dallas Mavericks are closing in on an agreement to re-sign point guard Devin Harris, according to sources close to the process.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Mavericks and Harris are putting the finishing touches on a three-year deal to bring Harris back.

A source told ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon that the deal is worth a little more than $9 million over the three years, the same terms Harris and the Mavs originally agreed to last summer before discovering during a pre-signing physical screening that Harris needed complicated toe surgery. After the parties mutually agreed to pull that deal off the table, Harris played last season for the veteran's minimum of $1.3 million.

Click here for the full story
The Philadelphia 76ers have expressed a willingness to trade for Houston Rockets guard Jeremy Lin depending on what sort of assets Houston is willing to attach to the deal, according to sources close to the process.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Sixers, who have ample room on their payroll to absorb Lin's contract, have emerged as a leading contender to take on Lin in a trade that sends no salary back to the Rockets, which would enable the Rockets to extend a rich offer in free agency to either Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh.

Sources say that the Milwaukee Bucks are another team that would consider trading for Lin if the Rockets add a sweetener or two to the deal for the privilege of shedding Lin's contract to a team that can comfortably absorb it.

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The agent for LeBron James has this week met with officials from multiple teams interested in courting James in free agency, according to sources close to the process.

The exact number of teams to secure face-to-face meetings with Cleveland-based Rich Paul was not immediately known, but sources told ESPN.com that the Phoenix Suns, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and James' home state Cleveland Cavaliers have all had the opportunity to make presentations to Paul in recent days.

ESPN's Chris Broussard reports that Suns owner Robert Sarver, in particular, met with Paul on Wednesday and pitched the idea of luring James from Miami to the desert by trying to sign Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh as well.

Sources also tell Broussard that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert had a meeting with Paul this week.

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Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks have agreed to terms on a new three-year contract believed to be in the $30 million range, according to sources close to the situation.

The deal, sources said, contains a player option that would allow Nowitzki to return to free agency in the summer of 2016 and preserves the rare no-trade clause he had in his last contract.

Fresh off completing a four-year, $80 million contract in which he left some $16 million on the table, Nowitzki has agreed to take a far steeper pay cut this time in hopes of leaving enough salary-cap space for the Mavericks to sign top free-agent target Carmelo Anthony or multiple contributors with their considerable salary-cap space this summer.

Read the full story here »
The Indiana Pacers' desire to upgrade at point guard is no surprise.

Their top target, though, is a bit of a headline-grabber.

Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com this week that the Pacers are trying to engage the Phoenix Suns in trade talks for star guard Goran Dragic, hoping that the expected cost of re-signing restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe makes keeping Dragic too pricey.

To this point, sources say, Indiana has been unable to find any common ground with Phoenix in Dragic trade talks, with the Suns predictably said to be asking for a lot to part with the player who should have been a Western Conference All-Star last season and did snare a third-team All-NBA slot. Dragic led a Suns team projected for a win total in the 20s to a 48-34 mark and a fairy-tale run at a playoff spot in the ultracompetitive West.

But it's something to keep an eye on. Dragic is headed for free agency in the summer of 2015, and Indy is sure to make a play for him if it can't get to him sooner.
The Dallas Mavericks are in advanced discussions with star forward Dirk Nowitzki on a new contract but are likely to hold off on finalizing deal terms until after the team's face-to-face meeting this week with Carmelo Anthony, according to sources close to the process.

Sources told ESPN.com on Tuesday that the parties have mutually agreed to put off the finishing touches on their weeks-long negotiations until after the chance to make their recruiting pitch directly to Anthony, who ranks as Dallas' No. 1 free-agent target besides Nowitzki.

The Mavericks and Nowitzki have been negotiating for some time, sources said, because the parties strongly contemplated hammering out a contract extension before June 30 -- such as the Memphis Grizzlies did with Zach Randolph -- to prevent the former NBA Finals MVP from even reaching the open market.

But the Mavs and Nowitzki, sources said, ultimately decided to wait until after July 1 to maintain maximum flexibility for free-agent pursuits.

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The (other) Cleveland Show

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
12:59
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Cleveland is legitimately lovely this time of year.

Speaking strictly about 2014, who would dare argue?

You simply can’t argue after scanning through this quick and handy recap of what we’ve seen from the Cavaliers over the last six weeks … without even factoring in the sight of Johnny Manziel being spotted at an NBA Finals game in San Antonio wearing a Cavs cap:

May 20: The Cavs, with a 1.7 percent chance of success, win the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery.

June 21: Springing a major surprise, Cleveland names David Blatt as its new coach, after Blatt -- an American-born naturalized Israeli who, at 55, has no NBA experience -- led Maccabi Tel Aviv to a wholly unexpected Euroleague championship.

June 26: Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins is selected with the No. 1 overall pick.

July 1: The Cavs quickly strike a verbal agreement with disgruntled-no-more star guard Kyrie Irving on a maximum five-year, $90 million contract extension.

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