- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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Some fresh dribbles of chatter from the front-office grapevine as we near the end of the first full month of free agency, culled from conversations with various executives, coaches and insiders around the league:
Boston's inside job opening
Shaquille O’Neal and Kwame Brown.
Those two haven’t shown up in the same sentence too often over the years, but they’re linked on this occasion because they both remain on the radar of the Boston Celtics.
The East champs, even after the recent signing of Jermaine O’Neal, still want one more big man after inching to the brink of a full roster with Thursday’s signing of guard Von Wafer.
The problem? The Celtics only have minimum money left. Sources say they’re having trouble getting Brown to accept those wages, so you can imagine where Shaq stands on the idea.
Word persists that Shaq still hopes to be sign-and-traded somewhere by Cleveland that will allow him to secure a salary next season above the $5.8 million mid-level exception. Our old friend Howard Beck of the New York Times did a comprehensive piece last weekend spelling out just how unlikely landing that sort of contract would appear to be.
Shaq struggling to find good fit
I’ve heard that Shaq, earlier this summer, was telling friends that the Spurs were the only team he'd consider playing for on a low-dollar contract.
But San Antonio, as covered previously in this cyberspace, doesn’t have the available minutes -- and really hasn’t shown the inclination -- to try to wedge the former local high school star into a world that still revolves around Shaq’s old rival Tim Duncan.
Atlanta? Sensible as it sounds for the Hawks to be the one team out there aggressively pursuing the 38-year-old -- given Shaq’s presumed ability to both stand up to Hawks killer Dwight Howard and sell tickets in Atlanta -- they just signed Jason Collins to be their No. 3 center and signed Josh Powell before Collins.
Which brings us back to Boston. I struggle to envision Shaq signing for a mere $1.35 million for next season, but the idea can’t be completely dismissed if O’Neal is serious about only signing with a team that can contend for a championship, since the Celts are still on that short list.
Tim Povtak of AOL FanHouse, who covered Shaq closely in Orlando when he broke into the NBA, reported recently that O’Neal has been lobbying Boston to come get him. Celts president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Boston Globe earlier this week than he didn’t want to comment on Shaq but acknowledged that “we’ve had some discussions.” And with Kendrick Perkins sure to miss the start of the season after knee surgery and with Jermaine O’Neal’s injury history, there is a legit need for another center.
The safer move for the Celtics is clearly signing Kwame, but I don’t think we need to remind you that Ainge -- who was willing to gamble on Stephon Marbury in the second half of the 2008-09 season when so many outsiders thought he wouldn’t dare -- is not afraid to take risks.
Bulls haven't ruled out T-Mac
As of Friday morning, Chicago had not completely ruled out the signing of Tracy McGrady.
Miami’s signing of Eddie House extinguished one of the Bulls’ other prime options and thus helped keep alive the possibility of McGrady scoring the deal from the Bulls that he so badly wants, as chronicled here. Chicago, though, continues to look at other options such as Keith Bogans and Roger Mason.
Sources close to the process, as they did Monday after McGrady’s workout and sit-down with team officials, continue to describe the prospect of a T-Mac signing as “unlikely” after he spoke at length -- to the media and apparently those officials as well -- of his intent to try to force his way into a prominent role with the Bulls when they were looking for him to show a blanket willingness to accept a limited role.
If the Bulls ultimately do relent and commit to a T-Mac experiment, since they do need another scoring threat on the perimeter, it’s believed that they will insist on McGrady accepting a non-guaranteed deal for next season so they can let him go at any time without financial hesitation if they deem the experiment to be failing.
'Blueprint' billboard removed
Remember that 127-foot billboard of Mikhail Prokhorov and Jay-Z, adorned with a Nets logo, that went up on a building facing Madison Square Garden to taunt the Knicks at the start of free agency?
It’s being painted over this week, but not because James Dolan called the league office to complain that the likenesses of the Nets’ owners were peering straight into the Knicks offices.
The Nets apparently leased that billboard space only for one month.
Amare's trip to the Holy Land
For those of you (like me) guilty of getting carried away by the news that Amare Stoudemire made a special trip to Israel to investigate the possibility of Jewish roots in his family -- and immediately started dreaming of Amare switching national-team allegiances someday to join Sacramento’s Omri Casspi in Israel’s frontcourt -- we are forced to issue a couple of reality checks.
In addition to this detailed clarification of the motivations behind Amare’s long-planned trip to the Holy Land from his Jewish agent, Happy Walters, to FanHouse, let’s not forget the small matter of FIBA regulations.
Even if Stoudemire did get to the point someday that he wanted to represent Israel, which qualifies as a premature discussion even for Twitter dwellers, there is no free agency in international basketball.
Once players represent one senior national team, as Amare did with Team USA at the 2004 Olympics, they are ineligible to play for another country.
Hakeem Olajuwon was allowed to join Team USA for the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 because he had only represented Nigeria at the junior level. The only exceptions FIBA has allowed at the senior level occurred when countries such as the former Yugoslavia dissolved into individual republics, sending the likes of Vlade Divac from Team Yugoslavia to Team Serbia and Toni Kukoc from Yugoslavia to Croatia.
But let me also say that any suggestion that all this is becoming public now because Amare is trying to win over New York’s significant Jewish population is badly misplaced. He’s been talking about going to Israel for years. I know that because I’ve discussed it with him several times. Amare’s interest in Judaism is so real that he recently had a Star of David tattooed on his left hand.
Stoudemire was accompanied on the trip by highly regarded NBA skills/footwork guru Idan Ravin, who has been working with the Knicks’ marquee signing all summer and has roots in Israel himself.
Remember the Titans
On the subject of players whose allegiances merit special attention here at Stein Line HQ, Cal State Fullerton alumnus Bobby Brown continues to draw interest from the Raptors, who had Brown in summer league and are believed to be the team most likely to sign him for next season.
Brown not only played well in Las Vegas but has a special bond with a few California-reared Raptors (DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson) to enhance his chances. The Raptors, though, still have two point guards on the roster that they’ve unsuccessfully tried to move: Jose Calderon and Marcus Banks.
Lefty swingman Frank Robinson, Fullerton’s other NBA aspirant and a member of the Lakers’ summer-league squad, has elected to sign a guaranteed deal with Israel’s Maccabi Haifa -- which will be playing the Nets in an October exhibition game in New Jersey -- instead of trying to make an NBA roster in training camp as he attempted the past two Octobers with Atlanta.
Brown's price tag
Question: Why did all the rumblings about Larry Brown wanting to leave the Bobcats to coach the Sixers or Clippers instead, so prevalent in May and June, quietly fade away?
One answer: NBA coaching sources say that Bobcats owner Michael Jordan made it clear to Brown and any interested team that the Bobcats would insist on compensation -- presumably draft considerations -- to let Brown out of his contract.
Some fresh dribbles of chatter from the front-office grapevine as we near the end of the first full month of free agency, culled from conversations with various executives, coaches and insiders around the league:Boston's inside job openingShaquille O’Neal and Kwame Brown.