Thursday, August 11, 2005
Updated: August 17, 2:14 PM ET
Anyone want two young, talented 7-footers?
By Sam Smith
Special to ESPN.com
The summer is always filled with mysteries, like "Dancing with the Stars," the length of Jessica Simpson's cutoffs in the new "Dukes of Hazzard" movie and the status of the Chicago Bulls' free agents.
Apparently, no one is much interested in dancing with Eddy Curry or how Tyson Chandler's legs look in shorts.
The Bulls were one of the NBA's major surprises last season when they finished with the third-best record in the Eastern Conference after not one national or local publication picked them to even make the playoffs. That's right, show us your picks.
The growth and maturity of two of those "Baby Bulls" -- Chandler and Curry -- were big reasons for Chicago's resurgence.
Both are restricted free agents. Yet neither has received even one offer in the free-agent market. Curry had a brief visit with the Atlanta Hawks, but left early, and the Hawks instead pursued restricted free agent Joe Johnson and for a big man signed the Bucks' Zaza Pachulia. Hardly a vote of confidence.
Among the Bulls' nine free agents (Jared Reiner, Lawrence Funderburke and Frank Williams won't be invited back), the only one with an offer is Chris Duhon. The Bulls wanted to send Duhon, a second-round pick, to Europe last year, but he ended up starting most of the season. The Toronto Raptors extended Duhon a $9.3 million, three-year offer, which the Bulls say they'll match next week.
Part of the reason, of course, is that Duhon was the starting point guard. And no team likes to let the notion get out that they won't keep their players, which could Clipperize a team and leave them open season for raiding clubs. The Bulls have insisted they'd match on all their restricted free agents, meaning Duhon, Curry and Chandler.
I'd let Duhon go. This, however, doesn't matter much, as I make very few decisions for the Bulls. Don't get me wrong. Duhon is a nice player to have on your team: tough minded, a leader, defense-oriented. But the longer he's around the Bulls, the longer Kirk Hinrich has to play out of position at shooting guard and Ben Gordon remains on the bench. Plus, signing Duhon under the new labor agreement leaves the team without much flexibility.
It's the so-called Gilbert Arenas rule. He was a second-round pick whom the Warriors had to let go because they couldn't get under the salary cap to pay him. Now second-round picks who become free agents can be paid by using the team's salary cap exception. If the Bulls match, they'll have less than half their exception left.
That would take them out of the bidding for three guys who could really help them: Shareef Abdur-Rahim, who'd be an ideal fit with Chandler at center; Brian Grant, who was released by the Lakers in the "amnesty" provision, also would work alongside Chandler as a post defender and rebounder; and perhaps even Chicagoan Michael Finley, if he is released by the Mavs under the same provision. He always wanted to play for his hometown team and he'd be a perfect big guard to play alongside Hinrich.
But the Bulls say they intend to keep their young core together, which is sound, patient thinking -- something we in the media tend to abhor. Maintaining the youth movement, they'd like to bring back clutch shooter Jannero Pargo for next season and sign Eddie Basden from Charlotte, a big guard who was Conference USA's best defender. For veteran help, they'll also talk to Adrian Griffin and Othella Harrington. Still, one gets the sense the Bulls are essentially standing pat while several teams upgrade in the East -- which suggests they are taking a step back this season, after their 24-win turnaround.
But even if 2005-06 goes south a bit for the Bulls, it figures to be just a minor blip, since the team could be well under the salary cap after the season with Antonio Davis, Eddie Robinson and Eric Piatkowski coming off the books.
But the big talk still remains Curry and Chandler.
Or the lack of talk.
There's been little negotiation with Curry, working with his third different agent this year, now Leon Rose. The bigger issue is his irregular heartbeat, which kept him out of the latter part of the season and the playoffs.
Curry found a respected physician in California who cleared him to play, though there remain questions with other physicians he's seen. The Bulls asked Curry to take a DNA test to determine if he has a serious condition. Curry declined. The insurance company which covers NBA players will not insure Curry's contract because of the heart issue.
The Bulls have talked with Curry about a short-term deal with incentives. Curry has said no. The general feeling around the NBA is the Bulls know Curry best, and if they're not offering him anything, well
The other issue, which has shadowed Curry since his high school, hamburger-eating days, is motivation. Curry hasn't been the most dedicated worker in his four years, and the fear is with a long-term contract and the heart question hanging over him, he could well revert to being Eddy Not in a Hurry.
So he waits. The Bulls wait. It's looking like he'll head into this season with a one-year qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent. Which doesn't necessarily mean he's leaving Chicago since under the new collective bargaining agreement, the Bulls could still offer him more years and bigger raises, a maximum package worth about $20 million more than any other team.
But would you trust Eddy Curry with a maximum, fully guaranteed, long-term deal even if he has a terrific season in 2005-06?
As for Chandler, he seems healthy now after missing most of the 2003-04 season with back problems. He was a nice sixth man coming in for defensive presence and energy for a team that was knocked out in the first round of the playoffs.
Of course, he wants a deal for the maximum amount and contract length.
This is what has become of the NBA, and why the new labor deal is so bad for ownership.
Someone still can pay someone like Chandler $90 million.
It seems no one wants to, which is why he sits and the Bulls sit.
So how do you gauge someone's worth? Players and their agents might call it the Stupid George Shinn rule. It was when Shinn, still the owner of the Hornets, gave Larry Johnson a massive extension several years before the end of Johnson's contract, when his back already was bothering him and he could barely jump rope.
So players looked around, and by then most every forward in the league was better than Johnson. So they all wanted big extensions. It's what the players and agents define as market value.
Which raises this question for teams: Why do I have to be governed by the actions of my stupidest competitors?
The 76ers gave Samuel Dalembert, who averaged 8.4 points and 7.6 rebounds, a long-term deal averaging about $10 million a year. Chandler, despite not starting, averaged 8.1 points and 9.8 rebounds, and is generally better than Dalembert even if Chandler's shooting range is about 2 inches. So Chandler wants his deal averaging more than Dalembert's. The Bulls supposedly offered what seems like a generous deal for a player a year removed from serious back problems, but Chandler is said to be holding out for a maximum contract, even though he has no other offers. NBA economics.
The speculation is the Bulls will get some kind of deal done with Chandler since they cannot afford to have both big kids going into unrestricted free-agent seasons with a chance to lose both without compensation. Plus, Chandler's defensive presence and good work ethic fit the coaching style of Scott Skiles, who received a new four-year deal, better than the laconic Curry.
Which is why I'd have my eye on a power forward who can score, or at least a tough guy to have the back of the frail Chandler. And it's not like the Detroit Pistons have struggled with a role-playing, non-scoring, defensive center.
Will anyone take a chance on Curry? We probably won't know that for another year. And how do Cuttino Mobley and Bobby Simmons get offers and not Chandler? Anyone looking for a young, talented 7-footer? Or two? It seems not as many teams as we thought. Which is one of the big mysteries of this NBA free agent summer.
Sam Smith, who covers the NBA for the Chicago Tribune, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.