The NBA's Final Four teams are reuniting Tuesday for a different sort of elimination tournament.
It's the Michael Finley Sweepstakes.
League front-office sources tell ESPN.com that Miami, Detroit, San Antonio and Phoenix are the suitors with the best shot at landing Finley, who was waived late Monday by the Dallas Mavericks after Dallas' summer-long efforts to trade Finley to a less-threatening team proved unsuccessful.
Intensely private throughout his eight-plus seasons in Dallas, Finley has been typically tight-lipped about his future, telling reporters at Steve Nash's recent charity game that he wasn't ready to discuss the prospect of free agency. Yet it's widely believed that the 32-year-old, after clearing waivers in 48 hours, will ultimately join one of the above four powerhouses to give himself a real shot at a championship ring … with the Denver Nuggets tops among the list of outsiders.
As Finley prepares to grade the field and commence serious negotiations, this is our breakdown of the two-time All-Star's options as the prize (some would say only) catch on the amnesty market:
The Heat will be tough to resist, with Shaquille O'Neal as lead recruiter and a $5 million mid-level exception waiting … and the bonus of a scouting report from Dwyane Wade, who shares Finley's agent (Henry Thomas). Miami's interest, meanwhile, is a no-brainer. Finley played for Stan Van Gundy at Wisconsin, ranks as a quality chemistry guy and would instantly become the Heat's most dependable long-ball threat (given Damon Jones' likely departure). Yet it remains to be seen whether Finley wants to join a club that just added Antoine Walker and James Posey, with the room to start only one of the three. Finley and Walker are Chicago pals, but he also saw first-hand in Dallas that meshing can be tough for a team with 'Toine as a third or fourth fiddle. It wouldn't be surprising at all to see Finley wind up here, but it's not the slam dunk some league insiders are suggesting.
Pistons president Joe Dumars, eager to do some free-agent shopping after the interminable Larry Brown saga, has been quietly waiting for his swing at Finley. It doesn't hurt Dumars' chances that the Pistons have their entire $5 million mid-level exception to offer Finley for next season -- nearly twice as rich as what the Spurs can pitch -- as well as the promise of healthy minutes with a proven championship crew. Detroit, remember, generally relied on only seven guys when it mattered: Antonio McDyess, Lindsey Hunter and its trusty starting five. Finley would fortify the bench for new coach Flip Saunders and serve as an offensive-minded complement to the defense-first Tayshaun Prince. The fit seems even more feasible now that Finley, in trademark Pistons style, can even claim that he has something to prove as a former face of the Mavs who has since been discarded.
The Spurs can't match the money Miami and Detroit can offer, but the champs will make a strong presentation beyond the close proximity to Finley's adopted home in Big D. San Antonio has lacked a consistent scorer off the bench since Manu Ginobili became a starter and is always looking for more perimeter shooting. Finley could fill both of those voids and presumably make a smooth transition to the Spurs' all-for-one locker room, given his first-class reputation. Although Finley's scoring average has indeed dipped for six successive seasons, that overlooks his 41 percent accuracy from 3-point range over the past two seasons … without the benefit of the open looks Tim Duncan and Ginobili generate. The Mavs were trying so hard to deal Finley in part to keep him away from the Spurs, knowing the champs are a real threat to make a switch to South Texas happen.
The Suns are sunk if money is the tiebreaker, with only a veteran minimum of $1.1 million to offer Finley for next season. And money could be a factor, since Finley will collect the remaining $51-plus million on his Mavs contract in annual installments of less than $5 million because of a considerable "spread" provision in that contract. Phoenix, though, has an even better recruiter than Shaq; Nash and Finley remain so close that Finley went to Toronto for his buddy's charity game even though June ankle surgery prevented him from actually playing. Don't forget, furthermore, that Phoenix drafted Finley in 1995, and he remains quite popular there. A return to the desert, then, holds appeal on several levels, which should explain (after losing Nash to the Suns) why this is the other West rival Dallas had hoped to foil with a trade. The Mavs know Finley would relish the challenge of filling the Joe Johnson void.
The list of interested teams stretches well beyond five, but it's believed Finley won't consider anyone farther away from title contention than the Nuggets. Although his hometown Bulls will try to defy that belief -- as will Minnesota, which flirted with a three-team Finley trade last week -- Denver can claim a more promising talent mix and a roster architect (Kiki Vandeweghe) who once worked in Dallas. Vandeweghe is also pursuing another Mavs alumnus (Nick Van Exel) to give his bench a boost, but Finley is Denver's top priority. The Nuggets, like Detroit and Miami, can offer a full $5 million next season … but also a rare guaranteed starting spot. It's a definite long shot, but who knows? Last time he worked with George Karl, Finley was perhaps the only player to come away with any plaudits from the ill-fated Team USA at the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis.