Dwight-less market modestly stocked

Dwight Howard-less NBA market modestly stocked

After scrimping, saving and going without a few essential goodies, NBA teams with money to spend are lining up to enter a modestly stocked free-agent market.

The anticipated hot item, Dwight Howard, pretty much wrecked any trade-deadline drama a few months ago and, by contractually opting in for another season in Orlando, has done the same to the Summer of 2012's interest potential.

But Howard's looming and eventual lurch into free agency still has enough muscle to affect what occurs when the doors open Sunday.

Having escaped an NBA Draft trading riot that never happened, questions regarding Dwight's long-term employment will prolong the fascination with what buddy Deron Williams does in July. As the ranking in-his-prime, unrestricted superstar in this FA class, the Nets point guard has provided clues that suggest a preference to rejoin the team in Brooklyn.

It has been posited that Williams' preferred list of suitors is limited to the Nets and Dallas Mavericks, where creative owner Mark Cuban reportedly is attempting to lure D-Will back to his hometown.

So, while Williams is choosing between a partnership with Dirk Nowitzki or staying put and hoping Howard can reach Brooklyn a bit later, the rest of our free-agent interest will fall into three categories:



The primary candidates to propel any appreciable level of interest are charter members of the NBA's old school.

The perceived leader is 38-year-old Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash, who wants to play three more years and swears he'll listen to all teams kind enough to show an interest in hiring him.

According to recent gossip, the Canadian's dish network will be courted by the Toronto Raptors, Portland Trail Blazers and Suns. The Raptors, it should be noted, don't seem anywhere near posing a legitimate threat to seriously compete, something Steve previously insisted would be a change-of-address requirement. They also didn't execute a rumored draft-night deal that would have brought Kyle Lowry from the Houston Rockets and closed the door on MV-Steve.

The Suns are expected to make a strong two-year offer and hope to convince a grumpy fan base that Nash's decision to leave (if that's what happens) is not the franchise's fault.

We also should note that Trail Blazer interest may no longer exist; recent comments from new general manager Neil Olshey almost guarantee a youth movement in Portland. That movement has already begun, as the Blazers selected Weber State point guard Damian Lillard with the draft's sixth pick.

But there will be other teams mentioned in the chase for Nash, who remains spry enough to make shooters happy.

The other graybeard prospects with the potential to move the interest needle are Boston Celtics stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

Recent reports have pushed Allen toward Miami, where LeBron James and the title-taking Heat could have an immediate opening for a dead-eye shooter. But don't check Ray into South Beach just yet.

Garnett's circumstance-mandated move from power forward to center resulted in a statistical revival that could make him an attractive, short-term option for a contending team. But KG, who loves being a Celtic and playing for coach Doc Rivers, also is contemplating retirement. Even if he chooses that route this summer, it's hard to imagine him sticking with such a commitment for more than a few months. By Sunday, don't be surprised if Garnett wakes up and decides it's time to prepare to be a Celtic once more.

Adding big guys Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo in the draft's first round could represent enough potential help for both vets to stick around.



OK, let's begin by defining this "turmoil" reference.

The franchises in this category aren't exactly rife with controversy, but they are slogging into July with a large number of free-agency-related question marks.

We can start with the Celtics, who -- in addition to possibly waving bye-bye to Garnett and Allen -- have starting four man Brandon Bass on their unrestricted list. Bass, you may have noticed, had some very big moments in the team's unexpected march to the Eastern Conference finals.

And, with the acquisition of young talent as a major focus in Boston, the C's should be first in line to make an offer for Jeff Green. Green, a skilled forward they acquired from Oklahoma City in a trade that sent popular Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder, sat out last season with a heart condition that voided a contract he signed after the lockout.

A few weeks after completing their franchise's greatest season in Los Angeles, the L.A. Clippers enter July with several players in limbo. Their unrestricted list includes Chauncey Billups, Randy Foye, Nick Young and Kenyon Martin. Guard Mo Williams has a player option that would take his $8.5 million off the table if he chooses to become an unrestricted FA. Williams also has been part of a three-team maneuver that would land him in Utah and bring Lamar Odom back to the Clips, his original employers.

With former GM Olshey now working in Portland, director of player personnel Gary Sacks -- a candidate to move into the GM job -- will help guide the Clips through this tricky month of roster-restoration maneuvers.

Down the hall at Staples Center, the L.A. Lakers have two unrestricted contributors -- Ramon Sessions and Jordan Hill -- who came aboard in trade-deadline deals. While both are expected to be retained, rumored Laker roster shaking could lead them elsewhere.

In addition to the around-the-clock Nash watch, fans in Phoenix are wondering what will become of pal Grant Hill. Hill, 39, had several suitors during his free-agency spin last December. A season diminished by injury could thin out the offer-making herd this time.

The Suns, who could clear considerable cap space, have Michael Redd and Shannon Brown as key contributors on their unrestricted list, with center Robin Lopez (someone they're angling to keep) joining the restricted lineup with Aaron Brooks. Should Nash depart, Phoenix may just hold on to its precious financial flexibility and hand the keys to Kendall Marshall, the kid they drafted with Thursday's 13th pick.



If you're looking for young free agents with talent, please don't forget the hotshots of restricted free agency.

Any team gunning for a talent boost could do well with a few of these prospects, but they're probably not worth what might be required to pry them away from current employers.

"Everyone is hoping that the upcoming increase in luxury-tax penalties keeps the offers reasonable," one Western Conference general manager told me this week.

The presumed leader in earning potential for this category is Eric Gordon.

After moving to New Orleans in the Chris Paul deal, the ex-Clipper missed most of last season, but looked just fine while closing out the schedule. The Hornets, who need a top gun to play with Anthony Davis, are expected to match whatever offer Gordon may sign with another team.

After lightening their payroll load last season, the Trail Blazers probably will ante up to keep small forward Nic Batum. It'll be interesting to see how much loot Batum can muster after not having had much offensive responsibility until late this past season.

Roy Hibbert was an All-Star for the Indiana Pacers, but his desire to stay put will not prevent him from using this performance rise to boost his value.

O.J. Mayo, a talented two guard with playmaking skills, has been a trade candidate in Memphis for the last couple of years. Will the Grizzlies' lingering indifference toward him keep his value at reasonable limits?

That question can be aimed at several unrestricted classmates in a summer that should keep us busy with basketball news until Team USA rolls into London.

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