The San Antonio Spurs are trying to keep the nucleus that has made them perennial powers in the Western Conference intact. With three key players eligible for free agency, however, it hasn't been easy.

Spurs executives said before the year that their main priority during the free agency period was to re-sign guard Manu Ginobili, who averaged 14.7 points in the Western Conference semifinals against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Since NBA teams were allowed to begin contacting free agents on July 1, at least three other clubs made overtures to Ginobili: the Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns, and Utah Jazz. Now, the race for the 6-6 Argentine guard has boiled down to the Nuggets and Spurs.

The Nuggets are preparing to offer Ginobili a large sum, according to ESPN.com. The Spurs are expected to match almost any offer.

The 26-year-old is a dead-eye shooter and skilled passer and many league observers believe he is still learning the NBA game.Two other free agents on the Spurs are guard Bruce Bowen and forward Hedo Turkoglu, both represented by agent District-based agent Lon Babby, who said this morning that Bowen, a member of the NBA's All-Defensive team the past four seasons, will "likely stay with the team."

Turkoglu, who averaged only 6.2 points during the conference semifinals and shot just 26 percent from the field (13 of 50), "has other opportunities," according to Babby, who declined to name which teams are interested in the 6-10 forward from Turkey.

BREAK

Kobe Bryant has narrowed his choices of potential employers to four teams, according to several reports: the Lakers, Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers and Spurs.

Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe and team owner Stan Kroenke have traveled to Bryant's Newport Beach home and the Clippers braintrust of general manager Elgin Baylor and owner Donald Sterling are expected to make a visit as well.

Scores of NBA insiders believe that Bryant will remain with the Lakers, however. . . .

The Detroit Pistons, who have said since winning the NBA championship last month that they intend to re-sign forward Rasheed Wallace, are expected to make an offer of $50 million over five years, the New York Post reported today.

The Pistons may have trouble re-signing reserve center Mehmet Okur. The Utah Jazz announced Monday that they had struck a verbal agreement with the 6-11 player, with terms reportedly around six years, $50 million.

Free agents can not sign officially until July 14.