The sun is going down on NBA teams still fishing for marquee free agents and no where is there more pressure to sign one than in Los Angeles.
Lakers management is under the gun to trade center Shaquille O'Neal and re-sign guard Kobe Bryant. According to many NBA insiders, the Lakers' chances of landing Bryant improve dramatically if they can move O'Neal, who has feuded with Bryant for years.
After losing in the NBA Finals to the Detroit Pistons last month and after the Lakers parted ways with former coach Phil Jackson, O'Neal demanded to be traded. According to reports, the team's owner, Jerry Buss, wants O'Neal out and Bryant wants him out.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has said he won't trade O'Neal unless he receives fair value in return. The problem for him is that nobody in the league believes him.
Clubs interested in acquiring O'Neal can afford to wait and see whether they can get the 7-foot-1 center at a discount should the Lakers be forced to make a move in haste.
They know that the Lakers want to please Bryant and are also fighting the clock.
Bryant could choose to sign a contract with another club on Wednesday, the first day NBA teams are allowed to sign free agents.
The Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets and San Antonio Spurs, among others, have visited Bryant's Newport Beach, Calif., home to convince him to jump to their teams.
Said one Western Conference executive: "I think he's staying but if the Lakers don't trade Shaq you never know what [Bryant] may do."
Will the Nets Re-Sign Martin?
Among the slew of questions facing the New Jersey Nets, such as whether the team will move to Brooklyn or how Jason Kidd's injured knee will heal, the most pressing is whether the team's new owner will free enough cash to re-sign free agent Kenyon Martin.
The Atlanta Hawks and Denver Nuggets are interested in acquiring Martin, an all star who is one of the most popular players on the team.
The Hawks offered the 6-9 Martin a six-year deal yesterday, according to several reports, but he is still talking to other teams.
Bruce Ratner, New Jersey's new owner, has said that the club will do anything to keep Martin, who averaged 19.1 points and 11 rebounds in the playoffs this past season. Ratner's statement contradict numerous reports that he has told team executives to keep a lid on spending.
Boozer Goes to the Jazz
Almost everybody in the NBA thought that forward Carlos Boozer would remain with the Cleveland Cavaliers -- everyone except the Utah Jazz.
Boozer, who averaged 15.5 points and 11.4 rebounds last season, agreed to a six-year, $68 million offer from the Jazz yesterday, after publicly saying that he wished to stay in Cleveland and after his agent came to a handshake agreement with the team not to shop his client on the open market, according to several reports.
The news caught Cleveland's executives off guard.
"Our actions have been based upon what Carlos told us he wanted," the team said yesterday in a written statement. "This was also entirely consistent with his public statements in the media July 1. We are both very surprised and very disappointed by what is now being reported."
The Cavaliers could have avoided this mess had they picked up Boozer's option before the July 1 deadline. If they did, they could have kept the fast-rising second-year player this season and then would have been able to exceed the salary cap to match any offer for him next season, when he would have been a restricted free agent.
As it stands now, the Cavaliers are not in a position to match Utah's offer without moving other players.