The race for Kobe Bryant, the jewel of the summer's free agent market, has come down to the wire.

Bryant, a six-time all-star, listened to last-minute sales pitches by the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night as they tried to convince him that he should play for them next season.

The Clippers and Lakers met separately with Bryant at a hotel in Orange County, Calif. According to accounts from both sides, team representatives passed each other in the hotel lobby between pitch sessions.

Starting this morning at 12:01 a.m. (EST), NBA teams could begin signing free agents or finalizing trades following a two-week moratorium. In coming days, teams are expected to announce that agreements initiated during the past two weeks have been finalized.

Among the deals expected to be announced are the trade of Tracy McGrady to Houston and the free agent signing of guard Steve Nash by Phoenix. And barring something unexpected, Shaquille O'Neal could be introduced as early as today as the Miami Heat's new center.

The Lakers' two stars are the biggest pieces on the board, however, and the two L.A. franchises are considered the front-runners for Bryant.

Among the teams that were also in the running for Bryant are Phoenix and Denver.

Thomas, Bucks Make a Deal

The Washington Wizards' Etan Thomas has tentatively agreed to an offer from the Milwaukee Bucks that would pay the bruising forward-center between $35 million and $40 million over six years, according to sources close to the negotiations.

Thomas, whose shot blocking, rebounding and overall physical play near the basket last season made him a fan favorite, is a restricted free agent who has seen his market value skyrocket in a year in which quality big men are scarce.

Wizards management must decide whether Thomas, who finished last season with career highs in minutes (24.1), points (8.9), rebounds (6.7) and blocks (1.5), is worth the money.

Ernie Grunfeld, the Wizards' president of basketball operations, said that the Wizards intend to review the offer once Thomas submits it. "We like Etan very much but we have to take a look at what he's been offered," Grunfeld said yesterday.

Brouhaha Over Boozer

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Carlos Boozer is expected to sign a $68 million contract with the Utah Jazz today, a deal that has touched off a bitter dispute between the player and Cavaliers management.

Multiple news organizations have quoted unnamed sources with close ties to the Cavaliers who say Boozer, his wife and his agent Rob Pelinka met with members of the Cavaliers' management on June 30 to request that the team decline to pick up his option for next season.

By not picking up Boozer's option, the Cavaliers would be allowed under league rules to re-sign him to a more lucrative deal. In return, Boozer agreed not to shop himself to other teams, according to the reports.

Boozer, one of the most improved players in the NBA last season after averaging 15.5 points and 11.4 rebounds, has denied saying he would reject other offers.

Meantime, Pelinka, who works for sports agency SFX, resigned as Boozer's agent on Monday.

A source with knowledge of the negotiations between Pelinka and Boozer said the agent tried to persuade Boozer to turn down the Jazz offer once the public outcry intensified, but the player refused.

"We are monitoring the situation but have not commenced an investigation," said NBA spokesman Tim Frank.

Said one NBA assistant coach, who requested anonymity: "What Boozer and Pelinka did was deplorable. It'll be a long time before anyone forgets."