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Summer blockbuster in store?

Major trade may follow uneventful free-agent period

Posted: Friday July 13, 2007 4:23PM; Updated: Monday July 16, 2007 2:00AM
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Jermaine O'Neal figures to hear his name in trade rumors all summer long.
Jermaine O'Neal figures to hear his name in trade rumors all summer long.

As expected, this year's free-agent "frenzy" has been more like a "fizzle," with few big names changing teams. With all due respect to Rashard Lewis (Magic) and Darko Milicic (Grizzlies), their relocations aren't likely to shift the balance of power in either conference.

But that doesn't mean the rest of this year's offseason will be dull.

Indeed, the real fun could be just getting started.

Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O'Neal, Shawn Marion, Mike Bibby and Pau Gasol are just a handful of marquee players still said to be dancing Wallenda-like atop the trade wire.

Bryant, for example, has yet to publicly back off his request for a trade to a team that is ready to win now. While it's still highly doubtful the Lakers will accommodate their 28-year-old superstar, they might eventually decide they have no choice.

Ditto for the Timberwolves with Garnett. While Minnesota continues to insist it has no intention of dealing its franchise player, many around the league believe vice president Kevin McHale is at least open to the idea. With KG able to opt out of his contract next summer, it might make sense for the T'wolves to do something now rather than risk losing him for nothing next year.

O'Neal is clearly available now that Indiana has decided it needs a major overhaul. Marion could still be moved because of luxury-tax and chemistry issues. Bibby is already rumored to be heading to Cleveland in a deal for Drew Gooden. Gasol appears safe for now in Memphis, but things could change there as well.

Add it all up, and it's likely we'll see at least one blockbuster trade this summer.

After a rather lackluster Finals and uneventful free-agent period so far, NBA fans surely would welcome it.

Now on to the rest of the 'Bag:

The Magic and Grizzlies seem to be the big winners so far in free agency. What other teams have been the biggest winners?
-- J. Evey, Valparaiso, Ind.

It's still too early to tell, since not all the moves have been made yet. But the Bulls could turn out be one surprise winner. And not just because they managed to re-sign Andres Nocioni to a very reasonable five-year, $38 million deal. GM John Paxson has to love the Milicic signing. For one, it takes the 7-foot prospect off a fellow Eastern team. More important, it leaves the door open just a crack that Chicago might be able to revisit those talks for Gasol. With Milicic on board, Memphis now has a decent big man to replace Gasol in the event the Grizzlies were to decide to move him later.

What do you think of the Milicic signing? Isn't $21 million over three years a lot of money for a guy who hasn't done much in his NBA career? And how do you think he and Gasol will fit together?
-- M. Kramer, Alexandria, Va.

The former No. 2 overall pick has done almost nothing to warrant a big payday. But for three years at those dollars, the 22-year-old is probably worth the gamble because he does have potential. As for how he and Gasol will fit, new coach Marc Iavaroni apparently wants to play an up-tempo game, and Darko can run the floor. It should make for a good pairing, but if Milicic doesn't start playing with consistency, it won't matter.

OK, forget the big-name guys who sign for the big dollars. Which players will turn out to be the best free-agent signings in terms of money spent?
-- Brian Matthews, Chicago

Grant Hill averaged 15 points and five rebounds while managing to stay healthy most of last season. He's also a heady player and a great presence in the locker room. He could be a steal for the Suns, particularly at $4 million over two years. Jamaal Magloire is a true center and former All-Star who got stuck in the Blazers' rebuilding situation. He might have a bounce-back year if his head is on right. Chris Mihm could be a contributor if he's over his injury problems. These guys won't be huge stars, but each has the chance to be a value pickup at the right price.


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