After rocky season, Dalembert may end up staying in Sacramento
Sam Dalembert is one of the top unrestricted free-agent centers of 2011
His situation will depend on the negotiations with Tyson Chandler and Nene
Dalembert previously seemed to want out of Sacramento, but he may stay now
Samuel Dalembert is known as the charitable sort.
You don't win public-service honors by being greedy, and so it was that the Haitian-born big man was named the 2009-10 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship award winner after his selfless reactions to the devastating earthquake in his homeland. But as the 10-year NBA veteran entered free agency this week, he told SI.com that he isn't likely to be so giving when it comes to the business of basketball.
He is widely regarded as one of the top unrestricted free-agent centers this year, trailing Nene and Tyson Chandler. And after a season in which Chandler showed the value of having a long, active, defensive-minded center during the Mavericks' championship run, Dalembert -- who played for Sacramento last season after spending his first eight seasons in Philadelphia -- is selling a similar script to the many teams that are looking to buy a big man.
"Basically, there are teams out there, several teams, who definitely have the cap room to be able to work something out," Dalembert said by phone from Haiti on Monday. "To me, there are a lot of factors involved. I'm keeping my options open."
But when he recently told FoxSports.com that the idea of joining Miami's Big Three of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh "would be fantastic," the logic -- not to mention the numbers -- simply didn't add up. Because the Heat are over the salary cap, they will only be able to offer Dalembert a four-year, mid-level exception deal starting at $5 million per season when the new collective bargaining agreement is ratified.
So when Dalembert was questioned about why he would take the mid-level deal in light of the slew of salary-cap-friendly teams before him, he laughed loudly and said, "Anybody ever tell you you're too smart for your own good?"
Discussions between player agents and team officials began on Wednesday, but deals cannot be agreed upon until Dec. 9. The list of teams with varying level of interest in Dalembert is long and includes the Nuggets ($25.8 million salary cap room), Rockets ($6.9 million), Warriors ($7.1 million), Raptors ($8 million), Kings ($26.2 million) and Hornets ($12.6 million). A return to Philadelphia could be possible if the 76ers decided to amnesty a player (likely Andres Nocioni) and create cap room.
His situation will certainly be influenced by the negotiations surrounding Nene, Chandler and Memphis' restricted free agent center, Marc Gasol. But among the many possible destinations, a return to Sacramento appears far more likely now than it did at season's end.
When he last left the Kings, Dalembert was disappointed that they hadn't reciprocated his desire to discuss an extension leading into the lockout. It was merely the latest frustration, the unwelcome capper to a 24-58 season that wasn't nearly as enjoyable as he had hoped.
An inner thigh injury forced the typically healthy Dalembert to miss training camp, and he would only hold his starting job for a little more than a month before becoming a reserve behind rookie DeMarcus Cousins. Before long, the player who the Kings had coveted for nearly two years was being mentioned as a possible trade piece because of his expiring contract worth $12.2 million and was sharing his frustrations publicly.
"In the beginning, things were a little [rocky]," Dalembert said. "If I had more [playing] time at the beginning of the season ... we would probably be laughing right now about how we won 40 games."
But despite the widespread sentiment that Dalembert's Sacramento experience meant he would not consider a return to the Kings, he said they're as strong a candidate as any, not just because they have to spend approximately $17 million hit the league's new minimum payroll, but also because of the way the team finished. While Dalembert averaged 8.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 24.2 minutes per game last season, he played a key role in their strong finish late.
He started from late February on, averaging 10.7 points (47.1 field goal percentage), 11.2 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per in 26 games. The Kings finished the season on an uptick, going 9-9 down the stretch while winning five of their last eight road games.
"At the end, everything was good," Dalembert said. "We were winning, we were beating teams no one expected us to beat.
"We showed some character as a team and we started to really synchronize with each other and had an understanding that our ultimate goal is to really win games."
Nonetheless, a Dalembert return still seemed like the longest of shots at season's end. But he said some of the Kings' offseason moves have changed his perspective.
"I see some moves that were kind of catching my attention a little bit," he said. "At the end of the day, we don't know what's going to happen. But bringing John Salmons back, I see things like that that catch your attention and give you a little hope.
"Now, we have players with one year more experience, knowing exactly what it takes, and I see the hope. I see the future for them. I'm not holding grudges."
Of course he's not looking to donate his services either.
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