Latest rumors around the league (cont.)
With training camp just three days away, the slowest of free agency periods continues. While teams and players can't come to oral or written agreements until Friday, Monday marked the first day in which team officials could speak with the players themselves -- not just their agents.
Of all the free-agency conversations to eavesdrop on, I'd pick the ones between Shane Battier, Grant Hill and their respective suitors. Both players are as bright as they come in the league, and you can bet they had plenty of sharp and pressing questions as they talked to team officials Monday.
Both small forwards are well-respected veterans with plenty left to offer, and sources close to both players say they have yet to make up their minds. While Hill has said the chances are good that he'll return to Phoenix, he has narrowed his list to the Suns, Knicks, Bulls and Spurs, with the Warriors, Celtics and Clippers trailing. The Knicks would seem unlikely, however, as sources have said New York is offering only one-year deals in order to preserve salary-cap space for next summer when Paul, Howard and Nets point guard Deron Williams might be available as free agents.
Battier's list still includes the Heat, Spurs, Pacers, Raptors, Grizzlies, Celtics and his former Memphis team. The Thunder have also had discussions with either Battier or his camp. The team-to-player conversations might matter more with players like these than with so many others, as a clear understanding of roles, goals and, of course, financial incentive will come into play.
Jamal Crawford spent much of last season frustrated that Hawks officials weren't more eager to offer an extension and make him part of their future. He's feeling the love now, though.
A source close to the 11-year veteran guard said he was contacted on Monday by the Pacers, Hawks, Nets, Timberwolves, Suns, Bulls and Magic. The Bulls and Magic are believed to be interested in getting him via a sign-and-trade since they are over the salary cap and would be able to offer only the mid-level exception (a four-year deal starting at $5 million). When asked on Sunday who was leading the pack for Crawford's services, the source named, in order, the Hornets, Suns, Bulls, Hawks, Nets and Pacers.
The Kings have more money to spend than the rest, an estimated $17 million required by opening night to reach the league's new minimum payroll. Among their likely additions, restricted free agent Marcus Thornton remains a priority to re-sign. According to a source close to the shooting guard, however, his former team, the Hornets, is among a group of "four or five" interested clubs.
The Kings are also interested in re-signing unrestricted free-agent center Samuel Dalembert, but they're simultaneously pursuing longtime Rockets big man Chuck Hayes, who averaged career highs of 7.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists last season. As first reported by Yahoo! Sports, there is mutual interest between Hayes, an unrestricted free agent, and the Kings.
With Nene, Tyson Chandler, Marc Gasol and Dalembert leading the free-agent class of big men, it was somewhat surprising that there wasn't more movement on that front as of Monday evening. One agent, however, surmised that many of the teams pursuing those bigs are the same ones interested in trading for Howard, and that his uncertain future might be causing the delay.
While Houston and Golden State appear to be among the more aggressive suitors in the big-man market, the Rockets seem to be homing in on Nene while the Warriors prefer Chandler. However, their respective salary-cap situations would require some roster shifting to make those deals work.
As previously reported by SI.com, Nene, Chandler and Gasol all set their early asking prices in the neighborhood of maximum-contract territory, starting at $14.8 million for Gasol, $17.7 million for Nene and $20.7 million for Chandler. The Nets top the list of conflicted suitors considering their well-chronicled pursuit of Howard, while the Pacers (who are pursuing forward David West and Gasol) and the Trail Blazers are looking for bigs as well.
Of the big men and their previous teams, Memphis appears most likely to retain its player (Gasol) and Dalembert could still return to Sacramento, but it seems unlikely that Nene will return to Denver or Chandler will go back to Dallas. A source confirmed a Houston Chronicle report that Rockets officials traveled to Denver on Monday to meet with Nene.
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