Knicks close in on Chandler
The Knicks are poised to land Tyson Chandler, a top free-agent center
Shane Battier is set to join Miami, while Greg Oden is returning to Portland
The Celtics continue to pursue a trade for potential 2012 free agent Chris Paul
The Knicks are nearing a deal for free-agent center Tyson Chandler, according to league sources.
To make room for Chandler, the Knicks, among other potential moves, are prepared to use their amnesty clause on Chauncey Billups or trade him, as CBSSports.com first reported. The veteran point guard is set to make $14.2 million in the final year of his contract.
New York's apparent willingness to release Billups came as a surprise to the Warriors and other teams in hot pursuit of Chandler, the defensive anchor of the Mavericks' championship team last season. Golden State had made Chandler its top target.
It is believed that the Knicks are offering a similar contract as the Warriors, who were willing to spend about $60 million over four years for Chandler.
Meanwhile, sources indicated that the Warriors will now make a strong push for Clippers restricted free agent DeAndre Jordan. The 23-year-old center is represented by Arn Tellem, the former boss of first-year Warriors assistant general manager Bob Myers. The Clippers are committed to keeping Jordan as part of their young core with Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon.
Losing out on Chandler would be a big blow to the Warriors' pursuit of Chris Paul, Chandler's friend and former teammate in New Orleans. But Golden State's aggressive attempt to land the Hornets' star point guard and potential 2012 free agent is expected to continue.
Also, league sources said Houston is in the process of putting together a three-team trade with the Lakers and Hornets in which Paul would go to Los Angeles. The Rockets would receive 7-footer Pau Gasol, according to SI.com's Chris Mannix.
Houston has been aggressive in pursuing big men. General manager Daryl Morey met with Nene in Denver and Chandler in Los Angeles on Monday and sat down with another free-agent center, Samuel Dalembert, in Florida on Tuesday night.
A source confirmed an ESPN.com report that Sacramento offered center Chuck Hayes a four-year deal worth about $20 million. Hayes' agent, Calvin Andrews, told the Houston Chronicle that the 28-year-old is "close to gone from Houston" after spending his first six seasons there, his most productive in 2010-11 when he averaged 7.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 28.1 minutes. While Minnesota reportedly showed serious interest, a source said Hayes is highly likely to wind up with the Kings. That could mean the end of Dalembert's one-season stay in Sacramento. Dalembert has been in talks to re-sign with the Kings but there was already a gap to bridge on the economics before Sacramento moved close to an agreement with Hayes.
Shane Battier tweeted Thursday morning that he would sign with the Heat. Battier, who has gone from Houston to Memphis and now Miami, wrote in an e-mail to SI.com, "Can I still wear my cowboy boots there?" A source close to the veteran small forward said he would receive the "taxpayer MLE," referring to the taxpayer mid-level exception that can be signed for up to three years starting at $3 million. According to a source who has been in negotiations with the Heat, they will have only the mini mid-level available unless they either renounce the rights to their restricted free agents or use the amnesty clause on Mike Miller.
Center Greg Oden, a restricted free agent, will accept the Trail Blazers' one-year qualifying offer worth nearly $9 million, his agent, Bill Duffy, told The Oregonian.
Small forward Tayshaun Prince is expected to return to Detroit with a four-year deal worth about $30 million.
Former Blazers big man Jeff Pendergraph is expected to sign a two-year, guaranteed deal in Indiana, according to a source.
A source said swingman Marquis Daniels is expected to return to Boston on a one-year minimum deal.
The system that is intended to help teams retain restricted free agents looks to be working. While there is sufficient interest in players such as Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, Nuggets guard Arron Afflalo, Wizards guard Nick Young and Kings guard Marcus Thornton, their respective "home" teams, with the ability to match outside offers, still seem primed to bring them back.
Indiana has pushed Memphis in the Gasol sweepstakes, but the Grizzlies appear willing to sign him to a contract at or around the maximum (a starting salary of $14.8 million) so they can continue the momentum of their 2011 playoff run.
Afflalo will cost Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri a pretty penny to keep, but Denver happens to have about $26 million in cap room. New Jersey and Minnesota are reportedly interested while Chicago and the Lakers are considering sign-and-trade possibilities for Afflalo.
Young is reportedly drawing interest from Chicago, Denver, New Orleans, Sacramento and Phoenix. But the Wizards, who extended a $3.7 million qualifying offer, clearly value him and will wait for the offer sheets to come in before likely matching.
The Kings are determined to re-sign Thornton and will likely do so, even as his agent, Tony Dutt, told SI.com this week that Thornton's former team, New Orleans, is among "four or five" interested clubs.
One of these restricted free agents is sure to leave his old team, though, and it will be worth watching what happens with Heat point guard Mario Chalmers and 76ers forward Thaddeus Young. The question with Chalmers is how high Heat president Pat Riley is willing to go to keep him. Cap-friendly Denver is reportedly among the teams showing serious interest in Young.
Speaking of restricted free agents, Celtics forward Jeff Green is in a category all his own.
He still might become part of a Paul deal via sign-and-trade, and I was told by a source close to the situation late Wednesday night to not discount Boston no matter how much Paul doesn't want to be there. With Celtics president Danny Ainge believed to be willing to do the deal without any assurances that Paul would stay beyond this season, there are indications that the Hornets are still very intrigued by the possibilities with the Celtics.
A deal including point guard Rajon Rondo, Green and two 2012 first-round draft picks (one from the Clippers that is protected in the top 10 for the next four years, the other the Celtics' pick) would give the Hornets two starters and the potential for more young pieces to come. It wouldn't be ideal, but it could provide the sort of youthful foundation that Hornets general manager Dell Demps is searching for in a post-Paul era.
But there would be concerns. Beyond the relevant fact that Rondo and Green are not players the Hornets have coveted, the value of the picks might be minimal if the Clippers become a top-10 team and the Celtics finish near the top once again (thereby resulting in a late-20s draft position on the second first-round selection).
Meanwhile, Ainge appears convinced that he could persuade Paul to stick around once the Celtics got him to Boston. With the contracts for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen expiring after this season, the Celtics -- as was noted by CBSSports.com and confirmed by league sources -- believe that they could sell Paul on the immediate chance at a championship and the eventual opportunity of using that extra cap space on Howard as a free agent next summer.
While the New York Post reported Thursday that Grant Hill was on the verge of signing with the Knicks, a source close to the 39-year-old forward said Thursday morning that he "isn't close" with any team and that his short list still includes Phoenix, Chicago, New York and San Antonio.
Guard Jamal Crawford teased on Twitter that he might need to change the profile picture of him wearing an Atlanta jersey "in a couple days." Crawford is known to be among the many wings on Chicago's list, and a source close to him said Wednesday that his top four options were the Bulls (either via sign-and-trade or the full mid-level) and three teams with cap room in New Orleans, Indiana and New Jersey.
One final note on the Kings: Don't hold your breath for that spending spree I mentioned the other day. When the initial version of the tentatively agreed upon collective bargaining agreement had the new minimum payroll at 85 percent of the salary cap as opposed to the previous 75 percent, that meant the Kings would have to spend about $17 million to reach the salary floor. But according to a memo from union executive director Billy Hunter obtained by SI.com on Wednesday, the floor wound up being set at 80 percent for this season (and 85 next season and 90 percent thereafter), so the financial mark the Kings must hit is subsequently less.
What's more, the fact that each team's payroll isn't determined until the end of the season means the Kings could operate under the payroll floor during much the season as long as they add enough salary at some point to make up the difference. If not, the amount in which they come up short must be evenly distributed to the team's current players.