After a busier-than-average summer, the past couple of weeks have been relatively calm. Among the few free agents still unsigned are Chicago’s Eddy Curry and Minnesota’s Latrell Sprewell, and among those looking to quell rumors is Boston boss Danny Ainge, who insists he is not trading Paul Pierce.
“He’ll be with us when training camp opens,” Ainge said.
But until that annual rite of autumn returns Oct. 4 – this time including the reunion of Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles – the most pressing concern for the NBA is finding a place for the Hornets to spend the upcoming season.
The New Orleans Arena escaped serious damage from Hurricane Katrina, but the Hornets were told it could take up to six months before the city is ready to accommodate their return. League officials spent yesterday touring facilities in Baton Rouge, La., after checking out Oklahoma City last week, and NBA spokesman Tim Frank said a decision on the Hornets’ temporary home is expected toward the end of next week.
After that, the focus will move to the individuals – rather than teams – who spent the summer changing addresses.
Michael Finley will be joining the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, Larry Brown will take over as coach of the New York Knicks, Ron Artest will be welcomed back to the Indiana Pacers and Shaquille O’Neal will get a firsthand look at the changes made to two-fifths of Miami’s starting lineup.
Sprewell, after turning down a three-year, $21 million extension last season from Minnesota, is still looking to find a team able to pay him a salary above $5 million. His agent, Robert Gist, said he is trying to facilitate a sign-and-trade deal that would bring the Timberwolves a small forward in return.
“This is not about anyone doing Latrell a favor,” Gist said. “It’s about the Timberwolves finding a way to get a player they need.”
Wolves vice president Kevin McHale did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Curry, a restricted free agent whose future has been clouded by heart problems, has received a one-year qualifying offer from the Bulls which expires Oct. 1. Chicago has the right to match any offer the 22-year-old receives for the upcoming season, but the four-year veteran would become an unrestricted free agent next summer if he accepts the qualifying offer.
There were rumors last week that the Celtics and Denver Nuggets had discussed a swap of Pierce for Andre Miller and Nene, but Ainge said the report was unfounded.
“I have no plans to trade Paul Pierce,” Ainge said in a telephone interview.
Speculation surrounding Pierce’s future comes after a summer in which nearly all of last season’s 16 playoff teams made significant moves aimed at improving in the short term.
“I think (the summer) has been protracted, but I don’t think it’s been all that much different from other summers that have had extensive player movement,” said Spurs general manager R.C. Buford.
The Spurs bolstered their bench by adding veteran guard Nick Van Exel and Argentine center Fabricio Oberto, an Olympic teammate of Manu Ginobili’s. But their biggest coup of the offseason was beating out the Suns, Heat and Pistons for Finley.
Dallas waived the 10-year veteran under a one-time amnesty provision under the new six-year collective bargaining agreement agreed to in July. The move will bring Mavericks owner Mark Cuban approximately $90 million in cash savings over the next three years.
“The template for success in the NBA changed from the Portland model of 1999-2000, when I got to the league, to the Detroit, San Antonio, Miami model,” Cuban wrote earlier this summer in his blog. “Although we have succeeded on the court to the point of five straight 50-plus win seasons, we certainly didn’t do it ‘the best way.’ We did it the most expensive way. It cost us flexibility and created lots of bad habits. That was my mistake, and it ended up costing us Mike (Finley).”
The Detroit Pistons, coming off their Game 7 loss to San Antonio in the NBA Finals, hired Flip Saunders to replace Brown and added Dale Davis to an established veteran front line.
Miami lost starters Eddie Jones and Damon Jones but added Antoine Walker, Jason Williams and James Posey. Heat coach Stan Van Gundy will open camp with some uncertainty surrounding him, a slow start to the regular season likely to speed up speculation over Pat Riley’s possible return to the sidelines.
Phoenix, coming off a season in which it made an NBA record 796 3-pointers, traded away two players – Quentin Richardson and Joe Johnson – who combined to make 403 of them. So while the Suns will still have the reigning MVP in Steve Nash and one of the game’s most dominant big men in Amare Stoudemire, they’ll have a much different look than the rubber-legged group that raced off to an NBA-high 62 victories last season.