Midnight, and O'Neal, transform Heat

Lakers are left at big loss

ultimately, much hinges on Bryant's destination

Pro Basketball

July 14, 2004|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

While you slept during the night, backbiting, betrayal and big money spread across the land, from Los Angeles to Miami and a few spots in between.

At midnight, the NBA's two-week moratorium on player movement ended, bringing with it the latest chapter of this summer's hottest soap opera, As the League Turns.

While a number of plot lines are expected to be resolved, most notably the relocation of Shaquille O'Neal from the Lakers to the Heat, the biggest ongoing drama, whither Kobe Bryant, is still up for grabs.

When last we left Bryant, he had engineered the end of the L.A. tenure of both O'Neal and Phil Jackson, who coached the Lakers to three titles and four Finals appearances in five years.

Bryant, the highest-profile free agent on the market, has kept the Lakers and the Clippers, the other Staples Center tenant, hopping in attempts to please him.

The Lakers went after Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski to replace Jackson to try to appease Bryant, while the Clippers are reportedly considering playing 10 to 12 home games in Anaheim, which is closer to the 6-foot-7 guard's Newport Beach home than Los Angeles.

The Lakers hold the biggest trump card, as they can give Bryant one more year and $30 million more than any other team, but it's not known whether the changes they have made will be enough to make him stay in purple and gold.

Here's a list of winners and losers, now that player moves and acquisitions can be made.

Winners

Heat: Dominant centers have been traded only three times in league history (Wilt Chamberlain, 1965, 1968; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 1975), and the teams that acquired them won titles afterward. By getting O'Neal without surrendering an All-Star to do so, the Heat has put itself in a great position to at least make its first Finals appearance.

Kenyon Martin: The New Jersey Nets' restricted free-agent forward will either stay in the Meadowlands with Jason Kidd or he'll go to Denver with Carmelo Anthony. Either way, he'll get $85 million over six years or $100 million over seven years, if the Nets and Nuggets work out a sign-and-trade arrangement.

Utah Jazz: Who said free agents wouldn't come to Salt Lake City? The Jazz, which had $30 million in cap room, picked off Mehmet Okur from Detroit and may get Carlos Boozer from Cleveland.

Steve Nash: The former Dallas point guard was the first big free-agent domino to fall, jumping ship for Phoenix for five years and $65 million.

San Antonio Spurs: Last year's champions kept their most important free agent, guard Manu Ginobili, re-signed defensive specialist Bruce Bowen, picked up Brent Barry from Seattle for bench strength and may cap it all off by getting Karl Malone to solidify the front line.

Antonio McDyess: The once-promising forward, who missed a big chunk of the past three seasons with knee problems, gets a four-year, $23 million deal to back up Rasheed Wallace in Detroit. Not bad.

Losers

Lakers: Remember the note about trading dominant centers? The Warriors didn't win a title for 10 years after trading Chamberlain, and the 76ers went without a ring for 15 years after shipping off the "Big Dipper." And the Milwaukee Bucks haven't been back to the Finals since they dealt Abdul-Jabbar.

Worse yet, even if Bryant re-signs with the Lakers, there are no assurances that he will emerge not guilty from sexual assault charges in Colorado in August. In other words, owner Jerry Buss may have dismantled his franchise for nothing.

Boozer: In the end, he may get his $68 million from Utah, but the damage to his reputation for apparently going back on his word to Cleveland is going to hurt for quite some time.

Cleveland Cavaliers: You can bet it will be a 90-degree January day on Lake Erie before the Cavaliers, or any other team for that matter, let a player become a free agent before his time.

Gary Payton: "The Glove" probably thought his troubles were over in Los Angeles when Jackson got the boot. Little did he realize when he exercised his option to return that he might be the only one of the Big Four left.

Dallas Mavericks: Letting Nash go was bad enough, but they should have pulled the trigger on getting O'Neal, even if it meant surrendering Dirk Nowitzki, who, at last count, has three fewer rings than Shaq.

In limbo

Pistons: Keeping Wallace and getting McDyess is good, but losing Okur means Darko Milicic had better work out or Pistons president Joe Dumars will never hear the end of passing on Anthony in last year's draft.

Quentin Richardson: If the Clippers get Bryant, they'll likely let him slide on to the Suns, so, like the rest of the world, he'll have to wait on Kobe.

Washington Wizards: The team loves backup center Etan Thomas, but keeping him at six years and more than $35 million means making a decision next year on letting Kwame Brown, Brendan Haywood or Larry Hughes or some combination go.

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