– For the latest updates check out: NBA.com’s Free Agent Tracker
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – This is always our favorite part.
Now that you can actually back up the rumors with real, live contact with free agents, we’re going to get a chance to see exactly who is serious about taking home some prizes in this compressed NBA free agency period.
Contact between team officials and players can be made this morning, meaning we no longer have to subsist on a daily diet of unnamed sources and innuendo. With courting season tipping off, we’ll get a chance to see what teams are ready to back up the hype generated in the past week.
If you like Caron Butler or Jamal Crawford, invite them to tour your practice facility and chauffeur them around town like the blue-chip free agent many teams think they are.
If Nene or Tyson Chandler is the big man you must have, the one that will solidify your team’s frontline, now is the time to show them just how much they are needed. Someone has to give these guys a reason to sign here rather than there.
And with the finishing touches on the nuts and bolts of a new collective bargaining agreement still in the works, free agency is going to come down to the same thing it almost always does (aside from cold hard cash, of course) — which team can work it best during recruiting season.
The recruiting season does extend beyond middle, high school and college ball.
Good recruiters are just as valuable at the NBA level, because they know what buttons to push to turn the head of players being pursued from nearly every direction.
The universal opinion that this free agent crop is lacking in franchise talent, a theory that is hard to argue when comparing the 2011 crop to that star-studded 2010 bunch. But that’s what makes the right recruiting pitch even more important — there were only a handful of teams with legitimate shots to land the likes of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Amar’e Stoudemire.
What franchise worth its private jet doesn’t think it can lure David West or Kris Humphries with the right recruiting pitch?
On to the madness …
ROCKETS CHASING A NEW BIG MAN
With the Yao Ming era officially over, might Nene be the man the Rockets tab to replace him in the middle? Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle reports that the Rockets’ interest will shift to a face-to-face meeting with the Brazilian big man today, one of many in-person recruiting pitches Nene is sure receive before making a decision on his future:
The Rockets’ pursuit of free-agent center Nene will move to a meeting Monday in Denver between the coveted center and Rockets coach Kevin McHale and general manager Daryl Morey, a person with knowledge of the meeting said on Sunday.
Nene is considered the top free agent available and has indicated a desire to leave the Denver Nuggets after failing to reach an agreement on a contract extension before the lockout. The Rockets had tried to work a deal with the Nuggets to acquire Nene prior to last season’s trade deadline.
Morey has also been in talks with the representative of free-agent center Tyson Chandler.
The Rockets made overtures to the agents of DeAndre Jordan and Marc Gasol last week, per Feigen. But trying to pry a restricted free agent big man away from his team in this protracted free agent frenzy is pretty much a waste of time.
But if the reports that Nene is indeed looking to land somewhere other than Denver, then the Rockets are making the smart move trying to get in there and be the first team to present its case.
The Rockets’ push for Nene is getting a run from New Jersey, where the Nets are in hot pursuit, per Fred Kerber of the New York Post. He spoke with former Nets GM Kiki Vandeweghe about a retooled frontcourt that could include both Nene and Brook Lopez:
“I think they could complement each other,” Vandeweghe said yesterday from California, where he resides after his ill-fated coaching turn in the Nets’ horrific 12-70 disaster in 2009-10. “Nene is a very versatile player, a real force inside because he is so strong. He is a decent perimeter defender. And one thing — and this goes for Brook, too — he is a very underrated passer.“Because Brook can and often does play outside, I think they would be a good fit. Nene really has improved over his career. He is a very good player.”
And he is also on the top of the Nets’ free-agent wish list, someone they are expected to meet with this week, along with Dallas center Tyson Chandler, as the NBA has lifted restrictions, permitting sit-downs starting today.
The Nets, league sources maintain, have been among the most aggressive suitors for Nene.
CRAWFORD DRAWING BROAD INTEREST
One of the more intriguing free agent targets on the market remains Crawford, who served as one of the linchpins for the Hawks’ success of the past two seasons.
Having proved his ability to play off the bench as a sixth man in a winning situation, Crawford probably increased his value around the league. As many as 20 teams made contact with him last week, according to sources. The Hawks’ Southeast Division rivals in Orlando are apparently interested in him as well, according to multiple sources.
More from Evan Dunlap of OrlandoPinstripedPost.com:
The Orlando Magic are among the teams to contact the agent for free-agent combo guard Jamal Crawford in recent days, reports Jarrod Rudolph of RealGM. The 11-year veteran is coming off the two most successful seasons of his career, which included winning Sixth Man of the Year honors with the Atlanta Hawks in 2009/10. He also played an instrumental role in helping Atlanta upset Orlando in the first round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs, averaging 20.5 points per game on 43.5 percent shooting from the field and 45.9 percent on three-pointers during that series.
Crawford, 31, could theoretically add some scoring punch to an Orlando bench bereft of it; he’d also instantly become the team’s best shot-creator, a skill in which the Magic are woefully deficient. Indeed, Crawford’s performance against the Magic in the most recent postseason had coach Stan Van Gundy lamenting his team’s lack of off-the-dribble scoring threats. Van Gundy mentioned Crawford by name.
Whether Orlando has the cash to lure Crawford remains to be seen. The Indiana Pacers are another of the teams interested, and could offer him more money. And they’re driven to add him: according to Alex Kennedy of HOOPSWORLD, the Pacers “love” Crawford. The Chicago Bulls and New Orleans Hornets are among the other teams vying for Crawford, Rudolph reports.
The absence of the Hawks as a potential suitor for a player they could have locked down with a contract extension last season seems a bit strange. But we’ve been informed by two different sources that the Hawks internal matters to sort through before they can begin chasing free agents of Crawford’s stature.
Losing Crawford without an adequate replacement already in place and without the tools to try to replace him on the free agent market could be a devastating blow for the Hawks.
PACERS PLAYING THE FIELD
The Pacers have been prominently mentioned with Crawford and several other big names in this free agent crop, including West and ex-Boilermakers star Carl Landry. Perhaps that playoff taste against the Bulls last season has the Pacers believing that their time is now. If they can get their hands on any combination of names that Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star reports they are pursuing, things couldn’t get really interesting at Conseco Fieldhouse this season:
There’s a possibility that former Purdue forward Carl Landry will talk with president Larry Bird and general manager David Morway on Monday or Tuesday. Guard Jamal Crawford is also expected to talk with the Pacers on Monday.
The Pacers are in the running for veteran forward Shane Battier, according to NBA.com’s David Aldridge. Battier would be a solid backup for Danny Granger at small forward. It also means that Paul George would predominately play shooting guard.
For those of you who ask about Josh McRoberts, the Pacers have had communication with his agent. It’s uncertain where McRoberts is on the pecking order of power forwards the Pacers are looking at. Memphis, New Orleans and the Lakers reportedly also have interest in J-Mac.
With the start of training camp just days away, the free agency/trade talk should pick up this week since most teams want to be able to set their roster as quick as possible.
With the way Tyler Hansbrough finished the season, including wicked work against the Bulls in the playoffs, the Pacers’ pursuit of Landry has us scratching our heads here at the hideout. Plus, their continued overlooking of the contributions of our guy McBob has moved well past aggravating.
We can’t wait to see if they are able to cash in on any of these players.
THE CLIPPERS WANT IN ON THE FUN AS WELL
Might those days of joking about the Los Angeles Clippers be officially over? Blake Griffin and crew brought a new sense of respect to the operation with their performance last season. And now comes word, from our main man Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times, that they are chasing the likes of Butler and Tayshaun Prince. The fun and games at the Clippers’ expense could be coming to an end folks:
The Clippers and free-agent forward Caron Butler will have a face-to-face meeting Monday at the team’s Playa Vista training facility.
“Yes, Caron is going to come and visit with the Clippers tomorrow,” Butler’s agent, Raymond Brothers, said in a phone interview Sunday night. … The Clippers have about $13 million to spend wisely on a free agent because they are under the salary cap.
Free-agent small forward Tayshaun Prince of the Detroit Pistons also is someone who interests the Clippers.
“There’s interest with Tayshaun in the Clippers, also,” Prince’s agent Bill Duffy said. “That’s definitely the case.”
On a team filled without talent but in need of a rugged, veteran presence in the locker room and on the floor during tough times, the Clippers have identified two ideal targets.
ODEN LEANING TOWARD STAYING IN PORTLAND
Those Greg Oden to the Heat rumors we had so much fun with over the weekend appear to be short-lived.
Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports reports that Oden is leaning toward re-signing with the Trail Blazers and ending his (restricted) free agent frenzy before it gets started. So much for that crazy recruiting pitch we were expecting from Heat boss Pat Riley:
Oden would sign a one-year, $8.8 million qualifying offer with the Blazers and become an unrestricted free agent after this season. The No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft has played just 82 games over four seasons because of injuries. The Blazers made the qualifying offer in June to ensure Oden was a restricted free agent.
Oden missed last season after having microfracture surgery on his left knee in November. The 23-year-old hasn’t played since December 2009 when he needed surgery to repair a fractured left kneecap. He was averaging 11.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks at the time of injury.
While there is no firm date for Oden’s return, his camp is optimistic he’ll be back playing in January.
The speculation was fun while it lasted. But as we mentioned at the top, the time for foolishness is over. Serious team are about to get down to serious business this morning.
By Friday, with free agent signings and training camp starting around the league, the real business of basketball will back in full force.
And on Christmas …