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Raptors go all-in for Nash, Celtics eye Green, more free-agent news

The Steve Nash sweepstakes heated up as expected Sunday, when the Toronto Raptors made their elaborate and aggressive pitch to bring the Canadian back to his homeland.

A Raptors source confirmed that Toronto offered the two-time MVP a three-year, $36 million deal, though a source close to Nash called that figure "premature." While offers can't be signed until July 11, it's clear that Toronto is all-in trying to make the 38-year-old point guard the face of its franchise.

Why would a team that was 23-43 last season, and is developing a young core, invest so heavily in a player of such advanced age, you ask? Because it's about basketball and business.

When the Bell and Rogers groups -- respective owners of rival sports television networks TSN and SportsNet -- agreed to buy majority interest of the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment company in December, their shared interest was rooted in a fear that MLSE was going to create a mega-network that would force their loss of Raptors and Leafs programming. The two companies, whose majority ownership is expected to be formalized within the next three months, decided that partnering with a competitor was better than being obliterated by a larger station that would likely have been built in the mold of the Knicks' MSG network. Nash's role in this business equation now, of course, would be to play the part of the Knicks' Jeremy Lin by driving up ratings and re-energizing a fan base that is still reeling from the loss of Chris Bosh to Miami two summers ago.

The Raptors could also use a spike at the gate. They've fallen into the league's bottom half in home attendance since Bosh's departure. Toronto ranked 17th last season (average crowd of 16,835) and was 19th in 2010-11 (16,566) after ranking as high as ninth overall during the Bosh era (19.435 in 2007-08).

All of which helps explain the lengths the Raptors are going to beat out teams like New York, Phoenix, Brooklyn and Dallas in their pursuit of Nash. Beyond the contract offer that is likely to far surpass any others, Nash is also being sold on the chance to become even more of a local legend in Canada while possibly even using this as a segue to his post-playing career.

There is a growing belief by some that Nash could eventually have a role in the team's front office if he finished his career there, though sources said that topic was not discussed during the Raptors' pitch. Coincidentally, Nash -- who played under Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo in Phoenix after Colangelo persuaded him to sign there in 2004 -- was named the general manager of the Canadian national team in early May.

While the Raptors would appear to be the front-runner for Nash, there's a reason he told them Sunday that he would make a decision in the "next couple of days," according to one involved source. The Knicks, who also visited with Nash on Sunday, are known to be exploring sign-and-trade options that would allow them to pay Nash more than the three-year, $9 million mini midlevel he'd be limited to now in New York. According to ESPN.com, Nash will meet with Brooklyn on Monday. As for Phoenix, a return to the Suns continues to appear unlikely. They are not among the teams aggressively pursuing him in the opening days of free agency and, according to the Arizona Republic, have instead been focusing on free agents like Michael Beasley and Eric Gordon.

LeBron James has long since passed the torch to Dwight Howard when it comes to poor public relations and the Orlando center was back at it again recently. A source close to the situation confirmed reports that Howard requested a trade yet again Friday, telling new Magic general manager Rob Hennigan that he wanted out during a meeting in Los Angeles. The source said the Magic are open for business on trade calls now, and various reports indicate that talks are heating up with the Hawks, Lakers and Nets.

Howard, to review, waffled his way up to the March 15 trade deadline before deciding to opt-in to the final year of his contract on the final day while claiming his "loyalty" to the organization played a part in the decision. The twists and turns of his overly dramatic story have become difficult to keep track of, almost all of them hurting the image of a player who was once seen as one of the league's most endearing young talents.

With 36-year-old Kevin Garnett already set to return to Boston on a three-year deal and the possibility remaining that 36-year-old Ray Allen joins him, one might think that this will be the same oldCeltics.

But a source close to 25-year-old forward Jeff Green said the odds of him also returning to Beantown are high, thanks in large part to his affinity for coach Doc Rivers and the Celtics' stance that he's an important part of their future. Green, who missed all of last season due to a heart condition that was discovered in December and required surgery to repair the aneurysm on Jan. 12, is fully healthy again and ready to get on with his career. Because nine members of last season's Celtics became unrestricted free agents, Green's situation is one of the many being discussed by the team and may take some time to resolve.

As for Allen, a Celtics source said re-signing him is their top priority. They have competition, though, as Allen is known to be among Miami's top targets and is also reportedly being pursued by the Grizzlies, Suns and the Clippers. Among the top two targets, the Heat can offer only a three-year, $9 million contract (the team's mini mid-level exception) while the Celtics, according to ESPN.com, are willing to give Allen a two-year, $12 million deal.

Allen has plenty of shooting guard competition in the unrestricted free agent ranks, chief among them Jason Terry, Jamal Crawford, O.J. Mayo and Nick Young. A source close to Crawford said he is in talks with the Clippers, Celtics, Wolves, Suns and 76ers. The source added that Crawford has had the most extensive talks with the Clippers so far, and he is planning a visit to Los Angeles this week.

• Sources confirmed that point guard Andre Miller agreed to a three-year deal to return to the Nuggets. Miller was widely expected to head elsewhere, and now it makes some sense as to why the Nuggets passed on Kentucky point guard Marquis Teague in Thursday's draft. Despite a source close to the Nuggets saying that Teague was high on their radar, they took French shooting guard Evans Fournier with the 20th pick. The potent Ty Lawson-Miller one-two punch, in other words, will remain together after all.

• A source confirmed that restricted free agent forward Lavoy Allen agreed to return to Philadelphia on a two-year, $6 million deal. Both years, the source said, are guaranteed.

• While Gordon is looking for a maximum salary deal from one of his many suitors, a source close to the Hornets said the team is likely to match any such deal if and when he lands it. Gordon is reportedly being pursued by Brooklyn, Indiana, Houston, Phoenix and Portland.

• Sources confirmed that Bulls restricted free agent center Omer Asik agreed to sign a three-year, $25.1 million offer sheet with the Rockets when the free agency moratorium lifts on July 11. It's hefty money for the 7-footer who averaged 3.1 points and 5.3 rebounds in his second season, but Houston -- which traded center Samuel Dalembert to Milwaukee last week -- apparently wants to ensure that it's not left without a big man if the Howard push doesn't pay off. The Bulls will have three days to match starting July 11.

Hasheem Thabeet visited the Thunder on Sunday and could end up signing with Oklahoma City, a source said. The 7-3 center has played for Memphis, Houston and Portland since being drafted No. 2 by the Grizzlies in 2009.

• A source close to free-agent point guard Goran Dragic said the Raptors, Suns, Nets, Hornets, Lakers and Rockets have all expressed interest. The Rockets, for whom Dragic shined in the second half of last season, are said to be coming on the strongest. But Dragic, according to the source, has a serious interest in being part of a winning team and will consider that factor as much as the money. The source made it clear, however, that Dragic expects to be a starter for whichever team he joins.

It's not known whether he would return to the Rockets if they can't find a new home for point guard Kyle Lowry, who has been vocal in his displeasure for coach Kevin McHale and clearly wants out. Dragic has not taken any visits yet and is expected to return from Europe on Monday.

• A source said Phoenix and Detroit are among those pursuing small forward Michael Beasley. Minnesota declined to extend the former No. 2 pick a qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent.

• For all the time spent here on the Nash courting, Deron Williams will take center stage again Monday when the free-agent point guard will reportedly visit with the incumbent Nets as well as the Mavericks.

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