In a moment of economic strain, and in the year before the much-anticipated 2010 free-agent class, the open market has turned complex and interesting. The first wave -- the quick signings, such as Ben Gordon, Ron Artest, Rasheed Wallace, Trevor Ariza,Charlie Villanueva and Hedo Turkoglu -- passed and in its place came the plotting and extended calculations behind closed doors in front offices around the league.
Enough moves still remain that the so-called leftovers will greatly affect title hopes.
Two weeks of free agency down, forever to go.
The best of the remaining intrigue:
1. The Paul Millsap dominoes.
The Trail Blazers signed the emerging power forward to a four-year, front-loaded offer sheet worth a reported $32 million. The Jazz have until Friday to match or lose Millsap without compensation after a season in which he averaged 13.5 points and 8.6 rebounds overall and 16 points and 10.3 rebounds in 38 starts.
The implications of the decision spray in every direction. If the Jazz go with the expected outcome and match -- teams that let 24-year-olds who project to a double-double walk for nothing don't stay in the playoff business long -- power forward Carlos Boozer's future in Salt Lake City will be tracked with a stopwatch. A trade involving a two-time All-Star, in turn, alters the landscape for his new team and possibly his new conference.
If the Jazz don't match, Portland has improved at the expense of a division rival and Utah has a season of great uncertainty ahead. Boozer will be in the final season of his deal and in position to cripple a stable organization by leaving a year after Millsap was plucked. But the Jazz aren't likely to let that happen. They figure to keep Millsap and shop Boozer, knowing Millsap is a hard swallow (they'd owe him $10.3 million within a week of retaining him) but nothing compared to the money it would take to re-sign Boozer in 2010.
2. The Lamar Odom championship considerations.
Speaking of turning complex and interesting...
The Lakers wanted him and he wanted the Lakers. Odom knew he would take a pay cut from his 2008-09 salary ($11.4 million) and the Lakers knew they would go deep into luxury tax to keep him. Many viewed the Lakers' addition of Artest, a longtime friend of Odom's from their youth in New York, as another strong lure for Odom to stay.
On Tuesday, though, the Lakers pulled their offer of $9 million a season for three years. The Los Angeles Times reported owner Jerry Buss was upset Odom and his agent, Jeff Schwartz, had not responded to the proposal yet found the time to talk with the Mavericks and Heat about $5.8 million annually. It's a bargaining tactic and not a final decision, but figure Schwartz/Odom find the number of the Lakers' offices very soon. Buss is extraordinarily generous with his players, but show him up and the storm clouds roll in.
3. The David Lee waiting game.
Sure, it's a waiting game for everyone still on the market. Lee's dragging calendar, though, is especially noteworthy because New York can't let an asset like the league leader in double-doubles go without compensation, but the Knicks also aren't inclined to take on a big salary heading into the Summer of LeBron. They're in a tight corner.
Like Millsap, Lee is a restricted free agent, so tempting offers don't come as fast as for unrestricted free agents. Teams have little interest in doing legwork on a deal only to have the original club match. Millsap is a different situation because the Trail Blazers have deep pockets and the Jazz have money issues in not wanting to pay the luxury tax, but New York has no such concerns with actual spending. The Knicks can't be scared off by big dollars. New York, though, does have the obvious concern of what the big dollars will mean to its 2010 spending power.
4. The Andre Miller holding pattern.
This is different from the Lee holding pattern because Miller is an unrestricted free agent and plays a position, point guard, that is much harder to fill. He averaged 16.3 points and 6.5 assists and shot 47.3 percent from the field last season with Philadelphia. Credible offers should be coming but there's been nothing so far, with the 76ers unwilling to make a long-term commitment to a 33-year-old point guard. General manager Ed Stefanski told the Philadelphia Inquirer the 76ers are in "sign-and-trade mode" with Miller.
5. The Allen Iverson curiosity.
He's in steep decline, but there is this meaningful aspect at work: He's Allen Iverson.
He's a mega-watt name and people will follow the next career step, whether that step moves him toward playing himself out of the league or toward a prideful recovery, and marquee value must be one of the explanations for the minimal interest that does exist. Iverson on the Grizzles because he will push them into the playoffs or marshal a young team? Probably not a great chance of that. Iverson on the Clippers because coach Mike Dunleavy doesn't want to stop at only Baron Davis tuning him out?
It's rubbernecking, pure and simple.
6. The Glen Davis fallout.
Big Baby is the fallout. The Celtics signed Wallace for much-needed frontcourt depth, leaving Davis more unattached than he probably would have imagined after stepping up with 15.8 points a game in the playoffs. He is a restricted free agent, which slows the flow of serious talks from outsiders. The Celtics will match any reasonable offer and in the meantime don't have to negotiate against themselves.