By Marty Burns
July 08, 2008

The NBA's free-agent signing period begins Wednesday, meaning teams can officially ink players to contracts. Gilbert Arenas (Wizards), Antawn Jamison (Wizards) and Baron Davis (Clippers) have already reached agreement on new deals. But with the moratorium now about to end, and the NBA accountants coming with the final salary-cap numbers, the rest of the league's dominos can begin to fall.

The biggest intrigue involves unrestricted free agent Elton Brand. The 6-foot-8 workhorse was believed to be trying to decide whether to re-sign with the Clippers for a reported five years and $70 million, or take a reported $90 million offer from the Warriors. But on Tuesday, the Sixers reportedly had agreed to a trade that would clear additional cap space to make their own roughly $80 million pitch to Brand.

The deal would send reserves Rodney Carney and Calvin Booth, as well as a future No. 1 pick, to the Timberwolves for a $2.8 million trade exception that Minnesota owned as part of a 2007 trade with the Heat.

The deal puts Philadelphia about $14 million under the cap, giving it a chance to close the gap on the Warriors and perhaps force Brand to make a tough decision. The Sixers made the playoffs in the Eastern Conference a year ago, and boast a promising core in Andre Miller, Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young and Samuel Dalembert. They desperately could use a low-post threat such as Brand, who hails from nearby New York state and might enjoy playing closer to his roots.

For Golden State, the Sixers' emergence in the Brand sweepstakes must feel like another punch in the gut to follow the one Davis delivered last week when he suddenly opted out of his contract and bolted for the Clippers. Still, the Warriors will have options no matter what. They still would have some $15 million in cap space to go after unrestricted free agent Corey Maggette, or one of a handful of top restricted free agents such as Josh Smith, Emeka Okafor, Ben Gordon or perhaps Iguodala.

"Golden State is the team to watch," said one Eastern Conference player personnel director. "If they don't get Brand, they will be looking to go out and do something. They could go after any of those restricted free agents and make a big front-loaded offer that would be tough to match."

The Warriors also could hold on to the cap space and perhaps use it to take back a bigger salary in a trade. Some big names figure to be on the market this summer, including Vince Carter, Rasheed Wallace, Stephon Marbury, Ron Artest and Andrei Kirilenko. The Sixers would be in much the same situation if they lose out on Brand, but they are expected to make an offer to Smith as their Plan B.

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