Bryant remains silent as NBA signing period ends

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Kobe Bryant wasn't tipping his hand Tuesday night as the NBA's two-week moratorium on trades and free agent signings expired, though the Los Angeles Clippers were busy trying to clear enough salary cap space to offer him a maximum contract.

Eager to learn Bryant's choice but uncertain when that decision might come, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Clippers awaited word from the player or one of his agents.

Shortly after the moratorium ended at 12:01 a.m. EDT, spokesmen for both teams said they had no news to report.

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Both clubs made formal presentations to the free agent guard on Monday night, and the Charlotte Observer reported for Wednesday's editions that the Clippers would trade forward Melvin Ely and guard Eddie House to the expansion Bobcats for future second-round draft picks.

The end of the moratorium came just two hours after the league released the new salary cap of $43.87 million for the 2004-05 season - an increase of just $30,000 from last season's figure.

Bryant is eligible to receive a starting salary equal to 105 percent of his 2003-04 salary of $13.5 million, but the Clippers have only $11.65 million of cap room - unless they indeed trade Ely ($1.7 million) and House ($825,000) to the Bobcats.

Clippers vice president Joe Safety said he had ''no comment at this time'' on the reported deal with Charlotte.

Several lesser free agents were also awaiting salary cap calculations to determine the amount of the average salary, which will be the starting salary in 2004-05 for any of them who receive the full midlevel exception from a team already over the salary cap. It came in at $4.9 million.

While Bryant made everyone in Los Angeles wait, his agent, Rob Pelinka, said early Wednesday, ''I'm not commenting to the media at this time.''

Meanwhile, the process of trading Shaquille O'Neal was being set in motion.

The Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat were expected to complete a deal Wednesday sending O'Neal to the Heat for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and a first-round draft pick.

A few free agents were expected to sign offer sheets after the moratorium expired at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, while others - most notably Steve Nash going from Dallas to Phoenix - would finally be allowed to sign the deals they agreed to during the first two weeks of this month.

Among the top free agents whose plans were not yet known were Rasheed Wallace of the NBA champion Detroit Pistons, Erick Dampier of the Golden State Warriors, Karl Malone of the Los Angeles Lakers, Vlade Divac of Sacramento, Derek Fisher of the Lakers, Darius Miles of Portland and Kenyon Martin of New Jersey.

Martin was weighing whether to sign an offer sheet with Atlanta or Denver after sign-and-trade discussions between the Nuggets and Nets broke down.

Malone, puzzled by the breakup of the Lakers, was being courted by the Spurs.

''Without a doubt I'm serious (about the Spurs),'' Malone told the San Antonio Express-News. ''I've had serious dialogue with them, and more than once. I've talked to Coach (Gregg) Popovich two or three times and (general manager) R.C. (Buford) one or two times. They call about every other day. I've had great dialogue with them.''

Malone, however, said he will not make a decision on next season until he knows whether he can perform at 100 percent of his capability. He recently underwent surgery on his left knee, which he sprained twice last season.

The Utah Jazz were waiting to see whether Carlos Boozer would accept their six-year, $68 million offer sheet. The Cleveland Cavaliers believed they had an understanding with Boozer when they did not pick up the third-year option on his contract, but Boozer denied any agreement was in place and accepted $27 million more than Cleveland could pay him.

''For (the Cavaliers) taking shots at my character is incredibly wrong, and I don't understand that,'' Boozer told The Plain Dealer for a story Tuesday. ''I thought I had a great relationship with them. Maybe they're trying to save face or trying to make up stuff and kill my character. And if that's the road they want to take, that's OK.''

Among the free agents who reportedly agreed to deals during the moratorium were:

- Miami guard Rafer Alston going to Toronto for $28 million over five years.

- Seattle guard Brent Barry joining San Antonio for four years and $23 million.

- Boston center Mark Blount staying with the Celtics for $42 million over six years.

- San Antonio forward Bruce Bowen staying with the Spurs for $12 million over three years.

- Denver center Marcus Camby agreeing to return to the Nuggets.

- Golden State forward Brian Cardinal joining the Memphis Grizzlies for $38 million over six years.

- Dallas guard Marquis Daniels staying with the Mavericks for six years and $38 million.

- Denver center Michael Doleac joining Miami for four years and $12 million.

- Warriors center Adonal Foyle re-signing with Golden State for six years and $42 million.

- Manu Ginobili agreeing to stay in San Antonio for six years and $52 million.

- Troy Hudson opting to stay in Minnesota for five years and $31 million.

- Stephen Jackson of the Hawks set to go to the Indiana Pacers in a sign-and-trade deal for Al Harrington.

- Antonio McDyess leaving Phoenix to join the Pistons for four years and $23 million.

- Pistons forward Mehmet Okur joining the Jazz for six years and $50 million.

- Clippers guard Quentin Richardson expected to receive a $48 million offer sheet from Phoenix.

- Milwaukee Bucks forward Brian Skinner rejoining one if his former teams, Philadelphia, for five years and $25 million.

- Washington center Etan Thomas joining the Bucks for $38 million for six years.

- Spurs swingman Hedo Turkoglu signing an offer sheet with the Orlando Magic for six years and $38 million.