The Clippers' other free agent

July, 3, 2008

While everyone's talking about Elton Brand -- and rightly so -- the free agent who could sway the balance of power in the Western Conference is Corey Maggette.

It could be awhile before Maggette chooses his destination because he's waiting to see what happens in Philadelphia and Golden State, the only two big spenders beneath the salary cap. If either of those two clubs doesn't get its top targets, they could turn to Maggette and offer him more than the mid-level exception of roughly $6 million per year.

If Maggette, who was set to make $7 million next season before opting out of his contract, doesn't end up with the Sixers or Warriors, his landing spot will be of major significance out West.

San Antonio, New Orleans and Utah are all interested in Maggette. And in the East, Orlando, Boston and Cleveland have expressed interest.

I'll deal with those Eastern scenarios later, but first the really intriguing stuff -- the West.

If one of those three Western powers adds Maggette, it probably positions itself as the Lakers' No. 1 obstacle next May.

Imagine Maggette in San Antonio. We all saw how the Spurs struggled to score vs. L.A. Well, adding Maggette would solve that problem. It would also give San Antonio a much needed boost in athleticism. He's not much of a defender, but he'd get a lot better on that end playing in San Antonio's system.

If I'm Maggette, though, the Spurs would not be my top choice. He would be the fourth option and there could be crucial stretches when he'd find himself on the bench while Popovich opts for Bruce Bowen's defense. It's not a bad fit, but I think there are better.

In Utah, Maggette would slide in next to Deron Williams and immediately solve the Jazz's "lack of athleticism" issue. With Andrei Kirilenko's decline, the Jazz can't become a true contender with weak scorers at both the 2 and 3 spots.

While Ronnie Brewer did an admirable job at shooting guard last season, moving him to the bench would drastically improve the Jazz's depth. And adding a slasher like Maggette to a club that features the outside shooting of Mehmet Okur and Kyle Korver would be a great extra weapon.

Maggette would seem to play a larger role in Utah than he would in San Antonio, but after spending the last eight seasons in La-La, from a social standpoint, Salt Lake City would be a huge drop-off.

Which leads us to New Orleans. This seems like the perfect fit for Maggette. The Hornets need a starting caliber two-guard in the worst way, and Maggette clearly fits the bill.

Imagine the offensive firepower of Chris Paul, Maggette, Peja Stojakovic and David West. And Maggette couldn't ask for a better point guard to play with than Paul.

Plus, Maggette would be part of something grand, new and fresh in New Orleans. In San Antonio, where they've already won four titles in the last nine years, he'd be just the latest role player (Horry, Finley, Mohammed, etc. …) flown in to aid the big boys in another championship run.

And in Utah, well, he'd be in Utah.

But in New Orleans, he could be a key cog in helping this franchise challenge for a Western Conference title -- and maybe more. If he goes to the Hornets and they win the West, he'd be viewed as the difference. And he'll still be able to get his 17 points a game there.

That's not to mention the role he could play in helping re-energize a city in need.

I'm always looking for a new young team to reach elite status, so I'd like to see Maggette in New Orleans. In the West, Utah would be my second choice for him.

Turning to the East, I don't think Boston's the place for him. He'd come off the bench behind Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, and he's probably not even their first choice: James Posey is.

Cleveland? He'd probably make them better, but I don't think he gets them to Title Town. And the Cavs have to be careful not to dole out long-term deals that don't make them a perennial championship contender.

If Maggette goes East, he should go to Orlando. It's a similar situation to New Orleans, where the addition of Maggette would take a young, improving team to the next level.

The Magic already have one of the most offensively-productive frontlines in the league in Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis. But they are woefully deficient in the backcourt, especially at two guard.

Maggette's presence might move them ahead of everyone in the East except Boston.

So if I'm Maggette, and I have to settle for mid-level money, I'm settling in New Orleans or Orlando.



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