- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
Martin has not yet told the Hawks he'll sign their offer sheet on July 14, which gives the Denver Nuggets a small window to make a similar offer to Martin.
League sources told ESPN.com that the Nuggets plan to decide by Friday or Saturday whether to extend a rich offer sheet to Martin or pass on the All-Star forward and keep their name in the Kobe Bryant sweepstakes.
There is no obvious course for the Nuggets to pursue. If they pass on Martin, they would remain long shots to land Bryant and thus risk coming away with virtually nothing of consequence from a summer into which they carried some $20 million in salary-cap space. Denver has reached a verbal agreement to re-sign center Marcus Camby, but the Nuggets' other main free-agent target besides Martin and Bryant -- San Antonio's Manu Ginobili -- reached a verbal agreement Thursday to stay with his current team.
Of course, if the Nuggets do get a commitment from Martin in the next 48 hours, they have no assurance they'll ever actually see him in Denver. Because Martin is a restricted free agent, New Jersey would have 15 days to match any offer the All-Star forward gets, whether it's from Atlanta or Denver or whomever. In a worst-case scenario, New Jersey could elect to match on the 15th day, by which time Bryant and any other free agent Denver or Atlanta covets would likely be off the market.
Denver, at present, is one of only three teams that can sign Bryant outright ... and that Bryant would actually consider. The other two are his current employers in L.A. and the crosstown Clippers. San Antonio (Ginobili) and Phoenix (Steve Nash) have committed the bulk of their cap room elsewhere, meaning Bryant would either have to add cap-room teams like Atlanta or Charlotte to his list of acceptable destinations or convince the Lakers to participate in a sign-and-trade if he wants to pick a new team other than the Nuggets or Clippers.
The exact worth of Atlanta's six-year package for Martin, expected to fall between $80-100 million, won't be known until July 14, which is the first day free agents can officially sign new contracts, after the salary cap for next season is announced.
Martin visited Denver on Wednesday, canceled Thursday's meeting with Utah and arrived in Atlanta on Thursday evening. Yet he admitted this week that his "No. 1 choice" is staying with the Nets, who drafted him No. 1 overall in 2000.
Martin, though, has a close relationship with Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe, who helped the former Cincinnati star rehabilitate from a serious ankle injury he suffered as a college senior. If the Nuggets present an offer equal to Atlanta's, chances are Martin will sign it.
There has been considerable speculation that new Nets owner Bruce Ratner is looking to cut costs and therefore might be willing to let Martin walk if he receives a max offer. Yet you can be sure that Nets president Rod Thorn would protest such a decision as strongly as he can.
Thorn will undoubtedly continue to pursue sign-and-trade options if he feels as though he can't prevent Martin's departure, and the Martin camp is certainly not opposed to sign-and-trade possibilities. Martin is a Dallas native who, according to league sources, has always liked the idea of playing for his hometown team. Trading for Shaquille O'Neal remains the Mavericks' No. 1 aim, but assembling a sign-and-trade to acquire Martin also interests them.
Before last month's draft, New Jersey tried to convince Denver to consider sign-and-trade packages that would send Nuggets forward Nene to the Nets as part of a deal for Martin, but the Nuggets have resisted those proposals.
5hMarc Stein and Mike Mazzeo
4dIan O'Connor, ESPN Senior Writer