Eleventh-hour trade deals Villanueva for Ford
Two teams out there just couldn't wait for Friday's free-agent horn to sound at one minute past midnight.
Milwaukee and Toronto got a buzzer-beating deal done before the calendar flipped to July 1 in what will be recorded as the last official business of the 2005-06 season ... and what will be viewed as another gamble for new Raptors president Bryan Colangelo.
The selection of Italy's Andrea Bargnani with the No. 1 overall pick in Wednesday's draft might actually be the safest move Colangelo has made this month.
Absorbing the remaining three years and nearly $25 million left on Rasho Nesterovic's contract, in a swap for Matt Bonner and Eric Williams, has to be considered a dice-roll given the ever-quickening pace in today's NBA and the Slovenian's struggles to keep up in San Antonio.
Yet Villaneuva for Ford is even riskier, assuming you subscribe to the well-worn maxim about trading big for small. As in: Don't ever do it.
Say this for Colangelo, though: He's moved swiftly and decisively since moving to Canada in his bid to build a representative team around power forward Chris Bosh. Colangelo has made no secret of his desire for a drive-and-kick, push-the-tempo point guard -- in the spirit of Canada's favorite NBA son Steve Nash -- and was willing to part with one of the long, athletic bigs so coveted in today's NBA to get him.
The Bucks also kicked in $1 million in cash for Villanueva, whose critic-hushing rookie season included a 48-point outburst in Milwaukee in March. The Bucks now plan to start Villanueva at power forward between Bobby Simmons and Andrew Bogut, who becomes Milwaukee's unquestioned starting center.
The trade makes Bogut predecessor Jamaal Magloire, entering the final season of his contract, even more of a lock to be traded this month, according to NBA front-office sources. Only now that the 2006-07 season has begun, trades and free-agent signings can't advance past the stage of verbal agreement until July 12.
• The maiden report of face-to-face wooing on Stein Line radar: Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy, according to team sources, was on the doorstep of Mike James' Houston home to speak with the free-agent point guard at the first opportunity: 11:01 p.m. Texas time Friday.
The Rockets want to bring back the chatty point guard they banished to Toronto on the first day of training camp in October in a trade for Rafer Alston. And I suspect James is thrilled, given that Houston remains his offseason base and remembering how he told ESPN.com in March -- several months into his breakout season -- that he never stopped thinking about the Rockets because "I thought I would be doing this for Houston."
Van Gundy knows, though, that the Rockets will face a fair bit of competition for the 31-year-old. Dallas coach Avery Johnson is another big fan of James' confidence and toughness and is said to like the idea of playing James and Jason Terry together. Potential stumbling blocks for the Mavs: James wants a five-year deal and Dallas prefers a three-year arrangement ... and the Raptors have apparently rebuffed a sign-and-trade offer from the Mavs featuring swingman Marquis Daniels.
Daniels is almost certain to be moved this offseason, but it remains to be seen if the Raps will attempt to get something back for James via sign-and-trade or simply let him go after Friday night's trade for James' replacement: Milwaukee's T.J. Ford.
• The news that Sam Cassell has hired David Falk to represent him this summer doesn't have the Clippers freaked.
In the past, it certainly would have. Their bumpy history with the NBA's original superagent stretches back to 1989, when a Falk client named Danny Ferry responded to being drafted No. 2 overall by the Clips by fleeing to Italy until they traded his draft rights to Cleveland, where Ferry now serves as general manager.
This, though, is a new era in Clipperland and Falk represents the cornerstone of that era: Elton Brand.
Cassell, soon to be 37, is looking for a two-year deal in the $15 million range to stay, with the Clips reluctant to offer more than one year. With Falk involved, you figure Sam I Am is going to end up with the two-year deal, either from L.A. or starting at the $5 million mid-level exception level elsewhere if the Clips won't budge.
Yet Sam I Am and his new representative also know that Brand badly wants Cassell to stay. The Clips, I'm told, believe that helps their chances of bringing him back.
• The Mavericks were progressing early Saturday morning toward the widely expected signing of Terry, but extension talks with star forward Dirk Nowitzki aren't likely to proceed quickly.
As covered in this cyberspace on the eve of the NBA Finals, Dallas hopes to sign Nowitzki to a three-year extension this summer that would keep him a Mav through the 2010-11 season. If he holds off, Nowitzki can opt of his contract after next season and test the 2007 free-agent market.
The safe bet, of course, is that he re-ups. Nowitzki, 27, is already calling the three-year package -- which would exceed $50 million -- a "no-brainer."
Yet he also told ESPN.com on Friday that he needs some time away from the game back home in Germany after the Mavs' Finals heartbreak before giving his future any serious thought. "I'm really in no rush," Nowitzki said, well aware that he has a window of July 12 through Oct. 31 to sign off on the no-brainer.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
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