League sticking to its annoying July

Updated: August 29, 2000, 10:53 AM ET
By Marc Stein | Special to ESPN.com

Maybe your favorite aspect of NBA fandom is the free-agent frenzy that we all know, as pounded into our heads from birth, starts precisely at midnight on July 1.

Maybe you've been wondering why, these past two summers, we had to endure a month of ceaseless rumors and recruiting visits before free agents could actually start signing contracts on Aug. 1.

Maybe you don't want to hear, from the desk of NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik, that the Limbo Window isn't going away.

Well, sorry. It isn't.

"I've heard some (derogatory) comments, but it's not like we're getting a huge outcry," Granik said. "It might be something we look at in the future ... (but) I expect it to stay the same until it's raised further as an issue."

Club executives are understandably reticent to publicly rail against league policy, but there has been some grumbling from teams and their fans -- and the free agents themselves and their representatives, of course -- about the monthlong wait. It's a byproduct of the 1999 collective-bargaining agreement that ended the last lockout, a delay to give NBA accountants ample time to complete the 29-team audit that enables Granik and Co. to determine the new season's salary-cap ceiling.

In the old system, the frenzy began promptly on July 1 with what was actually an interim cap figure. But that also had a way of annoying all parties involved, since no one could be exactly sure how much money they could spend until September or October.

Now, to get the numbers fixed faster, the NBA grinds through 30 days of wild speculation (see Orlando Magic), fruitless courting (see Chicago Bulls), serious nailbiting (see San Antonio Spurs), unsanctioned press conferences (see Tim Duncan), retracted verbal commitments (see Eddie Jones), errors in judgment (see Grant Hill) and lots of public waffling (see Tracy McGrady).

Only then can all the signing -- and signing-and-trading -- begin. The cap-less NHL, meanwhile, dives right in with signings from the very first minute of July.

Granik admits that he has "gone back and forth" on the issue. The commish-in-waiting quickly adds, though, that even if the wait in future frenzies becomes unlivable for the participants and their public, "I don't think it could get done much before Aug. 1."

"Auditing 29 teams and the league office, it just takes some time," Granik said.

So, NBA free agency will continue to be as much an August affair as the fans' annual Christmas in July. Which surely won't bother the league office one bit.

You'll probably never hear David Stern or any other NBA official say so, but you can bet that they're not terribly broken up about seeing their league so heavily covered in print, TV and cyberspace for two summer months instead of one.

Riles Up
Looks like The Winner Within has finally won something in Miami. No, not a playoff series against the Knicks -- but something almost as good.

Mason
Mason

Florida's Free-Agent Sweepstakes!

Orlando -- and every other club this side of San Antonio, home of the re-upped Duncan -- can't come close to matching what Pat Riley has done (at long last) for the Heat. Or have you not noticed Miami's jiggy new roster?

Out: Jamal Mashburn, P.J. Brown, Clarence Weatherspoon and assorted other makeweights. In: Eddie Jones, Anthony Mason and, by month's end, Brian Grant.

After making everyone believe, following a third straight Knicks-induced playoff exit, that he would Stand Pat one more time, Riley did what was long overdue in Coconut Grove. He overhauled the Heat completely, sacrificing next summer's precious cap room in the process, to create an unquestioned new Eastern Conference beast.

The starting lineup now features Jones at shooting guard, Mason at small forward and Grant at power forward alongside holdover center Alonzo Mourning and quarterback Tim Hardaway, who is sure to re-sign. The chemistry concerns are numerous and valid, but, in assembling that talented-but-combustible cast, Riley also managed to re-sign key reserves Anthony Carter and Bruce Bowen for less money than expected.

As a result, Riley still holds a $2.25 million exception with which to add Isaiah Rider -- if he dares. A.C. Green is also said to be considering a Miami move at the veteran $1 minimum, which would add further depth to an impressive bench that features Carter, Bowen and Dan Majerle.

The rest of the East better hope for a Heat implosion, because, on this clear August day, it's difficult to see how anything aside from locker-room turmoil can keep Miami out of next spring's NBA Finals. Orlando signed Hill and McGrady but missed out on Duncan. New York will likely get Vin Baker and probably someone else, but also lose Patrick Ewing. Unless the Knicks fare better in the other roster-shaking moves they've planned -- assuming there are some -- Indiana is the only other real threat. The Pacers hung onto Reggie Miller, Jalen Rose and Austin Croshere, lost Mark Jackson and now wait to see if Isiah Thomas can prove the skeptics wrong (right here) and coach a little.

Around The League

  • So, who's left on the open market? There's Glen Rice and Maurice Taylor, who were featured in David Falk's four-team failed blockbuster, and could still be involved somehow. After them, the biggest names left are Charlotte's Brad Miller and Hardaway. Oh, yeah: Rider's still available, too. Step right up; nary a line in sight.

    Laettner
    Laettner

  • The Lakers have been chasing Christian Laettner all summer, because, unlike all the other power forwards LA has ignored this offseason, Laettner is entering the final year of his contract. His $6.7 million salary will rise into the $8 million range if the Lakers repeat as NBA champions, because of title-related incentives in Laettner's contract, but the most important factor is that the controversial Dukie-ex won't cost Jerry Buss a dime of luxury tax.

  • Now we know why little-known guard Damon Jones, who has already played for four NBA teams in a season and a half, turned down the chance to be signed-and-traded from Dallas to the Lakers earlier this month. Jones wound up signing with Vancouver shortly thereafter for a jaw-dropping, hard-to-rationalize $750,000 this season. The Mavericks were attempting to sign Jones and Bruno Sundov and package them to LA with Cedric Ceballos for Del Harris favorite Travis Knight. It would have gone down as the last trade of the Jerry West era, but Jones instead grabbed the Grizzlies' unexpected big bucks, and Knight and Chris Dudley might be moving soon.

  • Speaking of deals that fell through, don't be surprised if Detroit tries to revive the Lindsey Hunter-for-Jim Jackson exchange with Atlanta. The Pistons need a scorer, even at Jackson's modest level, more than ever -- especially with all the spare parts they got stuck with in Falk's four-way. Detroit better hope that the new Grant Hill -- Chris "I Tell People What They Want To Hear" Webber -- really wants to come home next summer.

    Marc Stein, who covers the NBA for The Dallas Morning News, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

    Marc Stein | email

    Senior Writer, ESPN.com
    • Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
    • Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
    • Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics
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