League sticking to its annoying July
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.
Looks like The Winner Within has finally won something in Miami. No, not a playoff series against the Knicks -- but something almost as good.
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?
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
Marc Stein, who covers the NBA for The Dallas Morning News, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
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