- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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LAS VEGAS -- My third and last dish dispatch from the stands of the NBA Summer League at UNLV:
The Los Angeles Clippers started it all on July 1 by signing Baron Davis away from the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors answered by signing Corey Maggette away from the Clippers. The Philadelphia 76ers swung next and hit the Clippers with a haymaker by convincing Elton Brand to scuttle his partnership with Davis in Hollywood before it ever began. The Clippers countered by signing Warriors restricted free agent Kelenna Azubuike to an offer sheet after trading for Denver's Marcus Camby.
You wouldn't quite describe what's happened with the Clips, Warriors and Sixers as a love triangle.
This not-so-heartwarming story might not be over, either.
NBA front-office sources say that the Warriors -- eager to add someone of quality to spare young Monta Ellis from inheriting all of Davis' old ballhandling duties -- are highly intrigued by the idea of signing Sixers guard Louis Williams to an offer sheet.
It's not yet clear whether Golden State would have enough leftover salary-cap space to extend an offer to Williams sufficiently prohibitive for Philly to match after the Warriors' expected re-signings of their restricted free agents, Ellis (coming soon) and center Andris Biedrins. There also would be questions about how much Williams and Ellis could play together in a less than physically imposing backcourt and with Maggette and Stephen Jackson sure to command lots of minutes.
It's also possible the Warriors could choose to go the trade route instead, since I'm told they're evaluating numerous scenarios these days.
Yet there's little doubt Williams' scoring knack would make him an intriguing fit in Don Nelson's system. Which must be why one plugged-in source believes the Warriors, in spite of the obstacles, are planning to make a "big run" at him.
Sources say all 30 teams were notified this week by league memorandum that the drug which earned Portland Trail Blazers castoff Darius Miles a 10-game suspension to start next season -- if Miles can find a job -- is the appetite suppressant Phentermine.
A weight-loss drug, basically.
Steep as a 10-game ban is, then, Miles' mistake is nothing bound to scare teams away from signing him. He's tried out for at least four clubs already this month -- Boston, Dallas, New Jersey and Phoenix -- and is expected to command no more than a minimum salary in his comeback from long-standing knee problems, because the 26-year-old still has $18 million in salary coming from the Blazers.
The bigger obstacles for the longtime Stein Line favorite -- we've never denied that Miles has repeatedly seduced us with his potential, versatility and length -- will be convincing teams that his right knee can withstand a comeback. He also first has to properly lose the needed weight for a return to basketball shape.
Reports from those who have seen his workouts to date so far are mixed, ranging from claims that he'll be in the league for sure next season as a bargain-priced, irresistible reclamation project that has something left to suggestions that Miles' explosion is shot after undergoing the microfracture knee surgery dreaded by NBA players.
Miles underwent microfracture surgery on his right knee in November 2006 and has not played since. The Blazers waived him in April after an independent doctor appointed by the league and NBA Players Association ruled that the knee injury was career-ending, enabling Portland to erase its financial obligations to Miles from its payroll even though it must continue to pay him.
If Miles makes it all the way back and plays 10 games next season or the following season, Miles' considerable contract numbers will be reinstated to Portland's payroll.
Smith and Woodson are fine, one confidante insists. Smith's frustration with the Hawks is the slow-moving state of negotiations, with Smith apparently still waiting for a serious contract proposal nearly three weeks into free agency.
Not that this is a grand surprise given the Hawks' rep for spending or a quandary exclusive to Smith. The only team in the league with salary-cap space to throw at premier restricteds such as Smith, Charlotte's Emeka Okafor and Chicago's Luol Deng is the Memphis Grizzlies, who have no plans to make their money available this summer, preferring to focus on trade possibilities. So the Hawks, Bobcats and Bulls are naturally proceeding slowly and conservatively, figuring that their prized assets have limited leverage.
Which is true. Threatening to sign a one-year qualifying offer that would lead to unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2009 is pretty much the only way Smith can apply pressure on the Hawks now.
Yet I suspect the sign-and-trade chatter will begin to pick up, maybe in all three cases, with Smith said to be especially eager to move on.
I wonder, for example, if my coaching pal who asked me why the Dallas Mavericks aren't trying to assemble a deal that features former ACC player of the year Josh Howard going to Atlanta in some sort of package for Smith isn't onto something.
Brandon Jennings might be getting all the media attention for deciding to respond to college eligibility issues by spending his mandatory season of NBA prep in Europe, but that's not the travel story that has teams around the league buzzing.
NBA execs are far more concerned about the rising strength of the euro vis-a-vis the declining fortunes of the American dollar.
After one season of great financial sacrifice to try to make it with the Grizzlies in Memphis, Spain's Juan Carlos Navarro couldn't say no to a lucrative return to Europe with his old friends at Spanish giant Barcelona. Argentina's Carlos Delfino followed suit this week, leaving the Toronto Raptors not for the return to the Detroit Pistons that he was offered, but for a fat contract from Khimki BC in Russia.
Sources say Delfino will be earning nearly 3 million euros annually -- tax free, of course -- with his new club. One expert on the matter says that equates to an NBA salary of more than $9 million when you factor in the exchange rate and the tax money Delfino won't have to give back.
At no time since his arrival on these shores in 2004, obviously, has Delfino been anything close to a $9 million player in the NBA.
Khimki is also trying to sign Delfino's former Toronto teammate, Jorge Garbajosa, who is fresh off securing his release from the Raptors last month after an interminable contract wrangle stemming from a serious leg injury. But Garbajosa is expected to accept a similarly healthy compensation package from his hometown club in Spain, Unicaja Malaga, despite interest from the San Antonio Spurs.
The overseas gold rush is such these days that Pops Mensah-Bonsu -- still trying to establish himself in the league after a brief stint with the Mavericks in 2006-07 -- was this week offered an estimated 850,000 euros to play in Spain for DKV Joventut. Which is probably too much cash for someone like Mensah-Bonsu to surrender, even if he lands a minimum-wage guaranteed contract in the NBA this season.
Yet we have found at least one prominent target for the big foreign clubs who is determined to stay stateside. New Jersey Nets restricted free agent Nenad Krstic has been repeatedly linked to my favorite club abroad -- Israel's Maccabi Tel-Aviv -- but Krstic is determined to play out his comeback from a knee injury in the best league in the world, with the Nets quietly willing to move Krstic in a sign-and-trade if they can't work out a short-term deal to keep him.
The undeniable highlight of my time in Vegas was not having to do any forcing whatsoever to hype up my fellow Cal State Fullerton alumnus Bobby Brown as one of the smash-hit sleepers of the summer league.
Brown went undrafted last year (mistake!) and had to play in Germany as a rookie pro. He came back as perhaps the best point guard here, outplaying multiple first-round picks in head-to-head matchups (Memphis' Mike Conley, Charlotte's D.J. Augustin and San Antonio's George Hill) and prompting more than one team official -- having been subjected, like many patient readers, to the ever-present Titans drumbeat in my copy over the years -- to seek me out with congratulations on Brown's development.
I certainly had nothing to do with his progress, but I am naturally loving it, seeing Brown increasingly learn how to get his teammates involved and make decisions on the fly and under control to complement his athleticism and scoring ability. Though he's not a pure point and frequently has to be reminded by coaches to be more vocal, Brown has become an NBA player. And that's according to numerous expert witnesses in Vegas as opposed to a shameless rooter like me.
There have been a handful of breakout performances from little-known players like Brown since the games began at UNLV on July 11. Anthony Roberson quickly earned a guaranteed contract from the Knicks. One Eastern Conference executive is convinced that Anthony Tolliver will make San Antonio's roster as a "shooting 4-man." Some recent second-round picks have been eye-catching as well: P.J. Tucker as an undersized (but rugged) power forward on the Grizzlies' squad and Nathan Jawai, Toronto's so-called Australian Shaq, just to name two.
Yet folks far more objective than me would tell you Brown might be the breakout sleeper of them all.
Consider, for example, that my Maccabi Tel-Aviv is suddenly trying to lure Brown to Israel as a marquee foreign signing. That's a big step up from where Brown was last season, helping Germany's Alba Berlin win the Bundesliga title.
But Brown's also getting enough NBA interest now to conceivably land the guaranteed deal that would enable him to stay home. New Orleans wants to bring him to training camp and had Chris Paul call Brown to invite him to compete for minutes as CP3's backup. I'm hearing that the Warriors like him just as much, if not more, which must be why Nelson could be spotted at most of Brown's games.
Stein Line items:
I generally leave the summer league player evaluations to David Thorpe and the game coverage to TrueHoop (my ESPN.com colleague Maurice Brooks sat in this year for Henry Abbott) so I can chase the best chatter in the stands. But I did occasionally inquire about the Grizzlies' O.J. Mayo, who was by far the biggest name here and who heard as much about his turnovers (24 in five games) as he heard plaudits for his celebrated dunk over New Orleans' Hilton Armstrong and subsequent buzzer-beating heave from 70 feet.
Said one veteran scout, scoffing at the suggestion that Mayo should have done more in his first five games with the Grizz: "Star! The game is easy for him. He's never in a rush. He plays both ends. He has a good demeanor. He's going to look better with better players. Don't forget that summer league gets overrated. We exaggerate the good and the bad. Is [Houston's] Donte' Greene now the best thing ever because he scored 40 in his first game?"
Added one East exec when asked what he's seen from Mayo: "I've seen enough to know that O.J. is going to be very, very good."
Any notion that the Knicks' stature has suffered as their decade of infamy approaches the end could have been challenged by what happened here in the desert. One young colleague covering his first summer league told me that he was once held back by security from entering a restroom, along with several other patrons, because Knicks legend Patrick Ewing was inside. Ewing was in town to see his son Patrick Jr. play for the Sacramento Kings' summer squad.
Look for James Posey to be formally introduced as a member of the New Orleans Hornets by the middle of next week. But don't look for me to join the chorus of concern that the Hornets overextended themselves to sign the 31-year-old to a four-year deal worth about $25 million. I love the move.
I can't deny that I was not-so-secretly expecting owner George Shinn to make his checkbook hard to find after the Hornets re-signed Paul to a max contract extension earlier this month. But showing an immediate willingness to spend some more to get Posey as the lead acquisition to address their leadership and depth shortcomings suggests that Shinn isn't satisfied with one breakthrough season.
The Hornets were forever known as nonspenders. Since Paul came into their lives with the fourth overall pick in 2005, Shinn has been spending like he has some ambition, enabling general manager Jeff Bower to gradually assemble the West's new darlings. Isn't this Shinn better than his predecessor?
In New Orleans, though, it's hard to top Byron Scott's ambition. The NBA's reigning Coach of the Year shared that he hopes to eventually develop young (and long) swingman Julian Wright into a backup for Paul at the point. Pretty interesting if it actually happens someday.
Onetime Cavaliers lottery pick Luke Jackson wasn't in Las Vegas, but you can expect to see him back in the NBA next season. Trying to recover from a string of debilitating injuries that have plagued him since his rookie season in 2004-05, Jackson had an impressive recent tryout for the Mavs (who haven't abandoned the idea of trying to make roster room for him) and is said to be looking sharp and sturdy. He's likewise getting interest from Memphis and Atlanta as a member of the Hawks' summer team at the Rocky Mountain Revue in Utah.
The overwhelming heartbreak of my time in Vegas was hearing the news that Matt McHale, an esteemed former colleague from Los Angeles, passed away at 50 after a series of health problems and two recent heart attacks.
McHale was one of the finest baseball writers of his generation and later in his career served as a lead editor at the Los Angeles Daily News. He supervised my coverage of the Lakers in the last season I spent full-time in L.A., which happened to be the first season of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant together in Hollywood, always pushing me to take the reader as far into the locker room as I could and try to paint a picture they couldn't otherwise see, which I never did anywhere near as well as him.
But what I'll remember most is the brief time we spent together covering the Clippers when he was asked to moonlight as a basketball writer for a season for the Orange County Register. I was probably too young to have that beat, at barely 25, but he was an incredibly helpful and patient mentor who couldn't wait to teach me everything he knew about life traveling with a pro team, even if it wasn't really his sport and even though McHale was a bit of a modern-day Oscar Madison when it came to keeping his shirttail tucked in and getting to the airport on time, as has been noted in many of the touching tributes in recent days.
Matty has been a mentor to countless writers in L.A. over the years -- the kind who would actually send you a handwritten note of encouragement when you were going through a tough time personally -- and will be missed tremendously. Because he was a tremendous human being.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
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