Steep price expected to quell waiver nibbles

Updated: February 12, 2005, 5:52 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Alonzo Mourning and the Toronto Raptors agreed on a buyout of his contract Friday, amid speculation the seven-time All-Star center will sign with the Miami Heat.

Alonzo Mourning
Center
Toronto Raptors
Profile
2004-2005 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
18 10.4 7.1 0.8 .453 .593

Mourning, 35, was acquired from New Jersey in a trade for Vince Carter on Dec. 17 but never reported to the Raptors.

Should he clear waivers -- which is likely because he's owed at least $14 million under his current contract -- Mourning would be free to sign with the Heat on Tuesday.

Speaking on a radio show hosted by his former college coach, John Thompson, Mourning -- who lives in Miami and whose foundation is based there -- strongly indicated that he's hoping for a reunion with the Heat.

"I can still play this game at a high level; I've proven that," Mourning told WTEM-AM radio Friday. "Come in and use my skills to help contribute to the success of a team and make things a lot easier for them. ... I want to be home. I want to be close to my family. I want to be close to my foundation and my business interests."

Only three teams have the cap room, or trade exceptions, necessary to claim Mourning off waivers -- the Bobcats, Rockets and Nets -- but none appears likely to be willing to swallow the remaining $15 million Mourning has left on his contract.

"I think this is really a win-win for both Alonzo and the Raptors," Mourning's agent, Jeff Wechsler, told ESPN Insider Chad Ford. "Clearly, Alonzo wasn't in their long-term plans and Zo wanted the opportunity to explore his options with other teams."

The Raptors didn't reveal the financial details of the buyout, but a source close to the negotiation told Ford that Mourning will receive roughly $10 million of the $15 million that the team still owed him. The amount will be prorated, for cap purposes, over the next two seasons.

Mourning has played a total of 30 games under a contract that will end up paying him $17 million. That means that Mourning earned $566,666 per game under the contract.

So even though Mourning is giving up roughly $5 million to get out of his contract, his per-game total was the richest in NBA history.

Toronto general manager Rob Babcock said a news conference will be held before Friday night's game against Philadelphia.

"Alonzo does not meet our medical conditions to play for our basketball team," Babcock said in a statement. "While we realize it may be possible for him to play in limited circumstances, we've been able to confirm our expectations that because of his medical issues he would not be able to fit into our long-term strategy of building something sustainable.

"We felt it was in the best interests of the Raptors to reach a financial settlement which would provide us additional financial flexibility. We are pleased with the deal we've been able to make and wish Alonzo the best in his future."

Babcock went through with the trade despite being told by Nets general manager Rod Thorn that Mourning only wanted to play for the Heat.

"Rod Thorn was very up front with us," Babcock said. "He told us right from the beginning, 'Listen, Alonzo wants to retire in Miami.'"

That's why Mourning was an ancillary part of the Nets-Raptors deal, included to help balance the salary totals. Toronto also acquired forwards Aaron Williams and Eric Williams and two first-round draft picks.

The rookie general manager has been criticized for getting little in return for Carter, who seems rejuvenated in New Jersey.

The 35-year-old center, who underwent a kidney transplant Dec. 19, 2003, stopped playing in early December because of what he said were hip, knee, hand and leg problems. He was openly unhappy with the Nets' offseason moves, and had demanded a trade to a contender. The Nets and Mourning discussed buying out his contract, but the two sides were too far apart.

Wechsler refused to substantiate talk that his client will immediately sign with the Heat once he clears waivers, but Mourning's comments late Friday made it clear the player would be happy if that were the case.

"We haven't gotten that far yet," Wechsler said before Mourning's radio interview. "We just wanted to clear up this situation first."

So that's the official line, but a source in Miami told Ford that the team likely would begin negotiations with Mourning once he clears waivers with an eye toward adding him to the team, and multiple sources said a deal could happen quickly.

If Mourning is healthy enough to play, his addition should provide some much-needed depth up front for the Heat, Ford reported. Before leaving the Nets, Mourning was averaging 10.4 points per game, 7 rebounds per game and 2.3 blocks per game. The goal would be to have Mourning playing 10 to 15 minutes a night to give Shaq some much-needed rest going into the home stretch.

Heat executives had no immediate comment.

"It doesn't concern anybody at this point because nothing's happened," Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said. "Everything's hypothetical. There's nothing to say."

If Mourning becomes a free agent, Miami -- which has the Eastern Conference's best record, but is only 11-10 against the West -- could sign him for a prorated share of the $1.1 million veteran minimum salary, which would work out to be around $350,000 for the remainder of the year.

"Zo would make any team better," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. "We've all got a great relationship. We've all got great respect for him."

Heat center Shaquille O'Neal sounded receptive to the idea of being Mourning's teammate.

"A lot of people think two bullheaded guys will cause a problem, but you have to understand when two bullheaded guys are in the same bullring, it won't be a problem," O'Neal said. "He's a strong guy. He still has something left in his tank. It will be a good addition to our team."

"It definitely makes us stronger and it's something I accept."

The notion of Mourning's return to Miami, for whom he was under contract for eight years, isn't new; rumors that he'd like to be back have swirled for weeks. He was at Miami's home game against Houston on Jan. 30, and drew loud cheers from fans who noticed him leaving through a courtside tunnel.

Lisa Joseph, a spokeswoman for Mourning, said he would have no comment Friday.

Mourning averaged 10.4 points and 7.1 rebounds in 18 games for the Nets this season. He played in 12 games for the Nets in 2003-04, retiring three weeks into that season because of complications from focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a kidney disease that was first diagnosed in 2000.

The kidney disease kept Mourning out for much of Miami's 2000-01 season, but he played in 75 games the next year and made the All-Star team. Yet his condition deteriorated again and he missed the entire 2002-03 season, his last in a $105 million, seven-year deal with the Heat.

Mourning was hindered by an assortment of injuries this season. An aching right hip makes his leg weak. His right pinkie has torn tendons, and his right knee and right Achilles tendon are sore.

Wechsler wouldn't couldn't comment on Mourning's health status. A message left for Dr. Gerald Appel, one of Mourning's physicians, wasn't returned.

Since joining the NBA out of Georgetown in 1992, Mourning -- who lives in Miami -- has averaged 19.8 points and 9.6 rebounds in 652 career regular-season games.

Information from ESPN Insider Chad Ford and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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