Milicic now unrestricted free agent after Magic withdraws offer

Updated: July 3, 2007, 10:39 PM ET
By Chad Ford | ESPN.com

One day after coming to a verbal agreement with free agent Rashard Lewis, the Orlando Magic withdrew their qualifying offer for restricted free agent Darko Milicic on Tuesday.

Darko Milicic

Milicic

In effect, the move means the Magic have made Milicic an unrestricted free agent. However the team still retains the right to go over the salary cap to re-sign him (commonly referred to in the NBA as "Bird Rights") and could also work on a sign-and-trade with Seattle or another team.

Milicic's agent Marc Cornstein said the move took him by surprise. He said Magic GM Otis Smith called him earlier in the day to tell him the team wanted to keep Milicic and would begin exploring ways to make it happen.

"I think it is unfortunate how dishonest and deceitful Otis Smith and the Orlando Magic have been in the process," Cornstein said. "However, I think it can be a good thing for Darko. I believe Darko is the most coveted free agent in the market now. We are excited to get a fresh start with a team that truly believes in him."

Said Smith of the Magic's decision: "Our goals remains the same: to sign a free agent and try to retain Darko. It hasn't changed."

Now, any team in the league can sign Milicic without fear of the Magic matching an offer. Only three teams, the Bobcats, Grizzlies and Bucks, have the cap room available to offer more than the mid-level exception. A fourth team, the Chicago Bulls, might be able to clear enough room if they were to renounce their rights to free agent Andres Nocioni.

If neither Charlotte or Memphis are interested, Milicic will likely have to sign a one- or two-year deal for the mid-level exception and re-enter the free-agent market next summer to look for a bigger deal.

Milicic was looking for a long-term deal averaging between $9 and $10 million a year, according to league sources.

Cornstein said that the Magic actually came very close to signing Milicic to an extension this fall, but unexpectedly withdrew their offer at the last minute.

"There has been a pattern of deception here," Cornstein said. "It started with Otis making an offer and the pulling it. He told us in private Darko was his No. 1 priority this offseason."

If Milicic does decide to sign a mid-level deal, expect the teams like Philadelphia and San Antonio that will have signficant cap room to re-sign him in the summer of 2008.

Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.

Chad Ford

Senior Writer, NBA Insider