TORONTO - NBA executives can finally court free agents, but league-wide chatter continues to centre around three players currently under contract.
Since no free agent deals can be consummated until Wednesday, the fates of Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Deron Williams will remain at the forefront for at least another day.
Multiple reports have connected Howard and/or Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers, who are said to be dangling Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom.
Paulís New Orleans Hornets and Howardís Orlando Magic could be about to enter a race against time to send their superstar to L.A. before the other side can beat them to the punch.
Why? Simple. Itís awfully tough to find a dominant, low-post centre, and Bynum is among the cream of the crop already at the age of 24. Sure he gets injured a lot, but would it be better to lose Paul or Howard for nothing or for a collection of middling talent?
Bynum averaged 11.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks last season.
Orlando still believes it has a chance at keeping Howard, but might be willing to deal now, since it is clear New Orleans knows Paul is as good as gone and, according to Yahoo! Sports, has talked to the Lakers recently.
He who hesitates is lost and Orlando, famously on the wrong end of one of the biggest free agency defections in history ó Shaquille OíNeal to the Lakers in 1996 ó cannot let it happen again.
Meanwhile, Williams, like Paul a franchise-calibre point guard, added more intrigue to the rumour mill by guaranteeing he would re-sign with the Nets if the club can obtain Howard. Thatís another plausible scenario.
New Jersey, like Los Angeles, has a fine young big man to peddle, Brook Lopez. Lopez took a step back last season and is a poor rebounder, but is extremely dangerous down low and unlike Bynum, is extremely durable (Lopez has not missed a game in his three-year NBA career).
There are a number of ways all of this can play out, but Howard to the Nets and Paul to the Lakers seems to make the most sense for a variety of reasons.
On Saturday the Raptors shot down an ESPN report that Jonas Valanciunas might join the club this season and the big man put in his own two cents on Monday. Valanciunas told lithuaniabasketball.com: ďIím currently with Lietuvos Rytas and Iím not really interested in those talks. Thereís a lot to be done here. Iím in Lietuvos Rytas, not the Raptors.Ē
PAID TO GO AWAY
In the how the mighty have fallen department: Phoenix will waive former Raptors superstar Vince Carter in order to save $14 million US. The club had to cut Carter within 72 hours of the start of free agency in order to only pay him $4 million of the remaining $18 million on his contract. Of course many on Twitter joked that paying Carter $4 million not to play is a lot better than what other teams ó including the Raptors at the end ó have paid Carter to show up sporadically.
AROUND THE RIM
Both sides expect the labour deal to be ratified by Thursday, allowing training camps to open as planned on Friday ... The NBA is expected to release its abbreviated 2011-12 schedule on Tuesday ... Raptors big man Andrea Bargnani told Italyís La Stampa that he is getting his Canadian citizenship but will continue to play for the Italian national team. Injury-riddled former No. 1 overall selection Greg Oden is expected to stay in Portland (an $8.8 million option is hard to turn down), despite interest from the Miami Heat. Oden has been out for considerable time and wonít be back until January at the earliest ... J.J. Barea has named the Knicks as a backup plan should the Dallas Mavericks not be able to re-sign him. He told the New York Daily News the Knicks would be a great fit. The Mavericks are expected to struggle to re-sign both Barea and Tyson Chandler while also adding new talent ... Shane Battier has been connected to a handful of teams ó including the Raptors ó but tweeted on Monday that he finds it hilarious to read where he is heading since he himself isnít sure yet ... Similarly, the rumour mill lists Chicago, New York and Los Angeles (Clippers) as landing spots for Grant Hill, though the Suns remain the favourites to retain the veteran ... The Bulls are interested in most free agent small forwards, including Caron Butler, though shooting guard is a far more logical need ... A Canadian has been honoured after every week of the NCAA season so far, and the trend continued with Torontoís Myck Kabongo winning Big 12 freshman of the week for Texas. He leads the conference in assists ... Passes were given to 26 NBA executives for Saturdayís thrilling Kentucky-North Carolina clash at Rupp Arena. Bryan Colangelo was in attendance.