By David Aldridge, TNT analyst
Posted Jul 22 2009 8:53AM
Twice spurned in their attempts to sign a high-profile free agent this summer, the Portland Trail Blazers are jumping back into the fray, opening discussions with the agent for Philadelphia 76ers free-agent point guard Andre Miller, according to sources. A deal is not imminent, but there has been progress made toward resolving Miller's status, according to a source with knowledge of the discussions.
The Blazers have been looking to upgrade at point guard but didn't get very far in talks with Dallas guard Jason Kidd (who re-signed with the Mavericks) or Phoenix's Steve Nash (who agreed to a two-year, $22 million extension with the Suns on Monday). Portland was not looking hard at Miller because the Blazers thought they needed to add someone to the roster with more perimeter shooting skills than the 33-year-old. But with $7.7 million in cap room and a dwindling number of free agents available, Miller may be Portland's last best chance to bring in a veteran player that can help its young core.
Portland already has been left at the altar twice this offseason. The Blazers thought they had a five-year, $50 million deal with Orlando forward Hedo Turkoglu, only to see Turkoglu bolt at the 11th hour to sign a five-year, $53 million contract with Toronto. Portland then gave Utah restricted free agent forward Paul Milsap a four-year, $34 million offer sheet that called for more than $10 million to be paid to Milsap within a week of the deal being signed, an attempt to keep Utah from matching.
The Jazz decided to match, leaving Portland with the same $7.7 million in cap room with which it started the summer.
For now, according to a source, the Blazers do not have any interest in Lakers free agent forward Lamar Odom, whose negotiations with Los Angeles on a new contract have stalled.
The New York Knicks have been in discussions with Miller for a couple of weeks, but they want to keep their cap flexibility for the 2010 offseason. New York also is talking with Milwaukee restricted free agent point guard Ramon Sessions, who is not expected to be retained by the Bucks, though Milwaukee would have the right to match an offer for Sessions. The Clippers also are going after Sessions, who is expected to command a deal for at least part of the mid-level from either team.
Sessions's agent, James Wells, said early Tuesday afternoon that he hoped to have an offer for Sessions in place by the end of the day.
"Everyone knows what the situation is with Ramon being a second-round pick," Wells said. "With the Knicks being over the cap, there's only so much flexibility they have."
Acquired from Denver in December 2006 as part of the Allen Iverson trade, Miller has been outstanding in Philadelphia, providing veteran leadership and a still-formidable game. He's been the coach on the floor for the 76ers, who've made the playoffs in consecutive seasons despite numerous injuries (high-profile signee Elton Brand was out most of last season with a shoulder injury that eventually required surgery), a slew of young players like Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams (both of whom have been given major minutes) and a coaching change, with Tony DiLeo replacing Mo Cheeks. (The 76ers have since hired former Kings and Wizards head coach Eddie Jordan to take over for DiLeo.)
Miller averaged 16.3 points and 6.5 assists last season for Philadelphia. He is also one of the league's ironmen, missing just five games in 11 NBA seasons. But while other veterans this offseason have been the subject of strong competition from other contending clubs, Miller has not had much play.
After giving Brand a five-year, $82 million contract and signing forward Andre Iguodala to an $80 million extension last summer, the Sixers can't give Miller a raise from his $10.3 million salary without going over the league's projected luxury tax threshhold of $69.9 million. Including first-round pick Jrue Holiday's first-year salary, the 76ers have around $62 million committed in salaries. Philadelphia has been trying to get some cap relief by trading disgruntled center Samuel Dalembert, but there have been no takers so far.
General manager Ed Stefanski has told local media that he and Miller's camp are far apart in contract talks, and that a sign-and-trade deal is likely the resolution.
League sources have maintained that Philadelphia has offered Miller only a one-year deal at or near the mid-level exception of $5.8 million for next season, which would keep the 76ers under the tax threshhold but is a non-starter for Miller.
The Blazers could decide to keep their cap room entering next season, looking to make an uneven trade as the trade deadline nears with teams looking to shed salaries going into 2010. That free-agent class of potential free agents is expected to include LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson and many other stars.
Further complicating matters with Miller is that teams might be reluctant to offer him a long-term deal because any contract of five or six years could subject them to the provisions of "Over 36" contracts, in which players who reach their 36th birthday during the life of the contract have their yearly salaries in the last year treated as deferred compensation, with those salaries spread over the preceding years of the contract. Because this can make the salary exceed the amount of the mid-level exception, the overall salaries have to be reduced.
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