By David Aldridge, TNT analyst
Posted Aug 2 2009 6:24PM
The New York Knicks have swung and missed so far in free agency this summer, but they're on the verge of connecting with Milwaukee Bucks restricted free agent guard Ramon Sessions on an offer sheet for a significant part of the team's $5.8 million exception, according to league sources--a move that would commit at least some of the team's projected salary cap space for 2010 if the Bucks didn't match.
The Los Angeles Clippers are still in the mix for Sessions, who is expected to decide where to sign in the next day or so, according to a source. Clippers Coach Mike Dunleavy likes Sessions and still would like to get him even though Los Angeles picked up Sebastian Telfair from the Timberwolves last week as part of a trade for guard Quentin Richardson.
Knicks president Donnie Walsh had told people around the league last week that the team was going to pass on Sessions, who emerged in two seasons in Milwaukee as an up-and-coming point guard prospect after being taken in the second round of the 2007 draft. But Coach Mike D'Antoni believes that the 23-year-old Sessions can be the "engine" for an up-tempo team just as Steve Nash was for D'Antoni in Phoenix, and Walsh is apparantly willing to go after him at his coach's request.
Because Sessions is a restricted free agent, any offer sheet he signs has to be for at least two seasons. That means the Knicks would have to pay Sessions for the 2010-11 season as well as this upcoming season and dip into the cap space that they've spent the past several months clearing in order to be able to go after the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson.
It's not clear if there's a way the Knicks could acquire Sessions without impacting their 2010 room.
The Bucks have maintained they'll match any offer sheet for Sessions as long as it's reasonable. Milwaukee saved millions of dollars over the next three years by trading forward Richard Jefferson to San Antonio in June for forwards Bruce Bowen and Kurt Thomas and center Fabricio Oberto, and declining to make a qualifying offer for forward Charlie Villanueva, who signed with Detroit. But the Bucks did make a qualifying offer on Sessions to keep their ability to match an offer sheet.
Sessions averaged 12.4 points and 5.7 assists last season for the Bucks after a rookie season where he flashed his potential, averaging 7.5 assists in 17 games late in the 2007-08 season.
A meeting Thursday afternoon between Knicks restricted free agent David Lee and Walsh in New York may have helped clear the air between the forward and the team, but it didn't lead to any movement toward a new deal.
Lee and his agent, Mark Bartlestein, met with Walsh at the team's practice facility in Greenburgh, N.Y., to discuss the stalemate between the two sides that has gone on since the start of free agency. Lee is seeking a multi-year deal that averages $10 to $12 million per season; the Knicks will not offer anything other than a one-year deal, in order to preserve potential salary cap space that would be used on next summer's crop of free agents. They reiterated that position in the meeting with Lee.
"It was a good meeting," Bartlestein said by telephone. "Everyone needed to hear what everybody was coming from. But nothing was resolved, unfortunately. I just thought it was important for David and Donnie to sit down and see where each other is coming from."
Walsh did not respond to a text seeking comment.
Bartlestein said both he and Lee understood the team's position.
"They have a plan for next season and they're sticking to the plan, and that's what makes it virtually impossible to get a deal done," Bartlestein said. "They've got to do what they feel is best for the Knicks."
To be sure, Lee is in a Catch-22. Several teams have expressed an interest in acquiring Lee, but have been reluctant to make him an offer because they expect that the Knicks would match those offers. Yet the Knicks won't offer Lee a multi-year deal in order to preserve their flexibility for next summer. It's left the 26-year-old Lee, who finished third in the league in rebounding (11.7 per game) last season, frustrated. He sat out last week's USA Basketball mini camp in Las Vegas because he didn't want to risk injury while unsigned.
He told ESPN.com, "Going forward, I thought I could still be a big piece of the puzzle--and it's not as though I'm looking for a max contract, or talking about either me or LeBron (James). I thought it was something where we could get something done and they'd still have more than enough left over for what they wanted in the future, but apparently there's some disagreement about that--just on how the Knicks want to move forward. And I think at this point they're not completely sure what they're going to do and how they want to proceed."
But now, all the teams that had cap room and were willing to use it this summer--most prominently, Detroit and Portland--have moved forward. The Pistons signed Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva and Chris Wilcox; the Trail Blazers signed free agent guard Andre Miller last week.
Oklahoma City also has cap space, but the Thunder is not willing to use much of it this summer on any high-priced players, preferring to keep its powder dry for future years to either extend Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook or be able to bring in big-contract players from other teams to supplement its talent base.
It would seem the only solution is for Lee to sign a one-year deal in New York for the mid-level exception of $5.85 million, play it out, and try to recoup his money next summer as an unrestricted free agent, when there will be a lot more teams with cap space available. But Bartlestein remains confident that a deal can made made this summer. He said he thought he had two potential deals for Lee last week, but the Knicks continued to balk at all scenarios.
"There's all kinds of ways to do it--you can do three-team deals, four-team deals," he said. "It can be done...it wouldn't shock me if something got done this week. It wouldn't shock me if something didn't get done until September."
It may take Celtics restricted free agent forward Leon Powe months to return to the court after suffering a torn left ACL and damaging his meniscus in the playoffs, if he can come back at all. But several contending teams are interested in him, and the interest is mutual. In fact, Powe would like to join LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal in Cleveland next year in pursuit of another championship.
The Cavaliers are Powe's first choice for a new team, according to a source, with the Orlando Magic second. Dallas and the L.A. Lakers have also made inquiries about Powe, who suffered a third serious knee injury in Game 2 of Boston's first-round series against Chicago. Powe underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee a week later. The most optimistic scenario is a recovery time of six to eight months, with a February return the hoped-for date.
But it's not a certainty that Powe will sign with any of those teams.
There are concerns that Powe might not be able to come back from this latest injury, the third time he's severely injured his left knee since high school. He originally tore the ACL in that knee after his junior season at Oakland Tech High School and had reconstructive surgery in 2002, returning for his senior season. But after his freshman season at the University of California, Powe had a second reconstructive procedure--one that was actually done in separate operations in April and September of 2004.
In addition, a league source says that Powe is looking for a second year at his option, which would allow him to become an unrestricted free agent next summer without the team that signs him having either Larry Bird or early Bird re-signing rights. That would put any team that signed him now in the position of helping him rehabilitate his knee over the next few months, having him come back and play a couple of months, then be able to leave that team for a better offer next summer--a position the league source called "completely unreasonable" on Powe's camp's part.
Each of the four teams currently looking at Powe only has its bi-annual cap exception of $1.99 million to offer. The Cavs split their mid-level exception of $5.85 million to sign free agent guards Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon. Orlando used most of its mid-level on forward Brandon Bass. The Lakers signed Ron Artest with theirs, and the Mavericks just dipped into their mid-level last weekend to sign forward Drew Gooden.
Powe averaged 7.7 points and 4.9 rebounds last season for Boston, and when Kevin Garnett went down with a season-ending knee injury of his own, the Celtics were counting on Powe to pick up some of the scoring slack in the playoffs. But he lasted less than five quarters before suffering yet another knee injury, this one different from the right knee sprain he suffered during the regular season, or the previously torn ACLs.
There is no chance that the Celtics would re-sign Powe, or match any offer, said another source. The team has made it clear that it is moving on, despite Powe's helping the Celtics immensely during their Finals series victory over the Lakers and Coach Doc Rivers's lobbying on his behalf. Rivers said during the playoffs that he hoped the team could find some way to keep Powe, a restricted free agent. But to do so, the already tax-paying Celtics would have to shell out an additional $5 or $6 million in salary and luxury taxes for a player they also aren't sure will be able to play.
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