Dampier mulls his options

With so many teams thirsting for him, Kobe Bryant opting out of his contract is a no-brainer. Talk of Latrell Sprewell potentially opting out is very intriguing, too. But for Golden State Warriors center Erick Dampier, the decision to opt-out is much trickier.

Exactly $16.9 million and two contract years trickier.

"It's really not definite," said Dampier, whose window to opt-out starts Tuesday and ends June 30. "I'm leaving my options open. What I would be leaving on the table is a considerable amount of money. I am not going to make a decision that I don't put a lot of thinking into."

At 6-foot-11 and 265 pounds with a low-post game a mid-range jumper, Dampier will be a hot commodity. The eight-year veteran just enjoyed his best season, averaging career bests of 12.3 points, 12 rebounds and 32.5 minutes per game in 74 games. He led the NBA in offensive rebounds per game (4.6) and was fourth in rebounds per game, third in field-goal percentage (.535) and 15th in blocks per game (1.9). Having missed just 17 games over the past three seasons, Dampier has shown that he has overcome injury problems that plagued him early in his career.

"The last two years have probably been my best since I came out in this league," said Dampier, who dreams of becoming an All-Star. "I've worked hard. I just want to come in in the best shape and on top of my game."

"This summer, I'm going to work even harder," he added. "I definitely want to take my game to the next level next season."

When teams begin talking to free agents on July 1, the list of coveted big men currently includes Detroit's Rasheed Wallace, New Jersey's Kenyon Martin (restricted and on billboards in New Jersey for season tickets next season), Denver's Marcus Camby and Detroit's Mehmet Okur (who's a restricted free agent). Okur is the only one of the four expected to sign with another team. Joining Okur as the only attractive big men available in free agency is an appealing scenario for Dampier.

Potential teams with salary-cap room that could go after Dampier include Phoenix, San Antonio, Denver, the Clippers, Utah, Atlanta and the expansion Charlotte Bobcats. Teams expected to have interest but can only offer the mid-level exception include New York, Miami, Memphis, Boston and Indiana. One high-ranking NBA executive said that, while Dampier is an attractive free agent, teams would be more willing to give him a long-term deal in a sign-and-trade with Golden State. And Damper seems to think a sign-and-trade would be the best option, too.

"There are a lot of teams showing interest," Dampier said. "A lot of teams willing to do a sign and trade."

So what about the Warriors? Do they want to keep Dampier?

Chris Mullin, the Warriors' new executive vice president of basketball operations, said through a team spokesman that he would not talk about Dampier's situation until he made a decision on his option. Another high-ranking NBA executive said Mullin is debating on whether or not it would be in the club's best interest to give Dampier an extension.

One big question some league executives have about Dampier is whether he will continue to play like he did this past season. Dampier's two best seasons -- 1997-98 and 2003-04 -- were both contract years. Dampier has heard the critics, and he plans to answer them.

"There are always going to be critics," Dampier said. "There were two seasons when I was hurt. This is a continuation of the (2002-03) season. I didn't look at this year as a breakthrough year. I just got an opportunity to show people what I can do. Am I playing for a contract? I'm playing for a winning situation. I can sign for less for a winning situation."

Considering their roster, the Warriors would be wise to re-sign Dampier. Golden State has three centers in Dampier, Adonal Foyle and Evan Eschmeyer, but Foyle will be an unrestricted free agent this summer while Eschmeyer will be in the expansion draft. If Dampier and Foyle are gone, the Warriors will have to turn to free agency anyway, since there is no one in the draft that could replace either center immediately when they pick 11th.

"The Warriors are willing to work with me, but they don't want to lose me for nothing," Dampier said. "Centers are hard to come by. They can't afford to lose me and Adonal. I talked to him (Foyle) a couple of days ago. He doesn't know what he wants to do, but he would like to start."

In regards to new Warriors coach Mike Montgomery, Dampier spoke to him briefly at the team's training facility in passing once. But considering Dampier has played for numerous coaches in Golden State since arriving in 1996, he isn't worried about adjusting to yet another new boss.

"It doesn't matter to me," Dampier said.

If the Warriors think Dampier would prefer to play out the rest of his contract, they better think again. For Dampier to stay in Golden State, he believes an extension is necessary. And with that being said, it seems likely that Dampier and his new agent, Dan Fegan, are gearing up for free agency through the opt-out clause.

"I'm not going to say I want out and not come back," Dampier said. "I would. It's whether they want to sign me to a long-term deal. They have the right pieces on the team. They can keep it together. They have some decisions to make."

And so does Dampier.

Marc J. Spears, who covers the NBA and Denver Nuggets for The Denver Post, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.