The offseason power struggle in the mighty West continued in earnest Wednesday, when San Antonio and Sacramento joined Indiana in agreement on a three-team trade poised to send Brad Miller to the Kings and make the Spurs deeper than they were as champions.
ESPN.com reported Wednesday afternoon that the Pacers, desperate to prevent losing Miller without compensation, were on the verge of orchestrating a three-team deal that would foil lucrative attempts by Utah and Denver to sign the free-agent center.
Sources close to the negotiations told ESPN.com they expect the deal to be completed Thursday, barring a last-minute snag.
Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe, reached by phone, said his team was out of the Miller chase. "We've been told that Brad is going to Sacramento," Vandeweghe said.
The deal calls for Indiana to sign Miller to a multiyear deal worth more than $60 million and ship him to the Kings, who consider the 7-foot, 260-pounder an ideal long-term replacement for Vlade Divac, the 35-year-old center entering the final year of his contract.
In return, the Pacers would receive Kings center Scot Pollard to play alongside All-Star forward Jermaine O'Neal. Fearful that it couldn't absorb the luxury-tax implications of meeting Miller's money demands, Indiana tried in vain to find a way into the week's first blockbuster deal, specifically to acquire the cap-friendly contract of Minnesota's Terrell Brandon. When Brandon went to Atlanta instead as part of a four-team trade featuring Latrell Sprewell and Keith Van Horn, Indiana pursued Pollard as a fallback. The Pacers still hope to re-sign their face of the franchise, Reggie Miller, and pursue other roster alterations without straying into tax territory.
The deal would also send Sacramento's Hedo Turkoglu and Indiana's Ron Mercer to the Spurs, who aren't required to part with one of their own players in the exchange because they have the salary-cap room to absorb the contracts of both swingmen. The Spurs could still wind up including a player, but can complete the transaction with as little as a future draft pick. The Spurs' contribution to the transaction, sources said, will likewise be finalized Thursday.
The presence of Turkoglu and Mercer would enable the Spurs to offset the potential loss of free agent Stephen Jackson, who is seeking a long-term deal and might not be back in San Antonio. Because Turkoglu and Mercer are also entering the final year of their respective contracts, the Spurs would retain signficant salary-cap flexibility for next summer, when they must resign Manu Ginobili. If the Spurs don't save sufficient cap room to re-sign Ginobili, they will be in the same position Golden State finds itself now, helpless to match any offer to Gilbert Arenas with a starting salary above the league average ($4.9 million).
The Spurs lost backup point guard Speedy Claxton to Golden State and face the loss of Jackson as well, but have been busy reloading since missing out on the free-agent package prize of Jason Kidd and Alonzo Mourning. San Antonio signed Rasho Nesterovic away from Minnesota to replace David Robinson at center, and signed Robert Horry away from the Lakers to back up two-time MVP Tim Duncan. The Spurs hope to add Turkoglu and Mercer to a wing rotation manned by Ginobili and Bruce Bowen.
The Kings, meanwhile, have been increasingly active since the Lakers convinced future Hall of Famers Gary Payton and Karl Malone to join Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant for a combined $6.4 million next season. After projections of a quiet summer, Sacramento stands to add Miller to a front line headlined by Chris Webber and Divac in exchange for two players (Turkoglu and Pollard) who often struggled for minutes last season. With Webber potentially out until December while recovering from knee surgery, Miller should not lack for playing time.
Minnesota is another West contender inspired by the Lakers' approach. Sprewell is the Wolves' third signficant addition this offseason, along with guard Sam Cassell and center Michael Olowokandi. That trio joins Wally Szczerbiak and Troy Hudson in what looms as Kevin Garnett's strongest supporting cast yet.
Dallas is the only top West contender unable to strengthen itself since free-agent negotiations commenced July 1. After losing out on Mourning, their top target, the Mavericks were rebuffed in their attempts to complete a sign-and-trade for Miller.
Denver and Utah, the two clubs thought to be leading the Miller chase, are likely to pursue trades now to fill their size needs and take advantage of their shunned cap space. Both teams are also still waiting to hear if the Los Angeles Clippers will match offers each made to an L.A. restricted free agent: Andre Miller received a $51 million offer sheet from the Nuggets, and Corey Maggette signed a $42 million offer sheet with the Jazz. The Clippers are not expected to match on Andre Miller but are still deliberating whether to match Maggette's offer.