Face-to-face negotiations are under way in the Michael Finley sweepstakes, but no signing commitment is expected from the in-demand former All-Star before next week at the earliest.
Sources close to the process told ESPN.com that Finley and agent Henry Thomas have invited the leading suitors to Chicago for sitdowns in Finley's hometown as opposed to launching into a series of recruiting trips. The process, sources said, will last at least through the weekend.
The Miami Heat's Pat Riley and Stan Van Gundy were the first to visit Finley, on Monday. The Phoenix Suns sent a six-man delegation Tuesday -- including star forwards Amare Stoudamire and Shawn Marion -- and the San Antonio Spurs are meeting with Finley on Thursday.
The Detroit Pistons, believing they weren't high enough on Finley's list to wait on a maybe, passed on their Chicago invite after committing to sign Dale Davis. But Finley, sources said, remains intent on taking the rest of this week to soak in the pitches from the three title contenders -- and perhaps a fourth visit from the Minnesota Timberwolves -- to complete a deliberate evaluation of his options. The 10-year veteran was waived by the Dallas Mavericks late last Monday and became an unrestricted free agent after clearing waivers Thursday.
Suns coach Mike D'Antoni, meanwhile, enjoyed an unexpected head start in the lobbying process late last week when he and Finley were guests at the Phoenix wedding of Mavericks athletic trainer Casey Smith, a former Suns employee.
Various league executives have maintained for weeks that Miami is the heavy favorite to land Finley, with the Heat able to offer a full mid-level exception of $5 million next season and the lure of playing alongside Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade, who's also represented by Thomas. Finley, furthermore, is quite familiar with Van Gundy, having played for him at Wisconsin.
Yet, sources insist that Finley has not yet established a favorite. Intensely private throughout his eight-plus seasons in Dallas, Finley has been typically tight-lipped about his future, telling reporters at Nash's July 29 charity game that he wasn't ready to discuss the prospect of free agency and declining interview requests since being waived by the Mavericks.
Thomas, though, did confirm last week that Finley is "most interested" in joining a team with championship potential.
Of the four teams that best fit that description, only Miami can offer a starting salary of $5 million now that Detroit has committed a good chunk of its mid-level exception to Davis.
San Antonio and Phoenix are the other two teams, but going to either of the Mavericks' Western Conference rivals will require Finley to make a financial sacrifice. The Spurs are limited to offering a starting salary of just over $2.5 million, and Phoenix can't pitch anything more than the veteran minimum of $1.1 million for the 2005-06 campaign.
The Mavericks tried for weeks to trade Finley to an Eastern Conference team before waiving him in hopes of keeping the swingman away from the Spurs or Suns. Reports persist that Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was prepared to offer Finley a restructured payment schedule on the nearly $52 million left on Finley's contract to help persuade him to go East, but NBA front-office sources told ESPN.com that no such deal was struck.
The presence of San Antonio and Phoenix on Finley's list of finalists indeed suggests no such arrangement exists. A "spread provision" in Finley's Dallas contract stipulates that, upon being waived, his remaining salary will be paid in annual installments of less than $5 million.