Cap Space is King

Philip Maymin
Basketball News Services 

Erick Dampier may find himself in Atlanta almost against his will. The center opted out of his contract nearly a month ago expecting a sign-and-trade deal with the Knicks but Chris Mullin reportedly reneged on that deal two weeks ago. Now, Dampier is finding few possible suitors for his demands for a greater than MLE salary. Memphis, Indiana, and New York are all interested but seem unable to get Golden State interested. Phoenix may become interested to pursue him with its own cap space if the Clippers match the Suns offer on Quentin Richardson but otherwise Dampier seems to have no choice but to go to Atlanta. In fact, the Hawks could just sign him, and look to trade him in December, the soonest they would be allowed to do so. Memphis and Indiana have reportedly already approached Atlanta about exactly such a scenario.

Finally, Atlanta is getting bang for its enormous buck! Kudos to GM Billy Knight for offering Dampier only a reasonable contract, both in years and in salary. His offer to Dampier appears to be just big enough to get him to sign but not big enough nor long enough to cripple the franchise should he be unable to perform at the same high level as last year.

The biggest determiner of Dampier's value may end up being in the hands of the team least likely to overpay anybody for anything: the LA Clippers. If the Clippers match on Quentin Richardson, freeing the Suns to make an offer to the big man, then suddenly Dampier has two potential suitors. It is amazing how quickly monopoly power can dissipate when there is an independent bidder.

The Hawks' currently have a monopoly in being able to offer a higher than MLE salary to Dampier. Just as soon as the Suns are in the game, expect Dampier to get a far longer and far richer offer from Phoenix, with Atlanta probably upping its offer as well.

Ah, the beauty of competition and the free market. The only reason it's being stifled now is the silly notion of the salary cap. Why shouldn't Isiah Thomas and the Knicks be able to throw money at Dampier? Would it really hurt the league to let the Knicks continue to overpay for players on the decline?

The ones being hurt by the salary cap are the marquee players. The ones being helped by the guaranteed contracts are the injured and young players. That's the decision the player's union agreed to in the collective bargaining agreement and now Dampier must suffer its consequences.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is asking visitors to its web site what it would take to entice more frequent attendance at a Hawks game. The four choices are (with percentage responses in parentheses): Being a winning team (59 percent), offering cheaper seats (34 percent), having a more family-friendly environment (3 percent), and allowing more chances to meet players, staff, and dancers (4 percent). Feel free to contribute your vote. Just to the left of the voting place, you can spot a picture of the gong that is struck after every Hawks season-ticket is sold. Note how bright and shiny
and new-looking it is.


Mike Dougherty ofThe Journal Newswrites: A league source yesterday indicated that Golden State agreed to send restricted free agent Erick Dampier to the Knicks two weeks ago, but the deal was called off by Warriors vice president of basketball operations Chris Mullin before anything was finalized. It now seems the capable big man will be forced to sign with Atlanta, which can trade him after 60 days.Memphis and Indiana have both contacted the Hawks about working something out along those lines.

Dave D'Alessandro ofThe Newark Star-Ledgerwrites: An NBA official familiar with the sign-and-trade discussion disclosed last night that Warriors GM Chris Mullin verbally committed to a deal with the Knicks two weeks ago, then reneged. That, the official said, has only made Thomas and agent Dan Fegan more motivated to get Dampier to New York. Mullin, however, is under a lot of pressure, both internal and external. The organization doesn't want to take on any additional salaries, such as the contracts belonging to Nazr Mohammed and Othella Harrington in the Knicks scenario; and he also has peers such as Jerry West of Memphis and Donnie Walsh of Indiana telling him that he should allow Dampier to sign outright with Atlanta -- just so the Grizzlies and Pacers can get a crack at him when he becomes trade-eligible in December."(Fegan) wouldn't have opted Dampier out unless he had a deal with Mullin already worked out," the NBA official said. "But now, Mullin has become a moving target."

Jon Krawczynski of The Associated Press writes Stephen Jackson sure was relieved when he signed a six-year, $38 million contract. And he was not the only one. The agent Dan Fegan was heavily criticized when he and Jackson declined a multiyear deal from the San Antonio Spurs before last season and ultimately settled for a one-year, $1.1 million deal with the struggling Atlanta Hawks. "In some respects it was a really difficult decision because it was met with such widespread criticism," Fegan said. "When you have the confidence in your own abilities and the confidence in your client's abilities, you can make it work." Instead of heeding calls to fire Fegan, Jackson stuck with him, had a great season with the Hawks, signed the big contract and was shipped to the Indiana Pacers, which is where he wanted to be all along.

Eric Prisbell ofThe Washington Postwrites: Josh Smith, who was drafted straight from high school by the Atlanta Hawks in June, said camps are more important than the high school season because of who sees you play -- college coaches and pro scouts.But George Karl, the former NBA coach who addressed the players at Adidas camp, said he has trouble accurately evaluating talent in such a setting. "I'm not sure I understand" the camps, he said as his eyes bounced between two courts. "The games are (not good). It's guard-dominated."