SALT LAKE CITY — If the New Jersey Nets pick Syracuse small forward Wesley Johnson with their No. 3 overall pick in tonight's NBA Draft, look for it as a sign that they'll make a serious play for Jazz power forward Carlos Boozer when the league's summer free-agency shopping market opens next Thursday.

At least, that's what was claimed at one point Wednesday by ESPN.com, which reported during the day that multiple unidentified teams "have passed along their belief ... that the Nets have serious interest in Johnson ... largely because they believe it will help them land Boozer in free agency."

By Wednesday night, however, ESPN.com was shooting down its own report, writing that "(Derrick) Favors is back in favor in New Jersey" and "the news squashes the prevailing theory around the league that drafting Johnson was a precursor to the Nets signing ... Boozer this summer."

But, the web site further reported, its unidentified source "stressed that the decision wasn't a final one and that the Nets were also exploring potential trade options with the No. 3 pick."

Even if the Nets don't take Johnson, expect them to pursue two-time NBA All-Star Boozer anyway.

New Jersey is known to have had interest in both Boozer, and perhaps Jazz unrestricted free agent shooting guard Kyle Korver as well, for quite some time.

Boozer's agent, Rob Pelinka, also represents Johnson, whom Minnesota also supposedly covets at No. 4.

Some suspect the Johnson talk could be a smokescreen from New Jersey designed to entice Minnesota into trading up into the No. 3 spot to land him.

And according to the initial ESPN.com report, "One source close to the situation ... insisted Wednesday that Boozer has strong interest in the Nets independent of where Johnson lands in the draft."

Miami and Chicago are other teams that could pursue Boozer via free agency as well, though the Heat are known to have Toronto big man Chris Bosh higher on their priority list.

RUMOR MILL: According to yahoo.com, the Los Angeles Lakers and ex-Jazz guard Raja Bell "will enter free agency with a strong mutual interest to reach agreement on a deal."

Bell, traded from Charlotte to Golden State last November and now a free agent, missed most of last season because of wrist surgery.

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He's said previously that he'd like to play in Miami, where he makes his offseason home and played in college at Florida International.

But now Lakers star Kobe Bryant — the victim of a memorable clothesline foul from Bell during the 2006 NBA playoffs — "has become a strong advocate for Bell," Yahoo reported.

HE TWEETED IT: Ex-Jazz guard and current Cleveland Cavalier Mo Williams, the subject of recent trade rumors: "Pls don't trade me, I'm not ready to go. I'm begging. My work ain't done yet. I'm on both knees....pls. I'm serious"

e-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com