SACRAMENTO, Calif. The ominous clock will keep ticking for the Kings after Thursday's draft when many questions about the team's roster are expected to be answered in coming weeks.
First it's the No. 12 pick, a vital decision to be made that could range from hoping an impact player falls their way to finding a way to move up or down in the lineup. Four days later, it's decision day for small forward Ron Artest, whose agent reiterated Tuesday that he's not likely to opt out of his contract by Monday's deadline.
But Tuesday is the first day of free agency for point guard Beno Udrih. And while negotiations can't officially begin until then and deals can't be formalized until July 7, his agent, Marc Cornstein, said he would consider an offer of the full midlevel exception (approximately $6 million per season) a "bargain" price for his client.
If the Kings come to the table with anything lower, in other words, Udrih could certainly head elsewhere. Because the Kings are over the salary cap, they can only offer the midlevel.
"Beno proved himself this year to be a starting point guard in this league, and if you see what the market is for starting point guards in this league (the full midlevel) would certainly seem almost like a bargain," Cornstein said. "You can read into that whatever you want to read into that, but I think the market will dictate that as we get to the start of free agency."
The benchmark set by incumbent starting points guards is indeed a pricey one, with the 24 teams who will return their point men paying them an average of $8.5 million. Dallas veteran Jason Kidd is the highest paid ($21.3 million), while third-year Minnesota point guard Randy Foye is the lowest with a 2008-09 salary of $2.8 million.
The question for the Kings is whether they can fill their need any other way. There has been much trade talk around the league surrounding Toronto's T.J. Ford, a young, up-tempo point guard who is available for the right price but whose contract (two years and $16.5 million guaranteed) is no bargain on its own. The draft could still produce results at the point as well, but only if the likes of Texas' D.J. Augustin or even Arizona combo guard Jerryd Bayless fall their way.
Yet it's the No. 7 Clippers pick that could very well play a part in Udrih's fate. The Clippers aren't expected to exercise the team option on point guard Shaun Livingston and are believed to have strong interest in Udrih. What's more, they have the salary cap room with which to pay more than the midlevel. If, that is, their lucky No. 7 doesn't yield a badly-needed starter up top. New York and new coach Mike D'Antoni are also expected to pursue Udrih, although the Knicks can only offer the midlevel as well.
Artest's agent, meanwhile, continued to indicate that his client's future in Sacramento will last at least one more season. Asked if the recent speculation about Artest opting out to join the Lakers or any other championship-caliber team for the midlevel could change his mind in these final stages, Stevens said it wasn't likely.
"I don't think it would be a wise decision to (opt out)," he said. "I don't think it will happen. There's been a lot of stuff on TV about Ron, but we're not listening to any of that."