Shopping season starts this weekend for Tom Chambers, who has a chance to make history by being the first free agent to sign with a new team under the modern rules.
The chances of Chambers leaving Seattle increased Tuesday when the Sonics added Michael Cage in a draft-day trade with the L.A. Clippers. Seattle has made Chambers a four-year, $5 million offer, but the two sides have not met and now Sonics officials refuse even to talk about Chambers."The handwriting is on the wall," said Chambers, 29, who himself was traded from the Clippers to the Sonics in 1983. "They haven't talked to me and they're the ones who said they wanted to get something done before the draft. I'd like to play in Seattle - I just don't know what they're thinking."
Meanwhile, agent Howard Slusher had Chambers rate all the NBA teams he'd consider. He listed seven first choices, all in the Western Conference - including at least the three Texas teams, Phoenix and the Jazz. Slusher scheduled Chambers' first interview with a prospective new team for this weekend, but kept the team secret even from Chambers until the last moment.
Chambers, who made $950,000 to close out his three-year contract, will definitely command much more than $1 million a year on the market and because he's an unrestricted free agent, the team that signs him will not have to compensate Seattle. "I know there are a number of teams interested in him, and he'll get big dollars," said Jazz president David Checketts. "We'd have to be interested in him, but I don't think it can be done. That's a lot of money."
Chambers' former University of Utah/Seattle teammate Danny Vranes is also unrestricted, and Philadelphia has no plans to keep him.
ADD CHAMBERS: While Coach Bernie Bickerstaff had nothing to say about Chambers, the Sonics' captain mentioned his coach when asked about Cage.
"Well, Bernie's got his rebounder now," Chambers told the Tacoma News Tribune, "but I'll tell you what - Michael Cage is not what everybody thinks he is. He can't shoot, he can't run, he can't jump, he can't block shots. He has one thing he can do, rebound. Period. People are going to be awfully surprised. I like Michael. He's a good kid and a hard worker. But two years ago, they were going to cut him."
Without Chambers, the Sonics would have a forward rotation of Xavier McDaniel, Cage and Derrick McKey. "I don't think they expect to be able to keep (Chambers)," said one NBA general manager. Added Chambers, "I think it's up to Bernie, and he hasn't said he wants me back, and this is a pretty clear message."
GRIFF'S RECOVERY: Medical reports the Jazz have received about Darrell Griffith say Griff is running and jumping, but still has soreness and occasional fluid on his knee, which underwent surgery in March.
Griff's confidence is apparently intact.
"I wasn't pleased with the way I was used last year, and I told Frank (Layden) that," Griffith told the Louisville Times. "I've expressed my opinion very clearly. My abilities make it clear I'm not a five or six-minute-a-night player (20.2, actually). That's ridiculous."
Added Griffith, who says he sweated out the expansion draft, "I started at Utah in the hard times, and I'd like to be there while they have success. I want it work out. But I also don't want to be in a situation where they're jerking me around. I want to play."
ADD FREE AGENTS: Wondering about Griffith's condition - and ability - themselves, the Jazz will consider free agents besides Chambers. "We have to look for a veteran point guard to be a backup, and not knowing what Darrell Griffith is going to do . . . we've got a couple of moves to make to shore up, and some of those involve free agents," said Checketts.
The Jazz's only veteran free agent of their own is guard Bart Kofoed, and that's a sticky situation. Kofoed has turned down a two-year offer. To keep the right of first refusal for Kofoed under the new rules, the Jazz have to pay him at least $250,000; this offer is for less than half that much, which is logical.
Their starting guards averaged less than $250,000 last season.
"They're in a tough position because they've done such a wonderful job of negotiating," noted Ron Grinker, Kofoed's agent. "I hate to think we'd have the backlash of that."
QUOTABLE: In one interview, Pitt's Jerome Lane, drafted by Denver, provided enough material for July. Jerome Lane Quote of the Week No. 1, on Charles Barkley: "He's a pretty good player, but I know I'm better than him."