Kobe Bryant wasn't tipping his hand Tuesday night as the NBA's two-week moratorium on trades and free agent signings expired, though the Los Angeles Clippers were busy trying to clear enough salary cap space to offer him a maximum contract.
Eager to learn Bryant's choice but uncertain when that decision might come, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Clippers awaited word from the player or one of his agents.
Shortly after the moratorium ended at 12:01 a.m. EDT, spokesmen for both teams said they had no news to report.
Both clubs made formal presentations to the free agent guard on Monday night, and the Charlotte Observer reported for Wednesday's editions that the Clippers would trade forward Melvin Ely and guard Eddie House to the expansion Bobcats for future second-round draft picks.
The end of the moratorium came just two hours after the league released the new salary cap of $43.87 million for the 2004-05 season an increase of just $30,000 from last season's figure.
Bryant is eligible to receive a starting salary equal to 105 percent of his 2003-04 salary of $13.5 million, but the Clippers have only $11.65 million of cap room unless they indeed trade Ely ($1.7 million) and House ($825,000) to the Bobcats.
Several lesser free agents were also awaiting salary cap calculations to determine the amount of the average salary, which will be the starting salary in 2004-05 for any of them who receive the full midlevel exception from a team already over the salary cap. It came in at $4.9 million.
Meanwhile, the process of trading Shaquille O'Neal was being set in motion. The Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat were expected to complete a deal Wednesday sending O'Neal to the Heat for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and a draft pick.
A few free agents were expected to sign offer sheets after the moratorium expired at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, while others most notably Steve Nash going from Dallas to Phoenix would finally be allowed to sign the deals they agreed to during the first two weeks of this month.
Among the top free agents whose plans were not yet known were Rasheed Wallace of the NBA champion Detroit Pistons, Erick Dampier of the Golden State Warriors, Karl Malone of the Los Angeles Lakers, Vlade Divac of Sacramento, Derek Fisher of the Lakers, Darius Miles of Portland and Kenyon Martin of New Jersey.
Martin was weighing whether to sign an offer sheet with Atlanta or Denver after sign-and-trade discussions between the Nuggets and Nets broke down.
Malone, puzzled by the breakup of the Lakers, was being courted by the Spurs.
The Utah Jazz were waiting to see whether Carlos Boozer would accept their six-year, $68 million offer sheet. The Cleveland Cavaliers believed they had an understanding with Boozer when they did not pick up the third-year option on his contract, but Boozer denied any agreement was in place and accepted $27 million more than Cleveland could pay him.
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