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Raptors want Olajuwon across Canadian border

Posted: Friday, July 20, 2001

Hakeem Olajuwon will not finish his career with the Houston Rockets if the Toronto Raptors can entice him into relocating to Canada. Derek Anderson might not be playing for the San Antonio Spurs next season unless they make him a better offer.

On the second day that NBA free agents were allowed to sign, Thursday was marked more by posturing and leveraging than it was by dealmaking.

Dan Majerle left Miami to sign with Phoenix, Avery Johnson finalized his deal with Denver, and John Amaechi agreed to terms to Utah, but no other players switched teams.

The Raptors, who have already agreed to terms with their three free agents -- Antonio Davis, Alvin Williams and Jerome Williams -- are trying to coax Olajuwon into playing his 18th professional season in Canada.

Olajuwon has spent his first 17 seasons -- plus four years of college -- in Houston.

''I'd have trouble seeing him in another uniform, and that's why we're working so hard to keep him here,'' Rockets general manager Carroll Dawson said. ''Money and years are both issues.''

The Raptors, who met with Olajuwon earlier this week, are likely offering their $4.5 million exception to the 7-footer who was the league's MVP in 1994. The number of years Toronto is offering was not known.

Toronto nailed down an agreement with point guard Alvin Williams.

Williams flourished this season under coach Lenny Wilkens, earning a starting a job after Mark Jackson was traded to New York.

The Rockets paid Olajuwon more than $16 million last season, and his salary counts as $24.5 million against next year's salary cap until the Rockets renounce his rights or re-sign him.

Until the Rockets do one of those two things, they are unable to finalize agreements with three of their other key free agents -- Moochie Norris, Maurice Taylor and Shandon Anderson.

''Right now, he's our focus and we're doing everything we can to keep him,'' Dawson said. ''We're trying to make him see that this is the place for him, but it's up to him.''

Olajuwon's agent, Dan Fegan, did not return several phone calls.

Anderson, meanwhile, remained at odds with the Spurs over the financial terms of his next contract. San Antonio is offering $36 million over five years, but Anderson wants a sixth year guaranteed -- along with maximum raises from year to year.

''We're probably going to set a timetable soon,'' agent Tony Dutt said, adding that Cleveland, Portland, Dallas and Miami are trying to acquire Anderson through a sign-and-trade deal.

Dutt said the chances of Anderson returning as San Antonio's starting shooting guard are ''50-50.''

The Spurs also face the possible loss of backup forward Samaki Walker, who has drawn interest from the Los Angeles Lakers.

Los Angeles is in the market for a power forward after losing Horace Grant to Orlando, but Dutt said the Lakers' offer -- somewhere around $1.5 million -- wasn't enough to seal the deal.

Like many teams, the Lakers are trying to avoid letting their payroll climb above $54 million. Teams exceeding that threshold will have to pay a dollar-for-dollar luxury tax on the overage.

''Minutes are more important than dollars, but if someone steps up with a mid-level exception you have to consider it,'' Dutt said.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak refused to discuss any specific free agents but said he was growing somewhat concerned with his team's lack of height.

Having traded Greg Foster to Milwaukee and lost Grant to Orlando, the Lakers have only three big men healthy and under contract -- Shaquille O'Neal, Robert Horry and Stanislav Medvedenko.

''I think we'll get somebody. That would be the hope,'' Kupchak said.

A few deals that has previously been agreed to were finalized Thursday. Dikembe Mutombo re-signed with Philadelphia, getting a four-year deal worth more than $65 million, Christian Laettner stayed with Washington for a reported $21 million over four years, Anthony Carter re-upped with Miami, and the New Jersey Nets signed Todd MacCulloch to a $35 million, six-year offer sheet. The 76ers have 15 days to match the Nets' offer or lose the backup center.

A trade sending Charles Oakley from Toronto to Chicago for Brian Skinner also was finalized.

Majerle, 35, decided to leave Miami and return to the team he spent seven seasons with earlier in his career. He signed a one-year contract worth $1 million.

The 3-point shooting specialist hit only 34 percent of his shots last season in a reduced role with the Heat. He had spent his past four seasons in Miami.

''I'm not the same player that I was six or seven years ago, but I do believe that I can go out there and still compete and play well and do enough to help teams win,'' Majerle said.

Laettner, who was traded twice last season, had drawn interest from the Lakers and other teams before agreeing to terms with the Wizards. He averaged just 9.3 points last season.

Amaechi, a three-year veteran, agreed to a multiyear contract with the Jazz. Utah beat out the Lakers, Bulls and Amaechi's old team, the Magic.

''He wanted the opportunity to play for a good team, and Orlando now has a logjam at the big positions,'' agent Williams Sweek said.

Also, agent Steve Kaufman said small forward Bruce Bowen had turned down Miami's final offer. The Heat could lose four key players if Bowen, Tim Hardaway and Anthony Mason follow Majerle's lead and leave as free agents.



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