NBA Free Agents -- the two who matter

Former Titans Bruce Bowen and Cedric Ceballos, who played together on the Miami Heat last season, are now free agents. Where they end up is anyone's guess but they'll both be playing in the NBA next season.

As to be expected, Bowen is drawing the most interest of Cal State Fullerton's free agent duo. There have been reports of him going to San Antonio, New York Knicks or returning to the Miami Heat. According to a story found on ESPN:

With the situation in San Antonio in complete disarray, the Spurs may be out of the running for Heat free-agent Bruce Bowen. David Robinson and Derek Anderson (and now Chris Webber) are taking up all of the Spurs' time and available money, so Bowen, who was leaning toward signing with San Antonio, apparently will have to look elsewhere.

"Where are they going to get the money?" Bowen's agent, Steve Kauffman, asked Insider Monday. If the Spurs give Robinson $7.5 million or more and Anderson $6-7 million, there wouldn't be much cap space left. According to Kauffman, Bowen could get more money re-signing with Miami, something he'd still love to do.

Kauffman said Bowen remains interested in the Spurs, but is now exploring other options including the Knicks. Of course, if the Spurs do dump Anderson and Robinson for Webber, there may be enough money left for Bowen after all.

Bowen skipped a trip today to Chicago after Kauffman became uncomfortable with the process. "We wanted to see what they were doing first before we made the visit. They're bringing in an awful lot of people, and we wanted to truly gauge their level of interest."

According to the Palm Beach Post, Miami could end up sending Bowen and free-agent Anthony Mason to San Antonio in a sign-and-trade for Anderson. However, given the Spurs' need for shooting and athleticism at the two guard slot, the trade seems unlikely.

And this, from the Miami Herald:

Anthony Carter and Bruce Bowen agreed to undervalued contracts with the Heat last year, believing they eventually would be rewarded for their loyalty.

But the decline in their late-season play -- combined with the looming luxury tax that Miami is determined to avoid -- could make for dicey negotiations. (Free agent talks can begin Sunday; signings can begin July 18.)

Carter, who made $1.2 million last season, likely will ask for more than twice that. Bowen, who made $730,000, is expected to seek as much as the $4.5 million exception that other teams can offer. (Miami can re-sign either player without using its cap exception.)

Both players opted out of their contracts for next season that would have paid Carter $1.3 million and Bowen $808,520.

The Heat wants to avoid a luxury tax, which is expected to kick in with payrolls above $56 million or so. Miami already has $41.7 million committed to the six players under contract -- Alonzo Mourning ($18.8 million), Eddie Jones ($10.1 million), Brian Grant ($9.9 million), Ricky Davis ($1.5 million), Don MacLean ($965,000) and Eddie House ($465,000).

Hypothetically, if the Heat gave Carter and Bowen $3 million each, that would leave Miami with a payroll of close to $48 million, with as many as seven roster spots still needing to be filled -- including starting point guard and starting small forward.

Because Carter is a restricted free agent, the Heat can match any offer up to $4.5 million.

Carter's agent, Bill Duffy, was asked whether Miami's desire to avoid the luxury tax concerns him. ``It doesn't concern me, because Anthony's not earning $12 million,'' Duffy said. ``We're optimistic we can reach an agreement.''

Said Bowen's agent, Steve Kauffman: ``We're going to have to work with or around [the luxury tax] if Bruce is able to stay with the Heat. He likes it there. It's possible [it might take $4.5 million to sign him], but I don't want to say that definitively.''

According to the New York Post, the Knicks also are taking a closer look at Magic free-agent Andrew DeClerq, and have expressed interest in Hawks free-agent Nazr Mohammed and Heat free-agent Bruce Bowen.

Ceballos' situation is even more unclear. Currently there has been no mention of Cedric going anywhere. Teams are afraid of the upcoming luxury tax and, most likely, his lack of defense, but one thing is certain: He will not be back in Miami.

The good news is he now has 10 years NBA experience -- has it been that long? -- so his minimum salary will be a cool million. NBA experts say he will sign on with someone but will probably have to wait until most of the other free agents sign.

One has to wonder if the Lakers can afford a million. Phil Jackson may not like his defensive prowess but he would make a good practice player.