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Friday, December 20
Olowokandi pondering his next move

By Scott Howard-Cooper
Special to

Michael Olowokandi came off the injured list on Nov. 29 in time to play the Spurs after five games on the sideline because of tendinitis in his knee. The injury was probably caused by carrying around the extra weight.

Michael Olowokandi
Michael Olowokandi doesn't think he gets enough touches with the Clippers.
Because all those real estate guides and restaurant listings from around the country can get heavy. Talk about your Christmas wish lists.

Olowokandi is a Clipper, at least for the moment. The long term is quite another matter.

Ask Olowokandi if his No. 1 choice would be to stay with the Clippers and he grins and offers a "no comment." He then laughs at his own feeble attempt to make it seem as if that's even a question.

He is a free agent in waiting. That is the long term.

And once July arrives, he'll depart.

"Anybody in my situation, in my position, would do what's human," Olowokandi said. "For me to say, 'Sure, I am outta here,' and for anyone else to come down on me, I feel that's ridiculous."

So Kandi goes for diplomacy and stops short of actually saying he is done in Los Angeles. Unless he did and it's just that no one could hear over all the noise from the moving vans.

"The interesting thing would be to ask around to guys who are here also and ask if they're enjoying it here," he said. "Don't get me wrong. It's definitely better than working 9-to-5. Expectations are a lot higher, but it's definitely better. It beats that. But relatively compared to the rest of the league, I speak to players on other teams. A small part of you definitely feels like things could be better."

A small part?

If Michael Olowokandi isn't going to re-sign with the Los Angeles Clippers, where will the Kandi Man end up during next summer's frenzied free agency?'s Scott Howard-Cooper analyzes Olowokandi's options.
  • Denver Nuggets. It snows and the Nuggets would be a major step back in the standings for someone who has just made the climb with the Clippers. But Olowokandi is friends with general manager Kiki Vandweghe and assistant GM Jeff Weltman, a former Clippers executive, and the Nuggets could have a lottery pick and $20 million of salary cap space after this season and another $6 million after next season. Olowokandi loves the way the Nuggs play so hard and would be able to name another free agent he wanted Denver to pursue.

  • Miami Heat. Another lottery team. But the social life is great, he would have a power rebounder in Brian Grant to ride shotgun and a shooting guard who scores and defends in Eddie Jones. Kandi has already talked very favorably during the stop in South Florida about the setting and coach Pat Riley.

  • Orlando Magic. The Magic don't have more than $7 million in cap space and do have Tracy McGrady, and, occasionally, Grant Hill, so no center will become a priority in the offense. A sign-and-trade is the most realistic way of making it do-able. But, like Miami, it's warm and there is no state income tax, and Orlando has the considerable selling point of the potential for long playoff runs. Olowokandi is the No. 1 realistic target for the Magic.

  • San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs will run the offense through the post, all right. The other post, the one with Tim Duncan. But Olowokandi feels like he has worked well in Los Angeles with another elite power forward, and he's encouraged that he could be happy in an offense paired with the unselfish Duncan. Being in San Antonio would also mean a big contract without state income tax, warm weather and the chance to win big right away.
  • He paused three seconds before answering.

    "Well," Olowokandi said, "I'm trying to be as conservative as possible."

    In his mind, the split happened as soon as Olowokandi's desired contract extension failed to materialize last summer. He felt slighted. That there was great frustration about his role in the offense before going on the injured list only expedited the moving plans, so there was little chance that his time on the sidelines would provide a cooling-off period.

    "Big guys never think they're getting enough touches," Clippers coach Alvin Gentry said. "But we probably call 30 to 40 percent of our plays to go inside. Probably 30 percent of them go to him."

    The player in his contract year wants the ball more.

    "I think that guys would say that anyway," Gentry said. "A guy can sign a maximum contract, and the first year out, he wouldn't feel he's getting enough touches. I think that's a good thing, though. I don't look at that as a negative. ... He has an attitude of wanting to win this year more so than any year I've been around him in the three years. I think it's important for him to want to win. More than likely, the bar has already been set for free agents like Elton (Brand) and Michael and those guys. I said to them, 'The only way you ever increase your value now is by people looking at you and saying they put that team on their back and got them to the playoffs.' I think victories become important."

    Except that Olowokandi concedes the frustrations over what he perceives as a limited role in the offense are helping push him out the door. It does go through his mind. He is having a breakthrough season -- he's aggressive, improving all the time and playing at the start with the skill he had previously only displayed near the end of another lottery-bound finish -- and he spends much of it just trying to get by.

    "It's tough when you try to voice it as much as you can and try to talk about it," Olowokandi said. "But for the most part, you just have to keep it bottled in. Keep it bottled in and deal with it I guess. There's only so much you can do about it.''

    For now.

    For the future, well, the truth is he has been window shopping for months already. He watched the Spurs face the Lakers in the playoffs last season and, knowing David Robinson would be retiring after one more season, scouted San Antonio specifically to see how he would fit as a replacement. He liked the answer.

    Come this season, he got an early chance to examine cities and arenas. Before, downtowns blurred past in another bus ride from another airport to another hotel or being in another gym meant one of 41 road games. Now, in visits to Florida and Colorado most prominently, he paid attention as a potential resident.

    He insists there is no top candidate. He also says, in an important development, he would go somewhere for less than a max deal. There is also no potential destination that meets every need. One team can offer the most, by about $22 million, except that's the team where he is frustrated by the lack of opportunities in the offense. One city cannot only hand over a black check but also give him the chance to dictate another major free agent he would like to play with, but it's a cold-weather city and, all other things being equal, he likes warmth. Another can make him a starter for an immediate championship contender, except if he was concerned about not getting enough touches in Los Angeles, try playing alongside Tim Duncan.

    He won't be the best unrestricted free agent. But he is heading toward being the best long-term investment who will be available, given that most teams don't expect Duncan, Jason Kidd or Jermaine O'Neal to switch teams and that Gary Payton, while still a force, is 34. Olowokandi is 27 and developing into an impact center as competition at the position fades. So he will have options.

    No wonder he went on the injured list with a strained imagination, no matter what the Clippers called it. So many possibilties -- just with the one right in front of him seeming the most distant.

    Scott Howard-Cooper, who covers the NBA for the Sacramento Bee, is a regular contributor to

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