|Friday, December 20
Olowokandi pondering his next move
By Scott Howard-Cooper
Special to ESPN.com
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.
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?
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 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 ESPN.com.