- The Washington Times - Monday, July 3, 2006

The NBA’s jackpot portion of the offseason has commenced in earnest, with Peja Stojakovic rushing into the arms of the displaced Hornets.

His fleeing no doubt came as a shock to Larry Bird, who ends up with squat after landing Stojakovic in exchange for Ron Artest last season.

This is no way to build a championship-contending team, and Stojakovic’s departure is the bookend to the Motown melee that initiated the decline of the Pacers.

The Birdman has come up on uncertain times, equal to those being experienced by Danny Ainge in Boston and Kevin McHale in Minnesota.

The three former teammates are a long way from their championship days with the Celtics, with no easy solutions before them.

Ainge has not given up on acquiring the services of the Answer, even if we still do not know the question after all these years.

More free agent surprises are expected, notably the possible exit of Ben Wallace, who was no fan of Pistons coach Flip Saunders.

Wallace is a defensive specialist who is nearly 32 years old. His age is the wrinkle to any long-term deal. If Joe Dumars is able to ink Wallace to a five- or six-year contract, he will limit his personnel forays in the future and be stuck with a player whose contract is not in line with his declining productivity.

Yet if Wallace goes now, the Pistons no longer will be an elite team. This is a tough call, and it is not necessarily a call left to Dumars.

It takes an accountant to know which deals can be consummated at this time of the year.

The rumor mill is fraught with potential transactions, many of which never will be completed because of the salary numbers.

Larry Harris is interested in trading Jamaal Magloire, possibly to the Wizards, if the Wizards can part with the proper assets that would satisfy the Bucks.

Magloire is a one-time All-Star who possesses several of the defensive traits found lacking in the Wizards. He has a genuine presence near the basket and an inclination to be physical.

The Bucks want to unload Magloire in order to facilitate the growth of Australian Andrew Bogut, who promises he is no Luc Longley.

The principal order of business before the Wizards is retaining the services of Jared Jeffries, who is drawing interest because of his height and versatility on defense.

An NBA writer on ESPN.com rates Jeffries the ninth-best free agent in this class, which seems overly kind but undoubtedly useful to the player’s representative.

The Wizards know all too well how free agency can blow up the best-laid plans, as was the case with Larry Hughes last season. Unlike Hughes, though, Jeffries is a restricted free agent.

The Wizards can match the best offer put to Jeffries, assuming the offer is fiscally sensible. That is the rub, of course. Teams do not always act financially responsibly, and that list goes beyond the Isiah Thomas-drained Knicks.

Thomas is said to be one of the parties interested in Jeffries, which adds to the entertaining goings-on with the Knicks.

Thomas likes bad contracts, has an ownership willing to pay an unimaginable amount of luxury tax, still has to resolve the contract of Larry Brown and is coming off a draft in which the collective response to his first pick was, “Huh.”

The players stick to a well-worn template at this time of the summer, which is: “It is a business, and I had to do what was best for me and my family.”

It is hard to find fault with the venue-changing players because most Americans would go to the highest bidder and consider the working conditions later.

Hughes certainly liked the Cavaliers’ money but struggled with their working conditions.

Jason Terry turns out to be an exception, staying put in Dallas because of the working conditions.

His agent termed it a “hometown discount.”

Those discounts are incredibly rare in the NBA.

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