Kobe slowing down the process?

Updated: July 5, 2004, 10:14 AM ET
By Chad Ford | ESPN Insider
General managers, start your engines.

After spending the last month playing poker with cap space, teams finally got to put their cards on the table at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

The free-agent wooing period is upon us. Teams can negotiate with, but not officially sign, free agents from now until July 14. If this year holds form, most of the major deals will be complete before the player movement moratorium is up.

With precious few elite free agents on the open market, and with so many teams having cap room this year, teams -- and free agents -- won't have a lot of time to kick things around.

The prize is Kobe Bryant, but even he won't be afforded a long exploratory period.

Bryant has claimed he'd like to take time deciding where to go in free agency. As talented as he is, no one's going to give it to him. Teams like the Suns, Spurs and Clippers are going to want to know within the next week or two what he's going to do.

Every team wooing Kobe will offer a max contract. Under league rules, no can offer more. The Lakers, too, are offering Kobe the max. Kobe and his agent have known this for months. Free-agent visits have become a staple of every star free-agency bid, but why? Kobe's been in the league long enough to know what the Spurs' and Suns' locker room looks like. He's spent time in each city. He knows the players on every roster.

So what's the holdup? If Kobe insists on waiting around, he may find that the Suns', Spurs' and Clippers' big offers will disappear.

Chad Ford

ESPN Senior Writer