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Hornets General Manager Jeff Bower continues to say discussions are ongoing between the team and several targeted free agents.

Meanwhile, 15 of the 16 teams that made the playoffs last season have extended an offer sheet to a restricted free agent, made a trade, kept a key player they could have lost in free agency, or signed an unrestricted free agent.

The Hornets , who were eliminated in the first round by the Denver Nuggets after advancing to the second round in 2008, are the only playoff team that has not pushed in with the same urgency since the free-agent signing period began July 8, and the only team with no signings.

The Hornets' lack of activity could be a result of the the prospect of having to pay the luxury-tax penalty next summer for the first time in franchise history. The Hornets have the NBA's fourth-highest payroll at $78.6 million. Agents for free agents Brandon Bass and Jannero Pargo, who both expressed interest in returning to the team before signing with other teams, said Bower told them the Hornets had things to work out on their roster before an offer could be extended.

Pargo signed a one-year, $2 million deal with Chicago. Bass signed a four-year, $18 million contract with the Orlando Magic.

It appears the Hornets have decided to let the market price develop on their targeted players before extending an offer. They also have been in discussions over complicated sign-and-trade offers with teams under the salary cap, so they could send one of their existing players in a trade that could help trim payroll, according to league sources.

"The one thing that's different this summer is when teams look at that now, you can't automatically assume the same gross that we've all operated under over the last five years," Bower said. "It is a tighter window for all the teams."

But Bower said they remain in the middle of discussions that are at varying stages and they remain committed to finding ways to improve the team.

"Sometimes, it's slow like this is, but we're trying to do things that are very difficult and complicated," Bower said. "Because of that, it takes longer and more steps to work through to reach completion."

With the luxury tax threshold set at $69.5 million this upcoming season, all teams appear to be more cautious spenders than at this time last summer, when the luxury tax was $71.1 million. Even the New York Knicks, who led the league with the highest payroll at $96.1 million in 2007-08, has trimmed their payroll to $73.8 million.

But having a payroll above the luxury tax threshold did not hinder Utah ($84.6 million payroll), San Antonio ($76.9 million), Denver ($72 million), Dallas ($69.6) or the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers ($84.6) from making free-agent moves.

The Spurs, eliminated in the first round by Dallas last season, acquired Richard Jefferson in a trade with the Milwaukee Bucks, signed free agent Antonio McDyess and reached a one-year deal with free agent Theo Ratliff.

Utah, tied for the league's highest payroll with the Lakers, matched Portland's four-year offer sheet to retain power forward Paul Millsap.

The Lakers won the NBA championship in June against Orlando, but signed free agent Ron Artest this month to improve their frontcourt.

Dallas re-signed Jason Kidd, along with obtaining Shawn Marion. The Mavericks signed Orlando Magic restricted free agent center Marcin Gortat to a five-year, $34 million offer sheet, but the Magic matched it to retain him.

Even the Sacramento Kings, who finished last in attendance and had the league's worst record at 17-65, signed free agent Sean May to a one-year contract last week. Eleven of the 14 lottery teams which did not make the playoffs last season have made at least one roster move this offseason.

Toronto won 33 games and did not make the playoffs last season, but they have been one of the more active teams, acquiring Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu in a sign-and-trade after extending him a five-year, $53 million deal. The Raptors also acquired forwards Devean George and Antonio Wright from the Mavericks for Kris Humphries, Nathan Jawai and Marion.

"I think people have looked at this free agency offseason and have said, 'Why are the Hornets being so quiet?" So it means that they can't (sign anyone)," Hornets President Hugh Weber said. "But that's not true. We said at the end of the season that we weren't going to aggressively seek these big free-agent prospects. We were going to try to develop what we have and find the pieces that work.

"All the free agents that were out there, we looked at what they were potentially trying to get in their contracts. We just haven't seen anything that fits where we're going."

Bower declined to identify the free agents the Hornets are pursuing. But the team has contacted Boston Celtics restricted free agent Glen Davis, Sacramento restricted free agent Ike Diogu, Cleveland unrestricted free agent Joe Smith and San Antonio unrestricted free agent Drew Gooden, according to league sources.

"I think it's our job to have a complete and thorough understanding of who we are, what we want to accomplish and who our competition is," Bower said. "We can't react to emotional things with emotion. We are on course to improve our team, and we're in that process right now. We all want it to happen yesterday, but we continue to work through every favorable and positive situation, and we'll continue doing that until we start training camp."

However, virtually no team in the NBA is standing pat or relying only on existing talent. In the Eastern Conference, Boston, Cleveland, Orlando and Miami are all above the luxury-tax threshold but have made moves to improve.

Bower said he is confident in the Hornets' talent, which includes All-Stars Chris Paul and David West, center Tyson Chandler and forward Peja Stojakovic, the latter two both slowed by injuries last season. Bower anticipates first-round draft pick Darren Collison and rookie and former LSU guard Marcus Thornton will help the bench, along with third-year player Julian Wright, who was productive in summer-league play but struggled last season.

"I feel very good about them," Bower said. "They are a group that when together have demonstrated that record of being successful and effective. I feel very good so far about our draft picks and the impact they will have with our depth on the second unit.

"I feel good about Julian's progress this summer and about the health of our players. So all of these things cannot be overlooked. The makeup of this group is something that's strong, but we continue to look for ways to add to it."

Another tough battle is expected in the Southwest Division. San Antonio and Dallas have been aggressive in the offseason and appear to be the frontrunners.

"I don't think you can panic, we haven't panicked yet," Hornets Coach Byron Scott said. "The natural tendency for most people is to panic, because we haven't signed anyone."

"I watch and hear everything going on and San Antonio has got much better with the additions of McDyess and Jefferson. The Lakers have added Ron Artest. Dallas has made moves. But we're going to get some things done and make this thing work. We're going to get some guys we know who can come in here and help us. That's the bottom line."

. . . . . . .

John Reid can be reached at jreid@timespicayune.com or at 504.826-3407.

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: July 27, 2009


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