Seattle or Dallas?
That's the not-so-simple choice Rashard Lewis must decide upon since returning home to Houston after a two-day recruiting visit with the Dallas Mavericks that included a raucous greeting by fans, dinner with team executives and a helicopter tour of the city.
A few days ago, his agents said they likely would take additional trips after leaving Dallas, but the Chicago Bulls apparently have dropped out of the running, and Lewis appears to have ended his long-time infatuation with the Houston Rockets.
"It's probably going to be between Seattle and Dallas," he told the Dallas Morning News. "The Mavericks have a real chance just because of the way they treated me and my family. Everything was first class."
Sonics General Manager Rick Sund said Seattle would have difficulty countering the Mavericks' recruiting trip.
"Recruitment for us takes place during the season when we're talking to him and where he knows the direction we're going in," he said. "In terms of we taking him to The Met (The Metropolitan Grill), we've already taken him to The Met.
"Are we going to take him to the top of the Space Needle? No. We're not going to do that. From a recruiting standpoint, it's always easier when a team brings in a free agent because they are able to wine and dine him and show him things he hasn't seen before."
The Sonics offered Lewis a seven-year contract offer that could be worth as much as $70 million. The Mavericks' best counteroffer is a three-year, $15 million deal, which would allow Lewis to obtain his "Larry Bird" rights in 2005 and re-sign with Dallas for a maximum contract regardless of salary-cap restrictions.
League rules prohibit teams from promising future contracts, but Mavs owner Mark Cuban has a history of taking care of his players. Should Lewis choose Dallas, he could re-sign for a seven-year deal that starts at $11 million and collect about $130 million after 10 years with the Mavs.
The Sonics are telling Lewis that if he accepts their deal, then the 22-year-old would be young enough for another big payday once he turns 29.
On the court, Dallas offers the versatile small forward an immediate chance at an NBA title should he join a lineup that includes guards Steve Nash and Michael Finley, forward Dirk Nowitzki and center Raef LaFrentz.
"I'd take on the Western Conference All-Stars and feel confident," Cuban told reporters in Dallas last week.
Seattle is selling Nate McMillan and hoping Lewis' close relationship with the Sonics' coach is enough to ensure his return. Seattle management also is highlighting the chance for Lewis to be the focal point and future leader of a young corps that includes guard Desmond Mason, forward Vladimir Radmanovic and center Jerome James.
Since making their initial offer to Lewis on Monday, the Sonics have not had serious negotiations with Lewis' agents, Carl and Kevin Poston.
During an interview with a local sports radio show, Lewis backed away from earlier demands for a maximum contract of $102 million and said he was unimpressed by the Sonics' offer. He said the Sonics haven't reciprocated the loyalty he gave two years ago when he re-signed with Seattle and declined a six-year, $46 million offer from Toronto.
Lewis reportedly seeks a seven-year, $90 million deal and those familiar with the contract talks believe he has a desire to top the $86.7 million contract that the Sonics gave Vin Baker in 1999.
Statistically, Lewis has averaged more points, rebounds and assists, while playing more games and minutes over the past two seasons. Baker, however, was a four-time All-Star when he signed his big-money deal and Lewis has never been selected to the game.
His résumé may not be deserving of a $10 million-per-year deal, but the Sonics — and Mavericks — are banking on the potential of the fifth-year veteran who was drafted in the second round of the 1998 draft.
"We've invested a lot in these young guys like Rashard, Desmond, Earl (Watson) and Radmanovic," McMillan said. "And we'd like to keep them, develop them and build with them."
Neither the Mavericks nor the Sonics are sure which way Lewis is leaning.
"It's still a longshot," Cuban said. "But it's a better shot than before he came here."
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org.