Hornets get busy in free agent market

Published 10:55 pm Monday, July 3, 2006

The New Orleans Hornets made the first splash of the NBA’s free-agent signing period, agreeing to terms Saturday with three-time All-Star Peja Stojakovic.

Stojakovic, who last week opted to become a free agent instead of continue playing for Indiana, will sign a five-year deal worth about $64 million with the Hornets, said his agent, David Bauman.

Bauman said Stojakovic will sign as soon as the NBA’s moratorium ends next week. NBA teams were allowed to begin negotiating with free agents on Saturday but cannot officially sign players until July 12.

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“The Hornets are setting their cap room aside for Peja, and Peja is taking himself off the market,” Bauman said.

Stojakovic is one of the league’s most prolific outside shooters, having hit 40 percent from 3-point range over his eight-year career. He and Seattle’s Ray Allen are the only two NBA players to make at least 100 3-pointers in each of the past seven seasons.

Hornets general manager Jeff Bower was the first executive to call about Stojakovic after the negotiating period opened, Bauman said.

“The nature of NBA free agency is such that the faster you move, the faster you get what you want,” Bauman said.

Bower, in a statement, confirmed that the Hornets intend to sign Stojakovic once the NBA-mandated moratorium ends. He declined further comment, citing league rules.

After playing his first seven seasons with Sacramento, the Kings dealt Stojakovic to Indiana in a midseason trade for Ron Artest. He averaged 19.5 points and shot 46 percent from the field in 40 games with the Pacers but then missed four of Indiana’s six playoff games against the New Jersey Nets with a right knee injury. The Pacers lost each game he didn’t play.

Prior to his trade, Stojakovic missed nine games with a variety of injuries including a protruding disc in his lower back, a sprained right pinkie finger and a strained groin.

Bauman said the Pacers had set Stojakovic up with a physical therapist to help him in Greece over the summer. The deal is contingent on Stojakovic passing a physical.

Stojakovic hasn’t had swelling or pain in his right knee for the past month, and has been running, biking and doing “typical stuff on a beach,” Bauman said. “He’s not playing basketball. He’s resting his body. His health is 100 percent.”

Stojakovic, 29, opted out of the final year of his six-year contract in hopes of getting a long-term deal and a bump in salary. He had been due to earn $8.125 million next season. He joins a Hornets team that had a 20-win turnaround and stayed in the Western Conference playoff race until the final week of the season before finishing 38-44.

“This was not just a money deal. He chose this deal because he thinks the team has a chance to win,” Bauman said.

Stojakovic has averaged 18.4 points and 5.1 rebounds for his career.