The Milwaukee Bucks engineered a three-team trade that clears the way for them to sign free agent Anthony Mason, a move that could tilt the balance of power in the NBA's Eastern Conference.
Milwaukee traded Scott Williams and a first-round draft choice to Denver on Monday night for Aleksandar Radojevic and Kevin Willis. Willis was then traded to Houston for the Rockets' second-round draft pick in 2002.
The Bucks now have enough salary cap flexibility to give Mason, an All-Star last season for the Miami Heat, a substantial contract. Mason and his agent, Don Cronson, had been asking for a four-year deal worth about $20 million.
``I like Mason with my three shooters and Tim Thomas as the sixth man. I think that's a dynamite team,'' Bucks coach George Karl said Tuesday. ``We need some toughness and leadership. We've been too much of a finesse team. When you're in one of those wars, I think Anthony Mason will help us tremendously.''
Karl said he had spoken late Monday night with general manager Ernie Grunfeld, who indicated the team was close to completing a deal with Mason. Cronson did not immediately return a phone call.
Milwaukee made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals last season but lost to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Bucks won 52 games to finish first in the Central Division, but their lack of a scoring threat at power forward and center was a considerable weakness.
Mason, who averaged 16.1 points and 9.6 rebounds last season, played just one season in Miami after spending four seasons in Charlotte and five in New York. His strengths are rebounding, ballhandling, scoring and toughness.
``If you listed our top five weaknesses last season, toughness and rebounding would be in there,'' Karl said.
Mason gives the Bucks a fifth offensive threat, joining Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson, Sam Cassell and Thomas.
The trade also filled needs for the Nuggets and Rockets. Denver will use Williams, an 11-year veteran, at power forward in place of Antonio McDyess, who is out until January after knee surgery.
The 6-foot-10 Williams averaged 6.1 points and 5.5 rebounds in 66 games last season, his second with Milwaukee. He scored 11 points in the Bucks' 107-100 win over Denver on Monday night.
Willis will play center for the Rockets, who have been trying to replace Hakeem Olajuwon. The Rockets lost out last week on free agent center Marc Jackson when Golden State matched Houston's offer to the restricted free agent.
Willis, a 17-year veteran who averaged 9.3 points and 6.8 rebounds for the Nuggets and Raptors last season, played for the Rockets for two seasons from 1996-98.
Radojevic, a 7-3 center from Yugoslavia, had back surgery last season and has played in only three games in his two NBA seasons. He was Toronto's first-round pick (12th overall) in 1999.