As the clock ticked down Monday toward the beginning of free agency at 12:01 a.m. this morning, the news trickling out wasn't necessarily good for the Sixers.

Monday, Antawn Jamison, Washington's big man, agreed to a contract extension with the Wizards and is now officially off the free-agent market.

Elton Brand, however, decided to opt out of the final year of his contract with the Los Angeles Clippers, a deal that would have paid him $16.4 million next season.

"We're opting out," Brand was reported as saying. "It definitely doesn't mean I'm leaving the Clippers. We're trying to work it out. My intention is to stay."

According to reports, Brand's agent, David Falk, said the power forward wants the Clippers to be able to put together a winning team, a la the Boston Celtics.

The move does leave the door open for the Sixers and Memphis, who have cap room. But if he truly desires to stay in L.A., and the Clippers convince Brand that they're serious about winning, the Sixers will have a tough sell.

Without Jamison on the market, and with Brand saying he'd prefer to stay in L.A., the list of possibilities for the Sixers, who have identified a big man as their biggest need, dwindles.

After Brand, the ranks of this year's unrestricted free agents are filled with names that aren't going to draw a lot of interest. There are some good ones out there - Corey Maggette, Gilbert Arenas, and Beno Udrih come immediately to mind. But they don't meet the Sixers' obvious need for a big body to bang in the middle.

Without Jamison and Brand, the unrestricted class of big men includes Kurt Thomas, who will be 36 in the fall, Kwame Brown and Jake Voskuhl, not exactly the impact players for which the Sixers are looking.

Which is unfortunate for the Sixers because for the first time in ages they're one of the few teams to have salary cap room - more than $11 million of room.

"When we did the trade for Kyle, everyone couldn't see what's going to happen because it didn't happen immediately," Sixers G.M. Ed Stefanski said. "Now, we got to see if we can do something. We traded a very nice basketball player to Utah, and now we got the young kids on the floor, and we can use that money on someone, and we have to see who that is. We're hoping it's someone good."

The restricted free agent class is better, but it's much more difficult to acquire a player that way because the team has the right to match any offers. You either end up overpaying and hope the team holding the right to match doesn't, or you work out a sign-and-trade.

Atlanta's Josh Smith is probably the most attractive restricted free agent, at least among big men, but Charlotte's Emeka Okafor is also in that category, as is Golden State's Andris Biedrins.

Smith isn't a back-to-the-basket player, but he's athletic as all get-out and averaged 17.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 2.8 blocks last season. He's also just 22.

Biedrins, 6-11, 230 pounds, is also 22. He averaged 10.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks last season for the Warriors.

Okafor, who will be 26 in the fall, averaged 13.8 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks last year, but from all reports, re-signing him is Charlotte's top priority.

The Sixers also have two restricted free agents in Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams, but only Memphis, and maybe the Clippers since Brand has opted out, have the money to go after Iguodala.

If the Sixers can't find a player they want in free agency, there's always the old fashioned way.

"As I say to people over and over again, don't forget we have a trade opportunity with that money, too," Stefanski said. "It doesn't have to be a free agent. Teams may want to trade into that."

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