As the superstars take the holiday to think, real free agent fireworks could come next weekBy Brian Mahoney, AP
Sunday, July 4, 2010
NBA’s free agent fireworks could come next week
NEW YORK — From Cleveland to Chicago, South Florida to the New York area, it was a mostly quiet Fourth of July in the NBA.
The real fireworks could come next week.
With LeBron James and other big names taking time to ponder their futures, the free-agent market was in many ways on hold for the holiday — though Joe Johnson did agree to a maximum contract to stay in Atlanta.
Once the others reach their conclusions, things will start to heat up again.
“I’m sure everyone is ready to get a decision going,” Dwyane Wade told Chicago’s NBC-Channel 5.
Wade said he planned to use the weekend to think after meeting twice with the Bulls, plus getting visits from the Knicks and Nets. He’s scheduled to be at a charity function outside Miami on Tuesday, but it would be surprising if he used that event to announce his plans, because it’s believed he will not have had his formal sitdown with Heat present Pat Riley until later in the week.
James was expected to spend the holiday relaxing at his Bath, Ohio, home with family and friends. It was a chance to catch his breath after a whirlwind three days during which six teams gave him reasons why he should continue his career wearing a new No. 6 jersey in their colors.
The Knicks talked to representatives for James for the second time on Saturday in Ohio, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting who spoke Sunday night on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. Senior vice president Glen Grunwald and MSG Sports president Scott O’Neil represented the team, and James did not attend the chat.
The importance of the second meeting was unclear. The Knicks, who made a formal presentation to James on Thursday, may have been providing an update on their pursuit of free-agent forward Amare Stoudemire, or just trying to further gauge James’ interest.
The New York Daily News was the first to report Saturday’s meeting.
Messages were left seeking comment from James’ agent, Leon Rose, and his manager, Maverick Carter.
Not surprisingly, the Cavaliers’ pitch focused on his allegiance and loyalty to home, and included a video presentation that included highlights from James’ seven seasons in Cleveland and testimonials from fans asking him to stay in Northeast Ohio. The team posted a portion of the video on its website on Sunday.
Beyond his decision, James has a busy week ahead. He is hosting a Nike camp at the University of Akron, where he recently accepted his second straight MVP award and was honored by the city with a day of appreciation in an outdoor event at the school’s football stadium.
It’s possible James could announce his decision in his hometown during or following the camp, which will feature some of the nation’s top high school players.
Besides the Cavs, the other teams anticipating word from James are Chicago, Miami, New Jersey, New York and the Los Angeles Clippers. Some of them spent the past two seasons clearing around $30 million of salary cap space so they could afford to sign James and another marquee free agent.
Now they’re asking him to walk away from $30 million, roughly the difference between a six-year deal to stay in Cleveland and the five-year contract the competitors can offer him under the collective bargaining agreement.
The messages on lebronjames.com are simple: “Getting closer” and “You’ll be the first to know.”
The teams aren’t the only ones waiting.
Players such as Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer, who in some years might be the best free agents available, are in a holding pattern while James, Wade and Chris Bosh, considered the head of the class, come to their decisions.
“My guys are simply taking a step back and evaluating all of the info that they received over the past few days,” Henry Thomas, the agent for Wade and Bosh, wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
Stoudemire arrived in New York on Saturday and was scheduled to meet with the Knicks on Monday. They’ve discussed a deal that would pay the All-Star power forward nearly $100 million over five years to reunite with former Phoenix coach Mike D’Antoni, but the Knicks may be hesitant to finalize things since they believe they’re still in the running for the top three.
There has been some action since this highly awaited free agency period opened on Thursday. Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki are staying right where they were expected to, agreeing to multiyear deals to remain in Boston and Dallas, respectively.
Rudy Gay will get around $80 million to continue his career in Memphis and some lesser players hit it big, with Drew Gooden (Milwaukee) and Amir Johnson (Toronto) getting multiyear deals for more than $30 million. Darko Milicic will get at least half that to stay with the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are among the teams who have talked to the Knicks’ David Lee.
The Heat have been busy trying to build a team around Wade — and they hope James and/or Bosh. They visited Dallas center Brendan Haywood before returning to Miami.
But the focus remains on the guys who haven’t signed — just as it’s been for nearly four years. James, Wade and Bosh designed contracts in 2006 that gave them the option to become free agents this summer, creating more hype for their courtship than some real sporting events could ever dream of.
There have been daily updates from the streets of Cleveland, where James hosted his suitors. Cameras have followed around Wade and Bosh, who have taken to Twitter to update fans of their free agency pursuits.
After all that buildup, the end is finally in sight.
“It’s been a little bit more than we expected I believe,” Wade said in the TV interview. “We knew a couple of years ago when we signed these deals it would be something totally different, that the free agency world or the sports world haven’t seen when you’ve got these kind of players up at the same time.
“We’ve enjoyed it, but at the same time we’re ready to hopefully get to a decision real soon and get this behind.”
AP Sports Writers Tom Withers in Cleveland and Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.
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