The Detroit Pistons acted quickly to remake the former championship contender by agreeing to five-year contracts with Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva on Wednesday, a person with knowledge of the negotiations said.
Those were the first big moves of the NBA’s free agency period, which began just after midnight. Detroit, thanks to the Chauncey Billups-Allen Iverson trade, is one of the few teams with significant salary cap space this summer.
Gordon and Villanueva are former University of Connecticut teammates who will remain in the Central Division. Gordon was Chicago’s leading scorer and Villanueva played for Milwaukee.
Jason Kidd also seems in high demand, meeting with two suitors.
So does Polish center Marcin Gortat, who could land an offer to be Kidd’s teammate.
And Ron Artest might be able to swap Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady for LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal.
Artest’s agent, David Bauman, said his client would like to remain in Houston, but also will consider a team’s championship potential. Artest is the only healthy member of the Rockets’ trio of stars, with Yao and McGrady both injured and perhaps out for at least the early part of next season.
In that case, he may be willing to listen to a pitch from another title hopeful.
“All the superstars are very savvy and great recruiters,” Bauman said. “The superstars are sometimes even better recruiters than the general managers or their staffs. Between Kobe [Bryant] and Ron or LeBron and Ron, there are always conversations that occur. I think I’ll just leave it at that at this point.”
Kidd listened to pitches from the Dallas Mavericks and New York Knicks on Wednesday. The Mavericks can offer significantly more money to their point guard, and owner Mark Cuban showed his interest by flying to New York to meet with Kidd before the Knicks did.
Later, Cuban wrote in an e-mail that the get-together “went well, I was really happy how it turned out.”
The Knicks said they didn’t make an offer to Kidd. New York is also trying to retain its free agents, David Lee and Nate Robinson, but won’t spend too much because it wants to maintain enough salary cap space to be a major player next year.
NBA finalists the Orlando Magic are bracing for the loss of two key players. Hedo Turkoglu, one of the top free agents available, was due to be in Portland yesterday to meet with the Trail Blazers, agent Lon Babby said.
Teams are interested in Gortat, who backed up All-Star Dwight Howard. Houston general manager Daryl Morey met with Gortat minutes after free agency opened, and urged Rockets fans on Facebook and Twitter to leave notes for Gortat at an e-mail address.