Fri, Jul 02, 2010 - Page 18 News List

NBA: LeBron leads crop of NBA free agents

UNPRECEDENTED WOO-FEST New Jersey Nets president Rod Thorn said there had never been so many teams trying to sign so many big-time free agents as this week

AP , NEW YORK

The NBA’s free agency period has opened, with LeBron James leading perhaps the deepest group of players to ever hit the open market.

Teams could begin making their pitches yesterday, and some were getting started quickly.

Atlanta’s Joe Johnson was expecting early visits in Los Angeles from the Hawks and New York Knicks, with the Atlanta ­Journal-Constitution reporting that the Hawks were prepared to offer the All-Star shooting guard a maximum salary contract.

Things were to get interesting later in the day, when the New Jersey Nets and Knicks were scheduled for visits to Ohio to meet with James, the two-time MVP who heads the class.

It includes other All-Stars such as Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowitzki, Amare Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer; veterans such as Shaquille O’Neal and Ray Allen; and young up-and-comers such as Rudy Gay and David Lee.

“We’ve never had anything like this in my time that I can ­remember,” New Jersey Nets president Rod Thorn said. “There have been big-time free agents before, but never this many teams that are trying to woo them. So it’s unprecedented.”

It promised to be a wild first few days of the month, with plans changing several times an hour.

Teams were headed around the country to meet with players, though the Mavs were saved a long trip when Nowitzki informed them he would meet with them yesterday in Dallas — with the message arriving while president Donnie Nelson was at the airport preparing for a flight to Germany.

Showing they planned to be active, the Knicks confirmed on Twitter they would also meet with Wizards swingman Mike Miller in Los Angeles. However, they would do so without team president Donnie Walsh, who went directly to Ohio in preparation for yesterday’s meeting with James.

Pat Riley and a Miami Heat contingent also began their free agency tour in California, where teams were hoping to meet with Stoudemire.

Talk of James’ destination seems to change by the minute, considered a lock for Chicago in one report, then seemingly guaranteed to head to Miami in another. The rumor mill spun so out of control that an online sports book simply stopped taking action on James’ next team.

Bottom line: James can get perhaps US$125 million over six years by staying in Cleveland; US$96 million over five years if he goes. (The exact figures can’t be determined until next season’s salary cap is set this month). However, leaving could put him in a better position to win a championship.

Top players rarely leave via free agency because NBA rules allow their teams to offer them annual increases of 10.5 percent, while a new team can offer only 8 percent bumps. The home team can also offer six-year deals, whereas players joining new teams can get only five-year contracts.

However, fears have grown that owners would seek radical changes in the length and value of contracts next summer when the league’s collective bargaining agreement expires.

That made it wise for a player like Nowitzki, even if he has no intention of leaving Dallas, to exercise his early termination option now and sign a new deal under the current rules.

Deals can be agreed to, but can’t be signed until July 8.

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