Big names, big bucks and big markets in pursuit.
NBA free agency opened with Anthony Davis agreeing and Kawhi Leonard agreeing to max contract extensions to stay where they are, and the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks among the teams looking for a dominant inside force of their own.
All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge of Portland and Marc Gasol of Memphis lead the list of bigs that includes DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers, Tyson Chandler of Dallas, and twins Brook Lopez of the Nets and Robin Lopez of Portland.
Dwyane Wade has to decide if he wants to stay in Miami, Rajon Rondo will leave Dallas, and count on the Lakers being linked to many of the marquee names as they try to bring what was long a perennial contender back to prominence after two straight miserable seasons.
The market opened just after midnight EDT on Wednesday — 9:01 p.m. in Los Angeles — and the Lakers wasted no time talking to their top target, tweeting that general manager Mitch Kupchak was walking into a meeting with Aldridge and adding # LAtoLA.
Gasol is expected to stay, Aldridge is considered a candidate to leave and Jordan is somewhere in the middle. He will meet with the Mavericks, Lakers, Clippers and Knicks, according to a person with direct knowledge of the plans who spoke on condition of anonymity because the center’s agenda was not being revealed publicly.
Players can agree to deals at any time but can’t sign until July 9, after a moratorium period while next season’s salary cap that’s expected to be around $68 million is set.
That’s when Davis will know the exact value of the more than $140 million extension with the New Orleans Pelicans he agreed to, which was confirmed to AP by a person with knowledge of the details. Davis tweeted: “NOLA, I am here to stay! Just getting started.”
Leonard agreed to the parameters of a five-year deal that could be worth $90 million with the San Antonio Spurs, a person with knowledge of the deal confirmed to AP. The deal is the latest sign that Leonard is poised to become the new face of the franchise, inheriting that designation from Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Leonard averaged 16.5 points this season and won the Defensive Player of the Year award and will accompany Duncan, coach Gregg Popovich and GM R.C. Buford to a meeting with Aldridge on Wednesday.
The Lakers and Knicks have holes all over their rosters, but it’s not just the bad teams who will be busy.
The Cleveland Cavaliers will try to keep Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, the backup who played so well in helping them reach the NBA Finals after Love was lost to a shoulder injury in the first round of the playoffs.
They also have to re-sign LeBron James, but that’s expected to be a formality once they’ve completed some other business. He opted for free agency mostly to maximize his earning potential, not because he’s looking to leave after returning home to Ohio as the major move of last year’s free agency period.
The Rockets and Mavericks will be aggressive as always, with Houston looking to strengthen its Western Conference finals team and Dallas trying to assemble one that can get there.
Both teams attempted to pry Carmelo Anthony away from New York last year before he opted to remain with the Knicks. This year the Knicks, with salary cap space that wasn’t available last year, are going on the offensive.
“I don’t think we could make any decisions until we knew that Carmelo was returning to our team,” coach Derek Fisher said. “This year we don’t have that concern in terms of contractually where he is. He’s with us.”
But he needs a lot more help and the Knicks have the ability to get it, with more than $25 million to spend. The priority is a big man, though they could use just about everything after a franchise-worst 17-65 season.
If they can’t get one of the centers, Detroit’s Greg Monroe and Indiana’s David West are quality power forwards on the market.
The Heat are trying to keep their backcourt together and hope to agree to a deal with Goran Dragic that could pay him $90 million or more. But all eyes in Miami are on Wade, who has met twice with Heat leadership in recent days to discuss his future, though it remains far from a cinch that he comes back to Miami for a 13th season. He will likely wait before deciding anything and see what offers come from other clubs, a list that could include the Lakers, Knicks and possibly the Atlanta Hawks — Wade’s wife, actress Gabrielle Union, often works in Atlanta.
The Hawks also will work to keep Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll, two keys to their team that won a franchise-record 60 games.
AP Basketball Writers Jon Krawczynski and Tim Reynolds, and AP sports writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.
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