James gets visitors, and Gay gets a big contract
AP Basketball Writer
While LeBron James listened to reasons why he should leave his team, Rudy Gay was given a huge reason to stay.
The first big deal of the free agency period went to Gay, who agreed to a five-year deal with the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday that will pay him more than $80 million, according to a person with knowledge of the negotiations.
While not on the top level of players available, Gay was expected to draw interest from a number of teams. He canceled a planned visit to Minnesota when the Grizzlies stepped forward with their offer.
The most noteworthy development on the first full day of free agency didn’t involve a player. The Los Angeles Lakers announced that Phil Jackson would return for a run at a third straight title and a 12th as an NBA coach.
“Count me in,” Jackson said in a news release. “After a couple weeks of deliberation, it is time to get back to the challenge of putting together a team that can defend its title in the 2010-11 season. It’ll be the last stand for me, and I hope a grand one.”
James received visits in Cleveland from the New Jersey Nets and New York Knicks, and he’s set for more in the coming days before deciding where he will play next season.
In the meantime, deals are getting done around him.
Darko Milicic – drafted right after James with the No. 2 pick in the 2003 draft – agreed to a four-year deal with the Timberwolves. It includes about $16 million in guaranteed money, despite what’s been a disappointing career for the center from Serbia.
Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade also went in the top five of that draft. They’ve become superstars and will be paid accordingly.
Both players were in Chicago, where Wade met with the Bulls and Nets, while Bosh was visited by Miami and the Nets. They will sit down with Knicks officials on Friday.
Bosh seemed pleased with what he heard from the Heat.
“Off to a great start,” he wrote on Twitter. “First one went well. Pat Riley is very passionate about winning.”
After years of slashing payroll so it could be a player in this year’s market, New York finally got to make its pitch to James. Arriving just as the Nets left, the Knicks spent more than two hours speaking with James and his advisers.
“I think it went well,” New York coach Mike D’Antoni said. “But obviously everyone that gets the chance to talk to him will probably say the same thing.”
The Nets felt even better about their performance, which came from a group headed by new owner Mikhail Prokhorov and part-owner Jay-Z, James’ longtime friend. A person briefed on the meeting was told it was “spectacular.”
“So far we have met with LeBron,” team president Rod Thorn said. “Told our story and we’ll see what happens.”
The Heat, Bulls, Los Angeles Clippers and the Cavaliers also are expected to meet with James before the end of the week.
While James, Wade and Bosh wait, the next big deal could go to Joe Johnson. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Wednesday that Atlanta was prepared to offer a maximum-value contract to its All-Star guard, who also met with New York and Miami after free agency opened Thursday.
Other top names in the class, considered the deepest free agent pool ever, include Amare Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki and Carlos Boozer.
But the news came from lesser players, such as the five-year, $32 million contract Drew Gooden agreed to with the Milwaukee Bucks, and the $34 million, five-year pact Amir Johnson got to stay with Toronto.
Deals can’t be signed until July 8. There is a moratorium period while the salary cap for next season is determined.
AP Sports Writers Tom Canavan in East Rutherford, N.J., and Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis, contributed.