Opening night of NBA free agency did not disappoint, with the New Orleans Pelicans’Anthony Davis landing the biggest payday of them all with his $145 million extension and so many others inching toward one of their own.
Here’s where things stand heading into Day Two…
The Los Angeles Lakers are in the game for LaMarcus Aldridge even after their Tuesday night meeting with him, which is an accomplishment in and of itself. There was a time recently when it seemed like the “LA to LA” idea was nothing more than a hollow marketing play, as Aldridge had told local Portland media that he wanted to be back with the Trail Blazers and the basketball world believed him.
Now, however, he has completed the first night of his uncertain free agency future. Two people in attendance in the Lakers Los Angeles meeting gave positive feedback, which is always tough to gauge the meaning of this time of year. Kobe Bryant took part in this meeting, as did Lakers president and governor Jeanie Buss, general manager Mitch Kupchak, vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss, assistant general manager Glenn Carraro, coach Byron Scott, senior vice president of finance Tim Harris, vice president of public relations John Black and officials from Time Warner and AEG.
Aldridge met with the Houston Rockets after the Lakers, and the tone from those involved afterward was similarly positive. The San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, Toronto Raptors, and New York Knicks remain on his schedule.
According to several Lakers beat writers, former Detroit Pistons big man Greg Monroe is up next with a Wednesday meeting with the Lakers in Washington D.C. The contingent, which is expected to include general manager Mitch Kupchak and coach Byron Scott, will then fly back to meet with former Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan.
As our Jeff Zillgitt wrote on Tuesday, the Lakers should not be overlooked in the Monroe sweepstakes. He was expected to sit down with the New York Knicks, Milwaukee Bucks, and Portland. A person with knowledge of the Bucks’ situation said their Monroe meeting took place on Tuesday night. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on condition of anonymity because that information had not been made public.
The Dallas Mavericks are not messing around, which comes as a surprise to exactly no one who was monitoring their activity in the weeks leading up to free agency. Owner Mark Cuban and the Mavericks have taken an extremely aggressive approach in their pursuit of the league’s top talent.
That continued on Tuesday night, when they held separate meetings with Jordan and free agent shooting guard Wesley Matthews in Los Angeles. No deals were done with either of their targets, but both are clearly in play. A person with knowledge of the Mavericks’ situation said that Dallas is hoping to give Matthews a deal that starts around $12 million, but he’s seeking a contract in the neighborhood of $15 million annually. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the discussions.
As for Jordan, he’s still expected to meet with the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, and the incumbent Clippers. As of late Tuesday night, however, there continued to be a significant level of concern from Clippers officials and players that Jordan might skip town. If that is how this unfolds, the much talked-about scenario in which the Clippers land free agent big man Tyson Chandler from the Mavericks in a sign-and-trade is a very real possibility.
That’s about as good a safety net as the Clippers are going to find in this situation, and the notion of point guard Chris Paul reuniting with his old New Orleans Hornets teammate would be good hoops theater, to be sure.
Speaking of the Clippers, they prioritized a push to land free agent small forward Wesley Johnson on Tuesday night and showed their hand in the process. For all the widespread assumptions that coach Doc Rivers would be able to convince veteran small forward Paul Pierce to take part in their Boston Celtics reunion, they clearly aren’t confident that he’ll take the kind of paycut necessary to make it a reality.
Pierce declined his $5.5 million option with the Washington Wizards to become a free agent, and could only come the Clippers’ way on the mini midlevel exception worth $3.37 million annually. The Wizards, meanwhile, entered free agency with approximately $32 million in committed pay (the salary cap is expected to be approximately $68 million) and clearly have the financial edge.
Johnson, the 27-year-old who spent the past two seasons starting with the hapless Lakers, is looking like their Plan B at the small forward spot. The vacancy was created in mid-July, when veteran Matt Barnes was traded to the Charlotte Hornets as part of the deal that brought shooting guard Lance Stephenson to the Clippers. Free agent guard Gerald Green is also known to be a Clippers target.
The Bucks are closing on a five-year, $70 million deal with restricted free agent guard Khris Middleton. The expected agreement, which was first reported by ESPN.com and confirmed by a person with knowledge of the situation to USA TODAY Sports, can’t be signed until the free agency moratorium ends on July 9.
The 23-year-old shooting guard was a key part of the Bucks’ surprising season, averaging 13.4 points per game (46.7% shooting overall and 40.7% from three-point range), 4.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. Milwaukee, in its first season under head coach Jason Kidd, went 41-41 in the regular season and fell to the Chicago Bulls in six games in the first round of the playoffs.
As expected, free agent point guard Goran Dragic focused on his future with the Miami Heat at the outset of free agency. The Heat were expected to offer Dragic a five-year deal worth approximately $80 million, but the two sides have not reached a verbal agreement just yet. They entered Wednesday with a plan to continue conversations in the morning.
The Sacramento Kings wasted no time in their pursuit of Rajon Rondo. According to a person with knowledge of Rondo’s situation, they were aggressive from the start and are hoping to have Rondo in for a visit to Sacramento soon to meet with top basketball executive Vlade Divac. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on condition of anonymity because visit hasn’t been made public.
As of late Tuesday night, it was unclear if the meeting would happen as the point guard was scheduled to discuss it on Wednesday morning with his representative, Bill Duffy of BDA Sports.
Rondo, whose time in Dallas last season after the midseason trade from Boston did such damage to his value, is known to be open to the idea of doing a one-year deal. Rondo’s thinking, either in Sacramento or elsewhere, would be to repair his reputation with a strong season before capitalizing on the rising salary cap next summer.
The Spurs, who will have to do some serious high-wire work with their roster to give Aldridge a maximum-salary deal, are well aware that they may lose free agent shooting guard Danny Green in the process.
According to a person with knowledge of his situation, the Detroit Pistons made the first call in pursuit of Green at the start of free agency and have significant interest. The Sacramento Kings are also known to be among his many suitors.
According to our Jeff Zillgitt, free agent shooting guard Monta Ellis will meet with Indiana Pacers officials on Wednesday. Ellis, the 29-year-old who averaged 18.9 points per game last season with the Dallas Mavericks, declined his $8.3 million player option to become a free agent.
The Pacers, meanwhile, must decide how much they’re willing to pay for a fellow scorer who has already done good work for them: free agent guard Rodney Stuckey. The 29-year-old averaged 12.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game for the injury-ravaged Pacers last season, shooting a career-high 44% from the field overall and a career-high 39% from three-point range. Stuckey is receiving significant interest from playoff-caliber teams.