The NBA's Free Agency Merry-Go-Round Begins: Day One

Paul PeszkoSenior Writer IJuly 2, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 17:  Trevor Ariza #3  waves to the crowd from the top of a double decker bus at the start of Los Angeles Lakers NBA championship victory parade outside the Staples Center on June 17, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

"Knock! Knock!"

"Who’s there?"

"Danny Ainge."

"It’s 12:01 A.M. Can’t this wait 'til morning?"

And so it began. Day One of the NBA’s latest round of free agency.

Danny Ainge shows up at Rasheed Wallace’s door to lure him to Boston. In New York, Mark Cuban met at the midnight hour with Jason Kidd and his agent to hopefully keep him in Dallas with a three-year contract.

Elsewhere at the bewitching hour, GM Daryl Morey of the bewitched Houston Rockets showed up at Marcin Gortat’s door in Orlando.

A few hours later, when the freeways started to clog and commuters crowded onto buses, trains and subways, NBA executives were already fast at work attempting to either grab one of this year’s crop of free agents or make a trade.

Even though free agency officially opened at 12:01 this morning, none of the deals can be signed until July 8 when the NBA’s newly revised luxury tax contract goes into effect. But here is what has taken place so far or is about to take place.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Detroit Pistons have nabbed not one, but two free agents. In a deal worth between $55-$60 million over five years, the Pistons have lured Ben Gordon away from the Chicago Bulls.

In another five-year deal reported by the Associated Press, this one worth $40 million, the Pistons will sign Charlie Villanueva after the Milwaukee Bucks decided that they could not afford to re-sign the 24 year-old, 6'11" power forward.

Detroit had money to spend with the expiring contracts of Rasheed Wallace and Allen Iverson. Currently without a head coach, Joe Dumars, the Pistons GM, said he should have a replacement for Michael Curry, fired last week, by sometime next week.

But Dumars’ short list got even shorter when TNT basketball analyst and former Sixers player and coach, Doug Collins scratched his name from Dumars’ list.

My guess is that the job will go to Bill Laimbeer, who resigned as head coach of the Detroit Shock on the eve of its new WNBA season. The other name that keeps popping up is another television analyst and former Dallas head coach, Avery Johnson.

We also have a trade announced today as reported by the Los Angeles Times. The Clippers, who drafted the NBA’s No. 1 pick, Blake Griffin, made room for Griffin in their starting lineup by trading Zach Randolph to the Memphis Grizzlies for Quentin Richardson.

The Grizzlies acquired Richardson on draft night in a trade with the Knicks for Darko Milicic. The Clippers acquired Randolph from the Knicks at the start of last season to replace longtime Clipper, Elton Brand, who signed with the Sixers.

Also, in Los Angeles, sources are saying that Trevor Ariza feels insulted by the Lakers offer of mid-level exemption money, $5.6 million, and the team’s refusal to go any higher. Five teams are supposedly pursuing Ariza including the Cavaliers, Clippers, Rockets, Raptors, and Blazers.

Although Cleveland, like the Lakers, can only offer Ariza the mid-level exemption, both Toronto and Portland could offer more for the 24-year-old forward who is a lockdown defender and has tremendous upside potential on offense—if he plays in the right system.

If Ariza does choose to take one of the other offers, that means two things.

First, the Lakers have definitely decided to keep Lamar Odom, and second, Ron Artest may change his mind about remaining in Houston and take the mid-level exemption that Mitch Kupchak offered Ariza.

Portland may not be an option for Ariza if the Blazers sign Hedo Turkoglu. The Orlando Magic forward is looking to increase his salary to around $10 million a year over five years. Portland’s cap space is between $8-10 million.

Unless the Blazers, in a fairly small market, are willing to pay the luxury tax, they will only be able to offer Ariza the mid-level exemption.

Besides trying to re-sign Jason Kidd, the Mavericks are also interested in another Orlando unrestricted free agent, reserve center Marcin Gortat. But they will have to outbid the Houston Rockets who have a desperate need for a big man since injured All-Star center Yao Ming is not expected to play this season.

After meeting with Houston just after midnight, the Mavericks were expected to meet with Gortat and his agent later in the day.

Some other names involved in free agency: the Nuggets are expected to re-sign Chris "Birdman" Anderson; Grant Hill will probably remain in Phoenix if Steve Nash signs a contract extension; trade rumors targeting the Sun’s Amare Stoudemire and the Warriors have died down; the Oklahoma City Thunder are getting set to offer restricted free agent, Paul Millsap a lucrative deal since Utah is already $3 million into the luxury tax with Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, and Mehmet Okur refusing to opt out of their contracts.