Meet­ings of­fi­cially be­gin in the woo­ing of King James

John­son gets huge of­fer from Hawks; Gay lured by Griz­zlies from start

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS -

While LeBron James lis­tened to rea­sons Thurs­day for leav­ing his team, Joe John­son and Rudy Gay were given huge rea­sons to stay.

The At­lanta Hawks of­fered John­son, their all-star shoot­ing guard, a full, max­i­mum con­tract at the stag­ger­ing cost of $119.5 mil­lion over six years, ac­cord­ing to the At­lanta Jour­nal-Con­sti­tu­tion. John­son led the team in scor­ing last sea­son at 21.5 points per game.

Some in­sid­ers had spec­u­lated John­son had hurt his stock af­ter his aw­ful sec­on­dround play­off se­ries against the Or­lando Magic in May. Not so. The Mem­phis Griz­zlies re­port­edly reached a five-year, $80 mil­lion agree­ment with Gay, their de­vel­op­ing star for­ward who av­er­aged 19.6 points and 5.9 re­bounds.

It’s a big achieve­ment for the nor­mally cash-con­scious Griz­zlies, who made the of­fer to Gay be­fore the re­stricted free agent could sign an of­fer sheet from an­other team. Gay was ex­pected to draw in­ter­est from a half-dozen teams and im­me­di­ately can­celed a planned visit to Min­nesota.

A few other sur­pris­ing deals got done:

Power for­ward Drew Gooden agreed to a $32 mil­lion, five-year con­tract with the Mil­wau­kee Bucks.

See NBA, C

It’s a lot of money for a player who has bounced around more than a ping­pong ball in re­cent years. Gooden, who has played for seven teams, av­er­aged 10.9 points and 7.7 re­bounds last year, spend­ing part of the sea­son in Dal­las.

Dark Mili­cic found an­other taker, too. One of the all-time draft busts, the 7-foot cen­ter agreed to a $16 mil­lion, fouryear deal with Min­nesota. Mili­cic av­er­aged 6.7 points and 4.7 re­bounds in 2009-10. Mili­cic was cho­sen No. 2 in the 2003 draft — ahead of Carmelo An­thony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Mean­while, the James’ chase be­gan in earnest in Cleve­land, where the No. 1 free agent is en­ter­tain­ing his suit­ors for three days. As they made their exit, the New Jersey Nets passed the New York Knicks in the drive­way of the park­ing garage in down­town Cleve­land, where Cava­liers fans held signs beg­ging their king to stay.

Nets bil­lion­aire owner Mikhail Prokhorov, rap mogul Jay-Z, coach Avery John­son and other team of­fi­cials spent more than 90 min­utes mak­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion.

Prokhorov left with a few mem­bers of the Nets’ en­tourage at 12:43 p.m. Lag­ging a few min­utes be­hind them was Jay-Z, a friend of James’, who was sit­ting in the back seat of a black sedan leav­ing the garage as the Knicks’two sedans and two SUVs pulled in.

And so went the ini­tial hours of James’ courtship, which has turned into his per­sonal re­cruit­ment and has cap­ti­vated the sports world.

Nei­ther team was quite sure how it went.

“He didn’t give us much feed­back,’’ for­mer Knicks player Al­lan Hous­ton said.

The Mi­ami Heat and Los An­ge­les Clip­pers re­port­edly will meet with James to­day, with the Chicago Bulls and Cava­liers lined up for Satur­day.

Bosh and Wade were in Chicago, where Wade met with the Bulls and Nets, and Bosh was vis­ited by Mi­ami. They will sit down with Knicks of­fi­cials to­day.

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. No of­fers yet.”

The Hous­ton Rock­ets, who have no salary-cap room, con­sider them­selves a pos­si­bil­ity for Bosh and met with him in Dal­las just af­ter mid­night. The Rock­ets would have to sell all par­ties on a sign-and-trade with Toronto. Hous­ton does have a lot of mar­ketable play­ers un­der con­tract who could help in such a sce­nario.

Dirk Now­itzki did not meet with the Mav­er­icks, as ru­mored, but he is still widely ex­pected to re­main in Dal­las.

Other top free agents, such as Amare Stoudemire and Car­los Boozer, ap­par­ently are Plan B’s for sev­eral teams with the most money to spend.

Rudy Gay

Joe John­son

Harry E. Walker

Drew Gooden, who played for Dal­las part of last sea­son, agreed to a $32 mil­lion, five-year deal with the Bucks on Thurs­day.

Ja­son Miller

Jill Riegel­mayer of Cleve­land holds one of ap­prox­i­mately 20,000 signs that where handed out to the crowd Thurs­day as part of the city’s ef­fort to per­suade LeBron James to stay ‘Home.’

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