Meetings officially begin in the wooing of King James
Johnson gets huge offer from Hawks; Gay lured by Grizzlies from start
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.
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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.
Drew Gooden, who played for Dallas part of last season, agreed to a $32 million, five-year deal with the Bucks on Thursday.
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.’