Commentary

Free-agent market heating up

Updated: July 4, 2009, 12:23 AM ET
By Chris Broussard | ESPN The Magazine

Here's a synopsis of what I'm hearing from league executives and player representatives:

Millsap
Millsap

Millsap, Lee and the Thunder

When free agency began on Wednesday, many around the league expected Oklahoma City, which has roughly $14 million in cap space, to be one of the big spenders.

But all has been quiet around the Thunder. There's been speculation that they're waiting until July 7 or 8 to make a lucrative offer to either Utah's Paul Millsap or New York's David Lee, both of whom are restricted free agents. But a few league executives have told me that's probably not going to happen.

Recent speculation that the Thunder would make Millsap a five-year, $65 million offer appears to be way off, as league executives say Oklahoma City considers Millsap to be worth about $7 million a year -- or perhaps worth a multiyear contract that begins at $7 million. They attach the same value to Lee, according to sources.

But the Thunder know that if they offer such a contract to either player, it will almost certainly be matched by the player's current team. So why even make the offer.

Oklahoma City realizes it will soon have to pay sizeable contracts to Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green, so it's unwilling to overpay Millsap or Lee to pry them away from their clubs.

If that's the case, Millsap and Lee will either return to their teams or be dealt via sign-and-trade, the first scenario being the most likely.


Ariza and the Lakers

Ariza
Ariza

The divide between Trevor Ariza and the Los Angeles Lakers stemmed not merely from the notion that the Lakers were unwilling to pay him more than the midlevel exception (which will be approximately $5.8 million for the first season) but also from the fact that the Lakers did not make him an offer of any kind. When Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak spoke with Ariza's agent, David Lee, on Wednesday, Kupchak essentially told Lee to go get the best offer he could and bring it back to him, then perhaps L.A. would match it.

The Lakers' decision to treat Ariza like a restricted free agent disappointed and angered him greatly. He was expecting them to offer him something around $7 million, and their unwillingness to even make him an offer made him feel unwanted and as though he was not a priority to the team.

Some suggest L.A. wanted to see whether it could land Ron Artest with the midlevel exception and that's why it was reluctant to commit to Ariza. And Artest is indeed Ariza's replacement.

The Lakers are not expected to play the same type of hardball with Lamar Odom, even though Odom's leverage is shrinking by the day. They believe he should be rewarded for being a good soldier and going to the bench without causing a distraction, so they probably will offer him a three-year deal worth about $8 million a year. Odom wants about $10 million, but he's not likely to get that anywhere else, so he probably will settle for what the Lakers give him.


Ariza, Artest and the Cavs

The Cleveland Cavaliers went hard after Ariza, offering the full midlevel, before losing him to Houston. They spoke a few times with Artest's representatives but didn't go after him nearly as hard because of concerns about his volatile personality and behavior.

Reports that LeBron James was recruiting Artest for the Cavaliers were overstated. James did not meet face-to-face with Artest on Wednesday but instead spoke with him by telephone or via text messaging. He was one of many star players in the league to reach out to Artest and say, "Bring your game my way."


Turkoglu and the Raptors

Turkoglu
Turkoglu

UPDATE: Turkoglu has agreed to sign with the Raptors

It may seem like the Raptors are mere spectators in this free-agent circus, but they're quietly active behind the scenes. The team has had exploratory talks with several free agents, though they have yet to offer a contract to anyone. Before Trevor Ariza agreed to a five-year, $33.5 million deal with Houston, the Raptors discussed a potential five-year deal worth more than $39 million with Ariza's agent, David Lee.

Toronto has had similar talks (for different amounts of money) with several other players, including Linas Kleiza, David Lee and Hedo Turkoglu. Several league execs believe Turkoglu prefers to play in Toronto (because of its international character) instead of Portland, but it's not clear whether the Raptors will make an offer.

By renouncing Shawn Marion, Anthony Parker and Carlos Delfino and waiving Quincy Douby, the Raptors could clear enough cap room to offer Turkoglu $56.5 million over five years. But that would force the Raptors to fill out their roster with minimum-salaried players, and they're worried about not having enough depth. So at present, they're leaning toward re-signing Marion and Delfino.

Once the Blazers make an offer to Turkoglu, the Raptors will decide whether to try and outbid them.

Chris Broussard is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine.