Early word as free agency opens

Originally Published: July 1, 2007
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

The first bits of information to dribble into Stein Line HQ, courtesy of various sources throughout the league, after the buzzer sounded at midnight Sunday on Free Agency Season:

There was some immediate evidence to suggest that Chauncey Billups re-signing in Detroit is the lock everyone says it is: Milwaukee did not rush to register interest in Billups in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The Bucks are the one team with salary-cap room (if they renounced the rights to Mo Williams and Ruben Patterson) that was thought for much of the season to have a shot at signing Billups away from the Pistons.

But the Bucks' priority -- besides convincing Chinese draftee Yi Jianlian that he's going to absolutely love Wisconsin in the winter when he finds out he can start as a rookie -- is getting Williams re-signed. Those are the two things they're working on this weekend.

The Chicago Bulls, remember, put an all-out rush on Ben Wallace when free agency commenced a year ago to lure the face (and hair) of the Pistons' franchise out of Motown. It's looking unlikely that Wallace's heir to that mantle is going to be courted with a similar fervor by any team outside of Detroit.


Phoenix and San Antonio are offering only the veteran minimum salary for next season to Grant Hill: $1.2 million, with nearly $450,000 of that amount paid by the league office from a fund for veterans.

Detroit, Toronto and Orlando will be offering the 35-year-old much more.

Yet one source insisted early Sunday that he's already convinced that the injury-tortured Hill, having just completed a $93 million deal with Magic, is "going to Phoenix for sure."

That would be welcome news in the desert, since the Suns are desperate for savvy veterans to improve the team's overall IQ and since Hill is the only free agent Phoenix is looking to add to its hefty payroll.

The early indications, though, suggest Hill does want to consider all his options and won't rush into a commitment.


Sam Presti, Seattle's new general manager, could be found in Houston on Saturday night, waiting for the start of free agency and the chance to meet directly with Rashard Lewis. (Update: Lewis has given the Orlando Magic a verbal commitment to leave the Seattle SuperSonics and sign a max contract on July 11, according to NBA front-office sources.)

A week ago, Orlando seemed to be an overwhelming favorite to land Lewis. Now? After the drafting of Kevin Durant and the trade that sent Ray Allen to Boston, there are signals that Seattle wants to keep Lewis ... although that might be a message intended to preserve maximum trade value for the rangy forward.

Says one interested suitor, clearly hoping Lewis winds up in a sign-and-trade deal instead: "Rashard wants to win now or he wants max dollars."


The Mavericks' No. 1 target in free agency? Folks in Dallas might have been expecting Mavs killer Matt Barnes, but I'm told it's actually Charlotte's Gerald Wallace. ...

Surely you haven't forgotten the drill: Teams and free agents can reach verbal agreements at any time in the next 10 days, but new contracts can't actually be signed before July 11 while the league finishes determining the salary-cap figure for next season.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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