As NBA free agency officially starts, teams line up for unrestricted stars
Sources say Deron Williams is leaning towards signing with Brooklyn over Dallas
The Raptors are making a big push for Steve Nash, but many teams are interested
Ray Allen could follow Kevin Garnett back to Boston or join LeBron James in Miami
With NBA free agency officially underway, let's take a look at the latest rumblings with the top unrestricted players. Restricted free agents can have offers from other teams matched by their current team, meaning we'll have plenty of time to track the happenings on that front.
It appears to be down to the Nets and Mavericks for the three-time All-Star, and it may be a few days until he makes up his mind. A source close to Williams said not to expect a verdict by the end of Sunday, perhaps because -- as ESPN.com reported -- he is expected to meet with Nets and Mavs officials in New York City on Monday.
Yet based on what I've heard about Williams and his outlook for months, I'll be surprised if he winds up in Dallas. The most obvious factor is the money, as Brooklyn can offer an extra year on a max deal (five years compared to four) that amounts to approximately $26 million more in all. And if Nets general manager Billy King can land a star like Atlanta shooting guard Joe Johnson to pair with Williams, as Yahoo! reported he was attempting to do Saturday night, that would certainly help matters and seal the Brooklyn deal (though it would seem to close the door on the Dwight Howard possibility in Brooklyn).
As for the Mavs, a second source close to Williams said recently that he had concerns about the Mavericks' "longevity." Dirk Nowitzki is 34 years old, as is Shawn Marion, and we'll see soon enough if Williams wants to wants to play with the older established group in his hometown or start something new in the Big Apple.
The Nash courting may wind up being the most entertaining of all.
While the 38-year-old future Hall of Famer has always left open the possibility of a return to Phoenix, it seems all but certain he'll be changing jerseys. A source close to Nash said Toronto, New York, Brooklyn, Phoenix and Dallas are all expected to show interest (though the Mavs' pursuit would clearly come as a secondary priority to the Wiliams situation), as well as Miami and Indiana.
The Raptors may be making the most aggressive and elaborate pitch. Sources said a Raptors group that includes team governor Larry Tanenbaum, general manager Bryan Colangelo and coach Dwane Casey was scheduled to fly in Tanenbaum's jet from Los Angeles to New York overnight in order to visit with Nash on Sunday. The group was attending the wedding of an assistant coach in L.A.
Their pitch to Nash will focus on his chance to return to his native Canada and dramatically help what the Raptors are building while becoming even more of a legend in his native country. Nash has extensive Raptors ties, among them his connections to former Suns GM Colangelo to his time with former Raptors coach and current Vice President of pro scouting Jay Triano, who worked with Nash on the Canadian Olympic team.
Sources confirmed that the Raptors are likely to offer a deal that pays approximately $12 million annually, though it remains to be seen whether it is for three guaranteed years or two years with a team option in the third season.
The Knicks have serious interest in Nash, as they are hoping to pair him with young point guard and restricted free agent Jeremy Lin. While they can only offer the mini midlevel exception (likely a max of three years and a combined $9 million, based on their payroll), they could do a sign-and-trade with Phoenix to land him a bigger deal. If Brooklyn lands Williams, Mavericks point guard Jason Kidd has said he may follow him to the Nets and, thus, potentially take Nash out of the running there.
Garnett has reportedly agreed to return to Boston on a deal that - according to Yahoo! -- is for three years and $34 million. The KG era in Beantown continues...
With Garnett returning, it's only natural to wonder if the 36-year-old Allen could be back in Boston, too. While it's possible, Allen will have plenty of suitors trying to end his five-year run with the Celtics.
He is known to be atop Miami's list of targets, and LeBron James even tweeted about the possibility on Thursday. Allen would have to take a major pay cut to join the Heat, dropping from the $10.5 million he made last season to a deal that would top out at $3 million annually over three years (Miami's mini midlevel exception). Allen will also reportedly draw interest from Memphis (for the $5 million midlevel), the Knicks (mini midlevel) and Phoenix (salary cap space galore).
The Big Fundamental is widely expected to return to San Antonio on what will likely be a two-year deal, but there's no word yet on whether the two sides are close to getting anything done. Like Garnett, the 36-year-old Duncan is still playing at a high level and will be available for NBA fans to enjoy for at least a couple of more years.
Dragic may be the only player on this list not headed for the Hall, but his market value and ultimate landing spot will certainly be affected by the point guards listed above. A source close to the 26-year-old said the ability to play a major role and be on a winning team will be significant factors for Dragic, who is considered a priority for the Rockets but may also draw interest from Toronto, Phoenix (his former team), Brooklyn, Dallas and New Orleans. But considering the aforementioned pursuits involving Nash and Williams, Dragic will likely have to wait before his market becomes more clear.