Money is flying around in free agency, and LeBron James and the A-listers haven’t even started getting paid.
James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh only got visitors Thursday. Rudy Gay got rich.
Gay scored the first big deal of the free agency period, agreeing to a five-year contract with the Memphis Grizzlies that will pay him more than $80 million, according to a person with knowledge of the negotiations.
While not on the top level of players available, Gay was expected to draw interest from a number of teams. He canceled a planned visit to Minnesota when the Grizzlies stepped forward with their offer.
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James, the head of this year’s class and perhaps the most hyped free agent ever, received visits in Cleveland from the New Jersey Nets and New York Knicks. He’s set for more in the coming days before deciding where he will play next season.
Wade met with the Chicago Bulls and Nets, Bosh was visited by the Miami Heat and Nets, and both will sit down separately Friday with the Knicks.
In the meantime, deals are getting done around them.
Darko Milicic — drafted right after James and just before Bosh and Wade with the No. 2 pick in the 2003 draft — agreed to a four-year deal with the Timberwolves. It includes about $16 million in guaranteed money, despite what’s been a disappointing career for the center from Serbia.
Other top names in the class, considered the deepest free agent pool ever, include Amare Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki and Carlos Boozer.
But the news came from lesser players, such as the five-year, $32 million contract Drew Gooden agreed to with the Milwaukee Bucks, and the $34 million, five-year pact Amir Johnson got to stay with Toronto.
The most noteworthy development on Day 1 didn’t even involve a player. The Los Angeles Lakers announced that Phil Jackson would return for a run at a third straight title and a 12th as an NBA coach.
“Count me in,” Jackson said in a news release. “After a couple weeks of deliberation, it is time to get back to the challenge of putting together a team that can defend its title in the 2010-11 season. It’ll be the last stand for me, and I hope a grand one.”
The Heat are trying to build a team that can stop Jackson’s Lakers, and after talking to Stoudemire shortly after the market opened, moved on to Bosh on Thursday and will call on James on Friday.
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.”
After years of slashing payroll so it could be a player in this year’s market, New York finally got to make its pitch to James. Arriving just as the Nets left, the Knicks spent more than two hours speaking with James and his advisers.
“I think it went well,” New York coach Mike D’Antoni said. “But obviously everyone that gets the chance to talk to him will probably say the same thing.”
The Nets felt even better about their performance, which came from a group headed by new owner Mikhail Prokhorov and part-owner Jay-Z, James’ longtime friend. A person briefed on the meeting was told it was “spectacular.”
“So far we have met with LeBron,” team president Rod Thorn said. “Told our story and we’ll see what happens.”
The Los Angeles Clippers also get an audience with the King on Friday, with the Bulls and hometown Cavaliers expected to meet with James before the end of the week.
While James, Wade and Bosh wait, the next big deal could go to Joe Johnson. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Wednesday that Atlanta was prepared to offer a maximum-value contract to its All-Star guard, who also met with New York and Miami after free agency opened Thursday.
Deals can’t be signed until July 8. There is a moratorium period while the salary cap for next season is determined.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.