Originally Published: July 1, 2010

1. Day 1 Of Free Agency And What It Means

By John Hollinger
ESPN.com

You know who the five smartest men in the room were on Day 1 of free agency?

How about five guys who did all their work before all this craziness started: Danny Ainge, Kevin Pritchard, Sam Presti, Steve Kerr and R.C. Buford.

A year ago, all five saw what the free-agent market was going to look like this summer and took pre-emptive action:

  • Ainge signed Rajon Rondo to a five-year, $55 million extension.

  • Pritchard gave LaMarcus Aldridge a five-year, $70 million extension and then added Marcus Camby for two years, $21 million.

  • Presti gave Thabo Sefolosha a four-year, $15 million extension.

  • Kerr reupped Steve Nash for two more years at $20 million.

  • And Buford signed Manu Ginobili for three more years at $37 million.

    After Day 1 of 2010 free agency -- a day in which Amir Johnson and Rudy Gay agreed to deals worth roughly $115 million -- now how do those moves look?

    They seem genius, no? The lesson from the first 24 hours of free agency is that it's not just the superstars who are defining this market -- with too much cash chasing too little talent, teams are throwing themselves at whatever Hakim Warrick or Steve Blake they can get their mitts on, consequences be damned.

    Wise GMs like the five above looked ahead, saw the landscape and did their work early, even if they endured some criticism for it at the time. (As did a sixth, Utah's Kevin O'Connor, who had the foresight to extend Mehmet Okur but couldn't look far enough into his crystal ball to see a devastating Achilles injury).

    Kerr and Pritchard aren't employed by their teams anymore, even though those moves at a minimum saved their teams tens of millions in additional salary. Aldridge and Rondo would get max offers in this market, guaranteed. Ginobili and Nash would have offers that came close. Camby and even Sefolosha likely would have been richly rewarded as well.

    Here's the thing: It's only going to get worse.

    Do the math. We have 10 maximum-salary slots among the free-agent contenders: three for Miami, two for Chicago, New York and New Jersey, and one for the Clippers.

    We have 10 players who are max-contract candidates: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Amare Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, Joe Johnson, David Lee and Rudy Gay.

    Seems like a perfect match of supply and demand so far. However, Pierce and Nowitzki are almost certain to return to their former teams. Gay already has committed to return to Memphis, and Johnson appears close to returning to Atlanta.

    Now we have six players for 10 slots. If LeBron returns to Cleveland, that makes five. And we haven't discussed the possibility of Boozer, Stoudemire or Bosh being signed-and-traded to a team already over the cap -- a real possibility given the lucrative sixth year they can add on their deals in such an arrangement.

    If all that happens, that means it's possible only Wade and Lee (by re-signing six-year deals with their current teams) would eat up max-salary slots from one of the teams with cap space.

    Which would leave about $120 million in cap space out on the market, chasing a bunch of players who aren't worth anywhere near that type of money.

    Think about it. After those players, who's next on the list? Luis Scola? Raymond Felton? John Salmons? Josh Childress? Ray Allen?

    No matter how you slice it, it's a vertiginous drop from the elite free agents to the next tier, but with all the money chasing talent this summer and all that those teams have promised their fans by tanking one or even two seasons in the pursuit of cap space, they feel compelled to make a move.

    Several GMs have looked at the landscape and realized this phenomenon, which is why the bidding has increased on even secondary players. It only makes sense -- a rising tide lifts all boats. If the players normally targeted with midlevel money are suddenly angling for much bigger prizes, it means lesser players now become targets for the midlevel.

    We already have some examples. Channing Frye got two years and $4 million a year ago; after opting out of the second year and trying again, he'll get nearly eight times that amount this summer. Ditto for Drew Gooden. And Amir Johnson got $34 million even though his foul rate (7.0 per 40 minutes, the worst among any player to see more than 1,000 minutes) makes it virtually impossible to keep him on the floor.

    As a result, the potential is there for some really idiotic stuff to happen this summer. Think Johnson getting $34 million is bad? You ain't seen nothing yet. Some team is going to panic and give a grotesquely bloated deal to a secondary player. We might see somebody like Al Harrington or Brendan Haywood get $50 million or $60 million. We might see Steve Blake or Luke Ridnour get the full midlevel exception.

    And we seem almost certain to see Richard Jefferson recoup the $15.2 million he forewent by opting out of the final year of his contract. In last year's market, it would have been a long shot. This year? Heck, he might double or triple it.

    We could avert the worst excesses of free-agency Armageddon if the likes of James, Stoudemire and Boozer move to one of the cap-space teams, whether by trade or straight signing, and soak up some of that excess cash. But it seems increasingly likely that we're going to have a ton of money chasing very little talent this summer, and the result is going to be some serious salary inflation.

    All of which, of course, is going to make for some very interesting theater as the 2011 lockout date grows closer. The owners will use this as evidence that salaries have gone out of control. The players, on the other hand, will say the wild spending spree proves the owners' claims of losses are absurd.

    Regardless of how they spin it, the forces of supply and demand have swung wildly in favor of the suppliers this summer. Only one thing is certain: The few GMs who saw this coming a year ago deserve a lot more credit than they're getting.

    John Hollinger is a regular contributor to the Daily Dime.

    Free Agency Dimes past: Wade | Bosh | Playoffs | Coaches | LeBron | Lottery | Sidekicks

  • 2. Scott Named Cavaliers Coach

    3. Jackson Returns To The Lakers

    By Dave McMenamin
    ESPN Los Angeles

    LOS ANGELES -- The idea of his fourth three-peat must have been too much for Phil Jackson to pass up.

    The Los Angeles Lakers coach told the team on Thursday that he will return for his 11th season on the bench in L.A. and an even 20th to cap his NBA coaching career.

    "Count me in," Jackson said in a statement. "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."

    Jackson had told the Lakers he needed to address health concerns before committing to another season. His right knee has been bothering him for some time.

    Jackson received a clean bill of health early this week after going through a series of examinations to check out both surgically-replaced hips, his heart that had a stent placed in it during the 2003 playoffs, kidney stones that had bothered him this season as well as his right knee that caused him to start regularly wearing a knee brace for support.

    To read the entire McMenamin story, click here.

    4. Daily Dime Live Wrap

    ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans, giving their opinions about free agency -- all in Daily Dime Live.

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