Free agency kicks off with a whimper

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:36 PM ET

After a massive buildup filled with hyperbole and sky-high expectations, the biggest free agent bonanza in NBA history kicked off with a dull whimper.

This historic period has been coined by some as free agency Armageddon, the end of the league as we know it. That reshaping will have to wait, but the Armageddon part certainly seems to have come to pass, with a number of clubs completely eviscerating their chances of long-term success by doling out ridiculously bloated contracts on Day 1.

The fates of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh remain up in the air, but the fortunes of the Atlanta Hawks, Memphis Grizzlies and Minnesota Timberwolves are looking as dismal as ever.

Max for Gay

Even if the Raptors lose Bosh for nothing, they'll be far better off than the Hawks, who have offer their free agent star Joe Johnson a six-year, $119-million U.S. deal. The team was nowhere near good enough with Johnson and has potentially put itself into cap hell going forward for a guy who averaged 12 points a night this spring as the Hawks were crushed in four games by the Orlando Magic.

Not wanting to be left out, the Grizzlies gave Rudy Gay an $82-million, five-year extension. The team could have had him for at least $15 million cheaper last summer but chose to low-ball Gay.

That same franchise handed the Lakers two championships because it didn't want to pay Pau Gasol, a far superior player.

Minnesota and Milwaukee's front offices had less damaging, but still questionable brain cramps.

The Wolves gave middling centre Darko Milicic a four-year $20-million contract. He played well in a few months there last season, but has shown no inclination to play hard every night and basically pushes out Al Jefferson, a much better player.

As for the Bucks, they split $71 million over the next five years on John Salmons and Drew Gooden only a week or so after adding Corey Maggette's deal, which has $31-million still to be paid out.

Salmons' pact is about right, but Gooden and Maggette are now massively overpaid role players.

A new collective bargaining agreement is not far off. With it will likely come shorter contracts worth less money. Having the bad deals signed today on the books will hurt these franchises down the road. Big time.

In other news, Phil Jackson, has shelved plans to retire and will stay on as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers for one more season.

Meanwhile, the Raptors might actually be better off avoiding paying Bosh $17-20 million a year for the next six seasons. Speaking of Bosh, he was wooed by the team favoured to land his services, the Miami Heat and came away lauding the franchise and its president/GM Pat Riley. "Off to a great start. First one went well. Pat Riley is passionate about winning," Bosh said via his favourite line of communication, Twitter.

Bosh already has received presentations from the Heat, Raptors, Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets. He is expected to meet with the Bulls in Chicago Friday, but the Heat remain the front-runners.

As for James, the man propelling this entire circus, he met with the New Jersey Nets and New York Knicks Thursday.

The Knicks arrived in a G4 jet. The Nets countered with a G5 and arrived with Jay-Z and erected a massive billboard near New York's offices, leading to a complaint from the Knicks.

The Heat and Bulls will take their crack at the King Friday. His hometown Cleveland Cavaliers will try to retain him Saturday. Expect this dog and pony show to carry on for some time. But at least James will be worth the money.

ryan.wolstat@sunmedia.ca


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