NBA free agency doesn’t appear to have big spenders

Published 12:45 am Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Some big names will be out there. The big spenders will be harder to find.

Free agency opens in the NBA on Wednesday, but there should be few fireworks this July. The blockbuster trades were last week, and the real free agent bonanza is next year.

Financial difficulties, combined with the potential of one of the best classes ever in 2010, will have most teams keeping their check books closed this summer. More than a dozen have already lined themselves up to be players when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Amare Stoudemire can all become available, and may not want to waste precious salary cap space now.

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Back in February, Dallas owner Mark Cuban said he wouldn’t want to be a free agent this summer. On Tuesday, he wondered if players might find it best to sign a short-term deal and try again in 2010, when there are more suitors.

‘‘How many players will sign one year deals to be able to take advantage of the huge amount of cap room next year?’’ he wrote on his Twitter page.

For those who do want to buy now, there is some talent worth considering.

Teams seeking a point guard could choose among Jason Kidd, Mike Bibby and Andre Miller. Those needing a good swingman can envision Ron Artest, Hedo Turkoglu, Trevor Ariza or Shawn Marion.

Allen Iverson or Ben Gordon could provide instant offense for some team. Paul Millsap or David Lee would look nice as a young, hardworking power forward in someone’s frontcourt.

Perhaps realizing better deals weren’t coming this summer, Utah’s Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur declined to become free agents Tuesday. Boozer exercised his player option for next season — he previously said he wouldn’t — and Okur declined his early termination option.

Cleveland’s energetic forward Anderson Varejao did decide to try out free agency, not exercising his option on a $6.2 million contract for next season. He’s an unrestricted free agent.

Detroit and Oklahoma City have the most money to spend, but apparently have different strategies. The Pistons, who freed up millions when they dealt Chauncey Billups to Denver for Iverson and his expiring contract, are expected to pursue Gordon and perhaps Charlie Villanueva. The Milwaukee Bucks let Villanueva become a free agent, and he could also draw interest from the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Thunder don’t seem as eager to throw their money around, knowing a better bet could be slowly building around a young core featuring Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook.

‘‘We’ve worked really hard to create some flexibility for this basketball team so we can continue to grow the organization and build and grow together,’’ general manager Sam Presti said. ‘‘It’s just not going to be prudent for us to let restlessness be our nemesis. We need to be able to walk into somewhere with an eye towards the future as well as the present.’’

Both NBA finalists face free agency decisions. The Los Angeles Lakers will try to keep their championship core intact by retaining Lamar Odom and Ariza, while the Orlando Magic appear likely to lose Hedo Turkoglu after trading for Vince Carter last week.

The Houston Rockets must determine how much they value Artest, the last man standing among their big three after injuries to Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming.

‘‘We have 11 guaranteed contracts now and obviously have free agents we need to decide on, Ron and Von (Wafer),’’ Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said last week. ‘‘Obviously, we’ve got two big players who’ve got some injuries. We’ll learn more over time and as it unfolds, we’ll have to react.’’

Teams can begin negotiating with free agents after midnight, but can’t sign them until July 8, after the salary cap for next season has been set. It’s expected to decrease from this year’s $58.7 million, making it even harder to predict which teams will be spenders.

‘‘Right now I have no sense of the market in the whole league,’’ New York Knicks president of operations Donnie Walsh said Friday.

Players are about to find out — and may not like the answers.