Teams begin making moves to sign NBA free agents

Published 1:51 am Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Detroit Pistons are acting quickly to remake a former championship contender.

The Pistons agreed to five-year contracts Wednesday with Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press.

Those were the first big moves of the NBA’s free agency period, which began just after midnight. Detroit, thanks to the Chauncey Billups-Allen Iverson trade, is one of the few teams with significant salary cap space this summer.

Gordon and Villanueva are former Connecticut teammates who will remain in the Central Division. Gordon was Chicago’s leading scorer and Villanueva played for Milwaukee.

Jason Kidd also seems in high demand, meeting with two suitors on the opening day of free agency in the NBA. So does Marcin Gortat, who could land an offer to be Kidd’s teammate.

And Ron Artest might be able to swap Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady for LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal.

Cleveland was believed to be interested in Villanueva, in need of another forward who can defend on the perimeter. Perhaps James has a different one in mind, with the Plain Dealer of Cleveland, citing anonymous sources, reporting Wednesday that James and Artest met Tuesday in Los Angeles.

Artest’s agent, David Bauman, said his client would like to remain in Houston, but also will consider a team’s championship potential. Artest is the only healthy member of the Rockets’ trio of stars, with Yao and McGrady both injured and perhaps out for at least the early part of next season.

In that case, he may be willing to listen to a pitch from another title hopeful.

‘‘All the superstars are very savvy and great recruiters,’’ Bauman said. ‘‘The superstars are sometimes even better recruiters than the general managers or their staffs. Between Kobe (Bryant) and Ron or LeBron and Ron, there are always conversations that occur. I think I’ll just leave it at that at this point.’’

Kidd listened to pitches from both Dallas and New York on Wednesday. The Mavericks can offer significantly more money to their point guard, and owner Mark Cuban showed his interest by flying to New York to meet with Kidd before the Knicks did.

Later Wednesday, Cuban wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press that the get-together ‘‘went well, I was really happy how it turned out.’’

The Knicks said they didn’t make an offer to Kidd. New York is also trying to retain its free agents, David Lee and Nate Robinson, but won’t spend too much because it wants to maintain enough salary cap space to be a major player in 2010.

The Orlando Magic are bracing for the loss of two key players from their Eastern Conference championship team. Hedo Turkoglu, one of the top free agents available, will be in Portland on Thursday to meet with the Trail Blazers, according to agent Lon Babby.

Teams are interested in Gortat, who backed up All-Star Dwight Howard. Houston general manager Daryl Morey met with the Polish center minutes after free agency opened, and urged Rockets fans on Facebook and Twitter to leave notes for Gortat at an e-mail address — rocketsfanslovegortat(at)

‘‘He’s someone we’ve targeted for some time, even before this season,’’ Morey said. ‘‘Although he’s early in his career in terms of experience, we feel like he’s a guy who has a lot of potential over time.’’

Morey could get competition within his own state. The Mavericks jumped into the mix Wednesday, too, sending coach Rick Carlisle to handle some of the recruiting.

Deals can’t be signed until July 8, after next season’s salary cap is set.