Ben Simmons has begun negotiating an historic $168 million contract with a new-look Philadelphia 76ers, who added All-Star big man Al Horford to their roster in pursuit of an NBA title.
The league’s annual free agency period opened with an explosion on Sunday with almost $2 billion in deals struck across the league in just a few hours.
The Brooklyn Nets’ New Zealand general manager Sean Marks pulled off the biggest move by enticing superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to transform the league’s one-time ugly ducklings into an Eastern Conference power.
The 76ers responded with their own power moves.
They lost All-Star and starting swingman Jimmy Butler to the Miami Heat in a four-year, $142m sign-and-trade deal that took shooting guard/small forward Josh Richardson to Philadelphia.
The 76ers also lost their starting sharpshooter and veteran leader JJ Redick, who is heading to the New Orleans Pelicans.
Philly picked up Horford, a 33-year-old, five-time All-Star forward/centre who left the Boston Celtics to accept a four-year, $109m deal with the 76ers.
Simmons’ agent Rich Paul has begun talks with Philadelphia’s management on a five-year contract extension that, if sealed, will be the richest deal ever signed by an Australian athlete.
The 76ers also kept starting forward Tobias Harris with a new five-year, $180m deal.
“We’ve got unfinished business, and I’m ready to commit to a long-term vision of bringing a title to Philadelphia,” Harris wrote on ESPN.com.
Marks, who became general manager of the Nets in 2016, enticed Durant, an NBA MVP, two-time NBA champion and 10-time All-Star, away from the Golden State Warriors with a four-year max deal worth $164m.
The risk for the Nets is Durant is almost certain to sit out all of next season with an achilles rupture suffered in the NBA Finals and may not be the player he was before the injury.
Melbourne-born point guard Irving, an NBA champion with the Cleveland Cavaliers and six-time All-Star, is fleeing the Celtics for a four-year, $141m deal with Brooklyn.
Irving and his divisive personality also carry risk after being at the centre of tumultuous locker rooms at the Celtics last season and in his final year alongside LeBron James at the Cavs in 2016-17.
The Nets also added veteran centre DeAndre Jordan on a four-year, $40m deal.
The biggest unknown is where Kawhi Leonard, after leading the Toronto Raptors to their first championship, will choose to play.
The Raptors, Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers are all nervously awaiting his decision and are expected to engage in talks in coming days.
The Lakers want to form a mega-star squad led by James, All-Star centre Anthony Davis and Leonard.
Utah Jazz, featuring Australian duo Joe Ingles and Dante Exum, also have their eye on a championship after their first-round exit from the playoffs.
Ingles lost his great mate and point guard Ricky Rubio to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday but the Jazz, after recently adding the Memphis Grizzlies’ elite guard Mike Conley, also picked up Indiana Pacers shooting forward Bojan Bogdanovic on a four-year, $73m deal.
The Jazz also added forward Ed Davis (two-year, $10m).
Golden State, responding to Durant’s departure and a knee injury expected to sideline guard Klay Thompson for most of the regular season, will acquire guard D’Angelo Russell from the Nets in a four-year, $117m sign and trade deal.
The move came at a significant cost, however, with the Warriors forced to offload veteran Andre Iguodala, a key member of their three championships, to the Grizzlies.
OTHER MAJOR FREE AGENT MOVES AND CONTRACT EXTENSIONS
Portland Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard (four-year, $US196 million)
Milwaukee Bucks: Khris Middleton (five-year, $US178 million) and Brook Lopez (four-year, $US52 million)
Dallas Mavericks: Kristaps Porzingas (five-year, $US158 million)
Boston Celtics: Kemba Walker (four-year, $US141 million)
Indiana Pacers: Malcolm Brogdon (four-year, $US85 million)
Sacramento Kings: Harrison Barnes (four-year, $US85 million)
New York Knicks: Julius Randle (three-year, $US63 million)
Memphis Grizzlies: Jonas Valanciunas (three-year, $US45 million)
San Antonio: Rudy Gay (two-year, $US32 million) and DeMarre Carroll (two-year, $US12 million)
New Orleans Pelicans: JJ Redick (two-year, $US26.5 million)
Detroit Pistons: Derrick Rose (two-year, $US15 million)
* Please note $US1 = $A1.43