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NBA players cash in as big free agency period opens

Pistons’ Andre Drummond, left, has already cashed in as the free-agency period began Friday ... and Cavaliers’ LeBron James expects to do so soon. (Associated Press)
Pistons’ Andre Drummond, left, has already cashed in as the free-agency period began Friday ... and Cavaliers’ LeBron James expects to do so soon. (Associated Press)
By Brian Mahoney Associated Press

Mike Conley and All-Stars Andre Drummond and DeMar DeRozan are staying put. So are Hassan Whiteside and Nicolas Batum.

Dwight Howard, Joakim Noah and many more players are on the move – and some are getting paid like they never could have imagined.

Howard and Noah both returned to their hometowns Friday, with the Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks hoping the former Defensive Players of the Year have plenty left to offer.

Howard agreed to a three-year deal worth $70.5 million with the Hawks, with the Knicks gave Noah $72 million over four years.

Kent Bazemore also re-signed with the Hawks for $70 million over four years, joining players such as Chandler Parsons, Evan Turner and Timofey Mozgov in cashing in during the first day of free agency – and really, of a new era – in the NBA.

With revenues rising and the salary cap soaring right along with it, good players were being paid like All-Stars, while All-Stars were getting contracts that used to go only to superstars.

Conley is in a class of his own – for now– after agreeing to a $153 million, five-year deal to remain in Memphis, the biggest deal handed out yet.

And the players at the top of the class haven’t even started agreeing to deals yet. Kevin Durant and Al Horford probably can’t wait to see what they get after watching what lesser players on the market have already received.

For example:

Parsons – four years, $94 million from Memphis.

Turner – four years, $70 million from Portland.

Mozgov – four years, $64 million from the Lakers.

Their timing was even better than their play, as they became free agents at the ideal moment. With the NBA’s national TV contracts worth more than $2.6 billion annually beginning with next season, the salary cap that’s tied to revenues will soar well beyond its previous record to between $90 million to 95 million.

Some players didn’t have to wait long to claim their share of it.

Drummond’s five-year maximum contract to stay in Detroit will be worth $130 million, just a shade more than the $128 million Bradley Beal got to remain in Washington. DeRozan will do a little better in Toronto and Charlotte kept Batum for about $120 million.

But the Hornets lost a couple of key players from their 48-win team, as Jeremy Lin got a three-year, $36 million contract from Brooklyn, and the Pacers lured Al Jefferson to Indiana with a three-year, $30 million contract.

None of the contracts can be signed until July 7, after next season’s salary cap is set and the moratorium is lifted.

The Bucks agreed to terms with free agent shooter Mirza Teletovic on a three-year deal worth $30 million, and also agreed to terms on a four-year, $38.4 million offer sheet with restricted free agent Matthew Dellavedova. The Cleveland Cavaliers have the option to match that deal.

Durant had his first discussions with another team, meeting with the Golden State Warriors. He met with his Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday, before free agency opened, as the former NBA MVP decides whether to remain with the franchise that selected him with the No. 2 pick in 2007.

The other MVP available is LeBron James, who opted to become a free agent. But he said last week he intends to return to Cleveland to defend the city’s first championship in 52 years.

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