Posted Jul 1 2009 11:31PM
The Detroit Pistons agreed to terms with two of the NBA's top free agents on the first day of free agency Wednesday, getting commitments from Chicago Bulls guard Ben Gordon and Milwaukee Bucks forward Charlie Villanueva on multi-year deals. Gordon agreed to terms on a five-year deal worth $58 million, according to sources, and Villanueva agreed a five-year deal worth $40 million. The deals used up all of the $19 million the Pistons had under next year's likely salary cap, but makes Detroit a deep, versatile team after the Pistons were spanked in the first round of the playoffs.
Gordon had been on the Pistons' radar for some time, and had been linked to them soon after Chicago's first-round playoff loss to Boston, and Villanueva became free after Milwaukee declined to make him a qualifying offer on Monday, which would have made Villanueva a restricted free agent, allowing the Bucks to match any offer he received. Failing to make the offer made Villanueva an unrestricted free agent, allowing him to sign with any team.
Several contending teams, including Cleveland and San Antonio, had hoped to sign the 24-year-old Villanueva, who had career highs in points (16.2) and rebounds (6.7) for Milwaukee last season.
The Pistons brought in Gordon, 26, and Villanueva together, figuring the two former University of Connecticut teammates -- they won the national championship together in 2004 -- would feel more comfortable seeing one another. It worked.
Last season, the Pistons fell apart internally, with players openly sniping against former coach Michael Curry, who was fired Tuesday. At issue was Curry's decision to bench veteran guard Rip Hamilton in favor of newcomer Allen Iverson, who'd been acquired from Denver for guard Chauncey Billups. Iverson quickly wore out his welcome in Detroit, missing the final few weeks of the season with a back injury, and the Pistons had no interest in re-signing him.
Gordon's arrival is different, a team source said.
"Ben agreed to come here knowing he would come off the bench," the source said. "That makes it completely different than Iverson coming here ... Gordon is choosing to come here and play the super sub role."
Gordon and Villanueva's arrivals continue the makeover of the team that reached six straight Eastern Conference finals between 2002 and 2008. President of basketball operations Joe Dumars had said after the 2008 conference finals loss to Boston that he thought his team had grown stale and needed to be broken up. He's been as good as his word, with Billups already gone and free agents Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess less likely to return.
Now, Detroit sports a three-guard rotation of Rodney Stuckey, Hamilton and Gordon, with Tayshaun Prince and first-round pick Austin Daye at small forward, with Villanueva starting at power forward. If Wallace and McDyess both leave, Detroit would have a hole to fill at center, with veteran Kwame Brown the most likely candidate at the moment.
Gordon's deal ended two offseasons of sometimes contentious negotiations with his former team over a contract. He started his career in Chicago as a sixth man, but soon became a starter, and led the team in scoring this season, including a 24.3 point average in the Boston series. But the Bulls claimed he turned down several offers for a new contract in each of the last two summers. Gordon's camp denied that he had gotten significant offers from Chicago. At any rate, he signed a one-year deal worth $6.4 million last year.
Gordon's agent, Ray Brothers, said that 17 teams contacted him Wednesday about Gordon, but most were looking to sign Gordon to the mid-level exception or looking to do a sign-and-trade with Chicago. And after the last two summers of trying to negotiate deals with Chicago, Gordon was leery of yet more delay in trying to work something out down the road when Detroit came through so quickly with a tangible offer.
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