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John Schuhmann

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Rudy Gay averaged 19.6 points a game for the Grizzlies last season.
D.Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images

Early signings already forcing other teams to scramble


Posted Jul 2 2010 11:37AM

At approximately 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Richard Jefferson was the butt of every joke in the NBA twitterverse for exercising the early termination option on his contract and forgoing $15 million of salary. It seemed like a bad move for a player whose value had sunk in the two years since he left New Jersey and was in no way going to get anything close to $15 million to play this coming season.

It took less than 19 hours for Jefferson to have his "I told you so" moment. He doesn't have a new contract yet, but on Thursday afternoon, Rudy Gay agreed to stay in Memphis for a five-year deal worth $82 million. And that deal is sure to have trickle-down effects on Jefferson and other small forwards on the market.

Not only is that more money than many around the league think Gay is worth, but by returning to Memphis, he leaves holes on the wing in several locales around the league, holes that Jefferson and other next-tier players will be ready to fill.

Gay was seen as Plan B for some of the teams who cleared cap space in hope of signing LeBron James. He isn't an All-Star, but he's just 23 years old and is one of the best athletes in the league. As a back-up plan, you could do worse.

To further complicate things, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and John Salmons are also staying home. And James, despite many intriguing options, is allowed to sign with only one team. Suddenly, less than two days into free agency, the situation looks desperate for whomever James spurns.

If James chooses to play for the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers or Miami Heat, who do the New Jersey Nets turn to at small forward? For now, the Nets are optimistic, sitting tight and waiting on James before they move forward. But if they're ultimately rejected by the MVP, they've got no fall-back plan at the three. Just 24 hours ago, that was Gay.

Mikhail Prokhorov might have to adjust his plan to win a championship within five years.

And if James doesn't want to join forces with Dwyane Wade in Miami, where does Pat Riley look for a small forward? Out west, the Los Angeles Clippers and Sacramento Kings, two more teams with more than $15 million of cap space, could also use solid veterans at the three.

Guys like Jefferson, Mike Miller and Matt Barnes now look more appealing to teams in the market for a wing. And teams with restricted free agents like J.J. Redick, Anthony Morrow, Josh Childress and Wesley Matthews better be prepared to match a more lucrative offer than they originally expected, or watch their guys walk.

Yes, Gay and Johnson are just two of the 150 free agents on the market. But they were on the lists of many teams, right near the top of those with the most cap space.

Even at other positions, we've already had some contract agreements that have to be encouraging to every other free agent out there. Amir Johnson, Darko Milicic and Channing Frye are all decent role players and worth having in a rotation, but not necessarily at the salary they'll be getting. And a five-year, full mid-level deal for Drew Gooden? Wow.

Apparently, despite the struggling economy and upcoming labor negotiations, teams still can't control themselves when it comes to free-agent spending. And once James and the other All-Stars on the market begin to make their decisions, other teams will get more desperate.

Not only will the situation benefit the next few tiers of free agents, but it could help teams who don't have cap space. With the under-the-cap teams still looking to fill holes, they may be looking to acquire players via trade. We could see a situation where teams looking to get more financially flexible can dump a bad contract on desperate teams flush with cap space.

Before we get to that point, though, it's time for Plan C for many teams. And Plan D. And Plan E.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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