MIAMI — Drama is never in short supply during NBA free agency.
This year will be no exception.
Case in point: A Utah fan has been lobbying Gordon Hayward to stay with the Jazz, citing a story this week about how the Massachusetts Legislature is aiming to raise taxes on those who make more than $1 million a year. That fan happens to be U.S. Congressional hopeful Tanner Ainge, the son of Boston Celtics President Danny Ainge.
So even family ties get crossed during free agency, which starts Saturday at 12:01 a.m. Eastern, the moment when players like Hayward, Kyle Lowry, Blake Griffin, Paul Millsap and many more can start officially taking meetings and hearing pitches that will ultimately help them decide where to play next season.
"You never know what's going to happen in free agency," Miami Heat President Pat Riley said. "We'll see what happens on July the 1st. It's always a pretty exciting time."
With Chris Paul already traded to Houston, and since free-agents-to-be Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are widely believed as locks to stay with NBA champion Golden State, Hayward could be considered the top available player in free agency. He'll meet Saturday with the Heat, a team that will have around $35 million to spend once they officially part ways with Chris Bosh and get relief from the remainder of his contract.
No deals can be executed until July 6, but it's likely that agreements adding up to $2 billion or more will be in place by when the moratorium ends. Everyone is chasing Golden State, and Houston has fired the first big salvo.
"We're going all-in," Houston general manager Daryl Morey said.
That's evident, given how the Rockets pulled off a series of six trades to acquire Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers this week. Houston is looking to add even more firepower to pair with Paul and MVP runner-up James Harden, potentially by getting Paul George (who has told Indiana he will play elsewhere in 2018, if not before).
"Paul is a special player," Pacers President Kevin Pritchard said. "He's been good for this organization. We felt like, in a few of the talks over the summer, that he wanted to win and he wanted to win here. So it was a little bit of a gut punch for us. We're adjusting right now."
George isn't a free agent, and neither is Carmelo Anthony. But both could be on the move now; the Pacers will likely have to trade George now to ensure that they don't lose him for nothing next summer, and Anthony could be freed by New York after the Knicks decided this week to part ways with Phil Jackson after three futile, playoff-free, turbulence-filled seasons.
Minnesota has already made a splash, getting Jimmy Butler on draft night. Butler says he's recruiting more players to join him, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.
"I think Jimmy's impact on our team will be great," Timberwolves general manager Scott Layden said. "That's what happens with great leaders. They are involved with their leadership and with making the team better."
There's a market for point guards, with Lowry, George Hill and former NBA MVP Derrick Rose all set for new deals. J.J. Redick, Kyle Korver and Dion Waiters will be among the shooting guards likely to get the most interest. Miami will aim to keep James Johnson out of a small-forward class that includes Andre Iguodala, the coming-off-an-injury Rudy Gay and Danilo Gallinari (along with Durant and Hayward).
Griffin has declared himself a free agent, meaning he potentially could leave the Clippers. He headlines a power-forward group that has Millsap, Serge Ibaka, Taj Gibson and others. And at center, perhaps the most interesting name out there could be JaVale McGee — who likely resurrected his career after a strong year with the Warriors.
There's also veterans like Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol, who will almost certainly be free in name only: Nowitzki isn't leaving Dallas, and Gasol isn't leaving San Antonio.
There's so much money out there to spend, thanks to the salary structure that skyrocketed when the league's $24 billion television deal began filling the NBA coffers. It led to some huge, eye-raising deals last summer — and teams might be more cautious this summer.
"Some of the contracts were sort of out of whack," Riley said. "I don't know if you're going to see that this year. I'd be surprised, because from my experience with talking to a number of teams this year, those contracts are already trying to be dumped. There might be a little bit more discipline in how teams go about that whole process."
AP Basketball Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this story.