The Toronto Raptors met with Chris Bosh at his home in Dallas in the wee hours of Thursday morning, but they got their man last night.
The Raptors aren't likely to sign Bosh, but they did reach an agreement with Amir Johnson, a bouncy power forward who was a fan favourite at the Air Canada Centre in 2009-10, and the possessor of a unique blend of youth and experience as a 23-year-old getting ready for his sixth NBA season.
Terms of the deal can't be confirmed until the NBA's salary cap for 2010-11 is finalized after July 8, but Johnson is expected to sign a five-year deal for $33-million (US) - or nearly double what he earned last season.
"There were a lot of teams that expressed interest but [Raptors president/general manager]Bryan Colangelo stepped up right away and made very clear that Amir was a priority," Johnson's agent, Bill Duffy, said.
What priority the Raptors are for Bosh, however, wasn't clear.
Thursday's meeting with Colangelo, just hours after Bosh became an unrestricted free agent, was the first among several the 26-year-old five-time NBA all-star has scheduled, as it appears he's intent on leaving the only franchise he's known.
With such a departure imminent, signing Johnson become even more important.
Meanwhile, the Raptors were also trying to smooth the waters with other members of their roster and took a solid step forward with Hedo Turkoglu, who appeared on Turkish television saying a visit by new assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo has helped him warm up to the idea of returning to Toronto after a difficult first season.
Johnson's statistical production was relatively modest: Averaging 6.2 points and 4.8 rebounds a game while shooting 62.3 per cent from the floor in 2009-10. But he was a genial dressing room presence and consistent, hustling contributor off the bench who showed signs of better things to come (17.8 points and 6.0 rebounds a game, while shooting 69.6 per cent from the floor in five chances as a starter late in the season).
He earned $3.6-million last season, and got his raise in a heated free-agent market where as many as eight teams have $16-million of room under the salary cap.
Johnson's deal is comparable to one agreed to by Drew Gooden, who will reportedly earn $32-million over the next five years with the Milwaukee Bucks after averaging 10.9 points and 7.7 rebounds last season, split between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Dallas Mavericks. When adjusted for minutes played there are similarities: Johnson averaged 12.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per 36 minutes, while Gooden averaged 15.7 points and 11.1 rebounds per 36 minutes.
Mix in Johnson's youth and some competition for his services, and it demonstrates why the Raptors had to make a strong bid early.
"He's a young big with length who can run the floor, there is interest in him in the market," one source said. "And don't forget his age."
Elsewhere, the money taps were wide open as it was reported Rudy Gay of the Memphis Grizzlies, taken No. 8 in the 2006 draft (the same year Andrea Bargnani was taken first overall by the Raptors) had agreed to a five-year extension worth about $80-million. (Bargnani signed a five-year, $50-million extension last summer.)
And Joe Johnson became the first of the top-tier free agents to take himself of the market as he reportedly agreed to a six-year, $120-million contract to stay with the Atlanta Hawks.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson confirmed he will return to try to lead the team to their third consecutive NBA title - and 12th for Jackson as a head coach.
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