Free agency opened Monday in the NBA with the focus on a pair of Los Angeles All-Stars — Clippers point guard Chris Paul and Lakers center Dwight Howard — though Paul took himself off the market only hours after shopping season started.
Agent Leon Rose confirmed Paul’s return, which had been expected after the Clippers signed Doc Rivers as their new coach. The Clippers can pay the two-time Olympic gold medalist around $108 million for five years.
Howard can make even more by staying with the Lakers, but that won’t stop him from looking elsewhere.
He met with the Rockets early Monday, the Mavericks and Hawks also are interested, and the Lakers have said they want to keep him.
The Rockets got the first crack at persuading him to leave. With Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler joining its contingent, Houston pitched Howard on joining All-Star James Harden.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted it was a great meeting with Howard and that having Olajuwon and Drexler there ‘‘made it obvious how [Howard and Harden] could be the next [great] big/wing combo.’’
Hawks general manager Danny Ferry and new coach Mike Budenholzer met with Howard later Monday, to try to persuade him to join his hometown team.
And he’ll meet Tuesday with the Lakers’ delegation. His first — and perhaps only — season in Los Angeles was a disappointment and he acknowledged being unhappy at times. But the Lakers want to keep the former Defensive Player of the Year, believing the extra year and about $30 million more they can give him will provide a huge advantage.
Steve Nash, who like Howard had a difficult first season in Los Angeles, tweeted that he was flying from New York to Los Angeles to help the Lakers make their pitch.
Contracts can’t be signed until July 10, after the next season’s salary cap has been set.
Hawks stay busy
The Hawks also were expected to meet with their unrestricted free agents, Josh Smith and Kyle Korver, on their trip to Los Angeles, a person with knowledge of the plans told the AP on condition of anonymity because Monday’s meetings have not been officially announced. There is plenty of interest in Smith, a versatile forward, and Deron Williams announced the Nets’ interest in Korver by posting a picture of the sharp shooter in a Brooklyn uniform on social media . . . The New Orleans Pelicans have made an offer to Kings restricted free agent guard Tyreke Evans, two people familiar with the situation said Monday. Several media outlets reported the deal was for four years and ranging between $40 million and $48 million. Because he’s a restricted free agent, Sacramento will have the opportunity to match any offers Evans signs . . . Other top players available include the Nuggets’ Andre Iguodala and the Sixers’ Andrew Bynum — both part of the four-way trade that sent Howard from Orlando to Los Angeles last summer — and the Pacers’ David West. Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith of the Knicks is a free agent, as is former winner Manu Ginobili of the Spurs, who also could lose forward Tiago Splitter . . . Andray Blatche will return as a backup in the Nets’ soon-to-be-upgraded frontcourt, agreeing to a multiyear deal. He appeared in all 82 games last season, his first with the team, averaging 10.3 points.
Celtics eyeing Oden?
Greg Oden will likely choose from a group of suitors that includes the Celtics, Spurs, Heat, Cavaliers, and Grizzlies, a source close to Oden told ESPN.com. Oden, 25, has battled numerous knee injuries and hasn’t played in an NBA game since Dec. 5, 2009. Sources close to Oden told ESPN.com that he is optimistic of returning for the 2013-14 season opener . . . Eric Maynor has agreed to a contract with the Wizards and will serve as the backup point guard behind John Wall. Maynor confirmed the news on his Twitter account . . . Bulls general manager Gar Forman insisted it was his call to let Tom Thibodeau’s top assistant go and downplayed the idea there’s friction with the coach. The Bulls announced Monday that they were not renewing Ron Adams’s contract for next season, raising a few eyebrows. ‘‘The decision was made by me because I felt it was the best decision for the Bulls going forward,’’ Forman said. As for why Forman thought it was the best decision? He wouldn’t say.