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Free agents start to shop for the best NBA contracts

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS / FEB. 29

    The Cavaliers’ Timofey Mozgov, from Russia, has agreed to a four-year, $64 million contract with the Lakers.

Kevin Durant is the big fish this NBA free agency season, but the festivities kicked off this morning with some lesser catches taking smaller but still substantial bait.

Russian center Timofey Mozgov has agreed to a four-year, $64 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, a person familiar with the negotiations told the Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal can’t be signed until Thursday, when the league’s offseason moratorium expires.

Meanwhile, a person with knowledge of the negotiations said All-Star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan is staying in Toronto after agreeing early today to the basic parameters of a deal.

DeRozan and the Raptors still were in the process of completing terms, though the sides agreed that he would be staying put, the person told the AP on condition of anonymity because segments of the talks were ongoing.

USA Today Sports first reported that DeRozan and the Raptors had reached a deal.

DeRozan has spent all of his seven NBA seasons with the Raptors. He averaged a career-best 23.5 points this past season, when he helped Toronto reach the Eastern Conference finals.

The Washington Wizards were also reportedly close to a deal to keep shooting guard Bradley Beal, negotiating a five-year maximum contract just after the free agent market’s opening bell, with expectations that the deal will be completed on this morning, a person with knowledge of the situation told the AP.

Beal’s deal will end up being worth close to $130 million. He averaged 17.4 points in his fourth season for the Wizards.

The Lakers moved swiftly in the opening minutes of the NBA’s free agent signing period to use a big portion of their roughly $55 million in cap room on the 7-foot-1 Mozgov, a six-year NBA veteran.

He won a ring with the Cleveland Cavaliers last month despite barely playing in the postseason, averaging 5.8 minutes in 13 appearances. He started 48 games for the Cavs during the regular season after returning from offseason knee surgery, averaging 6.3 points and 4.4 rebounds while making 56.5 percent of his shots.

The Lakers paid an eye-popping price for a soon-to-be 30-year-old center who made $4.95 million last year and has never averaged 11 points or eight rebounds per game in an NBA season.

Yet the deal represents both the inflated realities of the NBA’s increased salary cap and the necessity of overpayment by Los Angeles.

The Lakers aren’t the most attractive free-agent destination in the wake of the worst season in franchise history and Kobe Bryant’s retirement. After going 17-65 last season, they realize they’re unlikely to land Kevin Durant or other top players eager to win championships now.

On Thursday, the Lakers also extended qualifying offers to Jordan Clarkson, Tarik Black and Marcelo Huertas, making all three players restricted free agents.

Meanwhile, Durant started his free-agency tour in a familiar place, meeting with the Thunder on Thursday at Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena hours before he officially hit the market.

Durant still hasn’t made it clear whether he’s going to stay with the Thunder or chase a title elsewhere. He reportedly has meetings set up with Golden State, San Antonio, Miami, Boston and the Clippers in the coming days, but ESPN reported that sources close to the 2014 MVP is leaning strongly toward a return to the Thunder.

The NBA has been anticipating Durant’s decision for more than a year, as rarely does such an accomplished player become a free agent in his prime. The four-time scoring champion led the Thunder to the NBA Finals in 2012, and to the Western Conference finals in four of the past six years — and he’s only 27. He recovered from a broken bone in his right foot that cost him much of the 2014-15 season to post one of the best years of his career.

Staying with Oklahoma City makes sense for Durant. The Thunder had a 3-1 lead on the Warriors before losing the next three games. Durant and the Thunder’s young core could make a move in the West, provided that the youngest emerging stars — Steven Adams and Enes Kanter — continue to improve at their rapid pace. The Thunder made a draft-night trade and sent forward Serge Ibaka to Orlando for guard Victor Oladipo, forward Ersan Ilyasova and draft pick Domantas Sabonis, strengthening the team’s depth and shoring up a question mark at shooting guard.

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