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NBA’s Hunt for Bargains is On

Free agency offers NBA have-nots the chance to instantly improve their teams, but this year the strong teams would seem to have gotten stronger.

The poor economic climate was a factor as the last two NBA champions, the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, sought stars at bargain prices.

With the signing period open as of 12:01 a.m. today, forwards Ron Artest (Lakers) and Rasheed Wallace (Celtics) were expected to sign contracts for the mid level exception of roughly $5.6 million. Last season, Wallace made $13.7 million with the Detroit Pistons and Artest made $7.4 million with the Houston Rockets.

"In terms of the economy, it's had a significant effect on players. No one has escaped it," Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wrote in an e-mail. "Teams are searching just as hard for places to cut costs as we do to find players."

With clubs trying to avoid exceeding the luxury-tax threshold (expected to be roughly $69 million for next season), fewer mega-million-dollar contracts could be the trend.

"I definitely see a trend," ESPN analyst Jon Barry said. "Instead of chasing the money, players want to play for winners. They realize the more you win, the better off you are and you're going to make the money."

Wallace would join a frontcourt that includes Kevin Garnett - coming off a knee injury that sidelined him for the last month of the regular season plus the playoffs - and Paul Pierce. Artest would fill the spot left open if Trevor Ariza signs with the Rockets, as expected.

"I love the move," Barry said. "Ariza was a big loss. But if you believe Kobe Bryant has three more prime years left, then I'd rather have Artest in that window than Ariza."

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