AUBURN HILLS - Two NBA officials confirmed Friday night that Detroit center Ben Wallace, considered by most to be the top free agent available this summer, is scheduled to meet with the Chicago Bulls in Chicago today. Teams can begin negotiating with free agents today, but they can not sign players to contracts until July 12.
The Bulls are one of the few teams that will have enough salary cap space to sign Wallace, who as an unrestricted free agent can sign with any team he wants.
While all indications have been that Wallace would re-sign with Detroit, several league officials contacted on Friday said that they're not surprised that the 31-year-old Wallace will consider all his options.
"This is going to be the biggest contract of his career," said one Western Conference official. "He wants to come back to Detroit. Everybody knows that. But he wants to get the best deal he can, too. The only way to make sure that happens, is to see what other teams are willing to offer."
Another factor in negotiations is Wallace's new agent, Arn Tellem, who represents some of the NBA's top players like Los Angeles Lakers' guard Kobe Bryant, Houston's Tracy McGrady, and Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal.
Tellem was instrumental in convincing the Bulls this past season to release one of his clients, Tim Thomas, in time for Thomas to be eligible for the playoffs. Thomas signed with the Phoenix Suns, and was a key performer in helping Phoenix advance to the Western Conference finals.
That relationship, coupled with the Bulls likely to have $15-17 million available to offer Wallace, might be enough to entice the five-time All-star to leave a Pistons team that's expected to offer him a contract in that's expected to start in the $12-14 million range.
Joe Dumars, Detroit's president of basketball operations, has every intention of re-signing Wallace. However, earlier this week he mentioned that the team has a number of contingency plans they will consider if Wallace decides to play elsewhere.
"You have to have an initial plan and you have to have contingencies in a situation like this," Dumars said following Wednesday night's NBA draft. "Because everything is not in your hands, so you better have contingencies. If this were like a restricted free agent, you could sit here and plot out, 'here's (plan) A and here's (plan) B.' But when it's someone else's call at the end of the day, it puts you in a position where you have to have one or two different plans."
Among those options would be to work out a sign-and-trade, similar to what they did with Grant Hill in 2000 when they traded him to Orlando for Wallace and ex-Piston Chucky Atkins. If the Pistons were to pursue a sign-and-trade with the Bulls, they would probably ask for the deal to include Tyson Chandler who, like Wallace, is a defensive-minded shot blocking center.