Sports Headlines - July 1




Free agency opens in the NBA

(AP) - Attention, shoppers! Free agency in the NBA is open, and LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony are available.

Players and teams began negotiating just past midnight EDT this morning, though contracts can't be signed until July 10, after next season's salary cap has been set.

James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who joined together in Miami in 2010 and have led the Heat to two championships and four straight NBA Finals, all became free agents.

Though many expect that trio to stay with the Heat, Anthony could be persuaded to leave the New York Knicks for a team he believes gives him a better chance to compete for a championship. He was visiting Chicago on Tuesday, and Houston and Dallas also could try to pry the 2012-13 scoring champion away from the Knicks, who can pay him around $30 million more than any team under NBA rules.

Longtime stars Paul Pierce, Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol also are free agents, along with players such as Toronto's Kyle Lowry and Indiana's Lance Stephenson, who are coming off their best seasons in the league.

It's the most anticipated free agency class since 2010, when James led a class that included Wade, Bosh, and other All-Stars such as Amare Stoudemire and Joe Johnson.

That free agency period changed the NBA. This one might mostly change the Heat.

They are in need of an upgrade after getting smashed by San Antonio in the finals, and the Big Three could help give them the means to make one if they agree to salaries that won't clog up too much of the cap.

Knicks president Phil Jackson hopes Anthony also agrees to take less than a maximum salary, which would be more than $125 million if he stayed in New York.

Also in New York, the Brooklyn Nets stagger into free agency without their coach after letting Jason Kidd leave for the Milwaukee Bucks. The teams agreed to a deal Monday, with the Bucks sending two future second-round picks to the Nets, who allowed Kidd to pursue other jobs after denying his request for more power in the organization.

Brooklyn has Pierce and Shaun Livingston among its key players who are free agents.

The Los Angeles Lakers have plenty of money to offer, along with the chance to play with Kobe Bryant. Teams such as Phoenix and Atlanta have some good pieces in place and enough cap space to add another.

They would love a shot at James, as would his home state Cleveland Cavaliers, the team he left in 2010. But it's unclear how seriously the four-time MVP will listen to other teams after meeting with six suitors when he was last a free agent.

The Cavaliers may not get James back, but they will have their current All-Star for a while. Owner Dan Gilbert wrote on Twitter early Tuesday morning that he had an agreement on a five-year contract extension with Kyrie Irving, the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft.

"Looking forward to the next 6 years of Kyrie Irving in CLE. Just shook hands & intend to sign on the 10th," Gilbert wrote, adding that he couldn't be more excited about the Cavs' future.

Players such as Cleveland's Luol Deng and Washington's Trevor Ariza could be good fallback options for teams who can't get James or Anthony.



Altidore, referee focus before U.S./Belgium match

(AP) - They know the eyes of the United States will be on them from thousands of miles away, and they say they are ready.

The Americans try to reach the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time since 2002 when they play Belgium on Tuesday.

"For some of the guys, it's the last opportunity, so we have to make the most of it," U.S. captain Clint Dempsey said. "And I'm sure if we play to the best of our ability, we'll get a positive result."

There were two bits of news on the eve of the match. Jozy Altidore has recovered sufficiently from his left hamstring strain to be available, although it appears he is unlikely to start. The forward has not played since the Americans' June 16 opener, when he was taken off on a stretcher during the first half.

"Just having him with us tomorrow is huge," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said Monday, adding Altidore's time on the field depends on "how much work is in his legs."

Klinsmann created a stir by saying he isn't happy with FIFA's choice of referee, Algeria's Djamel Haimoudi. His nation was eliminated by the U.S. in 2010, and Algeria played in the same first-round group as Belgium.

"Is it a good feeling? No," Klinsmann said at a news conference.

Belgium coach Marc Wilmots dismissed Klinsmann's comments, saying: "If we start going into this, it is looking for excuses ahead of the match."

The United States and Belgium haven't played in the World Cup since the first tournament in 1930, a 3-0 win by the Americans.

A lot more people are following now. The U.S. averaged more than 18 million viewers on ESPN and Spanish-language Univision for its three first-round games, and viewing parties are scheduled for Tuesday ranging from Solider Field in Chicago to Veteran's Park in Redondo Beach, California.

"The country is paying attention in a way that it's never
done before, and we have a chance to make some history," U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said.

President Barack Obama even watched last week from Air Force One.

A victory against Belgium would put the U.S. in a Saturday quarterfinal against Argentina or Switzerland. With kickoff at 4 p.m. EDT, people are expected to leave work early, take extended lunch breaks and sneak looks at online streams from their mobile phones and office desktops.

"It means a lot to us, the energy that comes from the United States," said Klinsmann, the former German star striker who moved to California in 1998. "You see where the game is going in the United States. You can't stop it anymore. It's breaking through."

The 13th-ranked Americans are in the knockout rounds of consecutive World Cups for the first time. Belgium, ranked 11th after missing the last two World Cups, has won three straight games at soccer's showcase for the first time.

But the Red Devils are banged up. Central defender Vincent Kompany (strained left groin) is questionable and left back Thomas Vermaelen (right hamstring) is out. Midfielders Moussa Dembele and Marouane Fellaini — known for his mop of bushy dark hair — have been slowed by calf injuries.

Fellaini is a former Everton teammate of American goalkeeper Tim Howard, who played with Belgian forwards Romelu Lukaku and Kevin Mirallas last season. Howard is also familiar with Eden Hazard, who was criticized for his play during the first round despite setting up go-ahead goals against Russia and Algeria.

"Probably one of the best players in the Premier League," Howard said. "He's shifty. He's crafty. He's everything you want in a winner."

Dempsey, 31, and 32-year-old defender DaMarcus Beasley are unlikely to be on the 2018 roster. Howard, 35, hasn't committed to another four-year cycle.

"I'm not at all sure it's his last World Cup," Gulati said.

Belgium is quite familiar with Klinsmann: He scored in Germany's 3-2 win over Belgium at Chicago's Soldier Field in the second round of the 1994 World Cup.

Klinsmann and Wilmots are friends, too. They had scheduled a training session between the teams June 12, but Wilmots called it off because he didn't want to get caught in Sao Paulo's traffic jams.

Last year, Belgium overwhelmed the U.S. 4-2 in an exhibition at Cleveland. But friendlies are different.

The Americans know they have to boost their offense, which was next to last in attacks during the first round.

"It's all about who wants it more," Beasley said. "You can't leave anything on the field for these type of games."

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Kent Richards
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