Paul staying put; Howard hears pitches to leave

Chris Paul’s answer was brief, just like his time on the free agent market.

“I’M IN!!!” he wrote Monday on Twitter.

He will be staying with the Clippers, the longtime losers he helped turned into a division champion in just two seasons.

Dwight Howard will need more time to think.

Free agency opened Monday in the NBA with the focus on the pair of Los Angeles All-Stars, 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 Houston Rockets early Monday, the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks also are interested, and the Lakers have said repeatedly 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 wrote on Twitter that 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 were visiting Howard later Monday, trying to convince him to join his hometown team.

And he’ll meet Tuesday with the Lakers’ delegation. His first — 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 Monday that he was flying from New York to Los Angeles to help the Lakers make their pitch.

“(Dwight Howard) we’re coming for you,” he wrote. “You’re going to love the statue we build for you outside Staples in 20yrs!”

Contracts can’t be signed until July 10, after the next season’s salary cap has been set.

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 Associated Press 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 Knicks are hoping Andrea Bargnani relocates his outside shot after agreeing to a deal with Toronto to acquire the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 draft. The Raptors will receive Knicks reserves Steve Novak, Marcus Camby and Quentin Richardson, who will be signed-and-traded. The Knicks are also sending the Raptors a 2016 first-round pick and two second-round picks, according to a person with knowledge of the details.

Bargnani averaged a career-best 21.4 points just three seasons ago, but finished with his worst scoring and shooting numbers last season since he posted career worsts of 10.2 points and 38.6 percent shooting in 2007-08.

Other top players that are available include Denver’s Andre Iguodala and Philadelphia’s Andrew Bynum — both part of the four-way trade that sent Howard from Orlando to Los Angeles last summer — and Indiana’s 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 San Antonio Spurs, who also could lose forward Tiago Splitter.

Miami is trying to hold onto Chris Andersen, which would essentially keep together the entire core of the team that beat San Antonio in seven games to win the NBA championship.

In other action Monday, a person with knowledge of the deal said Eric Maynor has agreed to a contract with the Washington Wizards.

Maynor will serve as the backup point guard behind John Wall. Maynor’s deal was confirmed a person speaking on condition of anonymity.

Maynor also confirmed the news on his Twitter account, saying he appreciated all the love and support and was “excited to be signing” with the Wizards.

Also, Andray Blatche will return as a backup in Brooklyn. The 6-foot-11 forward-center agreed to a multiyear deal with the Nets, his agent said. Blatche appeared in all 82 games last season, averaging 10.3 points.

AP sportswriter Charles Odum in Atlanta contributed to this report.