With more than $11 million in salary-cap space available, the 76ers dove into free agency shortly after the bell rang at 12:01 a.m. yesterday and targeted Josh Smith, the young and talented forward of the Atlanta Hawks, as their primary prospect, but not their only one.

The 6-foot-9 Smith, a restricted free agent, was contacted by the Sixers almost immediately. A team spokesman said Smith and his representatives planned to meet today with president and general manager Ed Stefanski.

The spokesman also said the Sixers contacted Smith's teammate, 6-8 forward Josh Childress, yesterday and expect to bring him to Philadelphia, but did not say when.

Brian Dyke, the agent for Smith, confirmed that he met yesterday with the Hawks, who have the right to match any offer made by the Sixers or any other team. Dyke refused to say how many teams had contacted him about Smith.

Stefanski was not available for comment.

Smith, 22, the Hawks' first-round draft choice in 2004 (No. 17 overall), has averaged 13.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots in his four seasons. He helped lead Atlanta to its first playoff berth since 1999 last season, averaging a career-best 17.2 points along with 8.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocks.

Smith is a ferocious shot-blocker, having finished second to Denver's Marcus Camby in each of the last two seasons. He can run the floor and finish, making him a good fit for the Sixers' up-tempo style.

He's also adept at scoring in the low post, but sometimes takes too many perimeter shots. He made 45.7 percent of his field-goal attempts last season but just 25.3 percent (25 of 99) from three-point range.

Smith turned down a $45 million contract extension before the start of last season. The Hawks apparently would be in a bind to match any offer from the Sixers because of big contracts they are paying to Mike Bibby ($15.2 million next season) and Joe Johnson ($14.2 million). They also hope to resign Childress.

But the Hawks energized the city of Atlanta by making the playoffs and taking the eventual NBA champion Boston Celtics to seven games, and have vowed to do all they can to keep Smith and Childress there.

Childress, 25, averaged 11.8 points and 4.9 rebounds last season, his fourth in the NBA with the Hawks.

The Sixers also were believed to have an interest in veteran Los Angeles Clippers forward Elton Brand, but declined comment on whether they had contacted him.

Brand opted out of the final year of his contract, giving up $16.4 million in guaranteed money. The Los Angeles Times reported that while Brand would prefer to stay with the Clippers, the player mentioned the Sixers as an option.

David Falk, the agent for Brand, did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

In pursuing free agents, the Sixers also have to negotiate with their own restricted free agents, Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams. Both players were tended qualifying offers last week, meaning the Sixers can match any offer they receive.

Because only four NBA teams - the Sixers, the Clippers, the Golden State Warriors and the Memphis Grizzlies - are under the salary cap, there is not much money available for high-ticket free agents such as Iguodala, who turned down a five-year, $57 million deal with the Sixers before the start of last season.

Merle Scott, the agent for Williams, said he received five calls from around the league concerning the 21-year-old guard, who just finished his third season and averaged a career-best 11.5 points. But he said his client's wish is to stay in Philadelphia.

Notes.

Andy Miller, the agent for forward Marreese Speights, the Sixers' first-round pick in last week's draft, said he was ready to have his client sign a contract before next week's start of the Las Vegas Summer League. Under the NBA's rookie salary scale, Speights can sign for $1,285,500 this season and $1,381,900 next season. . . . Former Sixers general manager John Nash has been named a pro personnel scout for the team. Nash also has been GM with Washington, New Jersey and Portland.

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com