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Artest to join Lakers

Title hunt to bring veteran to champs

Associated Press / July 3, 2009
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The defending champions are not standing pat.

David Bauman, Ron Artest’s agent, said the Houston Rockets forward has verbally agreed to play for the Los Angeles Lakers next season. Bauman said the details are still being worked out.

ESPN.com reported that Artest agreed to a three-year deal worth $18 million.

The 6-foot-7-inch forward earned $7.4 million in his only season with Houston, averaging 17.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. The 2004 Defensive Player of the Year is still only 29, but will be going to his fifth team.

Bauman said Artest was looking for a championship-caliber team when he became an unrestricted free agent Wednesday and the Lakers were one of his top choices.

“He wants to win a ring,’’ Bauman said. “He’s a winner and a hard worker and he went looking for a team with whom he could find some justification for what he does.’’

Artest told CBSSports.com he met with Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss and coach Phil Jackson. In a text message to ESPN.com, Artest wrote: “I am happy to say I am goin’ to LA.’’

Earlier yesterday, Bauman said Artest was being courted by several teams that made the playoffs last season and received text messages from unspecified “superstars’’ who were trying to lure him to their cities. Bauman would not say if Kobe Bryant was one of those players, but acknowledged that their friendship was a factor in Artest’s decision.

“The whole situation was extremely appealing to Ron,’’ Bauman said.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey already seemed resigned to losing Artest, flying to Las Vegas earlier in the day to meet with Lakers forward Trevor Ariza, who last night reached a multiyear deal with the Rockets for about $5.6 million, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. The person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because NBA rules prohibit announcing free agent deals until next week, said the Rockets offered Ariza the full midlevel exception.

Houston already knows it will be missing Tracy McGrady for the bulk of next season as he recovers from microfracture surgery on his left knee. The Rockets are also awaiting a definitive prognosis on Yao Ming, who sustained a hairline fracture in his left foot in the playoffs.

A joker for the King
Shaquille O’Neal and his oversized persona debuted in Cleveland with a stated goal for next season. His friend LeBron James craves a championship, and O’Neal is here to serve.

“My motto is very simple,’’ O’Neal said. “ ‘Win a Ring for the King.’ ’’

The 15-time All-Star center with four NBA titles was bedecked in a black suit, pink shirt, and pink tie for an introductory news conference in Independence, Ohio.

Acquired last week in a blockbuster trade with Phoenix, O’Neal, 37, was welcomed by a team that believes he can bring this title-thirsty region its first major pro sports crown in 45 years.

Flanked by Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry and coach Mike Brown, O’Neal held court for nearly a half-hour as only Shaq can. In front of an audience that included Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, season ticket-holders, and kids from a summer camp, O’Neal gave Cleveland fans their first glimpse of what’s in store. Joined by his wife, Shaunie, O’Neal was calm, comedic, and oozing with confidence.

Yao surgery up in air
Rockets All-Star center Yao Ming will have to wait up to a week before he knows whether he will need surgery on his broken left foot. The playing future of the 7-6 Yao is in question amid reports from the team doctor that the hairline fracture in his foot could keep him out all of next season, and potentially end his career. “It hasn’t been decided yet,’’ Yao’s agent, Eric Zhang, said from Beijing this morning . . . A day after jumping to Detroit, Ben Gordon told a Chicago radio station the Bulls never made a contract offer. “I mean, they didn’t pursue me at all. They didn’t even make an offer so it was pretty much a one-man race,’’ Gordon told ESPN Radio 1000 in Chicago. Gordon agreed to a five-year deal worth $50-plus million with the Pistons Wednesday after leading the Bulls in scoring the past four seasons . . . Knicks president Donnie Walsh says he will consider giving more than a one-year deal to a free agent, following an ESPN.com report that he plans to do that with Jason Kidd. The Knicks hosted Kidd and his agent Wednesday.

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