Ron Artest finally joined the Los Angeles Lakers, but wouldn’t promise another championship on Wednesday as other recent NBA champions made moves that could get them back to the top.
The Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs signed veteran power forwards, with Rasheed Wallace joining the Celtics and Antonio McDyess agreeing to a deal with the Spurs.
They left the Detroit Pistons, who added Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to a former title contender looking to get younger and better.
Wednesday was the first day deals could be signed and Artest called it “a long time coming,” saying he’s wanted to join Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles for many years. He received a five-year deal worth about US$33 million, his agent David Bauman said.
Bryant has said he’s not sure the Lakers would be a better team with Artest, who agreed with the assessment.
“It’s not a given that just because you add me to the team we’re going to be the No. 1 team,” Artest said. “You’ve got to put that work in. That’s something that I’m not afraid to do.”
He changed places with Trevor Ariza, who took Artest’s forward spot at the Houston Rockets. Ariza decided to leave a starting role with the NBA champions and an attempt by the Cleveland Cavaliers to change his mind.
“It was tempting — very, very tempting,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I felt like Houston was the best place for me. I got approached by some really good teams. I felt like I could help this team a lot more and help myself also by being here.”
Gordon and Villanueva agreed to their deals on July 1, the day free agency opened. Gordon, one of the top free agents this summer, signed a US$55 million, five-year contract in leaving Chicago and Villanueva inked a US$35 million, five-year deal as he bid farewell to Milwaukee.
They were teammates at University of Connecticut, where they won a college championship in 2004.
“Ben and I, we’re two very good offensive players,” Villanueva said. “The last time I played with Ben, we won a championship, so that made my decision a little easier.”
The Toronto Raptors re-signed former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani of Italy to a five-year, US$50 million contract extension, as they also closed in on a deal with free agent forward Hedo Turkoglu.
Chris “Birdman” Andersen reached a five-year deal that could be worth up to US$26 million to keep his high-flying, shot-blocking act with the Denver Nuggets, the team he revived his career with last season.
The Lakers also signed guard Shannon Brown to a two-year contract for US$4.2 million. They are still trying to retain free agent forward Lamar Odom, who averaged 12.3 points and 9.1 rebounds during the playoffs.
The Atlanta Hawks and Georgian center Zaza Pachulia agreed on a four-year contract, a person with knowledge of the negotiations said.
Quinton Ross returned to his hometown, signing with the Dallas Mavericks.
■YAO MING OPTIMISTIC
AP, HOUSTON, TEXAS
Even if the Houston Rockets are worried about Yao Ming’s return from a broken left foot, the NBA All-Star center is trying to put everyone at ease.
“I am optimistic about the future and I will return to playing basketball when my foot has fully healed,” Yao said in a statement released by his agent on Wednesday. “My focus is on selecting the best treatment option for my injured foot and committing myself to do what I can to ensure a complete recovery.”
Yao is still consulting with doctors about the hairline fracture and will announce within a week what kind of treatment he’s chosen.
How long that treatment might sideline him is the biggest question facing the Rockets in the off-season, though they’ve already cashed in on his injury in a sense.
The Rockets applied for a disabled player exception from the NBA a few weeks ago, betting their Chinese center will miss next season as he recovers. The NBA agreed that Yao’s return is unlikely and approved the request, freeing about US$5.7 million that the Rockets used to sign free agent Trevor Ariza from the Los Angeles Lakers.
General manager Daryl Morey said the league’s approval for the injury exception does not rule out Yao’s return this season.
Yao broke his foot in a second-round playoff game against the Lakers on May 8. He was fitted for a boot that immobilized his foot and the team initially said he would miss eight and a half weeks.
The Rockets said less than two months later that tests showed Yao’s foot had not healed and he was out indefinitely. The team doctor said later that the injury could potentially end his career.
The Rockets are also awaiting on the return of Tracy McGrady, who underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee in February and could be out until the middle of next season. Morey said he could’ve applied the disabled player exception to McGrady, but thought the league would be more willing to grant the request in Yao’s case.
“We chose the one we thought had the best likelihood of succeeding,” Morey said.