You want buzz? How's Ron Artest playing on the same team with LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal?
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the Cavs -- and LeBron himself -- are recruiting Artest to form a new Big Three in Cleveland that would be entertaining, potentially combustible, and perhaps even really, really good. The possibilities are endless -- great quotes, controversies, Artest advocating for LeBron in the LeBron-Kobe debate. Maybe even a championship.
Artest has been fielding offers from several teams, but so far the most impressive has to be Cleveland's courtship, which included LeBron making an in-person pitch recently when both players were in Los Angeles for events. This could develop quickly; a person close to Artest indicated that the small forward was expecting to start sorting through offers as early as Wednesday night.
By joining the Rockets last season and not making any waves -- not to mention his mostly effective contributions in the playoffs -- Artest earned himself one more free-agent score. And the value won't necessarily be measured in dollars, but in the opportunity to win a championship. For that reason, and in order to repay the Rockets for taking a chance on him, Artest had been leaning toward returning to Houston. But the possibility that Yao Ming could miss the entire 2009-10 season has changed everything.
Artest made several conspicuous appearances at Lakers home games during the Finals, and L.A. could be a formidable competitor for Artest's services -- especially if the Lakers lose either Lamar Odom or Trevor Ariza, both unrestricted free agents.
The most the Cavs can offer is the mid-level exception of about $5.6 million, and Artest figures to do better elsewhere -- in terms of dollars but not opportunity. At various times during the past two years as he approached free agency, Artest repeatedly said he wasn't looking for one more pay day, but rather for the chance to win a championship. The opportunity has arrived.
Here's more free-agent buzz from conversations with executives, agents, and others in the know:
* After CBSSports.com reported early Wednesday that the Trail Blazers were aggressively pursuing Hedo Turkoglu, the free-agent forward will receive a visit from Portland coach Nate McMillan Wednesday night in Orlando. Turkoglu is expected to accept the team's invitation to tour Portland and the Blazers' facilities on Thursday. An offer -- believed to be a five-year deal in the $50 million range -- is expected to be extended at that time. As many as five teams have inquired about Turkoglu -- some with cap room, some without, according to agent Lon Babby. One of them is not the Detroit Pistons, who have focused their attention on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.
UPDATE: The Raptors are debating whether to make a pre-emptive offer to Turkoglu that would top Portland's, but that would require renouncing the rights to Shawn Marion, Carlos Delfino, and Anthony Parker. Another option is to keep those players and sign a mid-level free agent. If the Raptors decide to go for a bigger name, Turkoglu isn't the only one they're considering. They also have interest in Knicks restricted free agent David Lee.
* The Knicks rolled out the red carpet for Jason Kidd at Madison Square Garden Wednesday, but the Mavericks still have the advantage in their efforts to retain the future Hall of Fame point guard. A person familiar with the talks said there are strong indications that Mavs owner Mark Cuban is willing to offer Kidd a three-year deal, which is well beyond what the Knicks are prepared to offer.
* Suns free agent Grant Hill received an in-person pitch from Steve Kerr in Orlando after free agency opened at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday and has been invited to visit the Knicks next week. The Celtics, who are heavily recruiting Rasheed Wallace, also have expressed interest in Hill.
* If Trevor Ariza feels slighted that all the Lakers can offer him is the mid-level exception, it's not clear where he's going to do better than that on the open market. One rival executive believes the Lakers have prioritized Ariza over their other unrestricted free agent, Lamar Odom, and several sources believe they still have a chance to retain both. The Spurs have expressed interest in Odom, as well as Marcin Gortat (courted by the Rockets), and Antonio McDyess.