CLEVELAND — Trevor Ariza and Ron Artest opted to trade places out West, so the Cavaliers’ free-agent quest has shifted to the Great White North.
Toronto Raptors shooting guard Anthony Parker, a skilled defender and perimeter player, is reportedly the new object of Cleveland’s affections. The two-time Euroleague MVP is believed to be seeking the NBA midlevel annual exception of $5.6 million.
Parker, 34, has spent the past three seasons with Toronto after a successful six-year run playing overseas. He averaged 10.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists last winter for the Raptors, while shooting .834 from the foul line and .390 beyond the arc.
The 6-6, 215-pounder regularly guarded Cavs superstar LeBron James when their teams played and did a solid job — despite Parker being the only defensive-minded player on the floor for Toronto at most times.
Cleveland general manager Danny Ferry made a strong play to sign the athletic swingman in 2006 when he left Israeli Super League power Maccabi Tel Aviv, but was outbid by Toronto’s three-year, $13 million offer.
If the Cavs add Parker — either through free agency or a sign-and-trade agreement — he would likely become their starting off-guard. That would allow the smaller, but tough-as-nails Delonte West to come off the bench at both backcourt spots.
Parker was New Jersey’s first-round pick in the 1997 draft, but flamed out of the NBA in less than three seasons split between Philadelphia and Orlando. He subsequently played in the CBA, Israel and Italy before returning to the NBA as a well-rounded, complementary player.
Since heading to Toronto, Parker has fashioned the ninth-best 3-point percentage in NBA history at .415, which puts him third among active players behind Philadelphia’s Jason Kapono and Phoenix’s Steve Nash (Cleveland guard Daniel Gibson sits 11th all-time at .412).
While Parker is known in basketball circles around the globe, he isn’t the most famous person in his family.
His younger sister, Candace, is the reigning WNBA MVP with the Los Angeles Sparks and is married to Minnesota Timberwolves forward Shelden Williams.
The Cavs’ strong interest in Parker became more intense late Thursday when Artest and Ariza decided to switch jerseys and teams.
Artest signed with the Los Angeles Lakers for a one-year, $5.6 million contract, while Ariza accepted a five-year, $33 million deal with the Houston Rockets. The latter deal appears risky on the surface, considering Ariza only blossomed into a rotation player last year (in his fifth NBA season with his third team).
Artest told CBSSports.com that his discussions with Cleveland “never got that far,” but added, “I love the Cleveland Cavaliers, though. I love LeBron and Coach (Mike) Brown and Shaq (O’Neal).”
Both of the aforementioned contracts, along with all other deals, will not become official until the league-wide transaction moratorium ends on July 8.
Cleveland, like most teams, is unwilling to commit long-term dollars to non-star players because of James’ impending 2010 free agency. It must preserve salary cap space in order to be able to sign an additional Olympic-caliber player, like Toronto’s Chris Bosh, to play alongside “The Chosen One.”
That also affects the Cavs’ ongoing negotiations with power forward Anderson Varejao, who declined to pick up the final year on his contract that would have been worth $6.2 million. He has received little interest from other clubs — as was the case two years ago when he was a restricted free agent — and may wind up taking a pay cut wherever he lands.
Brian Dulik may be reached at (330) 721-4055 or email@example.com.