Agent: Bell agrees to terms with Jazz
He's signing with the Utah Jazz instead.
Agent Herb Rudoy told The Associated Press that Bell and the Jazz have agreed to terms on a three-year deal worth nearly $10 million, prompting Bell to cancel his sit-down in Los Angeles with Bryant that had been scheduled for Wednesday night.
"He loved playing for Jerry. He loved living in Salt Lake," Rudoy said Thursday. "It was an easy decision for him to come back."
Rudoy said Bell is thrilled to be coming back to Utah, where his career took off during two seasons with the Jazz between 2003 and 2005. He was a favorite with both the fans and coach Jerry Sloan because of his defense.
Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said Bell just needs to pass his physical and show his left wrist has recovered from surgery last year and Utah will gladly welcome back the gritty defender who can motivate his young teammates.
"We know he's a competitor. He and Coach have a terrific relationship," O'Connor said. "This deal probably would not get done if it wasn't for that he had played for Coach and wanted to play for him again."
Sources say that Bell also received a two-year offer from Chicago on Wednesday worth in excess of $8 million, but the second year of that deal was incentive-based depending on Bell's ability to appear in at least 60 games.
But Bell snapped up Utah's offer, despite the heavy interest from Chicago and all the lobbying he received from Bryant in the form of phone and text messages. With Bell originally planning to attend Wednesday's ESPYS in Los Angeles, Bell and Bryant agreed to set up an in-person discussion in conjunction with the trip.
With a helicopter arranged to transport him to the evening meeting with Bryant, Bell had to notify his longtime foil that the Lakers were no longer an option and the meeting was scrapped.
After news of Bell's decision began to spread, The Salt Lake Tribune's Ross Siler reported via his Twitter feed that the imminent signing means Utah will not match the five-year, $34 million offer sheet Portland extended last week to young Jazz guard Wesley Matthews.
Hard as it ever was to picture that Bell and Bryant could play on the same team after their many playoff battles, Bryant refused to give in to that notion.
As Bell acknowledged last week in a phone interview with ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin, Bryant called the 33-year-old swingman numerous times to urge him to sign with the Lakers, despite the fact that Bryant was unforgettably clotheslined to the floor by Bell in Game 5 of a testy Suns-Lakers series in 2006 that L.A. ultimately lost in seven games.
The Lakers, though, simply couldn't compete with Utah financially after their own busy summer. The two-time defending champions had only $1.8 million of their midlevel exception left to offer Bell next season after signing Steve Blake.
One source close to the situation said the memory of Bell's takedown, which earned him a suspension for Game 6 of the series -- the Suns, down 3-2, won the game at Staples Center without him -- was actually one of the factors that convinced Bryant to recruit Bell so aggressively. The premise? Anyone with the gumption to hit Bryant that hard is someone he wants on his team.
The sentiments between them weren't so pleasant during the 2006 playoffs. After the hit, which earned Bell the nickname "Kobe Chopper," Bell publicly blasted Bryant as a "pompous, arrogant individual" who gets preferential treatment from the refs.
"It's a personal thing when someone continually hits you in the face," Bell said after Game 5.
Bryant then answered with a memorable rant during which he repeatedly referred to Bell, who is two years older, as some "kid."
"Does he know me?" Bryant said. "Do I know this guy? I don't know this guy. I might have said one word to this guy. I don't know this kid. I think he overreacts to stuff. ... I don't know this kid. I don't need to know this kid. I don't want to. We go out there, we play the game and leave it at that. Maybe he wasn't hugged enough as a kid. I look at him a little bit, he gets a little insecure or something. I don't know."
Four years later, Bryant and Bell know each other much better and have buried the animosity. But it wasn't enough to keep Bell away from the Jazz, who have responded to the departures of Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver with the intriguing acquisitions of Al Jefferson and Bell.
The Lakers, meanwhile, continue to talk to free-agent guard Shannon Brown about a return after signing Blake and Monday's re-signing of Derek Fisher. One source close to the situation said Brown and the Lakers were in "serious discussions" about hammering out a new deal.
Bell played in only six games last season because of the wrist injury that required surgery in December. He began the season with the Charlotte Bobcats, then was dealt to the Golden State Warriors in November as part of the Stephen Jackson trade. The Warriors released him in March, but Bell has been pursued by several playoff teams since free agency began July 1 now that he has recovered.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.