- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Where in the world will Ron Artest, a.k.a. Metta World Peace, be playing basketball next?
It's been less than two weeks since the NBA lockout went into place and the Los Angeles Lakers forward has already been linked to two different European destinations.
And already, both basketball locales -- Finland and England -- have been debunked by Artest's agent, David Bauman.
ESPN TrueHoop Network blog BallinEurope.com reported that LoKoKo Loimaa of Finland's top league Korisliiga had reached an agreement with Artest to have him join the team in September. Bauman shot the report down, telling the L.A. Times that it seemed like a "publicity stunt" by the Finnish team.
Artest later told The Times that he planned to play for either the Cheshire Jets or Glasgow Rocks of the British Basketball League while filming a movie in England in the fall.
Yet, his agent said Artest is far from taking his talents to Big Ben.
"I told him, 'Ron, the league over there is not strong enough to really give you the competition that you want,' " Bauman said in a phone interview with ESPNLosAngles.com on Monday. "Even though that makes sense from a (convenience standpoint), it doesn't make sense from a basketball perspective."
Bauman said that Artest's movie deal was not finalized and an agreement with a team was even further from reality at this point.
While the competition available to Artest in Finland and England "aren't serious leagues" according to Bauman, his client is considering other options overseas.
"England is probably the 10th or 12th best league in Europe," Bauman said. "That isn't going to make sense. If we do Europe, it's going to be Israel, Russia, Greece, Turkey, Italy or maybe France. ... When we spoke about the lockout, Ron said, 'Find me the best teams.' "
Bauman also said the two have also considered China and Japan as potential destinations as well. Like the two-birds-with-one-stone rationale of pairing basketball with filming a movie in England, Artest has outside interests in Asia as well. He endorses Peak, a Chinese sportswear brand and also has Chinese recording artist, Shin Shin, signed to his music label.
Even so, Artest's decision will likely come down to the best basketball fit.
"Ron and I looked at it and he said, 'David, I don't want to offend the Busses, I don't want to offend the L.A. Lakers fans, but if there's a chance there's a major work stoppage then, yes, get me a chance to play. I just want to play. It's not a money thing. It's a playing thing.' "
While Deron Williams reportedly informed the New Jersey Nets of his interest in exploring playing opportunities overseas prior to July 1 when the lockout made it forbidden for players and teams to communicate, Bauman said Artest did not broach the subject of playing abroad with Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss prior to the embargo.
Bauman said that all talk about any NBA player currently under contract planning to play overseas next year is premature until FIBA, basketball's governing body in Europe, makes a decision on whether they will open their doors.
A decision by FIBA is expected by the end of the week.
The NBA union's belief is that FIBA would not stand in the way of players whose contracts have been suspended because of the lockout seeking employment elsewhere, according to The Associated Press.
Even if FIBA welcomes players such as Artest to compete in its leagues while the NBA lockout is in place, Bauman remained skeptical that the 12-year veteran would be able to clear two other road blocks that could stand in his way: finding insurance to cover the money owed to him by the Lakers that he would be putting on the line by risking injury in another league and securing a contract with a foreign team that includes an opt-out clause that would allow Artest to return to the NBA as soon as the labor dispute is resolved.
"God forbid any of these guys get hurt," Bauman said. "Can I get $22 million insurance for Ron? I don't think so."
As for teams offering contracts that include an opt-out clause to NBA star players, thus potentially sacrificing team chemistry when the player bolts back to the United States, but gaining the publicity of having a big name on their team, Bauman believes those job opportunities could be rare.
"I think any respectable European team will not sign a Deron Williams or a Ron Artest," Bauman said. "They'll look at the Sonny Weems or the (Darius) Songailas ... and they'll target those guys. Guys who are unrestricted and they won't give an out to and say, 'If you want to sign, you sign (a full season).' "
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
1dMatt Walks, ESPN.com