http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/stor ... AHeadlines
The newly minted NBA champions made what amounts to a daring trade Thursday night, shaking up the league's second day of free agency by essentially swapping out on-the-rise swingman Trevor Ariza for the versatile, physical and famously unpredictable Ron Artest.
The Los Angeles Lakers and Artest have struck an agreement in principal on a multiyear contract that, according to sources close to the process, will total roughly $18.7 million over three years or $33.5 million over five years, depending on which contract structure Artest ultimately prefers. But they had to let Ariza go to create the financial flexibility to do so.
It was Artest, not surprisingly, who was the first to announce his forthcoming partnership with Kobe Bryant and his long-awaited move to the glamour capital of the Western Conference, sharing the news with CBSSports.com and writing in a text message to ESPN.com: "I am happy to say I am goin' to L.A."
ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reported late Thursday that the financial aspects of the deal have not been finalized, in part because Artest's camp wants more time to weigh its options. Wednesday is the first day players can sign new contracts for the 2009-10 season, after the league announces the new salary-cap ceiling and luxury-tax threshold.
A five-year contract, which Broussard reports would include a player option on the fifth season, would bring Artest added security in case of injury. The shorter three-year deal, though, would enable Artest to return to free agency at 32, with full Larry Bird rights and the potential to sign a more lucrative deal with the Lakers or another team.
Either way, L.A. has made a sudden and surprising splash, at a time when it was widely expected that the Lakers would merely try this offseason to re-sign Ariza and Lamar Odom. ESPN.com reported Wednesday that Ariza was growing frustrated by the Lakers' reluctance to start his new contract higher than the projected mid-level exception for next season of $5.8 million and giving strong thought to signing elsewhere. The Lakers responded not by trying to cool tensions with one of their most important role players but by moving aggressively in another direction to reach terms with Artest instead.
The potential benefits of Artest's arrival are obvious, given his reputation as one of the game's elite defenders whose offense must also be respected. The Lakers have been frequently chided for what they lack in physicality -- at least they were until winning the championship last month for the first time since 2002 -- but that shouldn't be a concern with Artest around.
The concern will be Artest's ability to operate as a role player and reign in his occasionally suspect shot selection alongside Pau Gasol, Odom and Bryant, even though he counts the latter two as two of his closest friends in the game. "Now that we'll have the same purple and gold on, it's going to be that much better," Artest said of his relationship with Bryant in an interview with SportsCenter Thursday night.
Artest is coming off perhaps his best season of citizenship and production, having helped the Houston Rockets reach the second round of the playoffs even after Tracy McGrady was lost to a season-ending knee injury, but cynics dismissed Artest's compliance as a byproduct of the fact that he was in a contract year.
The Lakers, though, ultimately reached the conclusion that Artest's versatility and physical presence were worth gambling on in spite of the player's reputation and even at the expense of sacrificing the sticky defense and increasingly clutch play Ariza supplied throughout the playoffs at age 24. They'll be depending heavily on the presence of 10-ringed coach Phil Jackson on L.A.'s bench to manage Artest and try to get him to mesh as well as Ariza did.
In his text message to ESPN.com, Artest said that he verbally committed to the Lakers after a lunch meeting Thursday with Lakers owner Jerry Buss and speaking by phone to Jackson. Artest, 29, was also briefly pursued by the Cleveland Cavaliers to join LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal but said that L.A. -- where Artest likes to spend the bulk of his offseason -- was always his preference.
"I am very excited to finally be going to L.A.," Artest said in a statement. "For years now, the Lakers have expressed interest in having me play for them, but we could never get the stars to align. I'm finally a Laker and I can't wait to get on the court with Kobe, Pau and the rest of the team, and play for Phil.
"The Lakers really made me feel wanted. . . . I look forward to helping the Lakers defend their championship, and it will be great to finally not get booed in the Staples Center.
Artest told ESPN he was disappointed that the Rockets were not more aggressive in their attempt to keep him and that he was happy with what he'll make as a Laker, despite the fact that he will be taking a pay cut after earning $7.4 million in his only season in Houston.
"I've made money over my time in the NBA, I lost money when David Stern suspended me [in 2006 for his role in the infamous Pacers-Pistons brawl]," Artest told ESPN. "I'm not playing for the money anymore."
Ps: Im ignoring all the other "free agent" threads and will only post these in here.