Terms of Artest's deal not finalized
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 principle 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 the Lakers 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 reported 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 surprising splash, when it was widely expected 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.
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The Lakers answered not by raising their offer to Ariza, but by quickly reaching 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 also must 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 rein 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 despite the player's reputation.
Although the presence of coach Phil Jackson on L.A.'s bench to manage Artest presumably can only help, it's a signing that forced the Lakers to sacrifice the sticky defense and increasingly clutch play Ariza supplied throughout the playoffs at age 24.
In his text message to ESPN.com, Artest said he verbally committed to the Lakers after a lunch meeting Thursday with owner Jerry Buss and speaking by phone to Jackson.
Artest, 29, also was 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."
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.