Versatile forward Ariza joins Rockets

Updated: July 8, 2009, 8:00 PM ET
Associated Press

HOUSTON -- Trevor Ariza liked what he saw in Houston enough to leave the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Rockets formally introduced the versatile forward on Wednesday after he signed a multiyear contract.

Ariza
Ariza

The 24-year-old free agent agreed to join the Rockets last Thursday night, switching places with free agent Ron Artest, who left Houston to play for the Lakers.

"I think this was the best place for me," Ariza said. "I think I have more of an opportunity here."

The 6-foot-8 Ariza averaged 8.9 points and 4.3 rebounds and shot 32 percent from 3-point range for Los Angeles in the regular season. He raised his stock during the Lakers' championship run, averaging 11.3 points, 2.3 assists and shooting 47.6 percent from 3-point range in the playoffs.

Even after agreeing to terms with the Rockets, other teams were still trying to change his mind, including the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Ariza spoke to LeBron James, but said James did not indicate he would stay with Cleveland after next season, when he becomes a free agent.

"He had nothing to say about his future," Ariza said. "He just told me that if I was to come there, we would have a good chance of winning. That's all you want to do is win."

Ariza expected that kind of attention because of how the Lakers finished their season.

"It was tempting -- very, very tempting," he said. "But at the end of the day, I felt like Houston was the best place for me. I got approached by some really good teams. I felt like I could help this team a lot more and help myself also by being here."

The Rockets will need him as they rebuild for next season and beyond.

The futures of All-Stars Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming are in doubt as they recover from serious injuries, and general manager Daryl Morey struck out on an aggressive effort to sign Marcin Gortat of Orlando to fill in for Yao next season.

McGrady could be out until February after microfracture surgery on his left knee, and Yao could be out for the 2009-10 season with a broken left foot.

The NBA granted Houston a disabled player exception in Yao's case and the Rockets used that money (about $5.7 million) to sign Ariza. The Rockets still have money in a midlevel exception (also about $5.7 million) to use on one or more free agents.

With so much in doubt, Morey was relieved to lock up some long-term security in Ariza, who played only one season at UCLA before he was drafted by New York in the second round in 2004.

"We feel like he's added something to his game every year," Morey said. "We just see him as a young player who's going to keep improving. You don't find many players like Trevor who come into the league at that age, who continue to add to their game."

Ariza said he dramatically improved his 3-point shooting last season and he should fit well into coach Rick Adelman's free-flowing offensive system. Ariza said he and Adelman have talked about him taking a featured role next season.

"Every player wants to be that," Ariza said. "You just want to feel like you're a part of something, and I feel like I'm a part of something here."

Ariza and the Lakers needed seven games to eliminate the Rockets in the second round of the playoffs. He admired the way the Rockets played in the series and that factored into his decision to come here.

"This is a great, young team that has a lot of potential," Ariza said. "They're very, very scrappy and they never give up, and that's the type of player I am. No matter what the situation is, I'm still fighting. That's the kind of players they have here and I'm happy to be a part of that."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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