Ariza Taking Artest's Place in Houston
Ariza expressed disdain that the Lakers only offered the mid-level exception (approximately $5.6 million per season) and said he would take a comparable contract elsewhere. The Rockets can only offer the mid-level but with Yao Ming likely to miss next season with a left foot injury and Tracy McGrady coming off microfracture knee surgery, Ariza would have a chance to shine with the Rockets.
The question for the Ariza, 24, is whether that is enough for him to risk playing with a rebuilding team next season. The Portland Trail Blazers, who are also courting Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu, have an opening for a swingman with Martell Webster coming off injury.
Ariza flourished last season in helping the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA title and has transformed from a journeyman to a marketable player because of his age, potential and rapidly improving game. The Lakers had the difficult decision of choosing between Ariza and Lamar Odom, who should demand more money. Artest, on the other hand, was willing to accept the mid level for a chance to play in Los Angeles.
With Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton signed to long-term deals, the Lakers were limited in what they could offer Ariza. Also, the acquisition of Adam Morrison, which also netted the useful Shannon Brown, counts $5.2 million against the cap for next season. And the Lakers have $41 million tied to Andrew Bynum over the next three years, which could become a cap killer if he does not improve.