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 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.