By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst
Posted Jul 2 2009 11:11PM
The Houston Rockets, fresh off losing Ron Artest to the Los Angeles Lakers, have essentially swapped players by agreeing to terms with Lakers free agent forward Trevor Ariza, whom Artest will be replacing in Los Angeles. The deal will be for five years at the mid-level exception; based on last season's $5.585 million amount for the mid-level, Ariza would get around $32 million.
"We came to an understanding with Houston," said Ariza's agent, David Lee.
Lee said that Ariza actually turned down a bigger offer from Toronto in order to sign with the Rockets, who have been reeling since the news last week that star center Yao Ming's foot injury has not healed since the playoffs and may have gotten worse. The team is not certain if Yao will miss part or all of next season. (A source close to Yao said that within the next three or four days, the team hopes to find consensus among up to five doctors on a course of treatment for Yao, which will almost certainly involve surgery.)
Toronto has been looking to make a score in free agency, having dalliances with Magic unrestricted free agent forward Hedo Turkoglu and Knicks restricted free agent forward David Lee. However, to sign Turkoglu for the five years and $10 million annually he's seeking, Toronto would have to renounce its rights to several of its current free agents, including Shawn Marion and guards Anthony Parker and Carlos Delfino, who played this past season in Russia but whose rights still belong to the Raptors.
"We had a substantially larger offer above the mid-level from Toronto," Lee said. "Trevor decided to go to Houston. I told Mitch (Kupchak, the Lakers' general manager) that it was never about the money; it was about respect."
The 24-year-old Ariza, acquired by Los Angeles last season from Orlando, enjoyed a breakout year this past season with the Lakers, helping Los Angeles to the NBA championship with excellent perimeter defense and clutch three-point shooting. Coach Phil Jackson thought enough of Ariza's abilities that he became a starter down the stretch and in the playoffs, keeping Lamar Odom coming off the bench. But Ariza was looking for a significant raise from the $3.1 million he made this season, and wanted a deal in excess of the mid-level exception.
The Lakers balked, and Ariza began courting other teams. Houston jumped in quickly, with general manager Daryl Morey meeting Ariza in Las Vegas on Thursday.
"Obviously, Daryl made a good impression on him," Lee said.
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