Four months later, Trevor Ariza still has some bitterness when he talks about his contract negotiations with the Lakers.
On the court, basketball is about winning, about producing, about becoming an NBA champion. Ariza did all that last season, having the best of his five seasons in the league, as the Lakers won the NBA title with him starting at small forward.
Off the court, though, basketball is a business.
"You learn that it's cutthroat," Ariza said Tuesday. "It doesn't always go the way you want it to."
That's what Ariza learned after he became a free agent and began negotiating with the Lakers for a new contract, which he didn't get, because the Lakers signed Ron Artest instead.
Ariza's agent, David Lee, began talks with Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak asking for around $7 million to $8 million a season. The Lakers were offering Ariza about $5.8 million a year. The two sides agreed to continue talking, with the Lakers telling Lee to get other offers and to come back to them.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Houston Rockets were very interested, but neither team could offer Ariza more than the Lakers offered.
Meanwhile, the Lakers made the same offer to Artest, who quickly accepted, agreeing to a five-year, $33.7 million deal.
Stunned and disappointed, Ariza then signed with the Rockets for five years and $33.9 million. "Of course I was upset," Ariza said. "But there was nothing I could do about it."
Artest played last season for Houston, so it amounted to a swap of free-agent forwards.
"I'm happy for Ron Artest," Ariza said. "He's doing what he wants to do and he has a chance to play in L.A. like he's always wanted to do. I don't never have no hard feelings and I don't wish bad on anybody. I wish him the best of luck and that team the best of luck."
Ariza has spoken with many of his former teammates, and said he watched the Lakers play on television last Friday when they lost to Dallas.
And tonight the Lakers play at Houston.
Ariza is already looking ahead to Nov. 15 when the Rockets play the Lakers at Staples Center, because he'll be presented with his NBA championship ring. "I worked hard for that ring," he said.
Last season, Ariza showed some offensive spark with the Lakers, especially in the playoffs when he averaged 11.3 points and shot 49.7% from the field and 47.6% from three-point range.
But with the Rockets, Ariza has taken his game to new heights, while Artest has started slowly. Ariza leads the Rockets in scoring (21.3) and minutes (37.5). He's making 47.5% of his shots, including 52% of his three-pointers, and he's doing all this without Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady.
"Everybody, I think, in the NBA can score," Ariza said. "It's just that I didn't really need to do that in L.A., and I never really had an opportunity to do it anywhere else. Now I'm getting my opportunity."
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The big switch
A look at the statistics for Houston's Trevor Ariza and the Lakers' Ron Artest through the first four games of the season:
*--* DATE OPP., RESULT MIN PTS REB AST Oct. 27 L. to Portland, 96-87 33 12 3 2 Oct. 28 Def. Golden St., 108-107 40 25 5 5 Oct. 31 Def. Portland, 111-107 43 33 3 3 Nov. 2 Def. Utah, 113-96 34 15 2 3 SEASON AVERAGES 37.5 21.3 3.3 3.3 *--*
*--* DATE OPP., RESULT MIN PTS REB AST Oct. 27 Def. Clippers, 99-92 41 10 5 4 Oct. 30 L. to Dallas, 94-80 23 3 3 3 Nov. 1 Def. Atlanta, 118-110 40 12 7 4 Nov. 3 Def. Okla. City, 101-98 (OT) 47 20 3 6 SEASON AVERAGES 37.8 11.3 4.5 4.3 *--*