Age Before Beauty – Lakers say Goodbye to Ariza, Hello to Artest

Much to the dismay of Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke, former Houston Rocket and Kobe Bryant’s true rival, Ron Artest is now a Laker. Likewise, Trevor Ariza is finally saying goodbye to sunny California and headed to Houston. Forward for forward. Is it that easy, Bill?

“They just won a title that would not have been possible without the strong defense and stunning shooting of a 24-year-old kid with a limitless ceiling.” Plaschke wrote. “Yet they send the kid packing for an aging nut whose greatest hits have occurred on the heads of fans.”

An aging nut who just might help the Lakers two-peat. Kobe yearns to have a fistful of rings. Artest – who as fans all remember knows a thing or two about heavy fists – is still hungry for his first.

“I am very excited to finally be going to L.A.,” Artest said in a statement. “For years now, the Lakers have expressed interest in having me play for them, but we could never get the stars to align. I’m finally a Laker and I can’t wait to get on the court with Kobe, Pau (Gasol) and the rest of the team, and play for Phil (Jackson).”

Most coaches would quiver at the idea of a personality like Artest joining the roster. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson (returning for the 2009-10 season) is skilled enough to coach around it. He will make effective use of everyone’s talents, especially Artest’s versatility, physicality and tenacity. There will be no questioning the Lakers’ toughness next season.

But if you’re asking, “What if Artest is just too physical?”, or “What if he’s just too much?” consider this: Artest is also coming off what can be considered his best season of citizenship and production, having helped the Rockets reach the second round of the playoffs despite losing Tracy McGrady to injury.

Cynics have credited this change in character as an effort to increase marketability. If that’s the case, add “smart” to the list above. Artest will now be a part of the largest market in basketball. No more boos in the Staples Center, just oohs and ahhs.

“The Lakers really made me feel wanted. … I look forward to helping the Lakers defend their championship, and it will be great to finally not get booed in the Staples Center.”

Artest’s agent and the Lakers have yet to agree on an official deal. However, it appears that Artest will receive roughly $18.7 million over three years or $33.5 million over five years, depending on which contract structure Artest ultimately prefers. A deal will not be signed until Wednesday (league restriction) after the league announces the new salary-cap ceiling and luxury-tax threshold.

It’s a shame the Lakers had to whistle a taxi for Ariza to make this move possible financially. But Artest will provide the jolt needed to ensure the Lakes stay on course. Likewise, Ariza will have an excellent career in Houston. He will have a great opportunity to showcase his ability on a team that needs young and budding players to step up immediately.

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