Artest, among the top free agents this summer and one of the league's best defenders, agreed yesterday to join the Lakers for the so-called mid-level contract. The exact value won't be known until next week when the salary cap is set, but should be in the neighborhood of $19 million over three years for the Queensbridge product. Free-agent signings cannot be announced until Wednesday.
Artest also had considered a mid-level offer from the Cavaliers. When free agency opened earlier this week, he met with LeBron James in California. He will take a pay cut from the $7.4 million he made last season in Houston (he can expect to make about $5.8 million this season with the Lakers), but this will be his best chance to win an NBA title.
Artest's addition should make the Lakers the favorites to repeat, since he figures to be an upgrade over Trevor Ariza, who has agreed to a deal with the Rockets. As Artest met with Lakers executives, Ariza met with Houston officials yesterday, and is also is expected to get the mid-level exception.
Artest, 29, helped the Rockets advance to the second round of the playoffs last season - where they pushed the Lakers to Game 7 - despite the team losing Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming. Although he was a central figure in the infamous brawl in Auburn Hills in 2004 as a member of the Pacers and has had other notable off-court problems, the former St. John's star has stayed out of trouble of late.