By now, most fans know the story of how Ron Artest left the Houston Rockets to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers. Then, in a complete flip-flop Trevor Ariza, a Lakers’ free agent, signed with the Rockets.
The still-embittered Ariza was mum before yesterday’s game with the Lakers in Houston. When asked for an interview with the Lakers’ radio network here in Los Angeles, a team spokesperson said that Ariza would prefer to let things be.
Perhaps he feels that the Lakers passed over him in favor of Artest, which is simply not the way the situation transpired. The Lakers wanted to re-sign Ariza and made him their very best offer, the full mid-level exemption, right from the start.
Ariza’s agent told the team that wasn’t good enough. Well, that was that as far as the team was concerned. They had given Ariza and his agent their best offer and had no more cap space to maneuver.
So, Ron Artest, a Houston Rockets’ free agent, was willing to take a salary cut and sign for the same money that was offered Ariza. The Lakers jumped on it.
Ariza, a Los Angeles native, had no choice then but to sign with the Rockets for virtually the same money the Lakers’ had offered him.
Ariza’s disappointment is very obvious even though he has gone from being a role player with the Lakers to a star feature with the Rockets who are without their two highest profile players, Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady.
Ariza, who leads the Rockets in scoring, had averaged some 23 points per game going into last night’s contest with the Lakers.
The game proved to be a dramatic overtime affair with the Lakers squeaking out a 103-102 win, their second overtime victory in as many nights. But the Ron Artest-Trevor Ariza match up was just as dramatic if not more so.
Not only did Ariza and Artest trade places this past off-season, but last night’s game proved that they are still trading places.
They covered one another for most of the game. Ariza wound up with 15 points, and Artest ended with 15 points.
With 30 seconds left in regulation, Artest hit a three-point shot to put the Lakers up 92-89 practically assuring them of the victory.
With 19 seconds left, there was a jump ball at the Houston end between Ariza and Derek Fisher. Ariza won the jump and tapped the ball to Carl Landry. Ariza then circled out to the three-point line. Landry tossed him the ball, and Ariza matched Artest’s three-pointer with one of his own to send the game into OT.
Stripping the ball away from opponents was perhaps Ariza’s greatest contribution last year as a Laker. So, in a fitting end to last night’s game, it was Derek Fisher who stripped the ball away from none other than Trevor Ariza to seal the Lakers’ victory.
I will have Part II of Ariza and Artest: Trading Places on Sunday, November 15, when the Houston Rockets meet the Lakers at the Staples Center.
Meanwhile, great news for Laker fans and the Lakers’ bench. Pau Gasol has been medically cleared to play and will return to the starting lineup this weekend. That means Lamar Odom will return to his role as the sixth man. We shall see if Odom can help the Bench Mob straighten out their game.