UPDATES THROUGHOUT with Ariza committing to Rockets
Rockets GM Daryl Morey is proving himself to be not only among the most innovative executives in the NBA, but one of the best traveled, too. Morey opened the free-agent negotiating period by meeting with Orlando restricted free agent Marcin Gortat, and on Thursday Morey traveled to Las Vegas, where he got a verbal commitment from Lakers free agent Trevor Ariza.
Ariza is said to have been less than pleased with the Lakers' efforts to re-sign him to a deal that does not exceed the mid-level exception of about $5.6 million annually. It's not clear what parameters the Rockets are working with, but Morey is not the type to overpay -- even in his semi-desperate state given the awful injury news this week about franchise center Yao Ming.
Ron Artest's decision Thursday to sign with the Lakers, first reported by CBSSports.com, had a two-way domino effect in Ariza's favor. Artest slides into Ariza's small forward spot with the Lakers, and Ariza takes Artest's starting spot in Houston.
Although several teams were interested in Ariza -- the Cavaliers, Raptors, and Blazers among them -- multiple team executives questioned whether Ariza would get much more than the mid-level from anyone.
UPDATE: Sure enough, Ariza received only the full mid-level exception -- five years starting at about $5.6 million -- according to a person familiar with the agreement.
Though Ariza, 24, had a breakout season from a health and 3-point shooting standpoint and preserved two wins against Denver in the Western Conference finals with his defense, it's a buyer's market in free agency this year. One of the golden rules in any environment is not to overpay based on one year of production. That's especially the case this year, although it only takes one team to set the market.
Ariza was so effective with the Lakers because he had a role, he embraced it, and he produced. That role was serving as the third or fourth scoring option on an All-Star-laden championship team. Going to a less fortified roster at a $40 million price tag would push Ariza into the role of a primary scorer with bigger expectations, which might not suit him. But his ability to defend, shoot the three, and fit in on a contending team bodes well for giving the Rockets a legit replacement for Artest.
Here's more free-agent buzz developed from conversations with executives, agents, and others in the know:
* The Celtics dispatched a star-studded entourage to meet with Rasheed Wallace in Detroit Thursday, and a source close to the discussions said it's too early to predict the outcome. Perhaps the Celts brought their Big Three along for the trip to dampen the news that all they can offer Wallace is the mid-level exception for two or three years. That's what the Boston Globe reported the Celtics offered Wallace after the 3 1-2 hour meeting. A person familiar with the discussions said Wallace will visit several other teams. Boston also is interested in Grant Hill, who has been invited to visit the Knicks next week.
* A person involved in the Hedo Turkoglu sweepstakes said there is no news yet on Toronto's role in the recruitment of the Turkish free agent. Turkoglu met with Trail Blazers officials in Portland Thursday, and he was expected to receive an offer in the five-year, $50 million range. Toronto's front office has been deliberating whether to pre-empt the Blazers with a more lucrative offer, but that would involve renouncing the rights to three players: Shawn Marion, Carlos Delfino, and Anthony Parker. If the Turkoglu situation drags on, it could be an indication that a more creative path out of Orlando -- as in, a sign-and-trade -- is being explored. One rival executive expressed curiosity as to why Turkoglu and the Magic wouldn't want to explore such an avenue. Turkoglu would get an extra year, and Orlando would get something back.
* A Western Conference executive said word is that the Knicks aren't willing to offer Jason Kidd more than a 1-year deal at the mid-level exception, despite Mike D'Antoni's glowing comments Wednesday that the future Hall of Famer has two or three years left at a high level. Dallas appears willing to offer Kidd at least a 2-year deal; if the Knicks upped the ante to two years, the Mavs would counter with three, it is believed.
* Gortat apparently is committed to signing an offer sheet with Dallas that will far outstrip what the Rockets are willing to offer in terms of length. The Mavs should've learned their lesson from the DeSagana Diop fiasco. Dallas signed Diop to the full mid-level exception (five years) last summer and wound up giving him away to Charlotte in January for Matt Carroll and Ryan Hollins. It's great to have a billionaire owner.
* Though the idea hasn't reached the highest levels of both organizations, there could be a more creative way to get Ben Gordon from Chicago to Detroit -- one that would send Allen Iverson to the Bulls in a sign-and-trade. Though the scenario is farfetched, it would benefit Gordon (who would get an extra year and more money) and the Bulls (who would get Iverson instead of nothing to replace Gordon). A person familiar with the discussions said the Pistons would flat-out refuse to entertain such a sign-and-trade unless they could recoup significant cap savings.