When it comes down to it, the Lakers and Rockets pretty much swapped Ron Artest for Trevor Ariza straight up. Thursday, Artest reached an agreement with the defending champs on a 5-year deal worth about $34.5 million. Houston responded by stealing the Lakers' Trevor Ariza for around $33 million for the next five years. So who gets the advantage?
From the Lakers' standpoint, signing Artest brings in a veteran defensive stopper who can also provide toughness and offensive firepower. Yes, there is the whole "Artest is crazy" argument, but for the most part; he was the ideal citizen in his one year in Houston last season. Snagging Artest at a reasonable price increases the Lake Show's chances of once again claiming the Western Conference crown and making a run at a second straight NBA title.
Artest was a thorn in Kobe Bryant's side when the two teams met in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, so it will be interesting to see how he and the Mamba co-exist in Hollywood. I would assume that Artest understands that by signing with L.A., he will play second fiddle to Kobe and must become more of a role player if he wants to win a ring. If the Lakers are able to re-sign Lamar Odom (which may be more difficult now that Artest will steal some of his minutes), they will clearly be the favorite to once again be the best of the West.
When the Rockets realized they were likely losing Artest to the Lakers, they turned their attention to Ariza. The 5-year pro found a home in L.A. and was vital to the Lakers' success in the postseason, which ultimately led to him becoming a sought after free agent this summer. He is a tenacious defender, runs the break well, and doesn't try to do too much on the offensive end.
I am not sure he is a better option for the Rockets than Artest though. With Yao Ming's career-threatening injury and Tracy McGrady's brittleness, Artest provided an offensive ability the Rockets needed with their two big guns unreliable. Signing Ariza means Houston takes a hit on the offensive end, and if T-Mac cannot stay healthy this season, the Rockets might be one of lowest-scoring teams in the NBA.
Also, giving Ariza their entire mid-level exception limits what Houston can do in the remainder of free agency in terms of finding a replacement for Yao. They may have to find a suitor via trade for McGrady's expiring contract as to fill a couple holes on their roster.
Advantage: Lakers (unless of course Artest goes back to his old, "run in the crowd and punch fans" ways.)