And now for the capper . . .
The Lakers officially signed Ron Artest, in case his smiling visage and lengthy entourage among a throng of reporters at a news conference Wednesday in El Segundo didn’t confirm it.
But will Artest be the Lakers’ only big-name announcement this summer?
The Lakers remain far apart in negotiations with unrestricted free agent Lamar Odom, a chasm that probably widened with the NBA’s announcement of a lower salary cap for next season. In figures released by the NBA, the salary cap fell for only the second time since it was introduced in 1984, a nod to the severity of the economic slowdown. Of greater importance to the Lakers, who knew they were tens of millions of dollars over the salary cap, was a drop in the luxury-tax threshold from $71.15 million last season to $69.9 million next season.
The Lakers have already committed $83.78 million to 12 players next season, meaning they would pay an additional $12.26 million in luxury-tax penalties with their current roster, which does not include Odom. Teams pay a $1 tax for every dollar they are over the luxury-tax threshold.
Furthermore, in a memo distributed to league executives, the league warned of a much bigger drop in the luxury-tax threshold for the 2010-11 season.
The threshold could fall to $65 million, or perhaps millions lower, meaning the Lakers would pay even more taxes in two years.
Thus, the Lakers aren’t expected to budge off a contract offer they made to Odom of unspecified length, likely within a million or two of the average NBA player’s salary of $5.85 million.
Odom spent the holiday weekend in Las Vegas, perhaps trying to get over the fact that he might not see the $10-million annual salary he envisioned on his next deal.
Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said he hoped an agreement would still be struck with Odom.
“I don’t know how strong a word that [hopeful] is, but I am hopeful,” Kupchak said. “I’d like to get some clarity in the next day or two or three, but knowing Lamar, it’s an emotional time for him. I know he had to get away a little bit. I think Lamar just needs to work his way through it. Maybe it’s helpful for him to see other players sign for whatever they signed for, and maybe it’s easier to see where you fit into that group.”
If the Lakers don’t get Odom, who turns 30 in November, they are out of attractive free-agent options and will change their roster only via trade or by signing a veteran for a league-minimum salary of about $1 million next season.
The Lakers have used both spending tools given to teams that are over the salary cap -- the “mid-level exception” of $5.8 million next season was spent on Artest and the “biannual exception” of $2 million next season was given to reserve guard Shannon Brown, who signed for two years and $4.2 million.
Meanwhile, it looked more evident that owner Jerry Buss and his son, Jim, were the ones to fuel the signing of Artest, with Coach Phil Jackson and minority owner Magic Johnson also part of the recruiting process.
Buss has gambled often in his 30-year ownership of the team, and this is no different. Buss dined with Artest a few hours before they agreed to contract terms of five years and $34 million last Thursday. Artest can opt out of the final year of his new contract, which was originally believed to be only three years in length.
Buss wouldn’t have green-lighted the decision to acquire Artest if he didn’t like the sometimes enigmatic player. Jackson, for his part, seemed intrigued by Artest’s possibilities on defense. Artest was an NBA second-team All-Defensive selection last season and has finished among the league’s top three in steals in five of the last eight seasons.
“Ron is a talented defender,” Jackson said in an e-mail to The Times. “He has a nose for the ball. He will have to relearn the triangle offense, but has been on a team that used that offense in the early part of his career. We have a genuine admiration for his talent, especially his desire to compete.
“Sometimes that desire has taken an unusual course of action on the court, but Ron has quieted most critiques the past season with his steady play in Houston.”
Artest was drafted in 1999 by Chicago, which ran the triangle offense at the time, though Jackson was not the coach.
Last season with Houston, Artest averaged 17.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists a game while shooting a solid 39.9% from three-point range.
Artest chose jersey No. 37 with the Lakers because a fan recommended that he honor Michael Jackson, whose “Thriller” album spent 37 weeks as the top-selling record in the 1980s.
Joining the Lakers was a “long time coming,” said Artest, who said he had always respected Kobe Bryant.
“It was kind of a no-brainer for me to be a Laker,” he said. “You throw Phil Jackson in the mix, who would pass on an opportunity to play under Phil?”
As expected, the Lakers paid $7.19 million in luxury taxes from last season, fifth-highest among NBA teams. New York paid $23.7 million, followed by Dallas ($23.6 million), Cleveland ($13.7 million) and Boston ($8.2 million). Portland ($5.9 million) and Phoenix ($4.9 million) also paid luxury taxes.
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