Ariza headed to Rockets

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HOUSTON - The Houston Rockets have reached a multiyear deal with free agent Trevor Ariza, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press on Thursday night.

The person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because NBA rules prohibit announcing free-agent deals until next week, said the Rockets offered Ariza the full mid-level exception for the first year, about $5.6 million.

Ariza is coming to Houston just as Ron Artest decided to leave and play for the Los Angeles Lakers. Ariza is likely to take Artest's spot in the Rockets' starting lineup.

The 6-foot-8 Ariza averaged 8.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists for the Lakers last season, which ended with the NBA championship.

The 24-year-old Ariza earned $3.1 million last season and he boosted his value during the playoffs, when he averaged 11.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists.

Ariza was acquired by the Lakers in a trade from Orlando in November 2007. He just completed his fifth NBA season after being drafted by the New York Knicks with the 43rd overall pick in 2004.

Ariza said after the Lakers' championship run that he was hoping to stay there. But his agent, David Lee, told KRIV-TV in Houston that Ariza got the impression that the Lakers didn't want him anymore.

"It was never about the money," Lee said. "It was about being at a place where he felt wanted and appreciated."

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey did not immediately return a phone message on Thursday night.

He flew to Las Vegas on Thursday to meet with Ariza, a sign that he was already expecting Artest to leave.

The Rockets will need Ariza's versatility and perimeter shooting early next season, because they know they'll be missing Tracy McGrady for the bulk of next season. The seven-time All-Star is recovering from microfracture surgery on his left knee and could be out until February.

The Rockets are also awaiting a definitive prognosis on Yao, who sustained a hairline fracture in his left foot in the playoffs. Morey made an aggressive pitch to free agent center Marcin Gortat shortly after the free agency period began on Wednesday.


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