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Artest 'Will Never Accept a Mid-Level Exception' ... But the Lakers Want Him

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ESPN's Marc Stein:

Let's face it. The Lakers are suddenly answering to a "soft" label and have undeniable defensive and toughness issues on the perimeter that Pierce repeatedly exploited. Factor in Jackson's proven ability to handle personalities like Artest, Artest's friendship with Bryant and the Lakers' known interest in acquiring him before Gasol's arrival and the Sacramento swingman becomes a natural target. ...

Artest told ESPN.com earlier this week that he's "99 percent sure" he won't be opting out of the final year of his contract by the June 30 deadline. Assuming he doesn't change his mind, Artest would thus be available to the Lakers only via trade, which would then require two old rivals to come together on a deal … with Sacramento likely to insist on holding out for Odom's expiring contract in exchange for Artest and Kenny Thomas. ...

Artest followed up our Tuesday interview with an e-mail Thursday in which he said: "Even if I was to opt out, which probably won't happen, I will never accept a mid-level exception. So people trying to figure out possibilities should get that out of their heads."

If the Kings pulled off the Odom deal including K-9 (woof!), the team could hit the free agent market one year early -- next summer ... if they cut strings with Shelden Williams and Quincy Douby. Considering the Kings give Beno the midlevel this summer, the team would have $12 million in room before re-upping Francisco Garcia. (This assumes they cut Mikki Moore loose, which saves $4 million.)

Assume Garcia gets a $5 million/year contract which stretches to sometime between 2012 and 2014. That $7 million of cap space doesn't really help much, does it? But fast forward to January/February 2010, a few months before the Summer of Want, where any of two dozen teams will be salivating over free agents like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Amare Stoudemire, and Chris Bosh.

Teams will be begging for expiring contracts that deadline period. Begging. You'll have a $12 million Brad Miller and a $6.6 million Shareef Abdur-Rahim chillin'. AND: you'll be able to take back more than you give ... you could conceivably pry a $20 million superstar from a team looking for a cap space without gutting the team. Having the cap space makes blockbuster deals easier. And these wouldn't have to be for one of these free agents (their Bird rights will be too valuable); it could be for another stud who just isn't working out in his town (like the two big names which moved over the last 12 months, Kevin Garnett and Pau Gasol).

 

Also, one could argue Odom makes the Kings better this year, as his rebounding and scoring ability far surpasses those of Mikki Moore. If you imagine a world in which John Salmons excels again in the starting role, the trade-off isn't dire ... even though it's almost completely a cap move.