I've noticed a ton of users here at CBS with the misconception on how the Trevor Ariza and Ron Artest situation went down in regard to the cap rules. I'd like to clarify some of the finer points on this situation to help people understand where Ariza is coming from on this issue and see if I can't also clarify the always confusing NBA salary cap on issues like this.
The top misconception I see that is spreading around here is that Ariza turned down the mid-level exception from the Lakers hoping to find more money elsewhere. That is false. The Lakers did not offer Ariza the mid-level, because you cannot offer your own players the mid-level. The Lakers are an over the cap team. That means they can only sign free agents a few ways, if they own their bird rights, or if they use an exception to the salary cap that allows them to go over, if they do a sign and trade that makes it a trade and not a signing, or if they have a disabled player waiver, which is kinda like a special exception for when players have career ending injuries.
Ariza falls under the category of Bird Rights. The Lakers could have offered Ariza pretty much anything they wanted to. They could have given Ariza Ben Gordon money if they chose to, they even could have went a little higher. But the Lakers chose to make Ariza an offer that was the equivalent of what OTHER teams could have offered Ariza, teams like Cleveland. They said "Ok Trevor, we know that teams like Cleveland and Boston and whoever can only offer you the mid-level exception. We will offer you, using our Bird Rights, the exact same amount of the mid-level. We won't give you a bonus for helping us win a title, but we will offer you the same amount you can get elsewhere."
Meanwhile, Ron Artest shows up as available. The Lakers can only offer him the actual mid-level, just like Sheed got. The Lakers jump on that and lock up Artest for the same amount they offered Ariza. But interestingly, the Lakers could have signed both Artest and Ariza if they really wanted to. Sure it would look odd if Artest signed for 5 years starting at 5.9 or whatever the MLE comes in at with Ariza making 6.4 million or the like backing Artest up, but it was totally possible under the rules of the cap.
The actual amount of the MLE won't be known until the NBA announces the 2009 salary cap. Do you know why nobody can sign a official contract until the 8th? It's because the NBA number crunchers are doing the math and calculating what the 2009 cap will be. The cap is set off of 51% of BRI, or Basketball Related Income. It takes about a week to do all this math. These players agreeing to the mid-level don't actually know what they are making yet exactly.
But hopefully this clears some things up for people. It's not like Ariza said "I'm too good to accept your mid-level Lakers!", then Artest said "I'm not too good to accept it Lakers!" Ariza was upset that the Lakers only would match what other teams could pay him, while Artest was happy to make as much as he was going to make. Nobody in the NBA as of right now can offer Artest more then the MLE except for the Trailblazers, the Thunder , or the Rockets , those are the only three teams that could make Artest pull a Hedo and bail on the LA deal for much more money. Artest didn't really accept less to play for LA. There is no money out there for Artest. There was the exact amount of money in free agency out there for Ariza as he knew there was, as LA knew there was, and as Ariza's agent knew there was. But Ariza and his agent wanted LA to come correct and offer more then another team could, and LA balked at that, so Ariza felt slapped and took his game to Houston. Is it reasonable to wish for the place you helped succeed to slightly overpay you? That's for you to decide. But Ariza felt that was reasonable.
Hopefully most of you at least learned something about the inner workings of NBA contracts, when certain salary cap exceptions are used and which exceptions are being offered at what time, and/or why contracts arn't official yet. Or at least learned where Ariza was coming from.