Houston Rockets star forward Ron Artest signed a three-year contract with NBA champions Los Angeles Lakers, fulfilling a long-cherished dream.
|Artest, right, pals up with new team mate Kobe Bryant [GALLO/GETTY]
The 2004 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, free agent Artest had agreed terms with the Lakers last week after playing the 2008-09 season with the Rockets.
"This has been a long time coming," Artest, 29, said after being introduced to the media at the Lakers training facility in El Segundo.
"I've always wanted to be a Laker. Not coming out of college when I wanted to be a (New York) Knick but as I started to compete against the Lakers and against Kobe (Bryant).
"I have great respect for him and I always wanted to be a team mate of his. When I was on other teams, the liking for Kobe went out the door. I always wanted to compete and try to win the games.
"But for the last couple of years, at the back of my mind, I really wanted to be here," added Artest after being presented with a Lakers jersey emblazoned with the number 37.
A veteran of 10 seasons in the league, he will join 11-times All-Star Bryant and Spanish forward Pau Gasol on a high-quality Lakers team widely tipped to win further NBA titles in the next few years.
Although Artest is a formidable defender known for his physical presence, he accepts he will have to work hard to ensure he makes the best possible impact in Los Angeles.
"I've got to make sure I'm doing everything possible this summer to come back a better player," he said.
"When I give a 100 percent, I know it's not going to be a problem winning the team over because I'll be in tip-top condition, like I always do every season.
"But it's not a given that just because you add me to the team that we are just going to be the number one team. We've got to put that work in and that's something I'm not afraid to do."
Artest, whose has also played for the Chicago Bulls, the Indiana Pacers and the Sacramento Kings, averaged 17.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists for the Rockets last season.
His three-year deal with the Lakers is estimated by local media to be worth $18 million.