Time to invest in Artest

3 07 2009

My greatest fear of this NBA offseason has come to fruition. Gone is Trevor Ariza, 24, a Scottie Pippen-clone defensively, only with a much better jumpshot at his age. Arriving is “Ron Ron” Artest, the man who once applied to Target for an offseason job after his NBA rookie year so that he could get employee discounts. (That’s a true story.) The man who once showed up to practice in a bathrobe. The man who made the 2009 Quote of the Year — determined by my friend Chris and I — when he posed this intriguing philosophical question after a playoff game confrontation with Kobe: “Don’t you know you’re hitting Ron Artest?

 

Imagine all the trash talking that'll persist if Kobe and Artest go against each other in practice? Photo is courtesy of Garrett W. Ellwood, NBAE via Getty Images.

Imagine all the trash talking that'll persist if Kobe and Artest go against each other in practice? Photo is courtesy of Garrett W. Ellwood, NBAE via Getty Images.

 And now Artest is set to become a Laker, effectively trading situations with the Rockets-bound Ariza. I’m perplexed at Ariza’s decision more than the Lakers’ choice to go with Artest. Ariza’s agent had communicated that the 24-year-old was insulted the Lakers wouldn’t offer a contract higher than the full mid-level exception, which at a projected $5.8 million this year — $33 million over five years– would be nearly twice what he earned last season. (Artest has the option of signing for the mid-level at three years, $18 mil or five years, $33 mil.) So, Ariza takes his free agent status to Houston and signs with them….for the same offer the Lakers had given him. Give me a minute to wrap my brain around this decision. If you had the choice of the same contract from two teams, only one of them is your hometown squad which you had just won a championship with, and the other faces the possibility of losing its two best players (Yao, McGrady) to injury for much of the upcoming year, which would you sign? 

Let’s put Ariza’s and his agent’s logic to the back burner. Why weren’t the Lakers more aggressive in courting Ariza? He gave them a youthful angle and made for a great young pairing with 21-year-old Andrew Bynum. I suspect one of two scenarios:

  • Something happened behind the scenes. Maybe Ariza became too egotistical as his game exploded to new levels in the spring, even before the playoffs. Maybe he ticked off Kobe. Perhaps the Lakers thought Ariza had hit his ceiling as a player. I can’t figure that one out, so I’m more willing to go with the next scenario.
  • Lakers coaches and management didn’t think they could repeat as NBA Finals winners next year with the same physically slight roster.

In other words, the return of a presumably healthy KG to the Celtics and His Shaqness taking his Twitter-obsessed lifestyle to Cleveland definitely makes two of the three East title contenders more brawny. Richard Jefferson’s addition to the Spurs gives them a Power Four to be reckoned with. Of course, Artest can out-muscle Jefferson or Ginobli, whereas Ariza would simply have to be as quick as them and use his length to disrupt their shots. Remember, the Spurs were without Jefferson (sitting at home as a Milwaukee Buck) or Ginobli (injured) during the ’09 playoffs. Artest is obviously the suspected answer to the theory that the Lakers aren’t physically tough. Yet the substitution of Ariza for Artest seems to reflect more on the Cavs, Spurs and possibly Celtics — if they sign Rasheed Wallace to pair with a healthy KG — anteing up. 

I can’t argue with that logic, but it hurts to see Ariza leave — without the re-assurance of re-signing Lamar Odom. Chances might remain high since Odom and Artest effectively grew up with each other in Queens, New York. If they were to pair together as teammates, that would mean the Lakers’ top four players would be between 29 and 31 for most of next year: Gasol (29), Odom and Artest (30), Bryant (31). Artest’s addition also means Phil Jackson will probably return as head coach, since it isn’t  likely the Lakers front office would add such an emotionally unpredictable dude like Artest without the assurance that Jackson would return. It also gives the Zen Master a new challenge toward the end of his career: molding Ron Artest into a championship-worthy role player. That’s likely not something Artest himself considered when he was filling his W-4 at Target.

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One response

3 07 2009
Chris

It’s definitely the reason you think – they want to be more physical next season – and who’s more physical than Ron Ron? Plus, Ariza has never been egotistical, I don’t see it all the sudden happening after one good playoff.

And I agree, you must sign LO now, you need him to repeat.

“I’m growing up, maturing, but at the same time I’m hood forever.”

Love Artest.

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