Two days ago, I heard that Trevor Ariza was leaning towards leaving the Lakers and I couldn't believe the report as every team rumored to possibly sign with him wasn't close to as good of a fit for Ariza as the Lakers. No one was able to offer more than the midlevel exception out of the rumored teams, which the Lakers were offering.
Then, out of nowhere yesterday, I heard the breaking news that Ron Artest was signing with the Lakers for the midlevel and I couldn't believe it and then immediately afterwards I heard that Ariza signed with the Rockets for the midlevel exception. This didn't make sense to me as why the hell would Ariza leave the Lakers to sign with the Rockets for the same money the Lakers were offering when the Lakers were a perfect fit for him as a team, were legit championship contenders and he was from Los Angeles.
Eventually, I found out that Ariza's agent, David Lee, didn't like the Lakers' offer of the full midlevel exception worth just under $6 million a year for 5 years as he felt Ariza, who averaged just 9 points and 4 rebounds in the regular season, was worth $7-8 million. Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak didn't fall for his bluff and reacted quickly by signing Artest for the midlevel for three seasons as he was their plan B.
Lee couldn't believe that the Lakers signed Ariza and he had no offers for more than the midlevel for Ariza, so Ariza had to settle signing for the same money the Lakers offered with the Rockets and instead of playing for a title contender in the best place to play pro basketball in his hometown where he fit perfectly, he now will have to adjust and play on a team bound for the lottery due to Yao's severe injury.
Now let's look at the bold and surprising move the Lakers made to help them defend their title. There are several positives and negatives from the addition of Artest to the Lakers and here they are.
Overall, Artest is simply a better basketball player than Ariza is. Defensively, Artest is better than Ariza, who is very good, as he defends bigger and stronger players such as Carmelo Anthony, Lebron and Paul Pierce much better than Ariza does. Artest is also better defensively as he is more of an intimidator than Ariza as Artest often get into his opponent's heads with his constant trash talking.
Offensively, Artest can create his own shot by scoring in the post, driving and finishing and shooting from the outside, while Ariza is a dependent offensive player who needs a superstar like Kobe or Pau to give him open looks so he can knock down the outside shot, which he still is extremely inconsistent in even though he had a brilliant shooting playoffs. This move also helps Kobe as Artest will now always guard the opponent's best offensive player, which means Kobe will be less tired at the end of games so he can close them out more often.
Artest's addition also means that whenever Kobe is on the bench the team can still have multiple players on the floor who can create their own shot and sometimes demand a double team in Pau and Artest along with Bynum if he stays healthy. This addition also means that the Lakers will have one of the three best defensive teams in the league as Kobe and Artest are constant players on the All Defensive teams and Bynum, Pau and Odom are all solid defenders inside.
Overall, However, the biggest positive Artest brings to the Lakers is his toughness and intimidation. Even though the Lakers won the title this past season, they still didn't answer all of their toughness questions due to the fact that they didn't have to face any great physical team on their path to the title. Artest is one of the most physical players in the league and one of the most intimidating as he never backs down and always defends his teammates during altercations.
However, there are some negatives with the addition of Artest to the Lakers. First off, Artest may become a distraction with his attitude and off the court behavior such as flagrant fouls, technical fouls and altercations with the opponent or teammates/coaches. However, I am confident that the Lakers have enough strong personalities with Kobe, Phil Jackson, Derek Fisher and Artest's childhood friend Lamar Odom to control Artest.
Also, Artest may not fit too well in the Lakers offense as he sometimes dominates the ball way too much and that is not going to fit with the Lakers as Kobe, Pau and Bynum all need to get their shots up. However, I don't think that is going to be much of a problem as Artest has never been on a team as talented as these Lakers as he was always the first or second option on every team he played and on this team he will be the third or even fourth option.
I think a good idea would be to put Artest on the bench and have Luke Walton start. The starting five would be Fisher, Kobe, Luke, Pau and Bynum and off the bench would be Farmar, Sasha, Artest, Odom and Mbenga. The bench would have two players who can create their own shot in Odom and Artest, which will give Sasha and Farmar several open looks and Artest will still finish out games in the fourth quarter.
Overall, Artest is better offensively and defensively than Ariza and he brings a different element of toughness and intimidation that the Lakers needed, since they are still a little bit soft and would've been very complacent if they returned the same team off a championship, but with Artest's competitiveness and desire to win, that will hopefully be avoided. The Lakers are also one of the very few teams that have enough strong personalities to contain Artest from blowing up like he has in the past.
This was a great move for the Lakers and a very bold one for the usually conservative GM Mitch Kupchak. This should give the Lakers a better chance to win multiple titles before Kobe retires, as Artest will act like Rodman did to Jordan during their second three-peat.
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