Think back—way back—all the way to May.
The two players had an incident whenever they were near each other.
In Game Two, Artest claimed that Bryant elbowed him in the throat, and when he didn’t get the call, he confronted Bryant and was tossed from the game.
In Game Six, Artest drew a personal and technical foul on Bryant after an apparent collision at the top of the key.
There was plenty of discussion after each physical game of the Rockets/Lakers series. One topic, however, that no one discussed was the possibility of Artest going to the Lakers and playoff hero Trevor Ariza signing with the Rockets.
This deal was shocking and, to some extent, disappointing for many reasons.
Losing Ariza was a blow to the Lakers despite Artest's potential contribution. Ariza is a talented, spirited young athlete who loved playing in L.A.
But the way it happened was even more surprising. Going into free agency, the two Lakers players to watch were Odom and Ariza.
Considering that the Lakers did win the NBA Finals, and Odom and Ariza were instrumental in that win, it seemed logical that Lakers would want to keep their championship team intact.
Odom and Ariza both expressed their desire to remain in L.A., even if that meant a pay cut. For Ariza, the ties to Los Angeles were even more obvious, as he grew up there and attended UCLA.
So, when news broke that Ariza was considering offers from other teams, offers similar to the Lakers' proposed contract, it came as a real shock.
How did this L.A. native become so frustrated with his championship team so fast?
This was disappointing. Ariza played extremely well throughout the playoffs, and he made plays at pivotal moments in games. He is the type of player that you want keep.
On top of that, Ariza was a popular player amongst Laker fans and his teammates, and team chemistry is not something that should be overlooked.
This point, above all the rest, has the Lakers’ faithful scratching their heads.
The Lakers are losing Ariza to add Artest, who is known for his temper and for antagonizing Bryant in the playoffs.
Speculation about Artest's and Bryant's ability to play together has been a hot topic since the trade was announced.
After Artest claimed that Bryant threw an elbow in Game Two of the series, he pleaded his case to the referees and then confronted Bryant on court. When asked why he came over to Bryant, Artest stated that he wanted to let him know that he couldn’t push him around because he was Ron Artest.
Remember, he was talking about his new teammate. And any kind of tension between your star player and a new teammate is a bad thing.
The other problem with Artest’s temper is that a player can’t help a team from the locker room or the bench. If his rough style of play and confrontational nature leads to multiple ejections or suspensions, he will not be an asset to the team.
However, even though this deal has a downside, it is not time to panic.
As for the issues Bryant and Artest have had, they were playing in a high-stakes, high-emotion series where tempers often run high.
Moreover, even when they were at each other’s throats (literally), there was still plenty of respect between them.
If Bryant appreciates one thing in a teammate, it’s a competitive nature.
If Artest knows one thing about Bryant, it’s that he will not back down or back off.
And if there is one person who can manage these two egos, it’s the Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who recently announced that he will return next season.
Maybe Jackson can use some of that Zen magic on Artest, enabling him to calm down just enough to fit into the team.
The reason L.A. let Ariza go and brought in Artest was so that he could add toughness to what most people view as a long, athletic, but not very physical team.
Teams that would pose a threat to a repeat Lakers’ championship next year are tough inside. The Celtics will have Kevin Garnett back; the Magic will still have Dwight Howard; and the Cavaliers will have Shaq.
The Lakers will need a strong guard to be able to drive to the hoop against them.
Additionally, during the Denver series this year, Bryant admitted that Carmelo Anthony was bigger and stronger than him.
Adding Artest to the team will help the Lakers in such matchups.
So, while this deal is a surprise, and it is hard to see Ariza leave L.A., acquiring Artest does have a positive side.
Now L.A. just has to hope that Artest can stay positive and out of trouble and maybe gain a little Zen.