In his open letter to Ron Artest, blogger Kyle Slavin accomplished a lot. His page received innumerable hits, was featured on a ESPN column and Artest even directly responded to it.
The strong majority of the feedback on Slavin’s blog lambasted him, painting him as a nobody who had stepped out of his place. The most notable part of Artest’s response encouraged Slavin to wrap his mouth around a certain part of the male anatomy, and Slavin’s letter ironically became the first major distraction Artest has been involved in since he donned the purple and gold.
While people have come down hard on both sides of this mess, I see two problems here, one potentially bigger than the other. While I can agree that Slavin was overstepping his bounds when he tried to “lay down the law” (his exact words), Artest’s reply “no law when it comes to me” should have sent a universal cringe down the spines of everyone in Camp Los Angeles.
What's worse is that this actually isn’t the first worrisome quote Artest has made in the short time he’s been here. During the Lakers' media day only a week ago, Artest claimed that “you’ve got to welcome the distractions.”
The question is: How much substance is behind these little-noticed quotes? If these things really are Artest speaking from the heart, the biggest problem the Lakers have this season likely won’t come from any of the NBA’s other 29 teams.
I was as happy as anyone when Artest inked a contract with the Lakers for five years. I still am, mostly, but my enthusiasm has been a bit curbed by a growing sense of worry. Make no mistake about it, the Artest/Slavin fiasco will blow over in another week or two at the most and no one in Laker World will be worse for wear because of it.
In fact, maybe it’s a good thing that Artest is maintaining his edge. It can be easy to forget, but Artest is deceptively clever. He knows full well that in basketball, defense is played on the mental level almost as much as it's played on the court. And how much of his well-earned rep would he lose if he tucked his tail between his legs for a guy who isn’t even in the NBA?
Maybe you don’t even pay attention to this kind of thing if you’re in the Lakers locker room. Remember that the Lakers main priority with Artest will be to unleash him, not neuter him. Besides, one thing the Lakers have lacked for years is the “bad-cop” to augment Kobe Bryant’s “good cop.”
So in all likelihood, this little mess will be the most negative thing Artest is involved in for months. In all likelihood, Artest is just trying a little too hard to maintain his bad boy image. After all, he needs a new PR guy almost as bad as Rush Limbaugh needs a new dietitian.
In all likelihood, Artest will mesh in with the other strong personalities in this locker room and this is the last time we’ll hear his name and the word “distraction” used in the same sentence for a long while.
It’s the nagging possibility that he won't that bothers me.