When Ron Artest signed on with the Los Angeles Lakers last year, he eagerly stated that if the team didn’t win the championship this season, fans can point their fingers and throw “tomatoes and everything” at him.
It’s obvious that the Lakers are not in a better position to win the championship this year. They’re coming into playoffs with fewer wins—57 compared to 65 last year. And there’s a mediocre attitude surrounding the team, fueled by the doubts from media and fans.
A lot of critics are quick to accuse Artest for the Lakers’ current standings. However, is he really to blame?
Artest is a much easier target with his questionable history, including domestic violence, a dud music career, and his less than modest haircuts. For those who like to keep up, he’s currently sporting bleached blond hair.
I’m a big fan of the Lakers but I won’t hesitate to admit that I had major qualms when 23-year-old Trevor Ariza was replaced by 30-year-old Ron Artest. How can I take someone like this seriously?
Indeed it’s much easier to slam Artest and swoon over Ariza. Even Ron, who himself has recently admitted that Ariza is a much better player than he, is not better in terms of skills but in terms of the number of championship rings.
However, if you’re going to criticize someone’s sporting ability, the least you can do is be objective about it. I don’t enjoy sticking up for Artest, but I also don’t like the fact that people demonize him just because they don’t like the color of his hair.
Without stats to back things up, I can also speculate that Lamar Odom has dropped his game because he married the high-maintenance Khloé Kardashian.
The lineup this year is practically the same as last year’s, with Artest being the exception. Thus, it’s too easy to anchor this false logic into our heads and think that Artest is the cause of Lakers’ slump and that Ariza was better.
Looking at career stats, Artest is certainly not doing as well this year compared to his 2008-2009 season with the Houston Rockets. He’s played more games but is scoring significantly less (averaging 11.1 ppg than previous 17.1). Not because he’s not getting the ball in, but rather he’s attempting fewer shots.
He’s also averaging fewer rebounds per game (4.3 compared with 5.2). No surprises there as Phil Jackson has continuously expressed his concerns over Artest’s defense. This doesn’t mean Artest sucks at it, he just could be better. I’ve seen him stop players like Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony, something Ariza would’ve had trouble doing.
Comparing Artest’s current stats to how Ariza did with the Lakers last year, you’d soon notice how Artest is performing better overall than Ariza.
Ariza averaged the same amount of rebounds compared to Artest, but had fewer assists and steals per game. He also scored less (8.9 ppg) and made fewer three-point shots. Since signing on with the Rockets, he has doubled his attempts in shooting and averaging 14.7 ppg and increased his rebounds and assists per game.
It almost seems like being on the Lakers team limits your potential.
We have Kobe Bryant who likes to hog the ball, so of course you won’t be scoring much. Then you have solid players like Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom, and Andrew Bynum. To be able to consistently score more than 15 points per game is a big challenge.
So if Artest isn’t the one to blame for the Lakers’ sliding performance, then who is?
Injuries alone have cost the Lakers a few important games. Going into the playoffs, Bynum and Vujacic will probably see more bench action than court.
Watching the past few games, there seems to be a lack of intensity in both offense and defense. Players seem to be putting in less of an effort and relying too heavily on Kobe to seal the deal.
The team itself is struggling to be optimistic with the snide remarks being generated by the media and the constant chatters of fans asking, “What went wrong?”
Everyone’s acting as if the Lakers have lost the championship already. We’re only heading into the first round of playoffs, so there’s no need to speculate “what went wrong” just yet.
As for battering Artest...save your breath for now, as he might just prove his potential worth in the coming weeks ahead.