How important was Ron Artest in the Los Angeles Lakers march to a second consecutive NBA championship in 2010?
Try to imagine former Laker Trevor Ariza defending Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant or the Boston Celtics' Paul Pierce in the postseason, and you may get a clearer picture.
Artest had his moments on the offensive end for the Lakers, and none were bigger than his last second shot to defeat the Phoenix Suns in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals, or his three pointer in the closing minutes of Game Seven of the NBA Finals against Boston.
But Artest's offense was secondary to the stifling defense he played on Durant and Pierce, and the playoffs were an illustration of why he was so coveted by the Lakers.
Artest helped change the league's perception of the Lakers as a soft team, and the acquisition of Matt Barnes in the offseason looks like another step in that direction.
Many observers questioned whether or not the quirky Artest could blend in with the Lakers' precision-based scheme, and to be fair, there are merits in that line of thought.
Artest never appeared fully comfortable within the confines of the triangle offense, but as the season progressed it became apparent the Lakers didn't really need a lot of scoring from artest.
What they did need was Artest's rough edge and physical demeanor on the defensive end, and the enforcer mentality he conveys on the court.
The Lakers have a myriad of scoring options in Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom. However, until Artest arrived there was no one who had the ability to physically dominate on the defensive end.
One of Artest's most attractive attributes is the chaos he creates by refusing to give ground on the defensive end, and his tendency to employ strategies which toe the line of thuggery.
Artest will reach, grab, bump, hold, or claw to gain an advantage over the opposition, and although those techniques would seem out of place with the Lakers' emphasis on rhythm, it was just what the team needed in the postseason.
It seems general manager Mitch Kupchak agrees, because his decision to sign Barnes may be based on the havoc Artest created on defense, and the potential to improve in that area.
Barnes gained notoriety for his willingness to physically engage Bryant while he was a member of the Orlando Magic last season, and although he may not be as accomplished as Artest, he brings a similar physical toughness to the Lakers.
Artest and Barnes symbolize the Lakers' dedication to defense, and even though the triangle offense will still be the image most associated with the team, it will be hard to ignore the defensive pressure the Lakers are capable of creating.
Los Angeles defended the three point line better than any team in the NBA last season, and they were second in rebounds behind the Chicago Bulls.
Opponents will find it difficult to gain an offensive advantage with Barnes, Bryant, and Artest patrolling the perimeter, and seven-footers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol roaming the paint.
In 2008, Los Angeles was physically abused by the Boston Celtics en route to a six game loss in the NBA Finals. Since that humiliating defeat an emphasis has been placed on getting tougher.
The Lakers victory over the Orlando Magic the following year proved they had made strides in reaching their goal, and last season' hard fought, physical victory over the Celtics showed they had finally arrived.
Next season the Lakers will be even more defensive-oriented as they try to win their third consecutive championship, and accomplish a second three-peat in a decade.
Artest and Barnes will be at the forefront of the Lakers' defensive efforts as they try to continue the trend that Artest began, by establishing order while creating chaos on the defensive end.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!