Is the Ron Artest honeymoon over in Los Angeles? Would the two-time World Champion Lakers be better off if he was playing elsewhere?
One game Artest displays his trademark defensive skills that have made him one of the league’s top defenders during his 11 years in the NBA. The next game, he appears lost on the court and slower than at any time in his career.
Now in the second year of a three year deal worth $18 million, the 31-year old native of Queensbridge, New York remains an enigma. Some fans love him, others not so much. One minute he’s endearing for all of his charitable work, the next he’s got his hand around another player’s neck and you begin to wonder if the old Artest has resurfaced. He’s a human roller coaster.
There have been some great moments, now etched in Laker lore: who will ever forget Artest’s three-point shot over Boston’s Paul Pierce with one minute to play in game 7 of the NBA Championship last summer that gave the Lakers a 6-point lead and the momentum to take their 16th NBA title. “Kobe passed me the ball! He passed me the ball and I shot it,” were his comments in the interview room after the thrilling victory.
On a night when Kobe Bryant's offense failed him for most of the game, Artest held the team together, scoring 20 points to go along with 5 steals and 5 rebounds. For one special evening, fans forgot his otherwise erratic playoff performance.
So, as the Lakers go through a rough patch of January games that started with a seven point loss Sunday to the Clippers followed by a gritty win the next day at home over Oklahoma City and a major test tonight in Dallas against the Mavericks, the debate continues as to whether or not Ron Artest makes the Lakers better or whether they’d be better off without him.
Here, then are 10 reasons why the Lakers should say Bye Bye to Ron-Ron.
Artest has often acknowledged he does not fully comprehend Phil Jackson’s use of the Triangle offense. After more than 140 games with team, he still finds it difficult to master.
Last month Artest told ESPN.com’s Rick Reilly: “See, I can’t really understand the Triangle [offense]. There’s 1,000 plays in the Triangle. It’s such a challenge. I get so frustrated about it, I have to call my psychiatrist. So I just stay in my one spot in the corner. If I leave my spot, I get yelled at. Phil’s gonna say, ‘What are you doing over there?!?’ So I just don’t move.”
The Triangle is all about movement. Artest has started to move more in the past 3 or 4 games which may be reason for some optimism. But, the offense is still confusing to him and there's no telling when he'll revert to just standing around waiting for someone to kick it out to him on the perimeter.
So, while his defense is generally acknowledged for being tough, gritty and aggressive, Artest’s offense has been lackluster at best. He should be driving into the paint and attracting fouls with his 6’7”, 250 pound frame.
Although Artest gives back to charity in a big way (he auctioned his one and only World Championship ring this Christmas to raise money and awareness for those with mental health issues. His efforts brought in over $500,000), he also has been known to say and do things that might cause embarrassment to the team and become a distraction.
Saying that he was “running late” and didn’t have time to get ready, Artest showed up last year on the Jimmy Kimmel Show wearing only his briefs. This year, he made another appearance on the ABC late night show wearing a fake beard, shorts and flip flops.
The Lakers knew what they were getting when they signed Artest in 2009. They felt that if Artest made it all about the team and winning, they would tolerate his off the court behavior. Bryant was one who lobbied the team to bring him to L.A.
His supporters say he brings levity and excitement to the game. His critics think he’s a distraction.
All he claims to want is a little respect – mainly from his coach, Phil Jackson. He likes to make fun of the Zen Master whenever he can, but Artest has also publicly chastised Jackson for reducing his minutes this year and calling him out for his lapses.
Jackson is known for his public needling of players, using it mainly for motivational purposes. During a recent spate of losses in late December, it was reported that Artest loudly confronted Jackson.
According to a report by Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, quoting league sources: “As he tried to fit into the defending champions a season ago and earn his way, Artest grudgingly went along with Jackson’s public floggings. This season, Artest has less tolerance for it. Essentially, Artest told Jackson that if he wants to coach him, coach him. Just stop embarrassing him in public.”
The last thing the Lakers need are players complaining about their coach for calling them out in public. That is just the way Phil Jackson coaches. Come on, the guy has won 11 of the last 20 NBA titles! He must be doing something right.
Artest’s court battles are the stuff of legend. As a member of the Indiana Pacers, his participation in a melee with the Detroit Pistons and their fans in 2004 at The Palace of Auburn Hills (MI) was one of the biggest brawls in the history of the league.
For jumping into the stands and punching several fans in retaliation for a cup of beer being thrown in his face, Artest was suspended (along with Pacers teammates Jermaine O’Neal and Stephen Jackson and the Piston’s Ben Wallace) and forced to sit out the rest of the 2007-08 season, or a total of 86 regular and post season games.
Everyone deserves a second chance. Artest has had a handful of second chances. He’s always battled his anger demons and, to his credit, acknowledges it.
Those nasty demons were on display for a split second just a week ago when the New York Knicks played the Lakers in Los Angeles. Following a physical play underneath the Lakers basket, Artest somehow got in the middle of a scruff and very briefly put his hand around the neck of New York forward Shawne Williams.
Artest was quick to let everyone know he thought twice about what he did and was quick to take his hand away from Williams. It was a relatively minor incident but still gives you pause and makes you wonder.
After the Lakers had just defeated the Celtics in Game 7 last summer, Artest gave a shout out to his psychiatrist for “helping me to relax” and play well in that decisive game.
After watching him play through 40 plus games this season, it might be a good idea if Artest spoke with his doctor before every game. He constantly seems to be looking for approval from teammates and coaches, always wanting to please but not always possessed of confidence.
In Monday's 101-94 win over the Thunder, Bryant could be seen and heard yelling at his teammate to "shoot the *** ball!" after he found Artest open in the corner for a jumper and saw him pass up the shot.
While his shooting percentage (40 percent) has picked up of late, Artest is still off his career average of 42 percent and is only grabbing 3 rebounds per contest.
Artest is a battle tested NBA warrior at 31, who has played hard both on and off the court for years. The question that lingers now is, how long can he withstand the pounding and wear and tear that comes with going up against a team's best shooter night in and night out?
To his credit, Artest is a slimmed down 250 pounds this season. He swore off alcohol and vowed to be 10 pounds lighter for the 2010-11 campaign.
Artest had a rather productive preseason for the Lakers and seemed confident. But that confidence seemed to wane as the season progressed and he eventually lost a number of minutes to veteran Matt Barnes who, at 30, appears quicker and able to move so well without the ball.
It will be interesting to see what happens when Barnes, who underwent knee surgery for the first time last week, returns to the Lakers lineup in mid March. If he plays the way he did before being injured against the Hornets, Barnes may indeed take minutes back from Artest.
These next 8 weeks present an opportunity for Artest, who has seen his season slipping away. The book is out on whether or not he'll reclaim those minutes and confidence and improve his overall game.
Artest could help a lot of teams who play a more open, one on one type of game.
If the Lakers could move him now, they might be able to acquire a couple of young up and coming players who could add energy off the bench, complement players like Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown, and mesh with the team’s Triangle.
Playoff bound teams, or ones on the cusp, may be interested in acquiring a stopper like Artest – the Lakers would be wise to package him with guard Steve Blake, freeing up about $9 million in salary.
Some of the names that come to mind include O.J. Mayo (Memphis), Anthony Randolph (Golden State), Thaddeus Young and Andre Iguodala (both with Philadelphia), Dante Cunningham (Portland) or even Jamal Crawford (Atlanta), although Los Angeles might need to throw in a draft pick and cash to swing a deal for some of these players.
Remember when the Lakers brought in free agent superstars Gary Payton and Karl Malone (2003-04)? Everyone thought the Lakers would just roll through to another championship with Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal giving them a total of 4 Future Hall of Famers.
Instead, the team chemistry imploded during the playoffs and Los Angeles self destructed in the finals, losing to the Detroit Pistons and Chauncey Billups in 5 games.
The Artest signing obviously proved to be a better choice because the Lakers again went to the Finals but this time won the title over the Celtics.
But it didn’t change the fact that Phil and Ron-Ron just do not see eye to eye. It may be better to severe that relationship now than wait until the spring when the playoffs roll around. We'd hate to see anything remotely similar to the Detroit Debacle of 2004.
Bring him back.
Ariza is languishing in New Orleans, with a team that’s going nowhere.
The Lakers (and Ariza's agent, David Lee) made a big mistake by letting Ariza leave as a free agent immediately following their 2009 championship run against Orlando. At home in Purple and Gold, Ariza was just coming into his own at age 24 and had raised the level of his game dramatically in the playoffs.
Ariza was and is the ideal forward for the Lakers, now and for the foreseeable future.
As Bill Plashke of the Los Angeles Times wrote after Ariza went to Houston and Artest to the Lakers: “What are they (Lakers) thinking? They just won a title that would not have been possible without the strong defense and stunning shooting of a 24-year-old kid with a limitless ceiling. Tell me again, why did they get rid of Trevor Ariza for Ron Artest?”
Many of us have been asking that same question for the past year and a half. The 6’8”, 210 pound former UCLA Bruin is still a few years from reaching his prime – he’s tough, aggressive, and a ball hawk who brings energy to every minute he’s on the court.
Ariza is capable of scoring 15-18 points per game (his average was 14.9 with the Rockets in 2009-10 and is 10.8 this year with the Hornets).
In fact, his game has often been compared to a younger version of, you guessed it: Ron Artest.
In the week or so since Matt Barnes went down with an injury, Artest has seen his minutes increase. Jackson has commented on Artest's ability to take advantage of those new extra minutes he now has to get his game back in gear.
Jackson told Mark Medina of the L.A. Times: "I think he's playing really well. He's shooting the ball in rhythm and he's quite comfortable. Maybe Matt's out, he feels more responsibility out there or something. I don't know. It's just that time when he's been working extra long in practice on his shots. He's been very effective."
And to his credit, Ron Artest has displayed a much stronger game, both on offense and defense, in wins against the Cavs, Knicks and Thunder. He's driving to the basket more often and trying to move without the ball and set up picks for his teammates.
Make no mistake, Artest has a legion of fans in Los Angeles who feel he brings a certain toughness to the Lakers that the team so often has lacked. Perhaps he'll surprise us and get his overall game back to the levels he once demonstrated when he played for Houston, Sacramento and Indiana.
From this vantage point, that seems unlikely. There are just too many question marks and the season is rolling by.
Ron Artest is not the answer.