The Los Angeles Lakers find themselves in an unusual situation these days. The two-time defending champs are the subject of much criticism around the league.
Over the past few seasons the widely held opinion around the league was the Western Conference was divided into two groups, the Lakers and everyone else.
However, as things sit today Los Angeles find themselves sitting six and half games back of the San Antonio Spurs for first place. This has caused many to hit the panic button.
Over the past decade the Spurs and Lakers have been the two most dominant teams in the league.
They have represented the Western Conference in every NBA Finals since 1999, with the exception of 2006.
The Lakers have five titles and the Spurs have won four.
The sentiment over the years has been that the Spurs were getting too old and were no longer able to compete.
However, now that San Antonio is off to its best start in franchise history a number of observers are beginning to wonder whether Los Angeles is capable of making their fourth consecutive trip to the finals.
These critics include Laker legends, Magic Johnson and Jerry West.
Johnson is arguably the greatest point guard in NBA history and led the Showtime Lakers to five NBA Championships in the 1980s.
Furthermore, West did not win as many titles as Magic, but he is the NBA’s logo, and formerly the General Manager of the team.
As a result, when these two individuals begin to question the Los Angeles Lakers the rest of the basketball world listens.
Now-General Manager Mitch Kupchak has publicly stated a trade is possible. Add to that Ron Artest’s alleged trade demand and subsequent retraction. And the debate has begun.
Should the Los Angeles Lakers trade Ron Artest?
Admittedly, Artest was never the best fit for this team. He is an average three-point shooter at best and does not fit in the triangle offense, run by Phil Jackson.
The triangle is about spacing. Either throwing the ball inside to a dominant big man or perimeter players attacking the basket, both meant to create open shots for others.
The offense is based on two things, ball movement and three-point shooting. This is what allowed players like Derek Fisher, Rick Fox and Robert Horry to thrive.
While teams are busy double teaming Shaq or collapsing on Kobe Bryant those players are left wide open to hit easy shots.
The Lakers, as currently constructed, are not as effective.
Fisher is still able to hit from downtown and the addition of Steve Blake has been solid. However, the problem exists as the small forward position.
Los Angeles has four players available at the three: Devin Ebanks, Luke Walton, Matt Barnes and Ron Arterst.
Ebanks is a rookie and with a team filled with veterans is unlikely to see any meaningful playing time any time soon.
Walton is actually the best player for Jackson’s offence.
He has a high basketball I.Q. He is a good passer, with great court vision and he can hit the outside shot. The only problem is neither his offensive nor defensive game are good enough to start on a championship caliber team. Walton is a nice role player, but nothing more.
Barnes was an interesting addition to the Lakers. He was set to join the Toronto Raptors in the offseason, but because of a technicality in the collective bargaining agreement would have been forced to take a paycut and decided to join the Lakers instead.
Barnes is a solid defensive player, not an elite level defender as Artest once was, but can more then hold his own. On top of that he is a decent outside shooter. These factors combine to make him a solid addition and round out the wingman rotation with Bryant and Artest nicely.
This brings me to Ron Artest. The man is an enigma. He was involved in the infamous Malice at the Palace. He shows up half naked on Jimmy Kimmel. And says any thought that pops into his mind.
In his prime Artest was one of the best defenders in the NBA. He was named the 2004 Defensive Player of the Year. Artest is also one of the few players capable of getting under Kobe Bryant’s skin. That is why it was such an intriguing story when the two decided to combine forces.
However, Bryant is all about winning. He is willing to put personal issues aside if it gives him a chance at another title. Artest did that and the Lakers won the title.
Now that there is uncertainty surrounding the team the blame is likely to fall on Artest’s shoulders. He isn’t the defender he once was.
He isn’t a three-point shooter.
His statistics are at a career low.
Therefore, the team’s struggles must be his fault.
It has nothing to do with the fact that the NBA is ultra-competitive and it is almost impossible for a team to advance to the finals four consecutive years.
If Kupchak wants to make a trade Artest seems like the logical choice.
There aren’t too many high quality assets on this team, outside its core of Kobe, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. There are a number of good role players, which fit what the Lakers need them to do, but none of that will attract a superstar.
In the end, the management would be smart to avoid any major roster moves. The team will make the playoffs and once there will Kobe’s drive and determination let them fail?
Maybe, but I’d be willing to take that chance.
However, there are a few players who would look nice in a Lakers uniform.
Anthony Parker is in the final season of his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He is a solid defender and great three-point shooter. He would fit the triangle offense perfectly. That is, if Jackson can find minutes in the rotation for him.
Another would be Raja Bell of the Utah Jazz. He is another player who has gone toe-to-toe with Bryant. He has Kobe’s respect and while he isn’t the defender he once was Bell also has a good stroke from outside.
Bell might seem like a strange player for the Jazz to give up, since they are likely to make the playoffs. However, Utah is constantly trying to avoid paying the luxury tax, which has in recent years forced management to give up assets for absolutely nothing.
Finally, there is Dahntay Jones of the Indiana Pacers. Ex-coach Jim O’Brien had him glued to the bench. It is unclear whether Frank Vogel is willing to put him in games. Again he is a solid defender, but only a career 31% shooter from downtown.
Jones has bounced around the league since coming out of Duke. He is talented, but will never be more then a role player. Jones is definitely at the bottom of this list, as he will have difficulty finding minutes if Artest is retained and Barnes come back from injury.
Anyone of these players may be able to give the defending champs a lift off the bench. It would not require the team to surrender much. At this point in the season, a major roster shakeup would be unadvisable.
The team is 34-15, and Hollinger’s playoff odds have them projected at 55-27. They are a lock for the playoffs and a possible first round matchup with one of Memphis, Portland or Utah.
All of those teams have had injury issues all season and pose no threat to the Lakers. Once in the playoffs muscle memory should kick in and the champs should be just fine.
It is a cliché but veteran teams have the ability to turn it on when they need. And the Lakernation has the tendency to overreact when there is a slight hiccup in the season.
Los Angeles will be right there come the end of May and the beginning of June.
There is no reason to overreact and if the Lakers don’t win the championship the blame can’t be placed entirely on the shoulders of Ron Artest.