Ron Artest, Trevor Ariza: Did the L.A. Lakers Make the Wrong Decision in 2009?

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IJune 11, 2011

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 26:  Ron Artest #15 of the Los Angeles Lakers goes for the ball against Trevor Ariza #1 of the New Orleans Hornets in the second quarter of Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 26, 2011 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

I'm not much of a betting man but if someone asked me what the odds were of Los Angeles Lakers forward Ron Artest returning to the team next season, I would probably guess they were slim to none.

After helping the Lakers win an NBA championship in 2010, Artest regressed tremendously in his second season with the franchise, and he likely sealed his fate with a dis-spirited and uninspiring performance in the 2011 NBA Playoffs.

The 2010-11 regular season may have provided the hand-writing on the wall that Artest's time with the Lakers had run out considering that he averaged career lows in points scored and rebounds, and his 29.4 minutes per game ranked as the second-lowest during Artest's NBA tenure.

Still, Artest's dip in statistical production could probably be forgiven if he was still capable of playing defense at a very high level, but unfortunately the one aspect of his game that made Artest truly special is fading.

Quickness has never been one of Artest's strengths but he has excelled on the defensive end with his size, power, sneaky hands and an ability to stick on his opponent like glue.

But opposing teams have figured out that the best way to attack Artest is by consistently moving away from him and avoiding stationary moments on the court.

Or in the case of New Orleans Hornets forward Trevor Ariza who torched Artest in the first round of this season's playoffs, simply nullify Artest's defense by running him into the ground in transition.

Ariza' energy and athleticism made Artest look very old in that series, which makes me wonder if Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak should have played chicken a little longer with Ariza and his agent in the summer of 2009.

Ariza played a key role in helping the Lakers clinch the 2009 title and his high energy style of play added a dimension the Lakers sure could have used against the Dallas Mavericks.

But Kupchak was unwilling to bend to the demands of Ariza and his agent that summer, and the Lakers eventually allowed Ariza to sign with Houston and Kupchak signed Artest away from the Rockets for virtually the same amount of money that Ariza was asking for.

The sequence of events pretty much added up to a trade between the Lakers and Rockets, but in hindsight maybe Kupchak should have shown a little more patience in 2009.

I'm sure that Kupchak and the Lakers felt disrespected by Ariza's insolence, and in all honesty the money they were offering him was more than fair considering that it was based on only one full season of play from Ariza.

But it has been rumored that Ariza's heart was really with his home-town team, and the hard-line approach in contract negotiations with the Lakers was mostly due to his agent.

Ariza's career hasn't exactly taken off since he departed Los Angeles as his trade to New Orleans marked the fifth stop in his seven seasons in the NBA, and his 11.0 points per game average during the regular season wasn't anything to write home about.

But it was better than Artest's 8.5 points per game average, and the fact that Artest has declined so rapidly on the defensive end diminishes his value to the Lakers even more.

I can appreciate what Artest accomplished during the Lakers title run last season, in the same manner that I appreciate what Ariza did for the team during the team's 2009 Finals victory over the Orlando Magic.

But in retrospect, I would probably choose the bright future that Ariza inspired in the aftermath of 2009 rather than the finality of Artest's brief legacy this season.