Ron Artest, Matt Barnes, and Devin Ebanks: Whom Will the Lakers Keep?

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Ron Artest, Matt Barnes, and Devin Ebanks: Whom Will the Lakers Keep?
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Few would argue that the biggest area of need for the Los Angeles Lakers entering the 2011-12 season is the point-guard position.

Most Lakers fans agree that in order to return to the NBA Finals, the team must shore up the lead guard position or make a dream deal for Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard a reality.

But, there may be a possibility that the Lakers could achieve both of those goals and still miss out on an NBA Finals trip next year (if there is a season) because, in all honesty, there may be an area where the team needs even more help.

It would be great to see the Lakers acquire a young, gifted point guard, and a deal for Howard would be a dream scenario, but neither of those players would be effective against a Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, or LeBron James.

The road to the NBA Finals in the west over the next few seasons will likely include stops in Dallas and Oklahoma City, and unless the Lakers have an answer for the respective stars for each team, then their future will mirror their immediate past.

When the Lakers won the 2010 NBA Finals, much of the defensive credit was showered on Lakers forward Ron Artest—and justifiably so. His gritty, hard-nosed play made life difficult on the offensive end for players like Durant and Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce.

But Artest was unable to repeat his postseason performance last season, and his inability to adapt to the team's philosophy has left some fans wondering if the time has come to sever ties with the talented forward.

After all, the Lakers have a player in Devin Ebanks who is the same size as Artest, more energetic and athletic than Matt Barnes, and arguably a better pro prospect than either player.

At 6'9" Ebanks is bigger than Barnes and the same size as Artest, but neither veteran can match Ebanks's energy, length, and athleticism.

And most importantly, youth.

After being humbled in four games by the Dallas Mavericks, the Lakers are entering a new stage in their progression, and button-pusher Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak should be looking for players that fit that mold.

Drafting guards Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock was a good start, but giving Ebanks a chance to prove he belongs in the regular rotation could be a stroke of genius for new head coach Mike Brown.

At West Virginia Ebanks crafted his reputation on defense, and Brown's defensive-minded philosophy opens up an opportunity for Ebanks to prove he deserves a chance. 

But that may only happen if the Lakers choose to deal Artest or Barnes.

The Lakers could carry all three small forwards into next season once the NBA's work stoppage ends, but why waste a spot on an extra small forward when there are more pressing needs at other positions?

The Lakers will likely be more inclined to carry more point guards or interior players than three-men, and in that case Barnes may be the odd man out.

Barnes's contract is in its final year, and once you get past Artest's age and lack of quickness, he is still fundamentally a better defensive player than Barnes.

And Ebanks definitely wins the battle of youth and potential because an argument could be made that he is already better than Barnes, who has reached his professional ceiling, and he is cheaper.

Add in Barnes's latest punching-a-civilian-in-the-face incident, and it should be easy to determine whom the Lakers should list on their opening day roster at the small forward spot.

I can certainly appreciate the energy and attitude that Barnes brought to the Lakers last season, but I think I believe in Artest's postseason success and Ebanks's potential just a little more.

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