Trading Places: Lake Show Antes Up with Ron Artest over Trevor Ariza

A shell of my former selfCorrespondent IJuly 3, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 06:  Ron Artest #96 of the Houston Rockets moves the ball against Trevor Ariza #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 6, 2009 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)

The day started just like any other in the world of NBA free agency.

Marc Stein had his rumor mill brewing, J.A. Adande was spouting off Laker plaudits as if they were going out of style and players were being courted.

Hell, Shaquille O'Neal, The Big ______ was introduced as the newest member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. And he used his smile and his unique marketing tool to make some calls.

As a guest on SportsCenter, O'Neal addressed two free agents in particular.

"Hello, Ron, Hello, Trevor." he said sheepishly toward two of the marquee free agents. "Come join me."

He repeated the offer a couple more times; after all, as much as the Diesel likes to say that the Cavs were a "damn good" team last season, they need a lot more help than a 37-year-old Aristotle.

It was Artest and it was Ariza.

And The Big ______ came away empty-handed. So did The King.

While Cleveland was courting both Artest and Ariza to join yet another new-found home of O'Neal's, someone else and more importantly, somewhere else made an offer that wouldn't be refused.

Ron Artest is going to be a Laker next season. Believe it. The enigmatic, and often loony 29-year-old swingman accepted a three-year deal worth about $18 million from the defending champs.

As for Ariza, he was offended by the Lakers. Offended that they were not willing to show more dexterity and appreciation fiscally that he wished. Mitch Kupchak, Jerry Buss, and even Kobe Bryant didn't seem to worry.

Artest is a game-changer. Ariza is a role player.

That's the difference between the two. Aside from the age difference—five years to be exact, as Ariza is now 24—both players bring many of the same qualities to an already-stacked Lakers squad.

They both defend the perimeter.

They both shoot the three.

But Artest brings a different element to the game. Ariza is tough, but Artest is tougher. He is unsympathetic. Artest doesn't back down from anyone—not even his newfound teammate Bryant, the same guy he was incessantly jawing with all of last season.

Artest symbolizes thorny and tricky. Ariza proved himself well in one season on the best team in the league. Kudos.

Los Angeles' new prized package legitimizes the versatility that will be at the front-and-center of the Lakers next season.

Ariza was nice—he hit open 3-pointers given to him by Bryant and he poked away a few balls here and there. He did his job admirably. And he won a championship for it.

But the Lakers saw this off-season as a chance to get richer, and we all know, the rich often do get richer. Especially in Southern California.

The Lakers are trading five years in age away with Ariza and getting back the most implosive force in the league.

But hey, the guy's talented...very talented, and by taking a look at who's at the helm of this team, it would be safe to assume that Artest knows what he's going to deal with.

He'll behave. Probably.

As Artest was a guest on SportsCenter later that evening in L.A., he said that Phil Jackson had already talked to his wife, and that scored some points for Artest.

"He's my coach," Artest said, staunchly.

He's right.

Jackson has seen Artest piddle his way through the years, a talent not truly channeled in his numerous NBA stops along the way. And Ariza, 24 years old, fresh off a Laker-encrusted ring, thought that he was worth more.

The Lakers didn't see it that way and took a different path. And luckily, the path led right to a guy who will allow Bryant to roam free on defense rather than having to often lock-in on the opposing team's best offensive threat.

Artest also has a good relationship with Lamar Odom, who is apparently leaning toward returning to the Lakers.

Ariza was Odom's largest threat to leaving SoCal, and now that the largely different Artest is in town, the Lakers and Odom will soon see eye-to-eye and that means, maybe 2011 is the year for other teams to start thinking championship.

As for Ariza, he reportedly has agreed to terms with the Rockets.

Trading places, indeed.

So the Rockets lose out on a guy who basically led their team—minus Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming for much of the way—to almost besting the would-be champs in the playoffs. They nab the guy the eventual champs dished off.

The move isn't bad. Ariza will have a larger role in Rick Adelman's system, obviously. He will knock down shots and look to be a defensive force—on more than just the perimeter.

But what Ariza lacks, and what Artest does have, is ball-handling skills and the ability to create open shots for himself and others.

Artest, as kooky as he seems, is a facilitator. Ariza benefited from playing alongside the most talented squad in the league in his niche.

But what this proves is this: Shaq couldn't reel these guys in. Not even after Artest signed with the Lakers did Ariza inquire about Cleveland. He chose Houston hours later.

It's clear that Kobe and L.A. are still the flavor of the month and will be into next season. Kobe picked up the scrappiest guy in the league to run alongside his slew of already superior teammates.

Shaq's ad campaign has started off on the wrong foot and he'll need to get rally some troops to Ohio and fast, because his old buddy Kobe just inherited a kamikaze general who'll do anything to win a championship. Anything.

This all goes without saying, is there any player in the game that runs as parallel with Hollywood as Ron Artest?


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