Trevor Ariza Out, Ron Artest In: Lakers' Offseason Mistakes Beginning Early

Greg HuntoonCorrespondent IJuly 3, 2009

ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 14:  Trevor Airza #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates a three-point shot in the first half against the Orlando Magic in Game Five of the 2009 NBA Finals on June 14, 2009 at Amway Arena in Orlando, Florida.  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 Elsa/Getty Images)

That's right. That's how many years Trevor Ariza has left in Los Angeles: a big fat whopping zero.

Perhaps the Lakers were too busy enjoying the championship to realize that their No. 1 goal this offseason should have been to secure Trevor Ariza for at least the next five years.

Lamar Odom, the Lakers' off again, on again forward, is another important free agent hanging in the balance, but unlike Odom, who suffers from serious bouts of inconsistency and what seems to be almost apathy, Ariza suffers from neither.

In fact, the Lakers could not have made it through each series without Ariza and his stellar contributions on both sides of the ball.

I'll take this a step further and magnify the drama: Trevor Ariza could have been one of the players who helped steady the team as Kobe Bryant heads into the last few years of his career.

Clearly, he is not as talented as Kobe, but he is a solid player in all facets of the game who could be a big role player as the team transitions out of the Kobe years.

Kobe surely has another few stellar years in him, but with four championships, an MVP trophy on the shelf, Olympic golds, and a slew of All-Star honors, Kobe's legacy is so firmly in place that he can walk at any point. He is one of the top 10 or 15 players ever to play the game and a sure Hall of Famer.

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I'm not suggesting that Ariza can fill Kobe's shoes, or that he's on the same level, but he certainly proved that he's worth every dollar of the $7-8 million per year he was seeking.

It's unfortunate that the Lakers didn't see it that way, because their offer of $5.6 million a year for three years was bested by only a reported $200,000 per year by the Houston Rockets.

Mitch Kupchak, you made a mistake, my friend. Thank you for the championship this year, but really, there were more to come with Ariza really growing into himself alongside Kobe this season...or not.

As if that didn't hurt enough, the Lakers decided to essentially trade Ariza for Ron Artest, who just reported on ESPN that he had reached an agreement with the Lakers.

I don't even care to get into the numbers or to look at any of the stats.

Ron Artest is a great competitor, a fantastic player who can shoot from the outside, defend just about anyone in the world, and pull balls off the glass underneath.

In a street game, he's your man.

On an NBA court, I'd pick Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, and definitely Trevor Ariza before I'd even consider bringing Artest on the floor.

Sure, this smells a little like Dennis Rodman joining Phil Jackson and MJ in their second run of three championships in the late '90s, but Kobe isn't MJ, Phil isn't the same Phil, and Artest isn't Rodman.

Rodman and MJ had a pretty interesting relationship. There was an obvious level of respect between each other, but Rodman also understood that the Bulls' decisions ran through two people: Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson, and probably in that order.

While that's the same situation in Los Angeles with the defending NBA champs, I just don't see Artest having the same level of respect for Kobe.

For one, Artest is an all-around talent who's able to shoot, rebound, and defend. Rodman was a bully who broke down other teams' offenses. He played mind games and intimidated people. There was a method to his madness.

Secondly, Rodman understood that he was playing opposite the greatest player of all time. There was no questioning it.

Everyone knew it, especially those guys that had the pleasure of playing with Michael 82 nights a year, and then through 16 wins in the postseason.

Artest, on the other hand, comes across as a guy with an enormous chip on his shoulder, and one that he asks for people to knock off. His play is moody like Odom's, but his downside is just so unpredictable.

Lastly, I just can't see Phil having the patience to deal with Artest's drama.

Who knows? Maybe Artest will come in and be transformed by the calming aura of purple and gold. Perhaps he will stay in line behind Kobe and keep his temper in check.

Maybe; I'll give them as much as a maybe.

Either way you slice the cake, I think the Lakers lost out today—and I think they lost out for the next few years.

Trevor Ariza is a class act with a never-give-up attitude on the court. His defensive acumen stole a couple of nail-biter games in the postseason, and something tells me that we're going to see a lot more of that from him in the future.

As a SoCal fan, I just wish we were watching that on the wood floors of the Staples Center.

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