For many years I have been a fan of what Artest has been able to accomplish while operating inside the lines of an NBA court. Lets not confuse this with what Artest has done in his personal life or in the stands while punching Detroit fans. I am a fan of the Artest that has the ability to shut down your best offensive player while being one of his teams top scorers.
For several years I have been excited at the idea of Artest in a Lakers uniform. Every time I would hear a rumor stating that the Lakers were in talks to acquire him, I would become excited like a child on a sugar high in anticipation of the thought of it being true.
When the rumors became a reality yesterday, how did I react? Like the child that had come down off that sugar high. I was sad and a little down because the writing was on the wall that Ariza would not be coming back to the purple and gold next year. I had finally gotten my wish but was not pleased at the price that was paid to make it happen. As a fan of the purple and gold, that was me reacting with my heart and not my head.
I was sad that one of the most important pieces on this years championship run would not have the opportunity to come back and defend the title. I was always a fan of number three since he arrived via trade a year and half ago. I loved his athleticism, his defensive play and the fact that he was selfless and willing to play his role and leave the spotlight to Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
When I started to think with my head I realized that as much as I love Ariza and will miss him in southern California next season, the Lakers got better by acquiring Artest. No matter how you slice it, he is the better player of the two. Artest is better offensively, a former defensive player of the year and a perennial NBA All Defensive First or Second Team member. He is one of the few talents in the league that is capable of shutting down your best offensive weapon while putting up 20 points or more on any given night. Most importantly he gives the Lakers a toughness and grit that they have not had since early this decade when guys like Rick Fox, Horace Grant and Robert Horry fulfilled those roles.
Despite winning a championship this year, I thought that was something the Lakers lacked. Historically many of the championship teams have had a player that will figuratively "punch you in the mouth" and use tough, physical play to take you out of your game. Players that come to mind who fulfilled that role on championship teams are Danny Ainge, Kurt Rambis, Dennis Rodman and Bruce Bowen.
When teams try to intimidate the Lakers, they now have a "patriot missile" to answer the physical "scud missile" of the other team.
Its obvious that an "arms race" was taking place around the league. The Spurs picked up Richard Jefferson, the Cavs landed Shaquille O'Neal, Orlando traded for Vince Carter. The Lakers could not just sit back and rest on their laurels of what they accomplished this year. Everyone else around them was trying to get better and they knew they must do the same.
Are there risks with Artest that don't come with Ariza? Without a doubt. Artest is known to make selfish plays by taking shots out of the flow of the offense, not to mention that he is capable of going off the deep end mentally. However, I think there will be enough strong minds on the Lakers to keep him in line.
The accomplishments of Phil Jackson as a head coach and Bryant and Derek Fisher as players speaks for itself. Those guys command respect and if Artest is as serious about winning a ring as he claims to be he will stay right mentally and fulfill his role. Artest is only making $6 million per season for the next three years, which by NBA standards is cheap for a player of his caliber. So if he doesn't fall into place, he should be easy to move.
The Lakers realize that their championship window only has about three more years left in it. Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak knows that his window will only last for as long as Bryant is at his peak. Thursday's move clearly signifies that the Lakers are going for broke to maximize the potential of this window.
Thank you Trevor Ariza for your role in bringing championship number 15 to the Lakers franchise. I think I can speak for all Lakers fans in saying that you'll be missed.
On that note, everyone's favorite NBA soap opera, "As The Laker Turns" just got a whole lot more interesting. See how next seasons drama unfolds starting in November.