Is Ron Artest an upgrade over the player he was unofficially traded for?
But not by as wide a margain as people may think.
Compared to Trevor Ariza, Artest brings more toughness (an element the Lakers desperately needed), someone who can create his own shot, play either forward position interchangably, play better defense, and rebound better.
But Trevor Ariza was a steady force that made key plays, open shots, and never minded being an "unknown" on a team where Kobe comes first, second, and third, Gasol fourth, Phil Jackson fifth, Lamar Odom sixth, and everyone else not so much seventh as they are last.
Now, did Artest ressurect his career in the court of public opinion?
Well, um, no one was killed last season.
Of course, there is a list of jokes someone can make about Artest, but there is a reason why.
The guy has such a Drag Me to Hell reputation in the league, people lowered their standards of human behavior to the bare minimum in relation to how he conducts himself on and off the court.
And was he able to laugh at himself in front of the media last year when they sought his comment about the cheap shot he took at Kobe during the playoffs?
But let's be brutally honest. Ron Artest is as unpredictable as anything in the world.
Unlike Trevor Ariza, he is not steady.
Unlike Ariza, he wants the spotlight. Badly too.
Do not kid yourself that it played a HUGE role in his decision to come to LA.
In Houston, Artest never felt slighted because the expectations for him were so low he was almost in a position where it was impossible to screw up.
But now he is in LA, playing for the defending champs. And in one of the NBA's leading markets. And on a team with Kobe.
You have to wonder how that will all translate with him come late in the season when he will inevitably be margainalized simply as a "role player."
Phil Jackson, right? He dealt with Rodman after all, right? He is the zenmaster and all that jazz, right? If anyone can deal with Artest, it's Jackson right?
Well, here is the thing. Everyone talks about how great an ego-manager Jackson is but people forget to realize that crazy is a whole different monster than ego.
In Chicago, Jackson dealt with Rodman, but a coach can only do so much until players are forced to set a tone.
Jackson had Jordan and Pippen to do that. In LA, Jackson really only has Fisher and perhaps Kobe. But that then begs the question of whether Kobe can really deal with Artest after being spoiled with small personalities like Sasha Vujavic and Lamar Odom in the last few seasons.
No, this isn't pessimism talking. It's rationalism.
But let us all assume that the Lakers will not deal with any drama from Artest, even though he chose to come to the most drama-filled city in America.
Artest is a better player than Ariza after all.
His toughness brings an added dimension to the Lakers that cannot be emphasized enough.
But I, as a Laker fan (yes believe it or not, I'm a huge Laker/Kobe fan), still don't think the Lakers are the best team yet.
There are a few obstacles in the way—small and big.
First, when did it become a foregone conclusion that Lamar Odom was going to re-sign?
According to the latest reports, Odom and the Lakers front office are "far apart" in contract negotiations.
And the Lakers will need Odom back if they want to seriously contend for a championship again.
Second, the Lakers need a point guard that's durable and quick. Derek Fisher, though clutch, is on his last legs. Shannon Brown is an able point guard, but he is best suited coming off the bench. And Jordan Farmar pulls so many disappearing acts that the Lakers should have his NBA profile picture framed on a missing persons ad with a sizable reward at the top.
Lastly, and probably the biggest reason of all, the Boston Celtics.
I personally hate the Celtics, but I am reasonable enough to accept that a healthy Boston team with the new addition of Rasheed Wallace has to be considered the best team in the NBA.
There is the three-headed monster of KG, Pierce, and Ray "Mr. Clutch" Allen.
There is Rondo, a player that has to now be mentioned in the discussion for best point guards in the NBA
And then there is Perkins, a guy whose mere facial countenance accounts for about eight ill-advised jump shots 30 feet away from the basket by an opponent a game.
So, at the end of the day, yes, Lakers fans can rejoice, with caution mind you, about the Artest pickup.
But don't sip too much of the gravy.
Because if sports has taught us anything, it is that there is nothing the media loves more than to exaggerate the significance of a move when it's at it's "what's hot" incubation period of news-worthiness.
Don't believe me? Just ask Karl Malone and Gary Payton, circa 2004, what they think.
"Hiiiiiiiiiii. My name is Kahlllll Malone and I up-prove this messageeeee!!!"