With the 2011 NBA All-Star Game right around the corner, you'd think people in Los Angeles would be talking about the specter of sport celebrity that's about to descend on the Staples Center.
Instead, it seems as though the world of basketball in Southern California will, for now, have to concern itself with Lakers turmoil, mostly regarding the human lightning rod known as Ron Artest.
Word along Figueroa St.—and out of the mouths of Magic Johnson, Mitch Kupchak and Phil Jackson—is that the purple and gold are looking to shake things up and, furthermore, that Ron-Ron has so graciously offered himself as trade bait, going so far as to pierce a fishing hook through his cheek.
Okay, so maybe that last part isn't entirely true, but I'm sure he wouldn't mind at least paying for his own plane ticket out of town.
The Pursuit of Unhappiness
So why, pray tell, is all of this going on right now?
Well, as far as the team as a whole is concerned, the Lakers have looked like anything but two-time defending champions for much of the 2010-2011 season. Yes, the team is still doing well on paper, with a 34-15 record—second-best in the West—and the league's fourth-best point differential (+6.9).
However, many who follow the team have been displeased with the Lakers' overall performance this season. Aside from beating up on the Blind Sisters of the Poor, Kobe Bryant and company have done little thus far to suggest that they're ready for another title run, with a 1-5 record against the NBA's best (San Antonio, Miami, Dallas, Chicago) and seven home losses—as many as they had all of last season!
Some, like Jackson (at times), have taken to pointing the finger at Artest, whose season averages of 8.1 points and 2.9 rebounds in just under 28 minutes per game are all easily career worsts for the mercurial man from Queensbridge.
And, while Ron-Ron and the Zen Master reportedly buried the hatchet earlier this season, it seems as though Artest still thinks the world is out to get him, as sources at ESPN are suggesting that he is somewhat fearful of being the scapegoat for the team's struggles.
Especially after "giving up" 32 points to Paul Pierce in LA's 109-96 loss to the Celtics this past Sunday, not to mention the triple-double netted by LeBron James when the Miami Heat embarrassed the Lakers on Christmas Day.
Certainly, the prospect of the notoriously fickle Artest whining and pouting when he's not showered with unconditional love and affection is nothing new; just ask, well, all of his former employers.
The Immovable Object
But, let's face it, Ron-Ron: this situation isn't about to change.
The guy is 31 years old, in the midst of the worst statistical season of his career, is a certified nut-job and, for good measure, has three years and $22 million left on the deal he signed with the Lakers after the 2009 season.
Then again, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak is something of a miracle worker, after nabbing Pau Gasol for a bag of peanuts...and Kwame Brown.
That being said, Artest doesn't look like he's about to change jerseys anytime soon.
In the meantime, he and his Twitter-happy brother Daniel would do well to keep their mouths shut, lest they attract any more ire from Laker nation.
Ariza and Shine!
Granted, Artest has gotten plenty of guff from fans in LA ever since he arrived, with fans pining for the return of Trevor Ariza more and more with each off-balance shot, missed layup and whatever other clueless play he seems to make on a regular basis.
Even so, as the old saying goes, "There's no crying in baseball," or in this case, basketball.
Should anyone feel bad for Ron Artest? Certainly not. After bouncing from team to team in search of a championship, Artest nabbed himself a ring in his first in LA, but didn't seem to anticipate the scrutiny that comes with playing for one of the most popular and revered franchises in all of professional sports.
And, frankly, Artest would do well for himself to just shut up, play basketball and be more gracious all the while.
Because only the most fool-hardy of Lakers fans can say that Ron Artest is the sole reason for the Lake Show's struggles this season, that he should shoulder the blame for what is clearly a team-wide malaise amidst a season preceded by more than 300 regular season and playoff games combined over the previous three years.
But the more that Ron-Ron plays the victim, the more that he and his posse cry foul that he's being scapegoated, the more people will think he actually is the problem.
And, in reality, the more of a problem he will actually be.