The Los Angeles Lakers won a world championship in 2009 and promptly re-signed virtually their entire roster … with one exception of course. The Lake-show called Trevor Ariza’s bluff and let him walk to the Houston Rockets and in turn signed the talented yet enigmatic Ron Artest away from Houston.
Luckily for Lakers fans, Artest realizes there’s a gigantic elephant in the room and he addressed it today in San Diego during a visit to promote the Lakers’ exhibition game against the Denver Nuggets at the San Diego Sports Arena on Oct. 23.
“They won last year, and I’m the new addition. The fans expect a repeat. Everybody in L.A. expects a second ring. And if we don’t then yeah, they should point right at me, throwing tomatoes and everything.”
Tomatoes? yes. Plastic beer cups? No.
In the short-term, Artest – and his five-year, $33 million deal – makes the Lakers better. The big question is how rapidly will the 29-year-old’s skills decline and will the 24-year-old Ariza continue to develop? Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, coach Phil Jackson and star Kobe Bryant all have to agreed that Ariza wasn’t worth the extra cash he’d be getting from the Rockets. If he was, he’d still be with the Lakers and Artest would be elsewhere.
What Artest brings to the Lakers is someone to take a lot of pressure off of Bryant. His addition is squarely aimed at winning a title and making the playoff run easier on Bryant. Artest will be a guy who can guard players like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Brandon Roy. He’ll body them up, rough them up and get into physical wars with them, while Bryant can focus on playing more off the ball defense and use his skills to help the rest of the team.
On offense, Artest will either post up or stand behind the 3-point line. He knows he wasn’t brought in for his offensive prowess, so if he starts jacking his trademarked awful shots, he’ll quickly find himself in Jackson’s doghouse. The thing is, Bryant needs Artest and Artest needs the Lakers. Plus, his addition will provide the extra motivation to keep Jackson around for another year or two (expect him to sign on for another year at some point midseason if he determines his body can take the NBA’s travel schedule).
So yeah, Artest is right. If the Lakers don’t repeat, fair or not, the blame will rest solely on his shoulders. Nice to know he’s aware of that fact. No pressure big guy.
*Sidenote to this story. Artest was wearing a San Diego Padres cap during the interview, yet he had no idea San Diego had a major league baseball team. Hey Ron, don’t worry, judging by attendance figures, most San Diego residents weren’t aware of that either. ZING!