While we can all enjoy a good laugh over Ron Artest’s awful shot selection, his goofy antics and impeccable interview etiquette but now is the time things will get very serious for Ron Ron. The Los Angeles Lakers pursued Artest for the better part of three seasons. They explored trades and free agent moves to try and bring the defensive stopper to LA to pair alongside Kobe Bryant.
Finally, last summer, when Trevor Ariza’s agent decided he had been disrespected by the Lakers’ brass and convinced his client to move to Houston, Artest’s avenue to LA was opened.
Make no mistake, the Lakers signed Artest for one reason: To ease the defensive responsibilities on Bryant. They inked the 30-year-old Artest for the sole purpose of guarding just three players: Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Paul Pierce. That’s it.
The Lakers had sustained championship runs in mind when they threw five-years and $32 million at the mercurial Artest. They saw how tired Bryant was when guarding Pierce during the 2008 NBA Finals and how it hurt him offensively. The Lakers and Bryant also struggled to shut down Carmelo Anthony during the 2009 playoffs. And obviously if the Lakers ever matched up with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the finals, Artest’s constant banging, and in-your-jersey defense on LeBron James would save Bryant from the physical punishment of guarding one of the greatest physical specimens in sports history.
Artest seemed like an outsider on the Lakers all year, a wandering nomad barely plugged in to the triangle offense. He was a guy not in the flow of things. He occasionally had a nice offensive game but oftentimes it looked like he’d shoot because he felt as if he had to do something. He’s been in and out of Phil Jackson’s doghouse offensively – though basically every player to ever play for the Zen Master has been there before so that’s not much of a shock.
When Artest had his improbable put-back to win Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals it seemed as if he was finally a part of the Lakers. The team mobbed him in a moment of pure joy, accepting him. It seemed as if finally he had done something to earn his spot. In Game 6 he was far more confident offensively, he was burying his shot from all over and making authoritative passes. He finally looked comfortable in purple and gold.
Now with that confidence he enters the 2010 NBA Finals with one goal: Shut down the 2008 NBA Finals MVP. He’s had success defending Pierce in the past and if he can do it again for a few games, he’ll finally earn league-wide respect and at least partially erase the scars of some of his past antics.
Thursday night is the start of the biggest challenge of Ron Artest’s career.