I think we can all agree this hasn't been an especially stellar season for Ron Artest. His minutes are down. His role in the Laker offense is smaller. His shooting efficiency is down. His rebounds are down. And as Paul Pierce and LeBron James have demonstrated at various points this season, Ron's struggling to keep up with the high-octane small forward scorers he was signed to stop. How could it possibly get worse?
Oh, how about a trade demand from one of the Lakers' least tradeable players?
You probably know by now that ESPN's Marc Stein is reporting, based on a "source close to the situation," that Artest wants out. Stein writes that he's assured Ron wants "to be dealt somewhere he ‘can have fun again'" and that his source isn't Ron's goofy brother Daniel.
Late this morning, however, Ron's agent David Bauman directly refuted Stein's report to Mark Medina of the LA Times.
"Ron is not looking for a trade," Bauman said. "The frustration is there among everyone on the team. But Ron is a Laker, and he just wants to win. Ron is frustrated with the losing, as everybody is."
OK, so what to make of all this?
I'm not going to bother guessing how full of shit Stein's report is. I will say that Stein has a good reputation and gives the impression of being unusually careful about sourcing his reports. I'm confident he wouldn't run a story like this if there weren't at least something to it. His piece indicates that he actually spoke to Bauman, who declined comment, so it's not like the agent didn't have an opportunity to go on record with Stein. And although I don't know Bauman or anything about him, this wouldn't be the first time an agent has supplied cover for an athlete who's making demands behind the scene.
On the other hand, Artest's such a wacked-out dude that he could demand a trade one day and completely forget he'd done so the next. I could easily envision a scenario where Ron was just blowing off steam to a member of his inner circle, who passed the complaints on to Stein, and ta-dow, there's your ESPN report. Stein himself writes, "This is where I'm obligated to remind you that no one in the NBA can change his mind faster than the famously fickle Ron-Ron." Is that a cover-your-ass statement? Yep. But that doesn't mean it's not also true.
So unless one of you can hack into Bauman's and Kupchak's Blackberries, which I'm not encouraging though I'd find it impressive, we're left only to guess at what kind of poopstorm is raging in the Laker front offices. Let's turn instead to what Stein reports are Ron's two main beefs:
1. He's weary of being scapegoated for the team's struggles and feels that he's destined to always absorb the bulk of the blame no matter what happens because Jackson and Bryant are so dependent on the more glamorous contributions of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom and will never publicly go after regal Laker lifer Derek Fisher.
2. As we heard at various points during his stops in Indiana, Sacramento and Houston, Artest is eventually going to squawk if he's being marginalized in the offense, which inevitably disengages him from his defensive responsibilities.
Let's just stipulate that these came directly from Ron's mouth in order to address them on their merits.
First of all, does Ron really think he's being scapegoated more than Pau and Kobe? Where has he been the last two months? All we - and by "we," I mean all of us who cover the Lakers and all of you who engage with us on our coverage - have been talking about lately is how Pau and Kobe have been playing and how the two stars can best drag the team out of its slump. If Ron's wondering why Lamar's not taking any heat, it's because Lamar's been kicking ass on the court. But Ron's not taking any more blame than Pau and Kobe, and in fact substantially less.
As for cranking up his role in the offense, forget about it. You can't carry a 49% True Shooting mark and demand more shots. And the team offense has been the one thing that's worked pretty much all year for the Lakers, so it doesn't make sense to start tinkering with it, and certainly not by mandating, say, more pick-and-rolls involving Ron Artest.
N e ways, it's not like there's a line of ravenous NBA general managers outside Kupchak's door just waiting to acquire Ron's contract. Who wants a declining, 31-year-old occasional malcontent due to make $21 million and change over the next three seasons? And by the way, who the hell makes over $6 million a year and bitches that they're not having enough "fun"? I've got news for you, Mr. Source Close to the Situation: if the job were easy and fun, the Lakers wouldn't be paying Ron $6 million to do it.
UPDATE (3:00 p.m.) - Artest himself has now denied that he wants to be traded. "No, definitely not," he's told Mike Bresnahan of the Times. "I feel good every day. We've got a chance to win multiple championships here... trying to work towards another banner."
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