Going into the free agency period, it seemed that Mitch Kupchack and the Lakers had one goal in mind, to keep the status quo. Consensus was to bring back the guys who won it last year, and the Lakers would be in the best position possible to win the championship again. The Lakers were surely not the team that would be making a huge splash through acquisition of big name players. Right?
Even though we’d heard a ton of rumors and (supposedly fake) Twitters that Artest was heading to the Los Angeles Lakers, the actual event certainly qualifies as a stunning development. That it happened long before anything with Trevor Ariza or Lamar Odom was resolved made it all the more unexpected. Add in the fact that this move can fall anywhere on the scale from pure genius to pure idiocy, and you’ve got yourself a pretty ridiculous situation. So let’s get down to the implications of this move. I’ll be looking at it from all possible angles, because somewhere in between "The 2009-2010 Lakers will not lose a game" and "We just killed a dynasty before it even happened" lies the truth.
After the jump, what does it all mean?
Trevor Ariza is done with the Lakers
At least for the foreseeable future. Signing Artest for the exact same money that the Lakers offered Ariza is more than writing on the wall for TA, it’s an actual pink slip. Apparently, he and Artest are simply going to switch spots, with Ariza accepting from Houston the same offer he apparently turned down from LA … what the hell?!? Has there ever been a straight up "trade" of two guys, playing the same position, who decide to sign with each other’s teams for the same amount of money, completely independently? Anyways, let’s all take a second to remember the awesomeness Ariza brought to the table, and recognize the fact that L.A. likely does not win a championship without his play last season.
Now that we’ve enjoyed that little moment of silence, here’s why signing Ron Artest was an incredible move that surely is a sign of great success for the Lakers next year.
The Lakers just signed a former All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year, still pretty much in his prime at age 30, to the Mid Level Exception, and for the relatively modest term of three years.
That, ladies and gentlemen, does not happen every day. The Lakers certainly can not be accused of over-paying to get Ron Artest. Baggage aside, this guy is a defensive monster, and has above average skill offensively too. And we’re paying him the league average. Just based on his skill set, this signing is a coup. Make no mistake about it, Ron Artest is a better player than Trevor Ariza. Ariza is a very good defender, but Artest is one of the best defenders in the league. Ron-Ron’s strength is second to one at his position (a guy who goes by the name of Bron-Bron). Ariza developed a wonderful niche as an improved three point shooter, and decent finisher on the fast break. Artest is coming off one of his best seasons shooting the 3 (5% better than Ariza) and has never had a season where he averaged less points than Ariza had last year (in Ariza’s breakout season). On defense, it’s really no contest that Artest is better. On offense, player for player, it’s really no contest that Artest is better. Ariza has great potential, and came a long way to realizing that potential last year. But I’m not even sure Ariza’s potential matches Artest’s actual ability right now.
The Lakers have more than enough personality to manage Crazy Pills.
Yes, Ron Artest is a little bit crazy. I won’t get into the Malice at the Palace, the Sacramento years, the technical fouls, the bum rush charge against one Kobe Bryant in this year’s playoffs, or any of the many incidents the man has had. We all know he is … er, temperamental. However, he was on good behavior last year. Further, he’s got two guys in the Lakers locker room he likes and respects (Kobe and Lamar, and yes, I’m assuming LO re-signs with LA at this point). He’s also got a coach in Phil Jackson (another assumption, just deal with it) who managed to get Dennis Rodman to play some of the best, most focused, years of his career. Dennis Rodman makes Ron Artest look like Derek Fisher. Also, Kobe dominates the locker room no matter who’s in it, and Artest knows it. There is no team better equipped to get the most out of a player like Ron Artest.
Ron-Ron is in it to win it.
Artest said during his brief time as a free agent that he wanted to go to a team with a legitimate chance to win a ring. He said after agreeing to sign with LA, "I’ve made money over my time in the NBA. … I’m not playing for the money anymore." Do these sound like the quotes of a guy who’s likely to be a problem to team chemistry? Does it sound like he thinks he needs to come to LA and be "the man"? From the sound bytes, it certainly seems like Artest has the overly mature goal of contributing to a championship team. He has already agreed to less money than he is probably worth (albeit in a market where he wasn’t likely to get offered much more.)
Defensively, Artest takes the Lakers to a whole new level.
The Lakers perimeter defense now has two first team All-NBA defenders on it. I’m not taking the time to research it, but I’m guessing that hasn’t happened since Pippen-Jordan. Even with Derek Fisher’s corpse, or Jordan Farmer’s inexperience, LA’s back court should be as strong defensively as anyone’s. And, if the 2009 playoffs is any indication, their front line isn’t terrible defensively either. God help the NBA if L.A. re-signs Shannon Brown.
Have I got you excited? Now that I’ve built the wall up, I’m going to tear it right back down. Here’s why this move was horrible, and dooms the Lakers next year and in years to come.
We just broke up a championship team, built on great chemistry, to bring in one of the worst "character" guys in the NBA
You know the old saying, right? The one that goes "If it ain’t broke, don’t trade for a guy who got suspended for a year because he attacked a fan in the stands." The Lakers just did exactly the opposite. Considering Ariza just signed a contract for a similar amount of money, couldn’t the Lakers have just re-signed Ariza and had the same team that just won a championship? A team should be allowed to defend it’s championship, Ariza played an important role on that team, and he was a chemistry guy. Artest is a ball hog who ruins offenses, gets lots of technicals, and is on a shorter leash with the refs than Rasheed Wallace.
The Lakers run an offense dependent on ball movement … and they just signed the basketball equivalent of a Black Hole.
Remember the playoffs? Houston vs. LA? Games 3-7? Where Artest almost single-handedly murdered the Rockets chances with possession after possession of dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble, fall away 20 foot jump shot? Do you want to see that for your home team Los Angeles Lakers? No? Too bad. Ron Artest is where offensive possessions go to die.
The Lakers did NOT need another player who needs the ball in his hands. They didn’t need another All-Star. They needed a role player who does his job well and doesn’t need/expect anything else.
Outside of the defense, Artest is the anti-Ariza. He takes a lot of shots, many of them are ill-advised, he likes/needs to have the ball in his hands, and he is probably no better than 5th on the Lakers in terms of offensive efficiency. He will certainly not be 5th in shots. Where Ariza fit perfectly into what the Lakers wanted out of their wing, Artest is square peg in a round hole. Artest has either been "the man" or has thought he was "the man" on every team he’s ever been with, and he won’t be able to just throw that away and defer to Kobe, Gasol, Odom and Bynum on the offensive end.
Are the Lakers crazy? Don’t they know he’s Ron Artest?
We’ve glossed over it a couple times, but it must be mentioned. Artest did attack a fan at a basketball game. He was suspended for an entire year. Yes, it was a long time ago. But it’s also not an isolated incident, just (by far) the worst. He had problems with flagrant fouls and suspensions in his early days in Chicago. He inexplicably ran across the court to confront our own Kobe Bryant in the playoffs … after he had complained to the refs about a foul call. And he’s always, always, been good for a few comments a year that shouldn’t be said. The refs target him with cheap techinicals and ejections because of his history. He’s a distraction to the nth degree. And we just brought him onto what was a championship squad that was delightfully free of locker room drama.
Where do I actually stand on all this? As is my duty as a Lakers fan, moreso on the positive side than the negative side, until proven otherwise. While I will miss Ariza, there's little doubt in my mind that Artest brings more to the table than Trevor will ever be able to bring. I do think the combination of Kobe and Phil can keep Ron under control, and the Bronx connection with LO will keep Ron happy. And when I say "Keep him under control", I don't mean they'll be able to keep him from flipping out, because I don't really think that's a neccesary concern. I mean they'll be able to keep him focused on the team, and make him be able to realize that he needs to change the way he plays, especially on offense, in order to provide the team what it needs. There's no doubt that this move is a risk, but I think it also carries high reward. This signing should clear the way for LA to re-sign Odom, and that leaves L.A. with a roster better on paper than the one that won them a championship.
What do you think? There's certainly a wide array of options to choose from.