The recent free agent swap between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers included two strikingly different players, Trevor Ariza and Ron Artest. Ariza is known in Los Angeles for his clutch playoff 3-pointers and game-changing defensive plays. Artest is known for running into the stands five years ago and attacking a fan who threw beer on him. The incident earned Artest a 73-game suspension, and has tarnished his otherwise-impressive career. Many Laker fans are entering the Artest Era with the trepidation one might encounter when going out on a first date with a girl who is known to have “issues.”
When it comes to basketball skills and stats, Artest is clearly the more established player offensively and arguably better defensively. He brings size and strength to the Lakers that Ariza did not, and he brings the experience needed to guard the league’s elite players like LeBron, D-Wade, etc. He can use his size to handle bigger players like Carmelo who previously gave the Lakers match-up problems. On paper, he’s a great acquisition and the Lakers have statistically improved.
If NBA Championships were won on paper, though, the Lakers would have won far more titles. The intangibles affect the game so much that they can’t be ignored. Here, we have two intangibles that I feel are very important:
1.) Artest’s sanity. Will he jump into the stands again? Probably not. But the fact remains that he is a very “loud” personality compared to Ariza being a “quiet” one. Will he cause distractions? I think many Laker fans are expecting the worst here, and I’m seeing enough drive in Artest to believe that he’s here because he wants a ring. Distractions will make getting a ring harder. I have faith in Ron’s ability to tie these things together and squash the issue.
2.) Fitting in as a player. Ron’s style is much different from the rest of the squad. The Lakers are largely a finesse team; with even big man Andrew Bynum throwing in a shooters touch on occasion. Artest is a strength man, and can bully his way anywhere he wants on the court. He’s a sharpie and the rest of the team is fine point pens. I think the Lakers struggled against more physical opponents because they had no one on the team with that style. I believe he fills a gap in the Lakers defensive strategy.
Don’t get me wrong- I miss Ariza. His tenacious defense saved us countless times, and his 3-point shooting is one of the main reasons the team won. I wish he stayed, but I lost a lot of respect for him when he took the same money elsewhere. Perhaps the Lakers back office didn’t show him enough respect, but he only hurt himself and his fans by leaving without a raise.
I asked some of my fellow bloggers to chime in on the subject, and here is what the had to say:
Andrew Ungvari, Sir Charles in Charge
As a Lakers fan I’m ecstatic for a few reasons. The most obvious reason being that I think Ron Artest is a definite upgrade over Trevor Ariza. He’s a former DPOY who could extend Kobe’s prime just by taking on the opposition’s best player night in and night out. He can guard point guards and power forwards. How many other teams have someone like that?
My wish list for the Lakers after they lost to the Celtics in the 2008 Finals was that they got older. I wanted to see them bring in one or two veterans hungry for their first ring. That team had one player on its roster in his 30s (Derek Fisher) compared to the Celtics who had nine. They never added that veteran but fortunately for them they played an Orlando Magic team sorely lacking in Finals experience and eliminated them in five games.
Now they have a team filled with guys in their late 20s and early 30s and are poised to make a run at a championship for at least the next two years. With Kobe’s looming extension the Lakers will have Kobe, Artest, and Andrew Bynum under contract beyond the next two seasons.
The other reason I love the trade is because Mitch Kupchak sent a message that he wasn’t going to get played by Ariza’s agent, David Lee, or any other agent for that matter. Lee thought he could get the Lakers to up their offer threatening to take the same offer from another team because his client felt disrespected. Kupchak turned around and gave Artest the same deal and now Ariza’s leaving a championship team in his hometown for one that’s rebuilding for the same amount of money the Lakers had offered him.
As for Ariza, I’m sorry to see him go. I wish him the best of luck. But in reality he’s a nine points and four rebounds per game player whose agent overplayed his hand.
Adam Best, Lake Show Life
My favorite player of all time is Reggie Miller, who narrowly edges out both Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kobe Bryant. I’ve been a fan of the Lakers all my life, but I also followed the Pacers closely after they drafted the UCLA Bruin sharpshooter. That being said, I probably know more about Ron Artest than about 90% of basketball fans and writers.
Artest is not a bad person. In the past, he’s been a well-meaning person with some serious anger-management/self-control issues. I also think that the fame got to his head a little bit, and he was more concerned with making Ron Artest the best player in the league and a huge crossover star. Even though he’s one of the 10 best two-way players in the game and a helluva interesting interview, he was never going to ascend to those heights. In fact, because of both his game and personality, I would say that Ron-Ron is much better suited playing second fiddle to a better player with a strong personality — a leader.
In Indiana, Uncle Reg was on his way out and Jermaine O”Neal didn’t quite have the talent or leadership abilities to be that guy. Neither Tracy McGrady or Yao Ming could be that guy in Houston either, both because of injuries and temperament. Kobe Bryant will be that guy.
Kobe and Pau Gasol will take all of the pressure off of Artest. In return, Artest will take it upon himself to guard the opposing team’s best player in most cases (except for the taller fours and fives, and quicker guards). That will allow Kobe to roam on defense, which is what he does best. It will also allow him to conserve his energy for the closing stretch. I wouldn’t be surprised if Artest won Defense Player of the Year award with his focus turned back to D. Meanwhile, the Black Mamba will be more rested than ever late in games.
The other thing is how many teams have four players who are capable of 20 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists on any given night? How many teams have two players (Artest and childhood buddy Lamar Odom) who can guard four different positions? How many teams have three non-point guards who can initiate the offense like Artest, Kobe and Odom all can? How many teams have three All-Star-caliber playes they can stick on the Carmelos and LeBrons of the L?
Phil Jackson managed Dennis Rodman for three years, resulting in three championships. Ron Artest has largely stayed out of trouble after departing Indiana nearly, what, four years ago? He has no pressure on him. He can come in, focus on defense, rebounding and playmaking, and let the scoring come to him. Some nights he will be the fourth or fifth scorer. With the personalities in place — NBA Players Association Prez Derek Fisher, Jackson, Kobe and life-long pal Odom — Artest will stay in check. Especially with the promise of a ring dangling in front of his nose like a carrot. I also think that he’s grown up considerably, or at leas smartened up.
As for Ariza, I loved the guy. Rising star. Terrific story. Local kid. Playoff hero. But this is a business, and he and his agent, David Lee, overvalued his value and tried to play hardball. Mitch Kupchak quickly moved on and acquired a better player. Artest is far and away the better player, by the way. Look, the Dominican Dunker was one of the best 25 players in the West during the playoffs. But when Artest is at his best, he is one of the better all-around talents in the game.
Who knows if Ariza will ever rise to those levels? Artest has a track record of playing well for four different teams over a long period of time. Ariza came out of nowhere during a contract year, hitting shots and making plays in part because he had the best team in the game today around him. Who knows if that would have been a trend or an aberration?
Lakers fans will remember Austin Croshere, the Pacers player who came out of nowhere during the 2000 playoffs and Finals against the Lakers. There you had another young player who was in a contract year, and surrounded by a ton of talent. He hit all the shots, made huge hustle plays and showed surprising athleticism. Sounds like someone we know, right? Then Pacers GM Donnie Walsh forked over a zillion dollars to Croshere that summer, and Cro never rose to that level again. The Austin Croshere Effect could be Ariza’s future.
Some people think that Ron Artest was the gamble. Not me. I think a lot of Trevor Ariza, but getting Ron Artest during his prime (which coincides with Kobe’s) for less money is the safer, smarter move. Kudos to Kupchak.
Chris Shellcroft, Lake Show Life
Essentially, Mitch Kupchak swapped Trevor Ariza for Ron Artest. What the Lakers lost in athleticism they gained in offensive fire power. Ariza was a perfect fit for Phil Jackson’s modern incarnation of the triangle offense. Trevor’s skill set made him a hybrid of a poor man’s Scottie Pippen married with the less evolved offensive prowess of a Toni Kukoc. Artest is a proven commodity with the kind of game that fills the box score with 20 point outings coupled with a few steals, some solid rebounding and a mean streak that makes Rick Mahorn and Bill Laimbeer blush.
Ariza’s on-ball defense is not nearly as good as that of Artest. Trevor’s quick hands and amazing reflexes allowed him to gamble more often whereas Ron Ron is much better at moving his feet and is capable of frustrating his opponent with his physical style of play.
The biggest question is the most obvious one: How will he fit in? Artest is not the same loose cannon that once got face to face with Pat Riley, but his reputation does precede him. Officials keep guys like Artest on a short leash. Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson can get away with whining like a 13-year old girl that dropped her Jonas Brothers tickets in the gutter, while Artest is given technical fouls just for raising an eye brow after a questionable call. Laker fans remember how difficult it was to watch the brief stint of Dennis Rodman in purple and gold. Artest is not that off kilter but he’s sure to garner a lot of the same attention.
There is no other way to see this as anything but an upgrade. Ariza could develop into a more rounded player one day but he’s nowhere near the all around talent that Artest is. So long as Ron can keep his focus on the court and not on the wealth of opportunities that are sure to come his way in the City of Angels, then there is no reason why he won’t be able to enjoy the same cheers that greeted Ariza after the NBA Finals. Let’s put it this way: If David Stern gets his dream match up next year, then he might have to ask LeBron to cut another check to the NBA as the King is assured not to want to shake hands with Artest after a grueling series. Artest is to James what Doomsday was to Superman. Yeah, I just went comic book nerd on you.
Feel free to weigh in with a comment below…