Ron Artest To Join World Champion Lakers

July 3, 2009

Multiple sources have reported that Houston Rocket free agent Ron Artest has verbally agreed to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers. Although a contract probably will not be completed before Thursday, Artest is expected to sign for the relative bargain price of $18 million over 3 years.

Artest met this week with Laker owner Jerry Buss and Head Coach Phil Jackson to explore his long-held goal of wearing the purple and gold. During his lengthy 73-game suspension with Indiana years ago, Artest memorably attended numerous Laker games in a not-so-subtle hint to GM Mitch Kupchak that he would one day like to play in Los Angeles.

Today, a more mature Artest comes to Los Angeles after having had a productive and fiasco-free season in Houston. As a result, Artest has rehabilitated his reputation to the point where he has become almost a low-risk option for the Lakers. In fact, judging by the Lakers' actions, management ultimately viewed Artest as the safer financial choice when compared with the young, more unrefined Trevor Ariza.

The Impact of Artest on LA

POSITIVE:Artest is an immediate talent upgrade over Ariza at the three. Defensively, he is an elite on-ball defender, who relentlessly competes play-after-play against the NBA's best scorers. Artest's feet are still quick enough to contain many 2's on the perimeter, and certainly most 3's.

Moreover, he is exceptionally strong for his position, and brings a physicality and intimidation factor to the Lakers that often has been nonexistent. That brute strength makes Artest an outstanding one-on-one post defender, as he will aggressively root his man out of deep position, and then actively contest any shots.

Although not quite as busy in the passing lanes as Ariza, Artest clearly is better on the defensive glass.

Offensively, Artest is a vast improvement over Ariza. Whereas Ariza is a complementary role player who gets his points off spot up three's, offensive putbacks, and fast break dunks, Artest can actually create his own shot in the half court.

Artest has an outstanding low post game, as he can overpower almost any three down low on the block. This will give coach Jackson tremendous offensive flexibility since he could at times run his offense through Artest in the post. In addition, Artest is a streaky, effective three-point shooter, who also can face up and decently create off the dribble.

Finally, Artest brings a dynamic, candid personality into the locker room that could invigorate the team. Other than Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and handful of others, few players are as intense or as competitive as Ron Artest. That feisty attitude helped push a Houston squad burdened by past playoff failures into this year's second round. He also adds another fearless guy to the locker room to go along with Bryant and Derek Fisher, as Artest is willing to step up and take shots in the clutch.

NEGATIVE: Artest is 29 years old and perhaps could be starting to slow down defensively, although any signs of slippage are subtle and hard to pinpoint. Against Kobe Bryant, Artest seemed less effective this season than in past years, as Rocket coach Rick Adelman opted to matchup Shane Battier almost exclusively against Kobe Bryant during the Houston-LA series.

But even if Artest has indeed lost a step, it should not affect his ability to contain other 3's, as he is still capable of absolutely shutting down most small forwards.

On offense, Artest can stall a half-court set due to his tendency to overdribble. Hence, there is some question as to whether the triangle offense will flow as seamlessly as it did with Ariza.

Finally, the same aspects of Artest's personality that make him an asset also could make him a liability, as his incredible intensity can lead to ejections and other disruptive behavior.

However, because the Lakers have Phil Jackson at the helm, this problem may be overstated somewhat. Phil Jackson has proven he can handle most any personality, as seen by his years of success with Dennis Rodman. Moreover, when Artest is committed and playing for a coach that he respects, he conducts himself quite professionally. A recent example of this was seen last year under Rick Adelman.

Just a guess, but most likely 10-time champ Phil Jackson will garner Artest's respect. So too will Kobe Bryant, as both players have spoken fondly of each other through the years. Because of that respect, and because Artest has long dreamed of winning a title in LA, the "crazy" man from QB should not become a locker room cancer.

The only real issue then becomes whether the parts will mesh, basketball-wise, on the court. And fortunately for Los Angeles, that is a standard, normal risk that inherently comes with any player transaction.

The Impact of Ariza's Loss

By signing Artest, the Lakers have lost Trevor Ariza, as sources have reported him signing a multi-year deal with Houston.

When the Lakers offered Ariza a reported $5.6 million per year in a slow market, it became debatable whether that offer was unreasonable.

In Ariza's eyes, watching a mediocre Luke Walton and a waiver-wire caliber guard like Sasha Vujacic both earn roughly $5 million per season, probably made him think that the $5.6 million offer was insulting.

However, that notion is undermined by the fact that Ariza then turned around and signed a deal with Houston in which the first year of that contract also consisted of the same $5.6 million salary.

When one realizes that Artest was willing to sign for merely $6 million a year in today's market, then perhaps the Lakers opening offer to the role-playing Ariza was reasonable after all.

This past season, Ariza became a disruptive team defender whose long arms and anticipation produced numerous steals and transition buckets. In addition, he vastly improved his outside shooting, nailing numerous clutch treys throughout the Lakers' playoff run. Ariza was an excellent fit for this Lakers team, as he made all the small hustle plays and understood his limited role on offense.

These assets, coupled with his youth (24 years old) and athleticism, give Ariza tremendous upside potential.

Nevertheless, it is not clear at all just how much Ariza will develop as a player.

In other words, can he become as good as even Eddie Jones? Thus far, he has demonstrated little ability to create his own shot off the dribble with the shot clock winding down, and on defense, he remains a work-in-progress as a one-on-one stopper.

Were he to plateau in his development, then retaining him in a bidding war with an overly rich contract would have negatively affected the Lakers' roster flexibility down the road.

The Verdict

In an offseason in which the NBA's other elite teams (Cleveland, Orlando, San Antonio, Boston) are actively trying to improve their rosters with blockbuster acquisitions, the Lakers might not have been able to stand pat. In other words, had the Lakers entered the upcoming season with last year's cast and a healthier Andrew Bynum, it still would not guarantee another title. Especially not in this free agent economy, where only 2-3 teams currently have cap room, and thus, quality veteran free agents can be had by top teams for a low-priced mid-level exception.

Had the Lakers entered into a protracted bidding war for Ariza, he could have opted to sign with another team anyway. Instead, LA at least secured a small forward for their starting lineup, and a more talented one at that.

By getting the NBA's "madman," the Lakers have shown that there indeed is some method to their madness.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for

1 comment:

  1. The Rockets let Artest go for one reason-an age-related decline in skills. Adelman noticed something at camp, at practices, in games over the course of a year that told this astute coach that Artest has "lost it". Will Artest even make it to game 40 without either being benched for injury or decline in production in favor of Walton or Morrison? Thumbs down on this mistaken trade.


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