There was one reason why Mitch Kupchak brought Ron Artest to the Los Angeles Lakers: defense. Artest’s hiring brought many questions to the Lakers’ community because of his erratic and sometimes violent behavior on the court. In fact, it was Ron Artest who got into a verbal altercation on the court with Kobe Bryant a few months prior to his joining the Lakers’ squad. This altercation took place during the playoff series between the Lakers and the then Ron Artest led, Houston Rockets. Not to my surprise, Bryant shrugged off the situation and called it a part of the competition of the game. But what surprised me, was how Artest was able to forget the conflict and move on as a new Laker.
The man behind the “Malice in the Palace” is a different man. His revelation that he is suffering from mental illness – which is the true reasoning behind his angered past – seemed to lift the monkey off of Artest’s back and inspire others. His further commitment to bringing awareness and helping those who also suffer from mental illness could only be commended and has in fact been rewarded. On the court, Artest has the defensive ability to frustrate his opponent’s mind and game. During his first season with the Lakers, he understood his mainly defensive role, but was still able to hit the jumper when necessary.
This past season showed a different side of Artest. Although his defense was still admirable, it wasn’t Artest-like. Oddly, his field goal and three point percentages didn’t change dramatically from last season to this season. In the 2009-10 season, his field goal percentage was 41 percent, while making 36 percent of his three pointers. In the 2010-11 season, he made 40 percent of his field goals, while remaining at 36 percent for threes. The statistic that made the biggest change was his points per game, falling from 11 to 8. So why did it appear that Artest had such a bad year?
It was the way he played the game that made the difference. He not only missed wide open jump shots, but even wide open layups. Like some others on the team, he didn’t have the same fight or drive that led to a championship against rival Boston last year. With major changes predicted to occur to the Lakers this offseason, will one of those changes be Ron Artest?
If the Lakers choose to trade Artest, it will most likely come by in two variations. First, the Lakers could package Ron Artest with another big name Laker(s) in order to seal the deal on a trade. For example, Artest could be paired with Andrew Bynum along with another possible player as a trade for acquiring Dwight Howard. Second, Ron Artest could be traded for two bench players. In my opinion, if the Lakers trade Artest for players to strengthen and bring youth to the team, Matt Barnes should fill Artest’s vacancy in the starting lineup. Barnes seems to play better as a starter and can carry over that defensive spark that would be left by Artest’s absence.
Ron Artest was a questionable acquisition to the Lakers two years ago. However, he quickly became a fan favorite among Lakers’ fans. This season we saw glimpses of Artest’s greatness, but was it enough for Jerry and Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak to keep him in purple and gold for another season? Regardless of his future, Artest will always be a part of a championship team and loved for his celebratory thank you speech after winning Game 7 in the 2010 Finals.
*Stats provided by NBA.com