I’ve been following the NBA trades and free-agent signings as closely as I can and, needless to say, there have been some interesting moves. I said that during this year’s playoffss there were a few legit teams against a handful of pseudo-contenders. This upcoming season promises to be the opposite of that as several teams have made roster changes that put them in contention for the crown. The teams everyone seems to be talking about are the Lakers, Celtics, Magic, Spurs, Cavaliers, Nuggets, and now Mavericks with the Shawn Marion acquisition.
The defending champions made the most publicized move of the offseason so far by acquiring Ron Artest and bringing some toughness and defensive tenacity to LA, while providing a scoring threat as well. In the process, the Lakers lost Trevor Ariza in what essentially turned out to be an LA-Houston swap as these two players just traded teams. Laker players are eager to sing the praises of the move and are declarining that another three peat is on the way. Others, including most of the sports writers outside of Los Angeles, don’t know if it was the best option. I tend to agree with the latter. Artest is undoubtedly a better scorer and more physically intimidating player than Ariza. He will help bring some much needed toughness to the Lakers and has years of relatively consistent production/performance in comparison to Ariza. Ariza was heralded as a great three point shooter in the playoffs, which he was at 47%. But he shot just 32% from deep during the regular season. Which number is a better representation of where he will shoot this year? I don’t know, but I’m leaning towards going with Artest on the offensive end.
That being said, I don’t think this upgrade is a) worth the risk, and b) an upgrade at the right position. Ron Artest sits just left of crazy and is unpredictable at best. Ariza was a good, young, athletic player who was willing to be the role player the Lakers needed. I also wonder if the Lakers are planning on playing some magic 5th quarter every game in order to get enough shots for everybody. Ariza averages seven shots per game, Artest has never averaged that few in his career and has been over double that amount in each of the last eight seasons. One of his big criticisms is shot selection; how will that sit with Kobe Bryant? Pau Gasol already shoots too few shots considering his talent and field goal percentage, but is an easy going guy who has complained only once about touches. Trevor Ariza was probably so scared of Kobe that he referred to him as “sir” or “Mr. Bryant”. Artest? Not so much. Kobe is on a quest to be considered the greatest basketball player of all time. In order to do this, not only does he need to win more rings, but he needs to keep his stats up throughout those years as Jordan did. If you think for one second that Kobe will be willing to give up an extra 7-10 shots a game to get Artest involved (not mentioning that Gasol should be MORE involved), you haven’t watched too many Laker games. Comparing the pickup of Ron Artest for the Lakers to the pick up of Dennis Rodman for the Bulls as equivalent is wrong. Rodman came to rebound and contribute defensively, took about five shots per game and did not significantly alter the Bulls offense. Who knows how Artest will react to Kobe’s ball hawking tendencies. Maybe he’ll be happy taking less shots and playing his role? Maybe he’ll throw a fit halfway into the season and destroy team chemistry? The point is, no one knows for sure, but with Ariza, we did.
Perhaps the Lakers are looking to make some more moves before the season, but so far they didn’t address their biggest concern: point guard and bench. The Laker bench is servicable at best and this “bench mob” (as they so incorrectly called themselves) is about as intimidating as this mob seen here. I think from here on out I will be referring to the seven Laker subs who suit up for each game as the Seven Dwarfs (and I encourage you to do the same). Some people argue that Ron Artest will allow Kobe to conserve more energy for the offensive end because Artest will guard the other teams top man. The thing is, Kobe didn’t guard the other teams best player before Artest got here, so that really isn’t a factor because Artest will guard the same guys Ariza was asked to guard. Why Kobe was named to so many all-NBA defensive teams is beyond me. The Lakers struggle against the pick and roll and in defending fast point guards (see Brooks, Aaron). Fisher isn’t getting any speedier, and Farmar and Brown are not the answer.
The other factor to consider which makes the Artest deal make more sense is that perhaps Los Angeles knows that there is a strong chance that free agent Lamar Odom will not be returning next year. If that’s the case, then this move makes more sense because without Odom the Lakers would have to make up for his contributions on the offensive end. Ariza couldn’t fill those shoes like Artest can. So if that does happen, this pick up makes a little more sense. But for the time being, I believe Artest is an upgrade in some ways, but not the upgrade the Lakers really needed to defend their title.