The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Yu Fi Careful

Artest now actually factually in LA-LA Land

Wow. BDL has a post here which I heartily endorse. And yes, this will be me learning anew to shut my big fat mouth when it comes to underestimating the questionable choices of NBA GMs after proclaiming that nothing this offseason would be as bad as Zbo-to-Memphis. This isn’t anything like a disaster of that magnitude, but it’s a huge gamble which could hobble a defending champion if it goes pear-shaped, and that’s certainly bad enough if it happens.

Look, this might work. It might work because maybe Artest kicks the Lakers up from “elite defensive unit” to “best defense in the league”, and maybe his talents as a volume scorer make him valuable as an outlet with the second unit and allow Kobe to get more rest during the regular season. He could be as close as they’ll get to a LeBron-stopper (or VC-stopper) if that’s the 2010 finals matchup. Maybe the Lakers are just so damn good that they can change a substantial piece of their team on the fly and still crush what looks to be a much stronger set of contenders next year. Maybe it’ll work because Mitch Kupchak and Phil Jackson know something we don’t- you GM a team to a title or win as many as the Zen Master has as a coach, you earn a whole lot of trust. But honestly those few possibilities up above are all I can think of off the top of my head, and they aren’t much. Bad juju surrounds this one.

Everyone knows that Ron’s crazy-go-nuts and has been forever; I knew guys who knew him back in high school and they all said to a man that he was bonkers before someone pointed a camera at him for the first time, so there’s little reason to expect that part of his resume to change much. Oddly though I don’t think the LA environment will be a particular problem for him- if Phil Jackson can handle Dennis Rodman he can handle Ron, the Lakers team environment is structured and focused which should help, and anyway Ron’s particular form of nuttybonkers isn’t so much mediated by location. If there are going to be attitude issues as such, they’ll probably be the ones which BDL pointed out here (they’ve been on a roll lately), namely Artest’s habit of becoming a play-breaking ball-hogging black hole on offense who seems determined to win a 5-on-1 game of HORSE some nights. This could go one of three ways, and will probably move through all three at one point or another in the life of this deal: 1) Phil Jackson gets Artest to buy into the team concept, use fewer possessions and act as a court-spacer, and concentrate on defense; 2) Artest plays with the second unit and soaks up shot opportunities while Pau, Kobe et al. rest; 3) team meltdown, dirty looks on the court, lots of yelling and screaming. It’s going to be a big job to manage for everyone involved.

What really concerns me about this one however are the things which surround it. There’s no good metric to point to for this, but by common consent Ron’s not the defender he was 3-4 years ago and he’s about to enter his athletic decline phase after 30 with a 3 or 5 year guaranteed money contract depending on how this gets finalized. His defense may not be as big a boost over Ariza and Odom as anticipated, his offense won’t really carry him in the context of LA, and even at the $6 million per figure quoted which is a very good price, his reputation may make it very hard to move him for anything like fair value if he doesn’t work out. It’s a gamble which, once made, pretty much has to be stuck with for the duration. So far as we know he’s not all that familiar with the triangle. His PER fell substantially last year from 19.27 to 15.64. Moreover, and most importantly, he essentially is going to be asked to do the work of both Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza next year, it appears. Most favorable takes on this trade, like John Hollinger’s, seem to be focusing on the direct comparison to Ariza since those players were effectively traded for each other, and that’s fair enough if the Lakers decide to go over the top and sign Odom as well. But I really doubt that’s going to happen, and there’s a good case to be made that Odom was one of the key factors in last year’s title winner. Hollinger suggests this was a good way to ward off post-title complacency, but it’s hard to see that as ever a major worry on a team whose head coach and best player have both been parts of 3-peat champions in the past. It seems a much larger risk to me to replace two of the most important cogs on a title winner with one of the biggest question marks in the league.

All in all you can see why the Lakers did this, and they’ll have 82 games to get this new version of their team running smoothly before the acid test in the playoffs. But this could end up as one of those pivotal trades which opens enough of a crack in the defending champion to let one of the contenders get over the hump- especially now, with next year shaping up to be one of the all time most competitive in league history. Time will tell. If Odom returns most of my worries about this would dissipate, and the major issues left would be whether Artest can limit his shots, raise his efficiency and stay mentally cool. Without Odom- either you’re substantially changing a defending champion, or you’re asking Artest to be a different player than he’s been for the last several years.

Forum Blue and Gold is the source for more specific Lakers-centric insights. Quality comments there too.

On a side note, this takes Ariza and Artest off the market and leaves Hedo Turkoglu and Lamar Odom out there among SFs- two fairly similar players. That’s not going to help the negotiating leverage much for either of them, and perhaps makes Odom marginally cheaper for the Lakers.

EDIT: I should add, there’s potentially one major mental advantage which Artest has over Ariza as it relates to fitting into the Lakers- age and where he is in his career. For all the other stuff which surrounds him, Ron Artest wants to be a winner. His offensive blackholing for instance isn’t pure selfishness so much as it is misguided certainty that it represents the best way to win, I think. If he can be convinced that doing something else is the best way then he may yet prove very amenable to changing things up and sacrificing shots in return for wins. Ariza by contrast is a young player who still has a lot to prove individually in the league, and who’s already reached the pinnacle of team-level success. In a lot of ways, both men are now in more suitable situations- Artest where he can snag a career-validating championship as a veteran sacrificing his individual game, and Ariza on an injury-depleted team which can use more of everything, including athletic wings who need shots to showcase their developing offensive game. It’s a pair of good fits.

I have to say, I started writing this post really down on this move and the more I think and write about it, the more I’m talking myself into it. I should really get some sleep….

July 3, 2009 - Posted by | Other NBA

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