When Ron Artest was introduced as the newest member of the Los Angeles Lakers, he didn’t disappoint and gave the assembled media a sneak peak at his colorful personality, starting with the No. 37 jersey he chose to wear for the 2009-10 season.
Why No. 37?
“I just ask all my Twitter friends and on MySpace and Facebook, and I asked all my fans to pick a number for me,” Artest said during his press conference on Wednesday. “A fan came up with this idea, because I like Michael Jackson so much, she said pick 37 because Thriller was the No. 1 album for 37 straight weeks and it was the No. 1 album of all time.”
The jersey number was definitely an odd choice even for an oddball like Artest. But that’s Ron Artest in a nutshell – half genius, half madman, but 100% quirky,
The Artest deal was reported at $33 million stretched across five years, and the agreement was basically consummated just hours after the free agency period began on July 1. Artest posted on his Twitter page on the evening of July 2 that he just signed a deal with a team. He did not specify which team, but the media dismissed the reports, saying the source was a phony. As it turned out, it was indeed Artest who sent the message on his “96TruwarierQB” Twitter account.
The acquisition of the 30-year-old forward signifies the end of the Lakers being labeled “soft.” The recently crowned world champions instantly got harder and tougher by bringing in the imposing 6-7, 250-pound enforcer. Everything about him exudes physicality. He could walk right up to you and say “Boo!” and you would be running for cover.
But before we hand the Lakers the Larry O’Brien trophy for 2009-10, consider some of the baggage Artest brings to the locker room. For all the heightened testosterone he injects into a ballclub (he has played for Chicago, Indiana, Sacramento and Houston) the highly combustible Artest is still…Ron Artest, and there are several warning signs that comes with the package.
His probation officers, also known as the NBA headquarters in New York, are always watching his every move. The Queensbridge native just can’t seem to escape the image of him climbing the standings and throwing down with paying customers in The Palace of Auburn Hills during the infamous Pacers-Pistons brawl in 2004.
From that point, Ron-Ron has developed a reputation for being a trouble-maker. He has become a magnate for technical fouls and is arguably the most scrutinized player in the league. The Lakers rely on continuity and steady flow, two of Phil Jackson’s favorite terms, so the addition of someone such as Artest – whether it’s with or without merit – can cause a disruption in Jackson’s circle of trust.
Think back to 2004 when the Lakers has Shaq, Kobe, Gary Payton and Karl Malone. Team chemistry was completely out of whack and the Big Four and their gigantic egos were too enormous even for a grand stage such as Tinseltown.
Last week, Jackson told a radio station in Los Angeles that he was not given the “either/or” when it came to choosing between Artest or Trevor Ariza. “He’s an unknown,” Jackson said of Artest. “He’s a player that even I think his own teams don’t know exactly what he’s going to do that particular night.”
Jackson didn’t sound like a guy who is looking forward to dealing with a headstrong personality, especially at this stage of his career where he is considering retirement and has dealt with numerous health issues.
Artest may have lost a step or two but his tenacity on defense can still be a huge plus. Bulldog forwards such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony can no longer push their way through the Lakers defense. However, the same can’t be said about his game on offense. It’s just not built for the triangle offense, which is defined by ball movement and spacing.
Artest tends to pound the ball on one side of the court and can be reluctantly to swing the ball to the weak side. He is extremely inconsistent as an outside shooter and, at times, forces shots and does not make good decisions. To be effective, Artest needs the ball in his hands but he might have a difficult time prying it off Kobe Bryant’s hands.
He is at his best when he posts up smaller defenders and muscles his way to the basket. But on a team that already has excellent low-post scorers in Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom (whenever he decides to re-sign with the Lakers) and Andrew Bynum, Artest could be the odd man out. It is highly doubtful that he will plant himself behind the 3-point line and give way to Bryant and Gasol, much like what Trevor Ariza did during the playoffs.
If Ron-Ron falls in line and defers to Kobe and the others, then this experiment will work. But Artest is at the point of his career that his popularity is at its peak and he will do nothing halt his rising Q rating. He loves being in the spotlight and doesn’t hide his shameless promotions of his TruWarier record label.
To ask Ron Artest to take a step back and let others shine is a very deadly proposition. It’s just not his nature nor his preference.