Just Add Fire

I don’t know if you heard, but the Lakers won the championship.  Yeah, they were pretty good.  So naturally, they went out on the free agent market this summer (prior to re-upping two critical pieces in Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza, mind you) and added the single most combustible ingredient available.  I hope the police have stayed frosty since the post-title riots, because Ron-Ron has just prescribed all of Los Angeles a lifetime supply of crazy pills.

At least that’s the theory.  And I say theory because this is Ron fricking Artest, and until he signs that contract in blood, I’m going to continue to think of him in free agent terms.  Ron’s lunacy has earned that much respect, and we’d be wise to honor it.

That said…WHAT ON EARTH IS GOING ON?!  This would seem to be an arrangement from which neither party really gains.  Artest seemed to have a pretty good thing going in Houston, and though Yao’s likely out for the season, Ron would have plenty of room to flex his alpha dog complex.  The man needs the ball on the offensive end, which leads some rather random results.  It’s what happens when talented players live and die by the contested, fadeaway jumper.  With the Rockets, there is no question that Artest was the man on the offensive end.  There’s no Yao or T-Mac in sight, meaning most of the playmaking responsibilities would fall on the shoulders of Artest and one Aaron Brooks, who still has quite a bit to learn in the way of being an NBA point guard.  Shane Battier, Chuck Hayes, and even Carl Landry and Luis Scola are not guys that are likely to complain about their touches on the offensive end.  Artest probably didn’t have the green light to shoot 30 times a game, but he is undoubtedly one of the more talented offensive players on that roster.

Beyond that, Artest only makes sense offensively in situations where his skills can be utilized without damaging the team concept.  Los Angeles, home of the triangle offense, is not that place.  Artest’s tendency to stop the ball, throw possessions into the wind, and take what can only be described as “Ron Artest Shots” can’t fly well with Phil, with Kobe, with Pau, with Tex Winter, or with just about anyone who has come to know and love (or at least respect) the most dominant offensive unit in the game.  The Lakers are just too damn good offensively because of the triangle, not in spite of it as some Jordan-esque logic might suggest.  They were able to dissect a fantastic defensive team in the Finals because the talent was there and the system was there.  Artest brings plenty of one, but substitutes the other for generally poor basketball IQ and the possibility of going bonkers at any particular time.  Sweet.

On top of that, the Lakers seem to be severing their ties with Trevor Ariza.  Signing Artest is doing more than showing Ariza the door.  It’s pushing him out, throwing his stuff out on the lawn, and handing Ron a molotov cocktail.  Feelings are going to be hurt, and for a player that claims that he just “wants to feel wanted,” that means quite a bit.  The true delight comes in the fact that Ariza could function within the system at a level we can never expect Artest to.  Trevor made a habit out of deferring on offense, and perfect a few offensive skills in his ability to hit the three from select spots and his tremendous finishes.  The Lakers needed that against the Celtics, and they got it against the Magic.  It wasn’t the only reason why the Lakers have one title instead of two, but it definitely played a role.  This team clearly competes at a different level with Ariza on the floor, and that’s a credit to just how hard he’s worked on his game.

As for Lamar Odom, he’s likely to be just as confused at this situation as we are.  Lamar is a guy who needs the confidence of his teammates and his coach to be successful, and forcing him out of the starting lineup with Crazy Pills is probably not the way to go.  Artest is a bit similar in his need to be nurtured a bit by his team, putting the Lakers in a pretty strange situation if Odom does return.  Both need to play and both need to feel respected, lest you risk losing a pivotal contributor.  But Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum need their minutes, and Kobe’s pretty much guaranteed his.  When it comes to the roles within the organization and their relative levels of prestige, something’s got to give.  If you’re a Lakers fan, you can only hope that something isn’t Lamar’s confidence or Ron’s sanity.

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