Dunleavy sees a big upside to Lakers’ Artest

It will be debated and discussed for the next five years. Did the Lakers do the right thing in essentially trading up-and-comer Trevor Ariza for already-there Ron Artest?

An unforgettable July afternoon turned into the busiest of the summer for the Lakers after they agreed to terms with Artest on a five-year, $34-million free-agent contract. Ariza then accepted Houston’s identical offer almost immediately after hearing that Artest had been snapped up by the Lakers.

Time will be the final judge, as always, though one Western Conference coach is already offering an intriguing analysis.


“I think it was a ‘volatility’ trade,” Clippers Coach Mike Dunleavy said. “I think Ariza was a flat line that was very positive for them. I think Artest has the ability to raise above that line, significantly. If Kobe Bryant went down during the year, Artest has the ability to carry a team more than Ariza would have the ability to carry a team. So it’s positive from that regard.

"[Artest] gives you more obviously, but there is the question -- he has had a past of some indiscretions. I don’t think it’s probably going to be an issue for them. Everything I’ve read, his mind-set seems to be pretty good.”

Ariza and Artest have both struggled in the exhibition season.

Ariza, 24, is averaging nine points a game, tied for seventh on the Rockets, and is shooting only 35.2%.

Artest, who will be 30 next month, was averaging 7.5 points, fifth on the Lakers, and shooting 34.5% before a decent effort Sunday against the Clippers at Staples Center.

He had 13 points and made four of seven shots in the Lakers’ 114-108 victory. He also had five rebounds and two steals in 24 minutes.

Andrew Bynum had 20 points and 13 rebounds for the Lakers, who trailed by 15 in the second quarter.

Clippers rookie Blake Griffin had 13 points, 12 rebounds and an impressive fourth-quarter dunk over Lakers center DJ Mbenga. Reserve forward-center Craig Smith had 26 points.

Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and Luke Walton sat out because of various injuries, but Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said “all of them” would play if the game meant something.

“They’re just kind of dodging games in preseason,” he said jokingly.


Second in the West?

The Lakers won the Western Conference by 11 games last season, finishing well ahead of a three-way tie between Denver, San Antonio and Portland.

Who will be their biggest conference threat this season?

“I think Denver’s got a chance at being right there again as the second team,” Jackson said.

What about the Spurs, who lost in the first round of the playoffs but added forward Richard Jefferson during the off-season?

“They’ll be much improved,” Jackson said. “I think that’ll give them youth and legs and speed and another option besides just the three of [Tim] Duncan and [Tony] Parker and [Manu] Ginobili.”

Odom almost forgot about the Nuggets when asked who would challenge the Lakers.

“Utah and San Antonio would be my first picks,” he said. “Then Dallas and New Orleans. I think the rest is a toss-up. Portland.

“Denver. I can’t believe I forgot Denver. Denver will be right there.”


Exhibit A, for annoying

Exhibition games are a “necessary evil,” Jackson said.

“We play them because they’re really important to our organization, important to our fans, but I told the team point blank the other day, ‘Practices are much more important to us than exhibition games,’ ” Jackson said. We get more accomplished, we get more done, we have more conditioning.”


Times staff writer Lisa Dillman contributed to this report.