Less than three weeks after the parade, the NBA champion Lakers have already met the biggest threat to their throne.
What are they thinking? What are they doing?
They just won a title that would not have been possible without the strong defense and stunning shooting of a 24-year-old kid with a limitless ceiling.
Yet they send the kid packing for an aging nut whose greatest hits have occurred on the heads of fans.
They just won a title with a locker room bathed in the soothing light of unselfishness, teamwork and a quiet temerity.
Yet they cut the power and added the darkest of moods, a guy who has made a career out of hoarding the ball, the attention, and the anger.
Tell me again, why did they get rid of Trevor Ariza for Ron Artest?
Explain to me, please, why they wouldn’t even negotiate further with Trevor Ariza before quickly agreeing to sign Ron Artest?
Artest is a better player, but that’s not the point.
Ariza was a better fit, and that’s what wins championships.
Artest is a strong defender, but if the Lakers need someone to quietly hound a guy during a routine inbounds pass and be willing to make a small play to win a big game, that’s Ariza.
Artest is a good shooter, but if the Lakers need someone willing to stand in the shadows for three quarters and emerge to make a big three-pointer before disappearing again, that’s Ariza.
Artest will supposedly make the Lakers tougher, but what is tougher than showing up every day and playing hard every play and fighting your way to a championship?
Ariza has a ring, Artest does not, so the Lakers are giving up wins.
Ariza is young 24, Artest is an old 29, so the Lakers are giving up age.
Ariza shot 48% from the three-point line in the playoffs while Artest shot 28%, so the Lakers are giving up clutch.
The one thing the Lakers are absolutely gaining here is money, which is exactly what you will be paying them in increasing increments next season.
Artest will sign a three-year deal for about $18 million, roughly the same annual salary that the Houston Rockets gave Ariza.
But Ariza was given two more years by the Rockets, pushing his total closer to $33 million.
Heaven forbid you would want to give a rising young star two more years, or spend some of your roughly $1 million-per-game playoff bounty to do it!
Jerry Buss should have opened the pockets a little wider. And Mitch Kupchak should have jogged the memory a little deeper.
Remember the last time the Lakers made a postseason acquisition of an aging star that appeared to give them an embarrassment of riches and render them unbeatable?
The year was 2004, and they signed two of them, Gary Payton and Karl Malone, and you know what happened next. By the end of the season, the fractured chemistry imploded in a Finals loss to the Detroit Pistons that was so awful, afterward seemingly half the team either quit or was traded.
Like Malone and Payton, Artest is a great acquisition in a fantasy league. But this is reality, and nothing in NBA history has ever been quite like Artest’s reality.
Everyone knows how, as an Indiana Pacer, he was suspended for 73 regular-season games and the postseason after going into the stands to confront fans and later punching one on the floor.
A long time ago, huh? Yeah, all of five years.
Did you know that he has also once shown up for practice in a bathrobe, asked to take a month off because he was tired, and been jailed for 10 days for domestic assault?
Everyone said he was a changed man when he was traded from the Pacers to the Sacramento Kings, but he was suspended for a playoff game in 2006 for a flagrant elbow, and the Kings lost that series to the San Antonio Spurs in six games.
Everyone said he changed again when he joined the Rockets, but in this spring’s playoff series against the Lakers, he was thrown out of two games while finishing the series hitting 17 of 61 shots in the last four games.
And Trevor Ariza has done what, exactly? Agree to come off the bench? Agree to guard the team’s best shooter? Agree to take that shot when Bryant couldn’t?
Ariza’s only NBA mistake occurred this week, when he followed the lead of his misguided agent, David Lee. By joining the Rockets as a miscast free-agent star, the kid now faces the possibility of a career filled with disillusionment and mediocrity, not to mention anonymity.
Ariza was more valuable to the Lakers than to anyone else. This was his home, his comfort zone, the perfect spot for a supporting actor to shine from the wings.
Why didn’t Ariza realize this? And why couldn’t the Lakers have given him more time to realize this? This agreement occurred within two days of the start of the free-agent period.
Couldn’t the Lakers have given him a chance to come to his senses?
Couldn’t they have met somewhere in the middle?
But, no, a flashy guy in a funky haircut beckoned, and the Lakers bit, trading heart for Hollywood, quiet strength for false bravado, a rock for a hard place.
While Lakers fans are now faced with an unsettled title defense, there is a shining word of certainty for every other fan who recently watched the NBA’s next dynasty while shouting “Break up the Lakers.”