Ron Artest says he’s happy to be with Lakers
The Lakers are a fascinating study, an entertaining and conversationally stimulating franchise that can’t seem to avoid the rumor hurricane, with the latest winds howling around Ron Artest before a big game against San Antonio.
But Artest didn’t feel like being the subject of speculation, firing back at an online report Wednesday that used anonymous sources to say he wanted to be traded.
Artest said he was happy with the Lakers despite their recent funk and denied he wanted to be dealt before the Feb. 24 trade deadline.
“No. Definitely not,” he said. “I feel good every day. We’ve got a chance to win multiple championships here ... trying to work towards another banner.”
Artest hasn’t had an entirely seamless season. He and Phil Jackson had a well-publicized disagreement in December when Artest told the Lakers coach to stop criticizing him publicly and also privately in front of teammates.
Artest was the last Lakers player to leave the training facility Wednesday, hanging around after practice for extra shooting.
“We’re sticking together,” he said. “We’re moving forward. That’s all that matters.
“Obviously, when I was on other teams, I got a lot of touches. I’m playing with the greatest player in the history of the game, and I’m playing with All-Stars. I don’t have a problem with looking bad on the court for the benefit of the team.”
Even if Artest wanted to be traded, it would be difficult to move the 31-year-old. He has three years and $21.8 million remaining on his contract after this season, and his season’s stats aren’t inviting: 8.1 points and 27.8 minutes a game. Both would be career lows if they stayed that way.
The Lakers were surprised to hear the report that Artest wanted to wear a different jersey. Neither he nor his agent has requested a trade.
“You guys know that’s something we don’t put credence in, those [media] reports that have very little to do with what’s really going on,” Jackson said. “I think Ron really cares about the team and his performance.... I think that Ron enjoys being in L.A. I think he likes the Lakers and I think he likes the action. I think he likes the attention that we get as a basketball club. I think that feeds into who he is as a person.”
Kobe Bryant didn’t want to comment on the trade story and seemed agitated by it.
“I keep the train moving,” Bryant said, before taking aim at critical media reports. “We’re going to keep moving and in June, they’ll say nothing.”
Artest’s agent, David Bauman, said Artest was not seeking a new employer.
“Ron is not looking for a trade,” Bauman said. “The frustration is there among everyone on the team. But Ron is a Laker, and he just wants to win.”
Bauman added that Artest’s relationship with Jackson was improving.
Artest did not play in overtime of the Lakers’ 114-106 victory Tuesday over Houston and played only a few seconds in the fourth quarter, though Jackson said it was because of a right thigh injury.
“He got banged up in the Boston game,” Jackson said. “He’s not running freely. You could see it on his shot yesterday a little bit in the second half, he couldn’t get loose again.”
Meanwhile, the Lakers (34-15) have a game to play Thursday, taking on a Spurs team with the best record in the league.
Andrew Bynum said he would try to play against San Antonio (40-8) despite a bone bruise in his left knee, and the Lakers will try to reduce the 6 1/2 -game-difference between the teams in the Western Conference standings.
“He looked like he was ready,” Jackson said of Bynum.
If Bynum doesn’t play, Bryant would want to see a more assertive Pau Gasol, who had 26 points and 16 rebounds in the Lakers’ victory over Houston. In fact, Bryant told Gasol directly he needed to be more aggressive.
“Sometimes he’s just got to go get it,” Bryant said. “I love to see that from him. [Tuesday,] he did that. That’ll take his game to a whole ‘nother level … and ours as well. Ultimately, the goal is to win a championship. Everything that I communicate, every message that we talk about within the team is all about that goal.”
The Spurs are the best in the West right now thanks in part to a push-the-pace offense that has propelled them to sixth in the NBA in scoring (104 points a game).
“They’re playing a selfless brand of basketball,” guard Derek Fisher said. “We’re going to have to fight every second of every minute to figure out a way to win.”
Times staff writer Broderick Turner and correspondent Mark Medina contributed to this report.
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