The Los Angeles Lakers opened their title defense in October basically returning the same roster they deployed in winning the 2009 NBA Championship. There was one glaring difference, however, at the Small Forward spot: gone was yeoman Trevor Ariza. In his place stood the hulking frame of Ron Artest, along with all the baggage that an enigma like him can bring.
From the beginning, there were concerns. Trevor Ariza was young, and last year, he seemed to find his place in the NBA when the lights were shining the brightest. On top of that, he was a team-first player that didn’t care about his stat line, but only cared about doing whatever the team needed him to do to win the ball-game. He was seen as a perfect role-player in the Lakers system.
When Ariza’s agent, David Lee, balked at the Lakers contract offer of the mid-level exception (5.6 million per year), the Lakers, (propelled by the Buss Family, more than Lakers management) were quick in their gobbling up of Artest. It was a masterstroke that David Lee never saw coming. Ariza ended up signing with Artest’s old team, the Houston Rockets, in what amounted to a de-facto trade for the two.
Gone was the humble UCLA product, and in came the pitbull who hailed from Queensbridge, New York.
Next: What Artest brought to the Lakers…