The Hornets visited Staples Center last night, the last time these two teams battled in LA ex-Laker DJ Mbenga was honored with his ring for last season’s championship.
There’s another ex-Laker on that Hornets squad that I’m sure some Laker fans wouldn’t mind having back. The 25 year-old Trevor Ariza, who would certainly help disprove the champs are too old to three-peat notion; a notion that has been brought to the fore by the Lakers’ struggles early in the season. Although Ariza and his replacement, Ron Artest, didn’t guard each other for much of the night, there was a specific play on the fast break when Ariza drove by Artest like he was a pylon, which leaves Lakers Nation wondering what if Ariza was still sporting the purple and gold?
Everyone who’s a Laker fan remembers the summer of 2009. Still suffering from the symptoms of championship hangover, reports began to surface that the Lakers have agreed to sign the one and only Ron Artest. The catch? Trevor Ariza is leaving Los Angeles behind for Houston. We later find out Ariza’s agent, David Lee, is to blame for balking at the Lakers’ initial offer of 34 million over five years. Essentially the Lakers and Rockets swapped starting small forwards via free agency that summer.
Last season, Ron was brought in to do the same things Ariza specialized in: making stops and hitting spot up threes, he did so with mixed results; while Ariza’s role was expanded in Houston where he was looked upon to shoulder a larger offensive burden. Many questioned that while Ron may be a superior individual player is Ariza a better fit for the championship proven Lakers.
As Ron Aretest described poignantly last year, he still believes he’s a premier player in the NBA reduced into a role player for the sake of a championship. He also insisted Ariza is a better player because he’s won a ring. A season later, Artest has also won a championship with the Lakers and their stats (Artest averaged 11 pts, 4 rebounds and 3 assists and Ariza 15.6 pts, 5.6 assists and 4 assists) and were not too far off from each others, so can we conclude the Artest experiment as a success?
Not so fast. This year, Artest’s antics have multiplied while his performance on the court has dipped, admitting he’s lost in the triangle, this has all culminated in the leaked confrontation between Ron and the Zen Master a couple months ago. Recently Ron has found his stride, which was evident in the triple overtime game against Phoenix when he knocked down a three and a runner to seal the game for the Lakers in crunch time. Since the All-Star break, his point per game average has jumped from 8.4 to around 14.
And Ariza was moved again in the off-season to New Orleans, this time he’s found his niche as Chris Paul’s wingman. Ariza’s play was a huge reason the Hornets were off to their red-hot 11-1 start.
In a Laker uniform both players have had their signature moments. Ariza’s clutch steals in the Denver series of 2009, and his poster of the ageless Grant Hill. Artest exorcised his championship demons in the pivotal Game 7 finishing with 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 steals warranting Coach Jackson to label him the game’s most valuable player. They even had an infamous moment together when Ron threw Ariza’s shoe into the stands.
At the end of the day Laker fans should be more than satisfied with how Ron has fit in with the team. But it is interesting to note that Ron tends to wear out his welcome in his previous stops quickly, will the quarrel with Jackson be the beginning of this or will Ron’s volatility be just another compelling storyline, along with Kobe’s knee and Lamar’s reality show, as the Lakers limp to a three-peat? Artest and Ariza are like two scoops of ice cream that are equally delicious, except Ron’s scoop packs more flavor and is sprinkled with gummy bears on top.