Ron Artest press conference video, Part II
Part I aqui, for those late to the party. And if you'd like to first hear BK and I discuss our impressions of Artest via the 710 ESPN Lakers podkast, then watch Ron and compare notes, feel free. Or you view the talkies below, then give the podkast a whirl. But either way, listen to the poddy, or else you'll be dealing with a nagging void in your life that's impossible to quell.
Artest has barely been an unofficial Laker, much less one with an inked contract, but that hasn't prevented him from experiencing the crush that is the Laker Nation's enthusiasm. Artest praised the fans of every city he's represented, but immediately noticed what sets apart a purple and gold's loyalist. "The fans are so confident. That's what I've learned. Every fan is telling me I'm going to win, saying, 'you ready for your ring?' I'm like, 'Yeah, I'm ready.' "
The only thing better for Artest than proving O'Brien predictions correct would be doing so while playing alongside longtime buddy Lamar Odom. "That's a storybook ending. I don't want to think about it too much- I'd rather just do the work and let the work speak for itself...but it would be a storybook ending." While mentioning the pair's New York roots, Artest took us on a trip down a Big Apple NBA Memory Lane, mentioning folks like Elton Brand, Rafer Alston and... Smush Parker. (Hey, the guy did make it all the way to the L, like it or not).
Hearing talk about money being secondary priority, increased focus and moving past the Palace Brawl, it felt to me like age has drastically affected Artest's perspective on his career. Pretty much. "When I came into the NBA, I was wild," admitted RA. "It took me a long time to realize how I want my life to be. How I want my career to be." Artest views his time with the Pacers as a step backward, a stumble he's since been determined to make up for. "I want to leave on top of my game. That's real important to me."
"That's a no-brainer," smiled Artest as confirmation that he's cool deferring to Kobe Bryant. "And I didn't even finish school." Heck, he spent last season sometimes giving up post touches to Luis Scola and Carl Landry. Nice players both, but certainly not on Artest's level. "I really don't even care if I score. I just want to win." BK replied that such sentiments could have been ripped from the Lamar Odom Handbook, which prompted a grin from #37. "(Lamar) told me to say that. He said you'll love me if I say that. Really, I want to average 50."
BK then noted how, as the new piece of a championship squad, Artest could very end emerge the fall guy should the Lakers fail to repeat. Does Artest feel that pressure? Yep, and he's damn glad to. "I love that. That's great pressure to have. I want people to say that. I want people to come down on me hard and expect all that." Besides, he would just be emulating the same Laker that he's willing to offer deference.
The following clip, for me, comprises the presser's most interesting section. Artest's responses are probably more candid than I've ever heard an athlete reflect on his shortcomings, especially while being introduced to his new audience.
I asked Artest if the fun side of his personality recently emerging and increased on-court focus went hand in hand. Definitely, because both helped develop the ability to properly deal with losses, and that skill's absence caused serious issues for Artest. "Losing got me in trouble most of the time in my career," admitted Artest, sharing tales of cameras broken and Gatorade bottles flung in reaction to defeat. Then he realized that fun was a necessity, even while competing at the highest level.
"I had to find a way to able to lose a game and bounce back. That's why in the playoffs, we could lose by 30 and I'm totally happy,because I knew we'd win the next game. Before, everybody's jersey would be ripped up."
Obviously, such tantrums aren't a productive way to handle coming up short, and Artest eventually realized his negative reactions furthered the issue by preventing his squad from bouncing back. "I was a bad teammate in Indiana," admitted RA. "I was never a good teammate. Over the last couple of years, I learned how to become a good teammate. That was more important than my game, becoming a good teammate."
Again, this is brutally frank, often a rare commodity with professional athletes conditioned (and often encouraged) to deflect and spin. In particular, the "bad teammate" sentiment reminded me of Kobe Bryant a few seasons ago. I don't specifically mean the "bad teammate" label, but rather a realization that being a good teammate was ultimately as- or more important- ability. And in particular, what "being a good teammate" means, which varies from elite player to elite player.
Even if you don't buy into the widespread notion that Kobe had to learn to "trust his teammates more" (or that some were even worthy of said "trust), by his own admission, the ability to communicate what's needed from them and the game plan was an area where Bryant needed to (and has) improved. That recognition was kind of the last piece missing in Kobe's evolution as a player. In a VERY different way, with a different set of circumstances and degree of professionalism, Artest realized the same basic principle. Hopefully, he can continue to grow along these lines while in L.A.
During the Rockets-Blazers series, Artest's pursuit of a loose ball led to him happily chilling in the Houston stands. There's an irony here that doesn't need much explaining. Artest joked about this right after the game, but that ability to poke fun at his past has taken a while. "It took a long time just to laugh about it, because it's something that hurt me and something that hurt my family. I never thought I'd be able to get over it." But time, as they say, is the ultimate wound salve, upon realizing how much his circumstances had changed (and the role he played in changing them), Artest opted to savor the moment.
"I actually had a chance to leave and walk right out, but I just sat down and just soaked it in... it felt so good to actually be in the stands and have fun. It felt so good."
As Mitch Kupchak acknowledged, the Lakers are now dealing with "a degree of the unknown." There's no way of knowing for sure how well Artest will fit in next season or if the team will improve with his presence. And that's fitting, since he arrived because of surprising circumstances: Yao Ming's career suddenly somewhere between "on hold" and "in jeopardy," which goosed Artest's availability, and rapid impasse in negotiations between the Lakers and Trevor Ariza. If the story's opening chapters provided this many twists, it's only logical that the ending won't be easy to predict.
Kupchak did express complete confidence, however, while evaluating his new acquisition's talent level. "Today sitting here, Ron, where he is in his career, and (compared to) Trevor (Ariza), Ron is a better player."
Also, some words from Kupchak about the Lakers' steadily rising payroll in a bad economy and whether that might prompt cost cutting (the casualty in particular being Odom). While acknowledging that the bottom line has resulted in "hard decisions" (declining to match offers from the Golden State Warriors for Derek Fisher and Ronny Turiaf), Mitch also shared Dr. Buss' reticence to part with an essential player purely because of dollars and cents.
"With the (Buss) family, and this came up during the meeting on July 1st, you end up talking financial terms for an hour or two, and at the end of the conversation, (Dr. Buss) kind of looks at you and says, 'Mitch, but we're so damn competitive.' So it's almost like the things you talked about for the last hour almost begin to go out the door because he wants to win. I think the balance is that he's knowledgeable enough to make a good decision that involves basketball and business."
Finally, I wanted to share a quick exchange with Kupchak about the negotiations between the Lakers and Team Ariza:
Andrew Kamenetzky: Were you surprised to see the negotiations reach an impasse so quickly?
Mitch Kupchak: (small pause) I'm never "surprised," so I can't say I was surprised. I thought maybe that as we continued to talk, that maybe there would be some meeting of the middle ground within 24 hours. But it moves so quick, you know? And you have to go on feel. I just didn't feel that we were gonna be able to make a deal. If we did, it would have precluded us from bringing back the other players we wanted to bring back. You have to factor in that Ron all of a sudden became available and maybe under normal circumstances, you'd wait a day or two or three to try to work it out. But you can't do that.
AK: You don't want to potentially miss out on both guys.
MK: You have to kind of follow your gut feeling on the thing. And it moves quick. Once you start down that road, it's hard to do a 180. So we just gathered as much information as possible and about 24 hours later, we made the decision to move quickly.
AK: From the outside looking in, with the interest expressed both on your guys' end and on Trevor's end, to end up in that position so quickly was honestly surprising to see.
MK: It's surprising and disappointing.
Considering the setting (a presser to announce both a major acquisition and Ariza's replacement), hearing Mitch use the word "disappointing" struck me as fairly revealing. Not that he isn't genuinely happy with Artest on board, but that doesn't change your general feelings. I don't want to harp on the matter too much (as I've already made perfectly clear my thoughts on how events likely transpired), but the exchange felt too interesting to omit.
Photo of Ron Artest leaning. Credit: AP Photo/Philip Scott Andrews