Kobe Bryant honored with NBA All-Defensive team selection, but Lakers argue Ron Artest should be on the list
For a player who maintains taking more pride in defense than making clutch shots, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant no doubt expressed gratitude for recently appearing on the NBA's All-Defensive team, being selected for the 10th time in his 14-year career. But there was a reason he remained salty after Wednesday's practice at the Lakers' facility in El Segundo, and it went beyond his usual stoic nature.
That's because Lakers forward Ron Artest, whom the organization acquired this off-season in hopes he'd bring defensive toughness, was nowhere to be found on the list. Joining Bryant on the first team were Orlando center Dwight Howard, Cleveland forward LeBron James, Charlotte forward Gerald Wallace and Boston guard Rajon Rondo. In fact, Artest received only three first-team votes from coaches and didn't even make the second team, which consisted of San Antonio center-forward Tim Duncan, Atlanta forward Josh Smith, Cleveland forward Anderson Varejao, Miami guard Dwyane Wade and Oklahoma City guard Thabo Sefolosha.
Although Artest has said all season he remains more consumed with locking down scorers than fretting about his poor shooting numbers, he acted unaware of the snub and expressed indifference when I told him about it.
"People give out awards," Artest said. "Some people deserve them. Whoever got them deserve it."
The Lakers unanimously pinned Artest as one of those people, with Bryant in stature and in words leading the charge by calling the exclusion "total bull ... plain and simple."
Lakers forward Lamar Odom argued that Artest "should be put on it every year," with Artest appearing twice on the first-team all defensive team and once on the second team in his 11-year career. It was a snub that annoyed Odom so much that he argued players should vote instead of the coaches.
And as for Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, he didn't express as much criticism of the coaches, but thought Artest "should've been mentioned."
Of course, if that had happened, that would've knocked somebody off the list. Should Artest's inclusion come at the expense of someone else? To be honest, I don't know, nor do I think it's fair for me to judge because I haven't seen them play as much as Artest.
But no one can deny the influence Artest has provided defensively for the Lakers, and that alone should be enough to earn first-team honors. He held plenty of top scorers, such as Pacers forward Danny Granger, Denver's Carmelo Anthony, Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala, Dallas' Shawn Marion, Memphis' Rudy Gay, Boston's Paul Pierce and Golden State's Corey Maggette below their season scoring average.
Though Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant still had an effective series in the first round of the playoffs, Artest made him less of a scoring threat by limiting him to 25 points per game on 35% shooting, which marked significantly lower than his league-leading 30.1 points per game regular-season scoring average on a 47.6% clip.
And though he hasn't had a specific player to guard in the Utah series, Artest still carried the same effectiveness with denying entry passes and averaging 1.5 steals in the first two games. Add all those elements together, and Bryant sums up an improved defensive team, which allows a ninth-ranked 96.97 points per game this season after allowing 99.3 points per game in the 2008-09 campaign.
"We had always been a good defensive team last year," Bryant said. "But his presence has brought more of a physical nature to it and we're more of a solid defensive team. Last year, we were more into getting in the passing lanes, stealing the ball and things like that. But he'll just lock in on his guy and the guy literally can't move."
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers forward Ron Artest grabs a loose ball from Utah forward Carlos Boozer during the first half in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals on Tuesday. Credit: Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times.