Lakers and Ron Artest collectively ensure he keeps his cool following Marc Gasol's hard foul
He played physical, but he only displayed that between the whistles.
He showed anger, but he didn't retaliate.
And he revealed vulnerability, but he allowed others to help.
Ron Artest's reaction to Marc Gasol's inadvertent elbow with 34 seconds remaining in the third quarter of a 93-84 Lakers' victory Monday over the Memphis Grizzlies had little bearing on the outcome, but it told everything about his relationship with the team.
This isn't a post about Artest becoming a changed man since that incident six years ago at the Palace, where he reacted to a fan throwing a beer at him by charging into the stands, fighting him, drawing an 73-game suspension and a year's probation after pleading no contest to assault charges and putting his career in jeopardy. He's shown through his on-court actions, his promotion for mental health charities and his genuine friendliness that he's well past that toxic persona.
This isn't a post about how Artest avoided an altercation with Gasol, juxtaposed with his reaction as a Houston Rocket in which he confronted Kobe Bryant after elbowing him to the throat two years ago in the 2009 playoffs. Ever since signing with the Lakers in the 2009 off-season to a five-year, $33-million contract, Artest hasn't had any such incidents.
No, this post is about how the collective effort both the Lakers and Artest made in ensuring he kept his composure serves as the latest example of the positive reinforcement the team's trying to provide, while Artest further ingratiates himself with the Lakers. That doesn't mean there won't be further issues. For example, ESPN the Magazine's Ric Bucher reported that the Lakers unsuccessfully tried to trade him last week to the Charlotte Bobcats. It's also conceivable the Lakers would make other efforts in replacing Artest, whose offensive and defensive inconsistency has contributed to the up-and-down season. But for now, the Lakers are trying to make the best of the situation.
"Ron knows how to remove himself from situations like that," Coach Phil Jackson told reporters, including The Times' Mike Bresnahan. "He got out of there instead of standing in and getting in a confrontation … that could contain any problems."
Here's what happened: Artest doubled up on Gasol in the post with Lakers forward Lamar Odom, scrapped for the ball, Gasol swung his hands around, Artest swiped the ball and then received an inadvertent elbow to the nose.
Artest covered his face, ran to the end of the court and hunched over. Even though he removed himself from the situation he was far from happy with his nose bleeding and appearing crooked. He glared at Gasol, walked past trainer Gary Vitti, walked past Jackson and the rest of the team for that manner. It appeared Artest wanted to control his emotions first, but he continued showing frustration, pushing Vitti's hands away while he was being treated.
The Lakers still remained engaged with Artest. As Vitti treated Artest's nose and stuck what Bresnahan reported to be a nose plug made of cotton, Kobe Bryant shared words of encouragement and patted him on the head. Lakers assistant coach Chuck Person, a longtime Artest confidant, also spoke to him.
"We have a relationship where even though things may get a little crazy for him," Bryant told reporters, including Bresnahan, "I’ll go up to him and check on him and make sure he’s alright and he’ll respond. So, I just wanted to make sure he’s OK."
Artest responded in appropriate fashion in accepting Gasol's apology, but the blurry vision in his eyes and rattled focused surely contributed to his missed free throws. It was a point of emphasis Jackson shared with reporters afterward in which he credited Artest with avoiding a confrontation but wanting him to let those emotions go. But the Lakers were there to provide sympathy, including Pau Gasol, who played the delicate role in wanting to avoid a conflict between Artest, and his brother Marc, while understanding Artest's frustration.
This episode perfectly illustrated Artest's continual flux in trying to do the right thing albeit with mixed results. The team's reaction perfectly illustrated its approach in trying to look out for Artest. Unless a trade happens, this will be the only option both the Lakers and Artest will have in ensuring a co-dependant relationship.
"It looks a little bit crooked," Artest said to reporters, including ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin, who also reported that the nose is swollen. "I just got to ice it and hopefully it’s not broke … It should be alright. We got these great trainers, they’ll fix me up."
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Grizzlies guard Tony Allen and Lakers forward Ron Artest try to track down a loose ball in the second half Monday night in Memphis. Credit: Mark Weber / Reuters