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Lakers downplay Ron Artest trade story

February 2, 2011 |  4:31 pm

As soon as Lakers forward Ron Artest caught wind that an ESPN story quoted a source close to him that he wants the Lakers to trade him, Artest says he thought one thing.

"I just wanted to get some breakfast and go to practice," said Artest, the last player in the gym working on his shooting. "You can't worry about it."

That's the mantra the rest of the Lakers took and it consisted of all the typical ways teams downplay media reports.

Some tactics included avoiding comment because the report included an unnamed source: "I've known Marc Stein for a long time," Bryant said of the writer. "I'm not going to comment on an unnamed source. I'm not going to question the credibility of his story, but unnamed sources I don't comment on."

Some offered contrary evidence: "I don't get the sense Ron's not interested in being here," Lakers guard Derek Fisher said.

And some used the opportunity to defend Artest, whom the article says he feels unfairly scapegoated for the Lakers' inconsistencies: "I dont blame him," Coach Phil Jackson said of Artest, who has career lows in points per game (8.1) and minutes played (27.8) and has had inconsistent defensive performances. "He's like the new guy on the block. Sometimes that happens. I understand there's been some newspaper articles about his performances. He doesn't get picked on here."

What's more revealing regarding this situation isn't so much whether Artest wants to be traded (the report says he does and Artest's agent, David Bauman, immediately denied it,). It's that all accounts acknowledge the frustration Artest has experienced this season in dealing with a more limited role and bouts of inconsistency.

"The frustration is there among everyone on the team." Bauman said. "But Ron is a Laker, and he just wants to win. Ron is frustrated with the losing, as everybody is."

"Just because you're not comfortable doesn't mean that you're not happy," Artest said. "Obviously when I was on other teams, I got a lot of touches. But I'm playing with the greatest player in the history of the game, and I'm playing with All-Stars. I don't have a problem with looking bad on the court for the benefit of the team." 

It'll prove difficult for the Lakers to trade him anyway, considering his age (31), tradable value and the three years and $21.8 million remaining on his contract after this season. For the time being, what's more important involves how Artest handles that frustration. That was actually a source of a recent conversation Ron said he had with his brother Daniel, who's well known for tweeting unfiltered thoughts regarding the NBA and timely topics, including Ron. He said he warned his brother about limiting what he tweets about him so that any grievances don't become exaggerated.

"He's mad because I'm not playing well," Artest said of his brother. "I keep telling him, I'm grown and I'm not worried about that stuff anymore."

Jackson shared that same perspective. That's a fairly significant step in his relationship with Artest considering his tendency to offer public criticism regarding his play, a pattern that led the two to have a disagreement at practice earlier in the season in which Artest told Jackson to stop criticizing him publicly to reporters and in front of the team. But Jackson expressed a much different tone after Wednesday's practice, pointing out Artest's limited role and recent defensive struggles point to a thigh injury he suffered during the Lakers' game Sunday against Boston, refusing to make much of the report, expressing confidence Artest wants to remain on the team. He even went so far to say that he enjoys picking on Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom more: "Lamar is more my whipping boy. And Pau. Those two guys. The big guys are a big part of our defensive game.”

"I think Ron enjoys being in L.A," Jackson said. "I think he likes the Lakers. I think he likes the action. I think he likes the attention we get as a basketball club. I think that feeds into who he is as a person."

Artest put that on full display in front of reporters after Wednesday's practice. He was extremely vocal when he was asked if he wants to be traded. "No. Definitely not." Artest appeared shocked when asked if he was happy. "You got to ask a better question than that. We're having a great time here. That's a horrible question." And he deftly reminded everyone how he battled similar struggles last season only to come out in heroic fashion in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. "I rose above everybody and started floating in the air when everybody was talking trash. I was floating and all you media guys were down here and I was just floating like an angel above everybody."

But how that will translate onto the court and whether the same script plays out appears uncertain. The Lakers and Artest, however, revealed after Sunday that they're ready to work together. 

"I feel good every day," Artest said. "We've got a chance to win multiple championships here...trying to work towards another banner." 

--Mark Medina

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