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Ron Artest downplays receiving few votes for defensive player of the year

April 18, 2011 |  9:18 pm

The news was delivered to Lakers forward Ron Artest faster than a speedy scorer. His apparent indifference appeared as show as when Artest flexes his muscles. And his defiance sounded as defensive as ...well, his defense.

We're of course talking about Artest receiving very little recognition for being remotely considered for the NBA' defensive player of the year. Instead that award went to Orlando center Dwight Howard for the third consecutive season, an outcome so lopsided with 114 of the 120 sports writers voting him for first place. Scan the sheet and Artest's name is found 17 spots below other players, including Kobe Bryant, who's really sagged off his man and played the center-field position this season more than actually playing defense, but that's a conversation for another day. Artest has had a few lockdown performances on Portland's Brandon Roy, the Clippers' Eric Gordon, Golden State's Monta Ellis and Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, with the sample size boasting more impressive than his frequent lapse in focus.

There's not really a debate whether he should've been on the top of the list. There is debate, however, on whether Artest cares about it.

After practice Monday at the Lakers' facility in El Segundo, Artest made various attempts to claim indifference. He remarked he's more worried about the Lakers' preparation for Game 2 Wednesday against New Orleans in a first-round matchup: "We have games to play." He brought up how the award bestowed on him for the 2003-04 season happened a season before the infamous Malice at the Palace and forever sullied his reputation: "Dwight is a pretty good pick. I probably would've gotten it three years in a row too. I got one year, got suspended the next year and one year I left Indiana. I got in trouble one year, but I could've gotten it three or four times." And then he attacked the messenger: "I'm not really worried about it. Those coaches know why they put me in screen and rolls. They don't want me to run too many isos with their best players. That's why a lot of coaches don't have jobs and a lot of coaches will be fired."

Artest had to change his strategy slightly in claiming indifference when told it's the media that votes for such awards, but that's besides the point. The public record suggests his other two strategies in wanting to focus on the playoffs and citing his reputation to mask his disappointment don't mesh either. Simply refer to the August, 2010 issue of ESPN The Magazine, where Artest graces the cover and, in Artestian fashion, interviews himself (as told by ESPN's Sam Alipour). One of the questions included what awards he'd love to have besides a championship.

"I would love to get back to first-team All-Defense," Artest said in the interview. "I own defense. It's like my corporation. I'm the CEO and everyone is just an employee. The fans and players know I belong. When you need a stop, who you going to call? Not the goddamn Ghostbusters, I'll tell you that. You call me."

That honor is indeed decided by the coaches, but considering many of the media's votes surely reflect their own research including from sources, it's a safe bet he won't even get a call there. Artest's contention that he doesn't care isn't believable. He spent most of the offseason slimming from 264 pounds to 250 by taking yoga classes, limiting calories and abstaining from alcohol so he could increase his mobility to defend quicker players. But at least, Artest expressing public indifference helps his mindset.

The value in speaking to Artest doesn't really involve acquiring information because rarely will he say the truth. No, the value in asking him about topics besides getting a good laugh entails trying to get a sense of his psychology. Just as Artest declined to make much of the defensive slight, he refused to bask in the contention from Phil Jackson and Andrew Bynum that he and Kobe Bryant were the only ones who showed up to play in the Lakers' Game 1 loss to New Orleans. This goes beyond media-athlete semantics, although that's part of it. The other points to his evolving change in not becoming overly fixated with defense itself.

Look at the Lakers' game against Miami, their games against Oklahoma City and their games against the Denver Nuggets. Not only do those games feature mixed success in defending LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. It shows Artest concentrating defending on them so much that he ignores other defensive principals, such as helping out on defense or becoming concerned with intimidating his opponents than actually stopping them. That's why this contention isn't contradictory at all: "I just focus on playing defense. I just focus on playing defense and do what we do as a team."

For Artest, his defensive performances and his career low averages in points per game and shooting percentage never mattered in numbers. It mattered in how engaged he was with everything around him. Artest touched on some of that in the same magazine interview. He pointed out he's sacrificed individual glory by taking a backseat in Houston two years ago despite being a free agent, and also shared his preference to set up Bonzi Wells in the 2006 playoffs when he played for the Sacramento Kings than scoring. But Artest's development has always featured stumbling blocks. Saying Artest has overcome those entering the playoffs is a stretch considering the Lakers have played one game. But keeping this mindset could ensure the Lakers credit his individual game as vocally as they did after the Lakers' disappointing loss to New Orleans. That'll prove more valuable than awards, so long as wins come with it.

"I don't care about individually," Artest said. "It never matters to me. Whatever individually, it's of no importance. It's not important. It's important what we do as a team."

--Mark Medina

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