Considering we’re still a year away from the killer Free Agent Class Of 2010, player movement in the Association has been frantic over the past week, with acquisitions ranging from the potentially seismic to the slightly less earth-shattering. Arguably, the biggest gambit of the new off-season is the Lakers’ Mitch Kupchak solidifying his defending champs by prying free agent Ron Artest away from the Rockets while allowing the emerging Trevor Ariza to sign with Houston. Quizzed yesterday about these developments by the LA Times’ Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner, Kobe Bryant displayed a rather curious grasp of recent NBA history.
Bryant said he would miss Trevor Ariza and was initially cautious when asked if the Lakers would improve with Artest.
“It’s tough to say whether we’ll be a better team,” he said. “Trevor brought his style to us, which was very effective, obviously, and Ron will bring his style to us. It will just be a different team. Every year, we adapt, we adjust.”
Even though Bryant and Artest had words during a couple of games last season, Bryant related a pro-Artest anecdote from the 2008 NBA Finals in which Artest, a spectator at Game 6, entered the showers in the Lakers’ locker room after Boston clinched the championship with a 39-point victory.
“I was in there by myself,” Bryant said. “He came in there and he said, ‘This is not going to happen to you [again]. I’m going to come in here and help you out.’ He wound up being in Houston, and [then] took us to Game 7. But he’s here now. It’s something we’ve both been trying to make happen for a while and here it is.”
Bryant bristled Monday when asked if Artest’s reputation would be a problem.
“Where is that reputation coming from? Because he ran in the stands and kicked somebody’s . . . ?” Bryant said. “You talk to anybody who played with him — he’s a great teammate, [will] never be a problem in the locker room. He had that one incident in Detroit, but outside of that, he’s not a problem at all.”
Under the watchful eye of Phil Jackson, I can buy into the notion Artest — nothing if not a hard worker — will work out just fine in Los Angeles. But while Aubernica is the most glaring incident on the Tru Warier’s resume, it’s hardly the only one. Trashing a TV camera at MSG and being charged with dog abuse in Sacramento don’t necessarily address Kobe’s comments about Artest being a great teammate, so how would you classify asking the Pacers for time off to promote a record label (not this one, either). Or essentially quitting on the same organziation and forcing a trade the season following the brawl-induced suspension? I’ve long believed Artest has been unfairly demonized, but Bryant claiming the former’s only been in trouble once before is kind of like saying being booed by Nuggets fans was Bryant’s toughest experience in Colorado.