This morning, ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported a source close to Ron Artest- one who isn't his Twitter-riffic brother Daniel- says the 11-year veteran in his second season with the Lakers is tired of being scapegoated for the team's problems and watching his role in the offense shrink like George Constanza after a long day poolside, wants to be traded.
Wednesday at practice, Artest said he doesn't. "No, definitely not."
Here's the full story (written by me, but don't let that keep you from reading). Artest explained how he's still feeling his way into a role with the Lakers very different from anything he's played throughout his career, nor does he feel picked on. Phil Jackson dismissed the report out of hand, "You guys know that's something we don't put credence in. Those reports have very little to do with what's really going on," he said. (After citing media reports and the tendency to blame the newest guys as reasons he doesn't blame Artest for feeling scapegoated, he was asked if Artest is his "whipping boy." "Not true," he smirked. "Lamar is more my whipping boy. And Pau. Those two guys. The big guys are a big part of our defensive game.” In other news... man, it was no fun to be a genuine whipping boy.)
Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, without attacking the validity of the story, both said they aren't concerned with, and won't comment on, reports where the source isn't out in the open.
All very reasonable, and totally expected. Had Artest walked off the court and declared, "I want to be traded. Ship me out!" he likely would have left the assembled media too stunned to ask any follow ups. Stein himself acknowledged Artest wouldn't publicly talk about wanting out. This afternoon, he spoke to Steve Mason and John Ireland on 710 ESPN, standing by his story, and I have no doubt his source is solid. So what's going on?
Artest has, despite all efforts to put on a happy face, acknowledged his difficulty adjusting to such a secondary role offensively. To my eye, at least, he's indeed sensitive to suggestions he's a major reason the team has struggled to meet expectations. In short, he's frustrated, and not in his comfort zone. But as he said this afternoon, "Just because you're not comfortable doesn't mean that you're not happy. 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."
Do I believe Artest would express a desire to play somewhere else to those close to him? Absolutely. I also believe him when he says he doesn't want to leave. So much of this has to do with how the question is framed, who's asking it, and Ron's frame of mind from day to day. He's also extremely sensitive to anything casting him as a troublemaker, given how hard he's worked on image rehab over the last few years.
The bottom line, though, is simple: Artest and the Lakers need to find more common ground and smooth out the rough spots as much as possible, because in a season where he's setting career lows in nearly every statistical category and raising red flags regarding how consistently he can be a true game-changing defender, all while owed about $22 million over the next three years, he's not going anywhere.
Trading Ron Artest for anything other than another team's problem is a near-impossible task. Best for all involved to make it work here.
More from Artest:
And more still...:
Phil Jackson, on the report:
Derek Fisher on the report: