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Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson on the impact of Ron Artest's absence

For starters, the latest medical update on Ron Artest's recovery from the concussion heard 'round the world:

While Artest did take part in a few basketball-related activities during Thursday's practice (shooting, stretching), dizziness persists and another neurologist visit will be necessary before there's even talk of being cleared for tomorrow night against Sacramento. The official status provided by the team is "doubtful," while Phil Jackson offered the unofficial guess of "very doubtful." Run with whichever descriptor you prefer, but neither sounds terribly promising. Hopefully Josh Powell, who missed practice altogether with an upper-respiratory infection (lot of that going around lately), will fare better in 24 hours. He's considered day-to-day (just like all of us).

I elaborated yesterday on the various reasons Ron Ron is missed by the Lakers. But while it goes without saying that my opinions are riveting and keep the Laker Nation on the edge of its seat, I still get the impression fans are more interested in what actual members of the team think. I don't know why that would be the case and frankly, it seems kinda silly, but I'll nonetheless indulge these priority-challenged readers. Derek Fisher, always one for honest assessments, admitted there's been slippage with Artest sidelined, and like me, thinks it's caused by matters beyond 37's pure defensive skills:

    "Not even just because he's, I guess, quote-unquote, supposedly our best defensive player, in terms of his physical presence. but his mentality is also infectious. His mentality in terms of playing physically. Boxing out. Going after guys. Scrapping for loose balls... Some of the intangible things that Ron brings to our game, we're definitely missing those things."

Fish then talked about how those intangibles come courtesy of Artest's mindset, which can become contagious among the roster (or, as time away has demonstrated, contagiously absent). "When you're part of a group, there's no question that the behavior and strengths and weaknesses of other members impact each part or each piece," noted the vet. Fisher stressed how the Lakers are capable of replacing, at least on some level, Artest's presence, but it'll take a conscientious effort from top to bottom. Along those lines, I wondered if the team had even been aware Artest was providing that in the first place, or was this a case of Joni Mitchell's most famous chorus being proved correct. (The part about not knowing what you got until it's gone, not the conflict between paradise and parking lots.) Fisher voted for the latter:

    "I don't think we understood (right away). We've always had a team that if you took one guy out, because we're so talent-laden, we have so many guys that can play, in our minds, we've always believed we're still supposed to win. It really doesn't impact anything. So I think it's even been a learning experience for us. That Ron really has brought a lot to our team. Maybe a lot of us haven't necessarily talked about it, or it's been more so about our team playing well. There's just been a lot of things that Ron's done well that we're missing. We're definitely keeping our fingers crossed and hoping to get him back soon."

Kobe Bryant concurred with everything his three-peat buddy said, save the part about Artest's presence sneaking up in any way. "I noticed it," nodded 24. "It's fun to be around, because he plays hard. Every time he plays, he plays hard. Some nights, it might not bounce his way, (but) he's gonna continue to playing hard all the time. That's championship character." Beyond the grit work, "all the little things that add up," Bryant recalled an early season game against the Hawks where Artest picked up the defensive assignment on Joe Johnson, red hot for the first quarter and change, then proceeded to completely shut down the All-Star guard. "He picked up his intensity, his energy and everybody kind of followed suit."

We also learned two more things during the following clip:

A) Kobe Bryant is no fan of Metallica.

B) The admitted junk food connoisseur's New Year's Resolution is to eat healthier and lose a little weight. I'm glad he mentioned it first, because it's always awkward, but yeah, we're talking a seriously doughy cat, that Kobe Bryant. He's clearly let himself go. It must be embarrassing to not only be in such awful shape, but then have to constantly compare your body to the physique of surrounding reporters. Frankly, this takes a lot of courage on Kobe's part, considering the blatantly obvious reasons to be insecure.

Keeping with the theme, I asked Phil Jackson about Ron's worth being enhanced in his absence, and after a long pause, he shot down the premise. "I wouldn't agree with that," said PJ. "I just think it's an adjustment period of time." So Artest's defense and energy isn't missed at all, I wondered? No, clarified Jackson, but since Ron's a starter, that means Lamar Odom has to adjust to (among other issues of late) life with the first five. His bump consequently messes with the rotation, an additional element requiring a higher team-wide focus. To some degree, I think Jackson's splitting hairs (and as the video below demonstrates, he was clearly in the mood to mess with folks). If Artest wasn't bringing so much to the table, filling that hole wouldn't require much. I imagine Jackson was trying to reinforce the notion of accountability, especially for the deep reserves now suddenly thrust into action. "Those guys should be ready to play either thirty seconds or thirty minutes, regardless," insisted the coach. "That's part of the job."

Artest's injury has led to an Andrew Bynum-Pau Gasol-LO at small forward "triple towers" starting lineup, a large trio that's left PJ largely underwhelmed. In particular, he doesn't like how they get off to "slow starts." I asked if he'd consider a smaller lineup against Sacto (presumably with Shannon Brown at the two and Kobe sliding over, although Sasha Vujacic could be a candidate for promotion). "I might," said Phil casually. I then asked if he might give a more solid hint. "I'll think about those things tonight," smiled Jackson.

I guess if PJ mentions tomorrow being unable to enjoy New Year's eve because of too many things on his mind, you can just blame the media. We get the finger pointed at us for everything else, so why not?