Smart basketball people may quibble. Ron Artest's shot selection may cause trouble. And Trevor Ariza will absolutely be missed, and may well blossom in Houston.
John Hollinger has a very balanced view, saying it's essentially a net positive for the Lakers.
But my gut reaction to the news that Artest is the newest Laker is: I can hardly imagine a better player for the Lakers to add, nor a better team for Artest to join.
There's a 20% chance the whole thing combusts in dreadful fashion. 80% likely, in my view, is that the NBA has the makings of its next dynasty.
First, the questions and doubts. David Thorpe loves the move, because it kept the Lakers from being held to the fire by agents for Ariza and Lamar Odom. He is less optimistic than me, however, about what will happen on the court, and points out:
"I don't think the Lakers are suddenly better, even assuming Lamar Odom is back. What is chemistry worth? Five points? Ten points? I argue it's a difference maker. If you win by eight, maybe chemistry was worth nine. I'm not saying Ron will be a jerk, I don't think he will be. But I do know that for this team to succeed he'll have to play a role, and I don't know how he'll be at that."
"Trevor Ariza has much better shot selection than Artest, and the ball tends to stop with Ron. Now, the Lakers have Phil Jackson, but a coach only has so much energy. Think of it like a bottle of water. When it's empty, it's freaking empty. If Phil Jackson has to spend a lot of his energy stopping Ron from taking stupid shots, that means he's not putting energy and focus into other things that make the Lakers better."
"We don't know if Trevor Ariza just made some shots last season, or has actually improved as a shooter. But if he is now a much improved shooter, he has superstar potential."
"The Lakers didn't run much triangle last year, and I assume they'll run even less now. Ron Artest is a very instinctive player, and the triangle is not a very instinctive system."
Now I'm going to tell you why I think it's brilliant:
Now, basically every key Laker but Derek Fisher is big, strong and effective in the post. That might not seem like a big deal, but it's really throwing down the gauntlet to opponents. The NBA has a lot of players who really don't want to be isolated on defense in the post (choosing from likely playoff opponents, think about the likes of Carmelo Anthony, say, or Rudy Fernandez -- also consider the Rockets played Aaron Brooks and Carl Landry together). But it will always be a threat, and the hard-cutting Lakers work well as a team to make opponents pay for doubling the post.
Keeping Kobe Bryant in peak form is the most important thing for the Lakers. Artest can guard anyone Bryant can guard, meaning the Lakers will have constant opportunities to protect Bryant from wear and tear.
As Hollinger points out, the Lakers have some opponents of note (Anthony and Brandon Roy come to mind) against whom Artest is a very effective defender. He can also spend some time trying to harness some of the point guards who give Derek Fisher trouble.
Plenty of NBA players seem to follow a trend of being young and crazy when they're new to the league -- just the money itself is thrill enough. Some never leave that mode. But more than a few times, we have seen players age into really caring about winning. No one wants to be remembered as a loser. Ron Artest has not won a ring. Now is his time to prove he can. No, he won't be in a contract year, but he'll have plenty to prove.
Thorpe makes a great point about Phil Jackson having to expend a lot of energy. But watching "Kobe Doin' Work" convinced me (even if that wasn't a typical game, with the cameras and all) that Kobe Bryant has ascended to some other level of team control. If Artest is jacking shots, isn't he going to hear about it from Bryant first? And isn't Bryant the kind of guy who would have credibility with Artest?
Ron Artest was at his worst two years ago in Sacramento. He was not, as Larry Brown would say, playing the right way. He broke plays to go one-on-one. He appeared to be using his full complement of defensive skills on only a fraction of plays. He felt bad for missing jumpers (something he has never been amazing at) and then grew determined to get the points back for his team by ... forcing more jumpers. But despite all that, even with the Kings he was one of the best and most productive players on the roster -- as he has been throughout his career. The lesson, to me, is that Artest has something in common with LeBron James besides build. James is way better, of course, but both have strengths that overwhelm notable flaws. (I think of them as the "You get what you get, and you don't get upset" players.) The conditions could not be more favorable now. A championship on the line, a team with powerful leaders and a legacy to be built. Purple and gold, I suspect, is going to look very good on Ron Artest.