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Posted: Monday July 14, 2008 11:02AM; Updated: Monday July 14, 2008 11:02AM
Marty Burns Marty Burns >
NBA MAILBAG

For the Lakers, Artest would be a classic risk-vs.-reward maneuver

Story Highlights
  • The Lakers need a player like Ron Artest to provide toughness, defense
  • Would the Lakers be willing to risk bringing in a loose cannon like Artest?
  • The Warriors took a step back in losing Baron Davis to the Clippers
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Will Ron Artest (left) and Lamar Odom change places this offseason?
Will Ron Artest (left) and Lamar Odom change places this offseason?
Jeff Lewis/Icon SMI
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When last seen, the Lakers were getting run off the Gatorade-splashed floor in Boston on their way to a humiliating defeat in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Since then, it has been awfully quiet for L.A.'s glamour team. It is almost as if Kobe Bryant and Co. are glad to slink back into the shadows and let the Clippers steal all the attention for a while.

But these are the Lakers, after all. So you know they will have something up their sleeve soon to help them regain the Hollywood spotlight. It might even be something really crazy ...

Did somebody just say Ron Artest?

Yes, Hollywood is buzzing over rumors that the Lakers are pursuing Artest in a trade for Lamar Odom. This possible deal, which would require some additional players to make the salaries match up (Odom is on the books for $14.1 next season while Artest will make $7.4 million), has been mentioned in NBA circles for a long time. But it has gained momentum since the Lakers went belly up in the Finals. As crazy as it sounds (there's that word again), the idea does make some sense -- at least in theory.

L.A. already has two quality big men in Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. What the Lakers really need now, as even Kobe mentioned in the Finals postmortem, is more defensive backbone. Odom, for all the positives he brings, simply does not provide enough starch (at least not with Gasol next to him) in the lane.

Artest might have his drawbacks, but there is no doubt about his ability to defend. The former Defensive Player of the Year also brings a bit of a mean streak that would make opponents think twice about taking any shots at Bryant. Throw in the fact that Artest is also a 20-point scorer, and it's easy to see why the Lakers might be interested.

The Kings can point out that Artest is a better overall player than Odom, and that the Lakers have to pay a bigger price by taking on a bad contract or two (Kenny Thomas?) in return. Behind the scenes, however, Sacramento would probably love to get rid of Artest for chemistry and stability reasons. The Kings are in rebuilding mode, and they have to be concerned about the volatile swingman's mind-set after he came out recently and said that he regretted not opting out of the final year (and $7.4 million) of his contract to become a free agent this summer. Sacramento also could use a good, versatile big man like Odom to pair with its backcourt of Beno Udrih and Kevin Martin.

The Lakers have much more at stake in this deal, and thus much more to lose. For one, Artest, never shy about wanting to showcase his scoring ability, might not be willing to learn the triangle offense. Second, there is no guarantee that the self-titled Tru Warior won't cut out in midseason to promote a rap CD for his Hollywood pals. Even Phil Jackson, who once dealt with Dennis Rodman, might not want to take on that kind of challenge.

There is no doubt that an Artest move to Hollywood would be fun to watch. But the powers that be in La-La Land would be wise to explore all other options before making this potential deal.

As for L.A.'s other team ...

Now that Elton Brand and Corey Maggette have bailed on the Clippers, who can they get to help Baron Davis? Do they have a shot at Josh Smith or Emeka Okafor? What can they do to prevent another disastrous season?
-- B. Kaplan, Los Angeles

Smith and Okafor are restricted free agents, meaning their current teams have a right to match any offer. But the Hawks and Bobcats are not known for wild spending, so it's possible one or the other could be scared off by a whopper Clippers offer. If not, L.A. can always seek a power forward through the trade market. Rasheed Wallace, Al Harrington and former Clipper Chris Wilcox are among those who might be available. (The Clippers already looked into Zach Randolph, as my SI.com colleague Ian Thomsen reported.) Either way, the Clippers will find somebody decent to take their money. The problem is that the replacement won't be a 20-and-10 workhorse like Brand.

I'm sorry, but you are giving way too much credit to Baron Davis. He can be an All-Star at times, but a championship starts with consistency and he is not the consistent leader you want and need in the NBA. I think the Warriors are better for getting rid of him.
-- Paul Chang-Smith, Bethlehem, Ariz.

Davis is an elite point guard when he's healthy and motivated. As long as he doesn't get satisfied with that $65 million payday -- or distracted by his budding career as a movie producer in Tinseltown -- he should be fine.

I agree that Davis' lack of leadership will probably show up at some point in L.A., and that he won't make the Clippers a big winner. But I disagree that the Warriors are better off without him. Davis' ability to overpower smaller guards and get in the lane, coupled with the ability to step back and hit long shots, made him a perfect catalyst for Don Nelson's small-ball system. I don't see Monta Ellis or anybody else on Golden State's roster who can provide that dimension, at least not right now.

Regarding your column on Brand signing with the Sixers, some of your logic is flawed. He didn't opt out until June 30 so the Clippers could have been speaking with him about a contract extension up until that time.
-- Fred, San Diego

The NBA draws a clear distinction between contract extensions and new contracts. According to a league spokesman, the Clippers could have talked to Brand about an extension before July 1 -- but not about a new contract. In other words, they couldn't talk to Brand about his opting out of his current deal (which he did) and then signing a new one with such-and-such terms that would enable the team to also sign Davis (which L.A. did). Any such discussions would have been a violation of league rules.

You mentioned the Joe Smith deal in your Elton Brand column. Do you honestly think the Timberwolves were the only ones making those types of deals?
-- Doug Brosz, Chicago

No. Which is exactly the point I was trying to make. The Brand episode, like the Smith situation in Minnesota and the Carlos Boozer fiasco in Cleveland, should be a cautionary tale to all NBA clubs that dabble in these kind of prearranged deals.

In light of Brand leaving L.A. for Philadelphia, do you think some of the big-name guys from the West are looking to jump into the East to get an easier road to the NBA Finals? It worked for KG and some of those guys must be thinking, It must be nice to not have to kill each other in the West before playing in the Finals. Thoughts?
-- Joel, Toronto

Maybe, but as my SI.com colleague Steve Aschburner pointed out, it might not be the case too much longer. The East seems to be closing the gap, with the Sixers (Brand) and Raptors (Jermaine O'Neal, to go with Chris Bosh) looking improved this season and the Wizards having re-signed Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison. Throw in the rising Magic and Hawks, as well as promising new blood for the Bulls (Derrick Rose), Heat (Michael Beasley), Bobcats (coach Larry Brown) and Bucks (coach Scott Skiles, Richard Jefferson), and it looks at least like there won't be as many pushovers at the bottom of the East.

Have they come up with a name for the new Oklahoma City franchise? I'm sure your readers and fellow writers have some creative ideas.
-- Keith Sutton, Winnipeg, Manitoba

They expect to have a name soon. So far, the leading candidates are said to be the Barons, Thunderbirds, Thunder and Outlaws. Given the ownership group's background, the most appropriate might be Oilers. Of course, a lot of Seattle basketball fans right now would no doubt go with Bandits.

Does the NBA still plan to call it the Northwest Division with teams in Portland, Denver, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis and Oklahoma City?
-- John Hayes, Spokane, Wash.

The NBA has had some rather quirky conference/divisional breakdowns over the years, due to expansion or franchise moves. Back in the 1970s, Chicago and Milwaukee were in the West, while San Antonio and Houston were in the East. The NBA usually fixes it eventually -- after another round or two of expansion or franchise relocations. In the meantime, maybe they should take up Mark Cuban's tongue-in-cheek suggestion and put the new OKC team in with Dallas, San Antonio and Houston and call it the "Dustbowl Division."

 
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