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Ultimate High-Risk, High-Reward Play Ahead In LA?

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That seems to be exactly the sort of move the Lakers are looking to make.

The Sacramento Bee's Sam Amick reported yesterday (and, to his credit, my pal Mays the disgruntled Bulls fan predicted this the week after the Finals) that the Lakers have contacted the Kings about a trade centered on Lamar Odom and - you guessed it! - Ron Artest.

In the interest of full disclosure, Amick also reported that the deal seems to be a long way from happening and that Kings would be expected to ask the Lakers to take on a lot of salary dead-weight if this were to come to fruition.

But all the financial mumbo-jumbo aside, the idea of the Lakers pursuing the league's poster boy for bad behavior over the last few years makes for quite a curiosity-piquing concept, mostly because it's so hard to ascertain what course of action would be best for the runner-up's front office this summer.

Here's guessing this isn't it, but it bears noting that there are cases to be made both far and against this deal.

Read More..All of Steve's daily posts can be found in the CelticsBlog: NBA blog.  Check him out!

 

 

If we were living in a vacuum, the upside of this trade might be just enough to make it worthwhile.

Of the Lakers' weaknesses that were exposed during the Finals, few loomed larger than their inability to defend the small forward position.  Paul Pierce out-classed Vladimir Radmanovic and Luke Walton by quite some distance, and at times, it appeared that he could have fouled either one of them out of any game at will.  Both players have major trouble guarding solid scoring threats at the three, and Trevor Ariza has yet to show the health or consistency to earn the spot for himself.

With Andrew Bynum coming back into the lineup at center in the season to come, Lamar Odom is expected to slide into the small forward spot.  This solves the problem of having VladRad and Walton logging the big minutes at the three, but it adds the problem of playing a power forward out of position.  Odom isn't the world's most mentally secure player, and there is certainly a chance that he will have a tough time adjusting to his new position -- as well as a chance that as athletic as he is, he simply won't have the wherewithal to match up with quicker small forwards.

Artest's presence would solve all of those problems.  He is a natural small forward who also happens to be one of the league's premier defenders.  Having Kobe Bryant and Artest together would give the Lakers a lock-down pair at the swing spots, and Bynum's return would likely only help the interior defense behind them.  Artest would add a helping of toughness and a mean streak to this Lakers team, and he would be very effective at defending small forwards of all varieties.  Further, while he doesn't shoot with great efficacy, he can score the basketball when needed and would no doubt be likely to get his share of open looks playing in a lineup with Kobe, Pau Gasol and Bynum.  Artest played at a very high level when he went west to Sacramento for half a campaign in 2005-06 and was instrumental in propelling the Kings to the playoffs that season.  What Artest and his bulldog attitude could mean to this Lakers team is a scary thought for the rest of the league.

But the problem is that it could be a scarier thought for the Lakers.

It bears remembering that this is a Los Angeles team that cruised through the Western Conference and came within two wins of becoming NBA champions this past season.  The team doesn't know for sure what will happen when Andrew Bynum moves back into the lineup, but all expectations are that the Lakers will only get better.  How well Lamar Odom plays the three remains to be seen.  But one way or the other, this group seemed to enjoy playing together by the time all was said and done last seaosn, and it's always dangerous to make an overhaul-type move to a team so close to a title.

It's particularly dangerous when the player in question to be acquired has shown the ability to wreak havoc on a franchise.  Phil Jackson may be a master of egos, but managing Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest could be one of the toughest challenges he has ever faced.  Artest has had all manner of problems with his conduct both on and off the court throughout this decade,  and keeping him in line would be a daunting task.  What happens when Artest -- known in Sacramento for his chucking ways -- takes too many shots for his shooting guard's liking?  What happens when Artest starts making his usual brand of off-the-wall comments to the press about his future?  What happens if he doesn't take well to Kobe's behavior in general?  How is it possible to prevent him from a meltdown at the most crucial times in the playoffs?  These are all among the many questions Jackson will need to find answers for, and so far, there have been few if any reasons to expect definitively good results in any of those situations.

The guy behaves erratically, and while the Lakers could simply let him go at the end of the season if he doesn't work out for them, he could negatively impact team chemistry to a point beyond repair if left unattended for long enough.  This certainly happened in Indiana, and with the exception of Jackson's presence, it doesn't look like it's necessarily that much less of a possibility in Los Angeles.  It's also worth remembering that from a basketball ability standpoint, Artest doesn't provide Odom's rebounding presence or his beautiful passing vision.

This Lakers team has grown into being expected to be a big-time contender for the next several years.  Ron Artest is the type of player whose attitude could put a lasting impression on the team in a short time, and there is certainly a good chance that said impression wouldn't be a good one.  In the meantime, there is a very real chance that the team could only get better with the expected shift in the front-court and no trade this off-season.  Thus, the idea of making such a major move with a team that needed two more wins to become 2008 NBA champions seems like too much of a stretch for now.

But that doesn't make the possibility of Phil, Kobe and Ron-Ron any less intriguing for non-boosters of the purple and gold.  Can't wait to see how this one plays out.