Top 50: Ron Artest, no. 42
The definitive ranking of the NBA’s best players.
by Myles Brown/@mdotbrown
In any other off season he would’ve been the story. But lost amidst this summer’s whirlwind of events ranging from the downward spiral of Stephon Marbury to the ceaseless wonder that is Delonte West, is the continuing saga of Ron Artest. Remember when he was the crazy one? The thug? The tragedy? The comic relief?
The advent of social networking tools such as twitter and uStream have given us a peek into the lives of numerous NBA stars and fringe personalities who’ve alternately enchanted and repulsed us with their foibles. But in reference to Artest, they’ve forced us to ask ourselves; has Ron truly matured or are they simply proving him tame by comparison?
Either way, the Los Angeles Lakers welcome the distractions. Because those were the initial questions upon his signing. Will he be a distraction? Can he handle the distractions? Adding a reputedly combustible personality such as Artest certainly could destroy the chemistry of a championship team, but a closer look indicates otherwise.
His recently developed penchant for shot happy play breaking, while not entirely excusable, is understandable considering the circumstances. The Sacramento Kings were a middling team void of any true purpose or leadership. Artest’s attempts to assert himself only proved he’s incapable of carrying a team, not that he’s a particularly selfish or cantankerous player. The Houston Rockets were an injury plagued unit, yet one that defied expectations. Artest’s perimeter oriented play could’ve allowed his teammates to operate in the post, as is his claim, nonetheless it still resulted in a career low FG%. However it should also be noted that he shot a career high in 3PA and 3P%. Point being that concerns of his willingness to defer or adapt, while based in reason, have become a bit exaggerated.
Now the comparisons to Dennis Rodman’s stint with the Bulls are indeed lucid. Both are high risk/high reward specialists who need proper direction and motivation and due to their headstrong nature, that direction needs to come from someone they respect lest they try to do things their own way. Those roles have obviously been filled in these respective situations. It was never entirely clear whether Dennis held Michael in any reverence or simply knew not to cross him. Artest on the other hand, at times seems truly enamored with Bryant. Most important, is that Phil Jackson-soothsayer that he is-knows as with Dennis, there will be times when Artest will need to do things his own way, but will also know how to grant those allowances without disrupting the team dynamic.
Though it has yet to be proven in Artest’s case, it is to be expected that both players will fall in line because they not only respect the game, they also know the stakes. If their teams fail, neither is naïve enough to believe the blame would fall anywhere but squarely on their shoulders. Which is why while Rodman was undoubtedly the league’s biggest distraction, he was also one of it’s hardest workers. Lapses in judgment were inevitable, but so were stretches of play that few-if any-other players could produce. The same could be said of Ron.
Similar as their situations may be, there are still slight-and possibly crucial-differences between the two. Rodman before his, um, transformation, was drafted into a championship caliber unit and immediately learned the nuances of winning while carving a niche for himself. In the latter stages of his career there was never a question of whether he knew how to win, simply whether he cared to do so at all. This is Artest’s first and best chance at a title. It remains to be seen whether he can learn on the fly.
Secondly, for all his antics, Dennis was more calculating than Artest. Most of his schtick was just that, an act. He relished the attention and with good reason. He profited handsomely from it. Artest could be seeking that same cultural cache, but as Dennis did, he should know his appeal is entirely dependent on winning. A rebel is far more marketable as the victor than the scourge. Rodman successfully toed that line, though quite childishly. However Rodman’s was a choleric and reflexive brand of childishness, whereas Ron’s childlike quality is that he’s, well, for lack of a better term…simple minded. This is not to imply that he’s incapable of insight or profundity, but to insist that he’s completely void of any pretension or ulterior motives. He is as genuine and forthright as someone so unpredictable can be.
Apparently Artest plans to use his time in L.A.to explore other entertainment options. Will he be as cunning as Rodman in balancing the two? Will it affect his play? Who knows? As is often the case with Ron Ron, there are more questions than answers.
This summer Artest revisited the defining moment of his career by making amends with John Green, the infamous beer tossing Pistons fan. The two have developed a friendly relationship and are planning on conducting an interview together. Green has nothing to gain from this endeavor, but Artest is clearly seeking redemption. November 19, 2004 changed his life. Though seven games is nothing to draw conclusions from, the mercurial forward was having his best season and the Pacers may have been on the cusp of championship contention. It all disappeared in an instant and he’s been trying to recapture that moment ever since. Now is his chance and though the role has been reduced, the importance has doubled.
If there was a SLAMonline Top 50 list on the dawn of the 1996 season, we probably would have spoken similarly of Dennis Rodman. And he probably wouldn’t have been higher than 42, if he made the list at all. But he certainly would’ve been much higher in a poll of players importance to their team’s hopes for a championship.
The same can be said of Ron Artest.
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’09-10 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Brett Ballantini, Russ Bengtson, Toney Blare, Shannon Booher, Myles Brown, Franklyn Calle, Gregory Dole, Emry DowningHall, Jonathan Evans, Adam Fleischer, Jeff Fox, Sherman Johnson, Aaron Kaplowitz, John Krolik, Holly MacKenzie, Ryne Nelson, Chris O’Leary, Ben Osborne, Alan Paul, Susan Price, Sam Rubenstein, Khalid Salaam, Kye Stephenson, Adam Sweeney, Vincent Thomas, Tzvi Twersky, Justin Walsh, Joey Whelan, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.