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News, observations and reader questions about the Sacramento Kings and the NBA.

June 18, 2008
What next for the Lakers? Telephone call for Ron Artest

We're still almost two weeks away from knowing the parameters of how it would have to happen, let alone if it could happen. Ron Artest has a June 30 deadline to declare himself a free agent or play the final season of his contract at $7.4 million, with Sam Amick most recently reporting that all signs point to Artest staying in the current deal.

This much, though, is a certainty:

Kobe Bryant loves the idea of teaming with Artest and the Lakers have already privately considered taking a turn in the Ron-Ron funhouse.

Those details would have been meaningful enough to put any Kings-Artest-Lakers talk on the radar anyway. Then came flighty Vladimir Radmanovic averaging eight points as the starting small forward in the Finals and losing his shooting touch in two of the four rounds, Luke Walton having his minutes cut by the series until he was barely in the rotation against the Celtics, and Trevor Ariza as a surprising non-factor in the championship series as the supposed defensive specialist while Paul Pierce punished every other attempted matchup. It was very possible Phil Jackson was just as desperate for offense, and scoring isn't Ariza's game.

That small forward was an obvious problem, and not just in the playoffs, may mean nothing as the Lakers review the season, console themselves with having a big, talented lineup set for October, and realize this is no time to do anything as drastic as taking on Artest. Or they may conclude that a front line of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom is great on paper but that the Artest energy and toughness is greatly needed. Either conclusion is realistic after being out-rebounded in the playoffs and out-hearted in the Finals.

If Artest opts out, anything is possible. He could say he's doing it to secure a new long-term deal with the Kings, but his wandering eyes for the hometown Knicks have been obvious even while acknowledging it would require a pay cut. The Lakers could offer the same mid-level exception as New York, expected to be worth approximately $5.7 million the first season, with the certainty of playoff money to follow.

If Artest does not opt out, he is eligible to be traded. That's an instant major setback for the Lakers, if they do target him. L.A. has little ability to put together a package of (a) players it would part with and the Kings would want and (b) salaries that match. The Lakers can't even trade a first-round pick until 2012.

It only gets interesting if the Lakers are anxious enough that they'll also take back a bad contract: Artest and Kenny Thomas for Lamar Odom, with minor cap-related tweaking of additional bodies. There's nothing that says they're anxious enough to inherit Thomas and $17.3 million the next two seasons, although L.A. will have to make a major financial decision on Odom at some point. He becomes a free agent after next season and will want big bucks to stay.

The new opening-night lineup for the Kings, with the unknown of the draft pick next week:

C -- Brad Miller (Spencer Hawes as backup).
PF -- Odom (Mikki Moore, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Shelden Williams).
SF -- John Salmons or Francisco Garcia (with the other as the top wing reserve).
SG -- Kevin Martin (Salmons or Garcia, Quincy Douby).
PG -- TBA, with Beno Udrih an unrestricted free agent.

The new opening-night lineup for the Lakers, who don't have a first-round pick:

C -- Bynum (restricted free agent Ronny Turiaf).
PF -- Gasol (Turiaf, Thomas).
SF -- Artest (Radmanovic, Walton, Ariza).
SG -- Bryant (restricted free agent Sasha Vujacic).
PG -- Derek Fisher (Jordan Farmar, Vujacic).

That would allow the Kings to get a double-double power forward with ballhandling skills while finally resolving the Artest dilemma and getting a single season of Odom's contract at $14.15 million for two more of Thomas at $8.56 million and $8.78 million. The Lakers would get Artest's defensive presence (they finished 19th in the league in scoring defense and sixth in the more-telling shooting defense) and the intangibles of a tireless, dedicated worker with a passion to compete. There are the obvious drawbacks from the same intangibles category, but it's not like there's going to be another Memphis Grizzlies moment every six months with teams willing to hand over a Gasol-level trouble-free player.

The Lakers had Artest on their Plan B list, along with the likes of Ben Wallace, if the Gasol trade had not panned out. That was in January. This is June, after a very good second half. But also after a Finals that had to raise doubts about the competitive nature of parts of the current roster.



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