Artest's presence an added dimension

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:28 AM ET

No doubt Ron Artest is enjoying the moment as he continues to silence the legions of doubters.

Mark Cuban emerged as the most vocal, which is hardly surprisingly given his penchant for opening his mouth on all things related to hoops.

The maverick owner of the Mavs was convinced his team's best interest was well served when Artest bolted to the Lakers in free agency.

In the first meeting pitting the two teams, Dallas downed the host Lakers, a setback that wasn't so much an indictment on Artest's game as it was attributable to a rare off night by Kobe Bryant.

But so far, so good for Artest, whose transition to Los Angeles has been seamless.

Artest remains an above-average scorer because he still can knock down shots and can create in certain matchups.

On a Lakers team that features Bryant, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol, whose tender hamstring may be strong enough for the power forward to suit up against his former Memphis team tonight, Artest doesn't have to score.

Andrew Bynum has yet to scratch the surface, but when he's on and not hurt the post option is quite good.

When all of L.A.'s pieces are healthy and working in sync, Artest is the fourth option. But it's on defence where he has forged his reputation, at least on the court.

Anyone who watched Kevin Durant's feeble late-game attempt was witness to the fear factor Artest still commands.

Durant was the proverbial deer caught in the headlight, not knowing whether to put the ball on the floor, run Artest into a screen or simply defer when the game's outcome would be decided.

The host Oklahoma City Thunder would lose in overtime, exposing the team's immaturity and reinforcing Artest's defence.

Perhaps Artest has learned from his past and perhaps he'll continue to walk that fine line that separates players of his ilk from the rest.

For Artest to be a presence, he must play with that edge.

As long as he doesn't cross the line, the Lakers have the potential to be very scary this season.

Trevor Ariza cashed in last season by signing a free-agent deal in Houston, which basically swapped Artest for Ariza.

Ariza came up big for the Lakers during the team's championship run by stepping up offensively when Bryant drew defenders, leaving Ariza open on the perimeter.

But Artest is a different animal.

He doesn't have Ariza's length, but Artest will get into an opponent's face, he's physical and he still has the lateral quicks to be a very effective defensive stopper in the open court.

His offence is bound to come, but at the same time it's not an area of great concern when Bryant is going off like he normally does.

"He's finding his way," Lakers head coach Phil Jackson said.

"The rhythm of the offence and finding shots when he gets into that position are still a mystery to him. He seems to fit in well otherwise, passing the ball, and he seems to know the movements.

"Sometimes, instinctively, they're not quite there yet."

Artest has posted numbers that are well below his career totals five games into his incarnation as a Laker, which runs the fabled triangle offence. But the numbers don't tell the true story.

The look on Durant's face spoke volumes.

Business matters

Ariza pulled no punches when asked to describe the lessons he learned during his off-season of free agency.

"That it's cut-throat,'' he said. "It doesn't matter who you are, there are no friends in business."

Speaking of business, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Rudy Gay and the Grizzlies did not come to terms on an extension, meaning the explosive wing will become a restricted free agent next summer.

In Gay's 2006 draft class, Toronto's Andrea Bargnani, Portland teammates LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy and Boston's Rajon Rondo got max or close to the max deals totalling a combined $250 million US in salary.

FRANK.ZICARELLI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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