Debate in the Paint: Signing Artest and Odom Make Lakers Offseason's Best
The Los Angeles Lakers started this decade with three consecutive NBA titles. They will finish it by winning the last two.
Anything less would be a surprise.
Although much was made of the summertime roster additions among the top three contenders in the Eastern Conference – Boston, Cleveland, Orlando -- it was the defending champion Lakers who orchestrated the most significant moves in the off-season.
The best team only got better.
The NBA hasn't had a repeat champion since the Lakers won in 2000, '01 and '02, because San Antonio, Detroit, Miami and Boston all either suffered an emotional letdown after winning a championship, or failed to improve the roster.
The Lakers added pieces, and rest assured, there will be no letdown.
Finding a way to keep free agent Lamar Odom happy was not an easy task, but they did it by committing to a four-year, $33 million deal -- no small concession in tough economic times for a sixth man. Odom flirted seriously with Miami, which would have made him a starter, but he returned after some on-again, off-again negotiations that had the rest of the Western contenders hopeful.
His signing meant that the Lakers would return their top five scorers and top four rebounders from the team that won the 2009 title. The only real defection from that roster was free agent forward Trevor Ariza, who miscalculated his worth, which opened the door for the Lakers to sign Ron Artest: a more-talented, more battle-tested veteran in his place.
Can you say major upgrade?
Although Artest, 29, has wrestled with his demons, he has proven himself time and time again as a scorer, a defender and a competitor. If Lakers Coach Phil Jackson was able to milk the best from wacky Dennis Rodman years ago, Artest will look like a soldier falling in line by comparison.
He isn't going to a team that needs him for leadership. They just need his intensity and toughness. He respects Kobe Bryant, and he loves Odom, who has been a good friend for many years.
Like many veterans nearing the end of their peak years, Artest will be driven by the lure of a championship, giving him a chance to change his suspect reputation. Ariza had a nice second half of the season and a good playoff run, but he is nothing more than a good role player with a 6.9 points-per-game career scoring average.
The Rockets are going to be disappointed in what they just bought.
The Lakers are going to be thrilled.
With Bryant and Pau Gasol returning as the 1-2 punch, Artest gladly will take the No. 3 role. Center Andrew Bynum, who missed almost half of the season after knee surgery, should be much improved. Point guard Derek Fisher can pick his spots with an All-Star cast around him. Even long-lost Adam Morrison might even show he can play because no one will bother guarding him.
Bryant will be hungrier than ever to win his fifth title – one more than Shaq, who went to Cleveland to play with LeBron James. O'Neal will change the Cavs dramatically, but it might not be for the better. The Boston Celtics added fruitcake Rasheed Wallace, but unlike Artest, Wallace already has his championship and won't have the hunger.
The Lakers didn't need much to stay atop the NBA. They got a lot.