November 29, 2010
Phil Jackson has a deserved reputation as a master of dealing with oddball personalities. In Chicago, he got Dennis Rodman to stay on the court long enough to help the team to three championships, and in his first stint with the Lakers he somehow got Shaquille O'Neal(notes) and Kobe Bryant(notes) to coexist long enough to win another trio of titles.
In this incarnation of the Lakers, he's been tasked with getting Ron Artest(notes) to make enough intelligent decisions to not be a liability on the court. Last year, it worked extremely well as Artest made plays throughout the playoffs and helped his team to the Larry O'Brien Trophy. However, things might not be going so swimmingly between Artest and Jackson this season.
For instance, Sunday night they got in a little tiff about an uncalled timeout at the end of the Lakers' surprising 95-92 loss to the Pacers. Billy Witz has the story on FOXSports.com:
Against Indiana, Artest grabbed the rebound of Bryant's missed 3-pointer with nine seconds left, then dribbled out to the arc. He then passed to Lamar Odom in the lane, and Odom dribbled out to the 3-point line where he passed to Bryant whose 29-footer at the buzzer was not close.
When the Lakers walked off the court at the end of the game, Jackson pulled Artest aside and talked to him.
"He told me I should have called timeout when we got the offensive rebound," Artest said. "Kobe wanted the ball. Kobe was going to hit a three. When I saw Kobe, I was going to give it to him. I asked (Jackson), could everybody else on the court call timeout since I had the ball? And he said yes."
Artest paused and then smiled. "He forgot to address it with everybody," he said. "But that's OK."
Ron-Ron is technically correct here: Any Laker could have called a timeout, even if the player with the ball usually does so. Perhaps the rest of the Lakers wanted to attack the Pacers before they could get their defense set, although something tells me this thought didn't cross Artest's mind.
But even if he's right, this is a pretty ludicrous thing to say after a game. It's as if Artest is deploying the famous "it wasn't only me" defense loved by 6-year-old children around the world. If other people made the same mistake, then surely one person shouldn't bear most of the blame. Let's spread that criticism around a bit so no one gets his feelings hurt.
The difference here, of course, is that Artest makes mistakes like this a lot, whereas guys like Pau Gasol(notes) and Kobe Bryant typically keep them to a minimum. In this particular instance, he's right that he's not the only one at fault. He's just acting like it's an isolated case when the reality is a little less flattering.
Still, I'm not sure this story should be blown out of proportion. Artest is a weird guy and Jackson knows it, so it's not as if either party should expect their relationship to be perfect. But it's certainly something to keep an eye on. In order to win a championship, you need a lot of good luck and a lack of distractions. If the Artest/Jackson issue blows up any more, it could be a significant problem for the Lakers' hopes of repeating.