Whenever a guy changes his name to Metta World Peace or some garbled, stupid combination of Spanish words, you know things will inevitably get ugly sooner rather than later. Well, sooner is here, because things appear to be getting ugly between Ron Artest (I refuse to call him the other thing), Mike Brown and a number of anonymous Los Angeles Lakers players.
Artest is currently on the worst run of his career, averaging 4.9 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 22.6 minutes of action per game. Just to put those numbers in perspective, back when he used to drink during halftime of his Chicago Bulls games, Artest still managed to put up something like 12 points in 31 minutes per game.
Anyway, things are now predictably souring between Artest and his teammates and coaches. As it turns out, being a kooky gunner who can’t shoot straight isn’t as loveable when your team isn’t a leading contender to win the NBA championship. In particular, things are getting especially testy between Artest and new head coach, Mike Brown.
Here are a few of Artest’s recent critical comments in regards to his coach (via L.A. Times):
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"Phil [Jackson] had been here for 10 years, so his consistency was pretty easy. We've got new players and new coaches and it took a long time to build some consistency," he said on Tuesday, before the Lakers played the Atlanta Hawks. "That affected not just my game; it affected a couple of people early on.”
"His background is video coordinator or whatever. So he's all stats," World Peace told CBSsports.com. "But Ron Artest is all feel. [Brown] doesn't understand that. Having me in the game at the end, he was worried about me shooting bad from the free-throw line. And I was like, 'I could care less because I'm gonna get a stop [defensively] at the end of the game,'" he said recently.
Brown, for his part, seemed to handle the criticism as well as can be expected. After being the scapegoat for LeBron James’ career failures back in Cleveland, having a guy named ‘Peace’ going after you probably isn’t the worst thing in the world. Here is what he has said on the matter (via L.A. Times)
On the topic of being a 'stats guy': "I said . . . 'If I was a stats guy, Metta, you wouldn't be playing at all. Look at your stats offensively. And then Synergy [Sports Technology] says you're the 192nd-best defensive player in the league,'" Brown said. "If I was a stats guy, the guy that should be playing at the small-forward spot is Devin Ebanks because he's shooting better than you and Matt.”
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On his instability at the small forward position: "I don't think it's any different if you look at a lot of other teams," he said. "I think a lot of guys, especially teams with new coaches that are putting new systems in, they've got to get a feel for what their team can do and what their players can do. God bless anybody that can walk into any situation and after two games figure out what rotation he wants to have and keep it that way for the rest of the year."
With the tension between Artest and Brown already high, a FOX Sports article by local sports radio icon Joe McDonnell from Feb. 13 gives us a window into how bad things might truly be. In his piece, McDonnell cites numerous player sources who say that they’re tiring of their enigmatic starting three.
From the story:
World Peace is "walking around all crazy-like. We're just waiting for him to go off," one Lakers player recently told FOXSportsWest.com, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Added another teammate, also requesting anonymity: "He's always talking about how he should be playing no matter how bad he's shooting, but he can't figure out that when he takes bad shots and misses eight in a row it puts us in a hole."
"There are a lot of guys in here who'd just like to see him gone," one player told FOXSportsWest.com on the condition of anonymity. "I think we'd definitely be a better team if everyone didn't have to walk on eggshells when he's around."
Generally speaking, people who cite player sources for news should either be taken really seriously or dismissed as liars. Over the years, way too many reporters have made a habit out of citing a cheerleader’s opinion as ‘sources close to the team’ and trying to sell that as an exclusive. That’s not the case here. Here, you have player sources. And McDonnell, again, is an L.A. legend and has no reason to make up sources for the sake of creating buzz, so his piece should be taken seriously.
Once you accept the legitimacy of those player comments, the next obvious question is: who’s badmouthing Artest to the press?
Let’s take a look at all of the players on L.A.’s roster and analyze this step by step:
It’s definitely not Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum or Derek Fisher. All four of these guys have national mouthpieces at ESPN and Yahoo! Sports whenever they need them, so if they were unhappy with Artest, they’d have already made it a breaking news story on SportsCenter. Plus, none of those players have anything to gain by having Artest shipped out. The small forward position is a nuisance to these four regardless of who’s playing it on any given day, therefore, them making a federal case out of Artest’s recent troubles doesn’t make much sense.
It’s probably not Andrew Goudelock, Darius Morris, Steve Blake or Troy Murphy. Goudelock is currently trying to find a consistent role on the team for himself and Morris is just praying that he can squeeze into the rotation. Neither one has a reason bother with Artest given all they’re dealing with themselves. Besides, young players typically don’t play the gossip girl games that old players resort to. Blake is coming back from injury right now and his focus is entirely on that. Artest’s happenings are irrelevant to him or his future as the co-No. 1 point guard on the roster. Murphy doesn’t seem like the type to whine to the press, and his game isn’t all that hampered by what Artest does. None of these guys have a vested interest in what happens at the three either.
It could be Luke Walton, Devin Ebanks, Matt Barnes, Josh McRoberts or Jason Kapono. In the case of Walton, Ebanks and Barnes – it stands to reason that they would want Artest gone. All three would gain playing time if he got the boot and all three probably think they’re better than him (remember, Walton was unhappy with Phil Jackson not using him more last year). McRoberts and Kapono don’t have as much to win as the other three guys from Artest being shipped out, but they seem like the whiny, run-to-the-media types. And they would gain somewhat from his departure.
So there you go. At least two guys on the L.A. roster have a problem with Artest being on the team, but at this point all we can do is speculate about who they are. Regardless, though, whenever you start having these sort of leaks and public disputes all in relation to one player, the end for that specific player is typically near.
When the Lakers first brought Artest in, everyone pretty much agreed that the relationship was destined for messy divorce as soon as they stopped winning championships together. Well, it looks like they’ve stopped winning championships together.
One way or another, be it via amnesty or hired assassin, you can probably bet that this is Artest’s last season as a Laker.