After Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest got into that "war of words" in March back in Houston, I asked Kobe what he really thought of Artest.
"We're friends," Kobe said, "I like him a lot--like his game--always have."
Then he told me a story that makes today's news--Artest is supposedly on his way to LA for three years, $18 million--very likely to happen.
Kobe said that after the Lakers lost game six of the '08 NBA Finals in Boston by 39 points, he was alone in the shower, just fuming. He heard somebody walk in and assumed it was one of his teammates, or maybe a staff member. Instead, he looked up, and it was Ron Artest (to this day, Kobe has no idea how Artest got into the locker room).
"I want to come help you," Artest said. "If I can, I'm going to find a way to come to LA and give you the help you need to win a title."
Kobe didn't think much of it, especially since Artest still had a year left on his deal with the Rockets, and that the Lakers were returning an entire team that had just won the Western Conference. Plus, players talk like that a lot, and it's just talk. But it struck Kobe as a nice gesture, especially since he had just been hammered by the Celtics and nobody was saying much of anything. Kobe told me that the perception a lot of people have of Artest is wrong.
"He competes....every night, every play," Kobe said. "I've known him since high school and he's always been like that."
Kobe found it strange that some people in the media were portraying he and Artest as enemies.
"He wants to win as much as I do...and I respect him--a lot."
When you consider that Artest and Lamar Odom grew up playing together in New York, this move makes a ton of sense. Artest gets to play with two good friends, for a coach that has always spoken highly of him.
Over the years, I've often asked Phil Jackson specifically about Artest's "colorful" nature. Phil never takes the bait, always shifting the conversation to something about how competitive Artest always is. He speaks of Artest the same way he speaks of Dennis Rodman. You'll rarely hear Phil comment on how weird Rodman was, just that he adjusted to the team culture once he came to town. I imagine that if the Artest deal goes through, he'll treat Ron much the same way.
By the way, if the rumored deal was to go through, it leaves the Lakers with even more money to keep Odom. Think about this: they would be getting Artest for less money than Charlie Villanueva just signed for in Detroit. Trust me, there isn't anybody who knows basketball who would rather have Villanueva than Artest. The only downside to this deal is that the it leaves no room on the roster for Trevor Ariza, who was been fantastic in his time with the Lakers. But truth be told, Ariza and Artest play the same position, and Ariza didn't want to play for that money. ESPN is already reporting that Ariza has agreed to sign in Houston to replace Artest.
Final note: none of this is done. League rules don't allow any players to sign free agent contracts until next week, and a lot can happen between now and then. But based on what I know about Artest and the way he feels about the Lakers, I'd say it's more likely to happen than not.