Phil Jackson confirms confrontation
LOS ANGELES -- Four losses in the past six games by an average of 17.3 points per game have things getting a little testy in Lakers Land.
Prior to the Los Angeles Lakers' game against the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday, Lakers coach Phil Jackson confirmed a Yahoo! Sports story that reported Ron Artest "loudly confronted Jackson" at a recent practice.
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"That's not accurate, but it's close to accurate," Jackson said. "It was not a loud confrontation; it was a man-to-man confrontation. And it was obviously out of character for both that to happen at practice and for Ron. And it wasn't about embarrassing him publicly; it was about some of the issues that had been brought up that have focused about him."
Jackson said neither he nor Artest was loud during the incident.
"It was direct, but it wasn't loud," he said.
Jackson said the incident was nothing out of the ordinary and questioned the origin of the news.
"It's nothing more than what could normally happen at a practice," Jackson said. "Obviously there's either a spy or a camera or a leak or something that went on in our practice, but those are things that happen in practice, and it's not the first time, and it's not going to be the last."
Jackson said the issue was put to rest.
"Ron came in and apologized not only to me, but in front of the team for what he said was a distraction at practice," Jackson said. "That was his own desire to do that; I didn't solicit it from him."
The story reported Artest has "less tolerance" for Jackson's public comments about him this season and said the confrontation occurred because "Artest told Jackson that if he wants to coach him, coach him. Just stop embarrassing him in public."
Artest said he would not confirm or deny that either the confrontation or the team apology occurred until he had a chance to speak to Jackson.
"I've been working so hard over the last couple years on my whole Ron Artest image," Artest said, sitting in front of his locker before the game. "I worked real hard to try to keep everything positive, so it's really hard to comment on anything right now at this point and time until I would speak to Coach."
Artest was not happy with the report, saying, "I don't like stories like that."
"That hurts," Artest said. "That hurts because I just don't want to be a part of any controversy. I don't want to be a part of any conflict. I don't want to be a part of anything like that. That's why for something like that to be said is kind of weird. I won't really say anything on that.
"I've just come too far; I've worked too hard pushing ego aside to have something like that come out. ... My image is very, very important to me -- whatever I have of it left. Whatever I have left, I work pretty hard on maintaining it."
Last postseason, Artest and Jackson had a row when the mercurial forward expressed his disdain via his Twitter account for the coach's criticism about his 3-point shot selection.
Jackson said he has talked to Artest about keeping their problems out of the media.
"In Ron's defense, I've been trying to motivate him through a variety of activities, starting at the very beginning, talking about his activity level and about his -- sometimes his bizarre behavior," Jackson said. "He wants it to be in private, and I just said don't act it out in public and we can keep it private."
Artest hosted a presentation to announce the winner of his championship ring raffle on Christmas Day at a club across the street from Staples Center. The more than $650,000 in proceeds from the raffle went toward various mental health charities, but the timing of the event was questionable, pitting it on the same day as a matchup with the revamped Miami Heat.
Artest was asked to describe his relationship with Jackson.
"Phil has 14 players to accommodate to," Artest said. "I've been here for almost two years, so I think I'm still learning personalities and things like that ... it depends on what kind of relationship you're talking about. I think we all come here to do a job, and as you're with the organization long enough, your relationship will progress or it will happen as it may like any friendship or any relationship."
Artest was then asked whether the relationship has progressed or regressed and managed to sidestep the question.
"Really, I feel blessed, man," Artest said. "I'm blessed first to be in L.A., to be a Laker. I'm blessed to be playing for Coach Jackson; when I first got here, I told everybody that was my favorite coach growing up as a kid."
Jackson also made a Bulls reference to describe how he has handled off-court distractions in the past.
"I had Dennis Rodman," Jackson said. "What can you say? Dennis would go on a bender for two days and come back and play a great game because he knew how to get ready for a ballgame, even though he needed to blow off steam or whatever he did. I don't know what he was doing [laughing]."
Artest, a 12-year veteran, is averaging a career-low 7.5 points on 39.7 percent shooting. Earlier in the season, he said he didn't mind if he scored only one point per game as long as the Lakers were winning. He was asked whether his scoring mentality has changed now that the Lakers are losing.
"I'm not the coach, so you're asking the wrong person," Artest said. "I just go out here and do what I have to do for the team. I'm prepared for any role in basketball. I'm prepared for anything I have to do to help my team."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.