- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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Mitch Kupchak, Phil Jackson and Magic Johnson just did what franchise pillars of their stature rarely do -- something Lakers officials never do, really -- by announcing to the world that the teetering two-time champs might need to make a trade.
The Lakers have been so uncharacteristically public about the potential benefits of an injection of new blood because they know, with a league-high $90.4 million payroll and such limited trade assets, that threatening this locker room with a shakeup move is a far simpler gamble to execute than shaking things up with an actual deal before the Feb. 24 trading deadline.
I'm told that there's at least one prominent Laker who hopes he's the guy who gets shipped out in the next 20-odd days.
One source close to the situation insists that Ron Artest wants out.
Asked to react to that, Artest's agent David Bauman declined comment.
This is where I'm obligated to remind you that no one in the NBA can change his mind faster than the famously fickle Ron-Ron. Another pertinent disclaimer: Artest's play has been sufficiently sluggish in the second season of a five-year deal that whatever he wants is bound to be greeted by shrugs and scoffs, no matter how much he gave the Lakers in the epic final game of last season.
I've nonetheless been assured this week that Artest -- though he hasn't outright demanded a trade and is likely to publicly deny it -- is serious about wanting to be dealt somewhere "he can have fun again" less than a year removed from the pivotal role he played in that ring-clinching Game 7 with Boston that the Lakers so nearly squandered.
This much I can say about the source: It's not Artest's provocatively tweet-happy brother Daniel.
Yet many of the same complaints Daniel Artest revealed Tuesday via his Twitter feed were cited as reasons that Artest, leading into Tuesday night's home win over Houston in which he logged just 5.5 seconds of playing time in the fourth quarter and overtime, is hoping for a new address. He might have rewritten the way he'll be remembered when he retires by proving so remarkably reliable in the biggest game of his life -- while Kobe Bryant was shooting 6-for-24 in a Game 7 at home -- but the honeymoon sure sounds over.
Artest's two main beefs?
1. He's weary of being scapegoated for the team's struggles and feels that he's destined to always absorb the bulk of the blame no matter what happens because Jackson and Bryant are so dependent on the more glamorous contributions of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom and will never publicly go after regal Laker lifer Derek Fisher.
2. As we heard at various points during his stops in Indiana, Sacramento and Houston, Artest is eventually going to squawk if he's being marginalized in the offense, which inevitably disengages him from his defensive responsibilities. (Relegated "to the corner shot" is the way Daniel Artest described it -- except that he said "regulated" and surely meant "relegated.")
It was stressed to me that Artest has actually coexisted better with Jackson since it emerged in December that Artest asked his coach to stop criticizing him so publicly and keep displeasure in-house. Despite Artest's increasingly regular stints on the bench in crunch time, I get the distinct vibe that settling for offensive scraps in the shadow of Kobe and Pau while absorbing the hottest heat on afternoons like Sunday when Paul Pierce erupts for 32 points has soured Artest far more than Jackson's frequently sharp tongue.
The reality, of course, is that Artest is not very tradable no matter how much he'd like to be relocated. Not with the way he's producing and moving.
The Lakers want to believe focus has been Artest's bigger problem as opposed to advancing age. They cling to the hope that he can still deliver physicality and reliability when the game slows down in the postseason and between-games rest can refuel Artest and others, too.
Yet it seems safe to suggest that the 31-year-old, producing career-low numbers almost everywhere you look on the stat sheet, has given prospective suitors fresh reason -- piled onto the old baggage that dissuades teams that don't have the Lakers' conviction or a Jackson to manage the situation -- to balk at taking on a contract that still has three years and nearly $22 million remaining after this season. Especially in this climate of widespread fear about how restrictive the league's next labor pact will be.
None of that, though, has convinced Artest to back off. Not yet, anyway.
Dare I say he's been fined too many times to get sucked into publicly asking out -- which is obviously a legit dare in this case -- but I continue to hear that this is more than mere venting and that a trade is what Artest is rooting for.
Which means the Lakers have 22 days to somehow find a destination for him ... or 73 days before the start of the playoffs to diffuse the biggest Artest crisis they've faced so far and get him plugged back in after essentially trading away Trevor Ariza to get him.