2010 Exit Interview: Ron Artest

artest1Ron Artest saved his best games for when L.A. needed them most in the 2010 playoffs, putting up 20-5-5 while limiting Paul Pierce in the clinching Game 7 of the Finals, scoring 25 points in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals and tipping in the game winner of Game 5 against Phoenix, not to mention defending the opponent’s best offensive threat throughout.

He averaged 11.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.4 steals in the regular season, and 11.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.5 steals in a postseason in which his primary responsibility was on D.

Below are the highlights of his exit interview:

- Artest opened his session by discussing his experience at CNN (while raising money for the oil spill). He was offered congratulations from Alyssa Milano, which to him was crazy. “I grew up (watching) her on “Who’s The Boss!” Artest explained that he has had a terrific time since winning his first ring, and couldn’t be more appreciative of those that helped him get it, and cheered him on.

- (On seeing how happy his teammates were for him): “It felt good because they were all pulling for me. I don’t know why I (put so much pressure on myself). I was playing with pressure the whole year. I wasn’t afraid to attack it or fail. I would just go back in the gym and get better. Playing the right way was the hardest thing for me. Playing how Phil Jackson wanted me to play. Not negative clashing, but our styles clashed … and that was good because we were trying to work towards the same goal.

- (On his meeting with Phil Jackson and Mitch Kupchak): “Just ways to get better. Just gotta come back ready. I’m not playing for a contract. I’m playing to improve. I want to improve until I can’t improve no more, and I’ve been doing that for the last couple of years. I haven’t been able to show that in my last two years.” Artest was referring to his focused role on the Lakers, with defense the top priority, and how he came off the bench in Houston willingly during a contract year, hurting his numbers and perhaps his contract.

- Artest said he was ultimately happy with his role because it helped the team win.

- (On his transformation from a few years back): “Oh man. It’s amazing. Just like Game 7 … it was just like this big storm, and I was probably the most relaxed (despite) having never been to the Finals.” Artest said that he used to be in the center of the storm when everything was all negative – some of it was his fault, some not, he explained – but that he stayed the same person throughout. He feels like it’s turned around because he’s been true to himself.

- Artest reflected on how the brawl in Detroit hurt his game: “I had a perfect game, off the dribble right, off the dribble left, spin moves. (After getting suspended) I put on some weight, didn’t quite feel comfortable the next year. Then in Sacramento … etc … I just didn’t have the same confidence again. My confidence now, after Game 7, is through the roof. But that doesn’t mean I have to shine. I’ll just be ready to help (next season). In Game 6 I found myself again and it carried over to Game 7.

- Ron on Phil: “I hope he comes back. His whole philosophy is team. I was getting better at the end. I had a great last week (in the triangle).” Artest added that he’s going to use the summer to get more comfortable with the offense.

- (On the defensive focus, and wearing out the man he’s guarding): “I didn’t give in this time. I played defense for the entire playoffs and did put an imprint on the game. They said they wanted some defense and I think I brought it. I can see it but I already know it’s going to happen. If you only have one day in between, I can wear you out. Especially if I start attacking you at the offensive end.

- (On Derek Fisher): “He’s unbelievable, I don’t care what anybody says. He’s a great leader. He’s going to play big when it counts. He becomes the second best player in the league when it counts.”

- (On what he learned about Kobe after a season of playing with him): “He reminds me of myself. Every team I was on I was always the hardest worker … I didn’t know what to expect from Kobe. I saw for myself he’s the hardest worker. He’s the franchise. He would practice every day if he could, but with injuries he couldn’t. When he was out there, he was the hardest worker, defensively and offensively. And getting to the gym at six in the morning. I’m like, yeah, that’s who I want to lead me. I don’t like to be lead by non-leaders. I’m not going to let you lead me (otherwise). I don’t have a problem saying, ‘Your franchise player sucks.’ I felt more than honored to have Kobe lead me.”