Ron Artest averaged 8.5 points on 39.7 percent shooting with 3.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists and a team-best 1.5 steals while starting all 82 games. In the postseason, he added 10.6 points on 44.3 percent shooting with 4.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.1 steals.
He was the team’s best perimeter defender, and as many coaches and players around the league would say, still one of the league’s best on the defensive end. Below is a summary of his exit interview:
- On Phil Jackson’s last game: “Muhammad Ali is one of the greatest ever and he lost his last fight.”
- Summing the season up: “I’m proud of Luke, (Bynum*) Lamar, Fisher, Kobe and Gasol. They did what not many people have done, they went to the championship three years in a row. We had six people play 82 games that probably should have sat some games. We were ready to fight, but I think our legs were gone. They played almost 400 something games the last three years. A lot of the guys that are (playing) now were home in April the last couple of years. A lot of teams that are still in it, even the veterans weren’t making it as far as the Lakers was. This year was unfortunate, but I’d be more than happy to go to battle with these guys again.”
*Artest actually said “Pau” there, but we’ll assume he meant Bynum, instead of accounting twice for the Spaniard even though Bynum missed the 2008 playoffs.
- On how difficult it is to hold hungry teams off as the champions: “As a team, when you think about what they’ve done … (and) Kobe’s done it twice, he went to the Finals three times in a row twice, and I’m sure he’ll be there again. When you think about the future, (there is) a reason to be excited, to be motivated. Dallas … everybody wanted to beat the Lakers, and sometimes teams come to L.A. and they don’t have a worry on their mind. They come into L.A. and they feel free, they have nothing to lose. We lose to teams like Cleveland and Minnesota that has nothing to lose and come in and beat us, and then when you get an actual good team that’s playing with nothing to lose? Everybody wants to beat the Lakers … it was tough. You just gotta come back stronger.”
- Artest said he did not attempt to hit J.J. Barea in the face, which caused his suspension for Game 3. He was reaching out for a foul, and, in his words: “The guy’s 5’2” … I’m reaching down, there’s only so much more down I can go. His face was right in my hand. It was very unfortunate. Whatever happened was just unfortunate, it was uncalled for.”
- On what the team needs to win a championship next year: “I think this sweep helped. It’s humbling. To move in the right direction, get that hunger back.” Artest was asked if the team can respond without major changes, and he was convinced in the affirmative.
- On his individual season: “I think in the playoffs I played good. I started out playing well. My defense was pretty good. I played a good role. I showed I can score the ball, but that’s not my role on this team. When I came here I sacrificed money, and I sacrificed scoring*. I can play any role. I was licking my chops when I saw (Shawn) Marion and (Peja) Stojakovic on me, I would have loved to give those guys 30, but it’s not my role.
Artest on Phil Jackson: “It was fun. He’s a team coach. There’s nothing more than you can ask for, when you’re coaching 15 guys, the No. 1 priority is the 15 guys. I think he did a good job of stressing to us to play together, butt we didn’t execute his vision this year.”
- On his offseason goals: “Stay in the gym. I stay in the gym all year round. Once I leave here I’m going right to the gym, and get started. That’s exciting, to have something to shoot for.” And he did, literally, walk through the door into the gym, his practice clothes already on. Understated on a team with Kobe Bryant, notorious through his career as a gym rat (though his injuries prevented him from practicing much this season), was the fact that Artest basically lives in the gym.