Our unofficial motto for Spurs teams the past couple of years has been "Three studs and a bunch of suck", harsh but mostly accurate. Our acquisition of Richard Jefferson (stud) accompanied by FSM dropping Chairman of the Boards Dujuan Blair in our laps set us in fine position to make a title run this up coming season. To be completely honest I didn't think it very important what big we were going to sign, just let him be serviceable. As far as I was concerned if we could win it with 3 studs and a bunch of suck in years past then 4 legit studs plus Mason, Hill and Blair should be enough. Then the dreadful news came. Artest to the Lakers is momentous. I don't think I'm in the minority to say Artest is an upgrade over Ariza but let's break it down anyhow.
Ariza's best qualities are a result of his physical make up. He is long, quick enough to bother small guards, and very explosive vertically. You might point out that Ariza also has great upside but I see this as a moot point as far as the Lakers are concerned. Kobe is turning 31 and he is their window in a similar way Duncan/Manu are our window. Ariza's length and foot speed allow him to cheat passing lanes with out completely compromising defensive position; he had two game clinching steals in the playoffs this past year doing just that. Offensively he's limited. He is a great finisher around the basket but he lacks the ability to create for himself, and his shot is very sporadic. His offense comes off of fast breaks (he can run like a gazelle) or being set up by someone else. Last season he saw many open looks due to clubs double teaming Kobe and Gasol. His game is more aesthetic than Shawn Marions but they are basically the same thing: long, quick, gambling defenders and besides the offense generated by steals they are completely dependent on having a star set them up for buckets.
Just as Ariza's best qualities are a due to his physicality, Artest's are much do to his psychology; at least on defense. It takes someone with great mental toughness to score against dudes like Artest. Like our beloved Bruce Bowen, Artest doesn't have any reservations about using every part of his body to slow down his opponent (elbows, knees, feet, shoulders etc). When he's your opponent you might call him dirty but let that man on your side and quickly you will be signing him praises using words like clever, gritty, hustling, physical, tough, and competitive to describe their game. It is players like this that give a team a mental edge over their opponents. It's a familiar edge to Spurs fans, I think it was in a Denver paper that wrote "San Antonio grinds you into mental submission..." after the 2007 series with the Nuggets. Artest now gives the Lakers this edge over other teams. If there is a down side to Artests' game it is his wild offense. If he's forced to create he might try a one-footed-under-handed-leaner for three. But the Lakers have offense to spare if they resign Odom and when comparing Artests' offense to Ariza's you'd be hard pressed to make a better case for Ariza anyway.
Artest to the Lakers addresses the two (defense and toughness) question marks they might have had coming into next season. Can they be beaten? Well if they do resign Odom then it's going to be tough but I'm hanging on for hope.