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Berry Tramel: Ron Artest of old? Not in a Lakers uniform

by Berry Tramel Modified: April 26, 2010 at 8:25 am •  Published: April 26, 2010

nted to be a Laker. Wanted to be Kobe’s teammate.

And the Lakers wanted Artest. And now you know why. Artest’s defense remains supreme. Tough, physical, game-changing. Durant has scored decently in this 2-2 series, averaging 26.8 points a game, but shots haven’t come easy. Durant is 33-of-86 shooting. Artest has padlocked himself to Durant’s body and made life miserable for the NBA’s youngest superstar.

"He plays so hard all the time,” Kobe said of Artest. "His focus is always there, no matter what he’s doing off the court.”

Signing Artest still might not pay off. He’s got a $33 million, five-year contract. Artest already is 30, and his offense has slipped. Not as good a shooter, not as aggressive on off0ense.

But Artest still can play lockdown defense. And he’s been the least of the Laker problems in the locker room.

"I guess the No. 1 surprise is the ease with which he’s fit in,” Kupchak said. "Everyone’s familiar with Ron and his past. But he’s been a great teammate on the court and off the court. There have been no problems.”

Laker Luke Walton said he had no preconceived notions about Artest. "I didn’t know him; I try not to make opinions on people I don’t know,” Walton said.

But "he’s been an unbelievable teammate. Unselfish. That’s how he’s been the whole time he’s been here.

"Everyone knows he’s got some issues in his past. But he’s been an outstanding teammate since he’s been in LA. You can’t hide that for as long as he’s here.”

So there sits Artest, talking softly and saying nothing, his hair a carved out yellow, admitting to nothing, including his obvious good defense against Durant. And you wonder if this most volatile of NBA players has grown up or just grown old.

Berry Tramel: 405-760-8080; Berry Tramel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.