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Will Ron Artest's act work with Lakers and Kobe Bryant?

The newest Laker will have the strongest locker room personality since Shaquille O'Neal. And we all know how that played out.

July 09, 2009|BILL PLASCHKE

Not content with simply leaving first impressions, newest Laker Ron Artest showed up Wednesday pounding some serious first dents.

He talked about showering with Kobe, messing with ESPN, honoring Michael Jackson, and strutting for Hollywood.

"Sometimes I speak my mind and people aren't ready for what I say," he said.

This would be, um, one of those times.

The initial question at his introductory news conference was asked by him.

"Where's TMZ?" he asked. "They're not here?"

The gossip website was missing, but the dish was everywhere.

When asked what he's learned from his vicious role in the infamous Palace Brawl five years ago -- which began when he was pelted with beer while lying on the scorer's table -- Artest frowned, "I don't lay on tables no more," he said.

When asked if he really began courting the Lakers two seasons ago by cozying up to Kobe Bryant in the shower after the NBA Finals elimination in Boston, Artest shrugged.

"Yeah, I walked in the shower," he said. "I'm not a homosexual or nothing like that, but Kobe had no clothes on."

When asked to explain his comment to a TV network that the Lakers needed to be "hoodalized," Artest smiled.

"I hoodalized ESPN," he said. "I was just playing around, it was a joke, it was just off the top of the head, you got to have fun, it's summertime, enjoy life, enjoy the moment."

When asked why his Lakers jersey will be No. 37, Artest laughed.

" 'Thriller' was the No. 1 album for 37 weeks," he said.

When asked why he sat courtside at Lakers playoff games this spring after his Houston Rockets had been eliminated by the Lakers, he really laughed.

"I just wanted to get my media time," he said. "I just wanted y'all to snap pictures, get me on the camera. I was there as a star. I had to get my L.A. on."

Oh, he'll get his "L.A." on, all right.

The question is, will he get his "Lakers" on?

There's a big difference between the two feelings, a gap that only a presence as powerful as Shaquille O'Neal has been able to bridge.

What works on Hollywood Boulevard doesn't work so well on Nash Street. What may be cool in your house doesn't play so well in Kobe Bryant's house.

And thus the only truly important question of the morning could not be completely answered.

Can the new tough guy co-exist with the reigning tough guy?

"You're going to follow him, that's a no-brainer, and I didn't even finish school," Artest said of Bryant. "I respect a guy like that . . . a guy who has everything to lose . . . who will do anything to win."

Just like many other answers he offered Wednesday, it was funny, honest, bordering on the outrageous.

In other words, it was exactly the way O'Neal used to answer questions, which reflects the loose attitude that would drive Bryant crazy.

Artest is the first vocal leader to join Bryant in the Lakers' locker room since O'Neal, and you know how that worked out.

Given that Artest will be replacing the beloved and respected Trevor Ariza, what are the chances that this will be different?

A couple of days earlier, in a news conference held at his basketball camp, Bryant didn't sound so certain. To those readers who have ripped me for not effusively praising this move, listen to your leader.

"It's tough to say whether we'll be a better team," Bryant told reporters. "It will just be a different team."

Bryant's involvement in the signing mirrored his uncertainty.

Artest said he talked to several Lakers before signing here, but Bryant was not one of them.

Bryant has been consulted on Lakers moves in the past, but this was not one of them.

When the deal was finally done, it was Artest who had to call Bryant.

Not exactly a strong handshake between two guys who just last winter attempted to behead each other.

"It's something we've both been trying to make happen for a while, and here it is," Bryant said later of Artest in his news conference. "He's a great teammate."

That didn't exactly mesh with his earlier quote, so it appears that, at the very least, Bryant is as uncertain as many of the rest of us.

This would include, I'm guessing, some Lakers employees.

"I know what you're saying," General Manager Mitch Kupchak said when I expressed the fears about Artest. "But give him a chance. I think he deserves a chance. He said all the right things today, he should have a chance to show he means them."

But even when he says the right things, they sound like the odd things.

"I really don't care if I score. I just want to win," he said. "I don't have a problem with deferring if it's working. I don't have a problem with not scoring a point and winning, that's what's important."

When told that he was echoing the philosophy of Lakers free agent Lamar Odom, Artest was delighted.

"That's what Lamar said?" he said, pausing. "He told me to say that. He said you'd love me if I said that."

He paused again.

"Really, I want to average 50," he said.

It was a joke. I think.

--

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/plaschke.

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