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BILL PLASCHKE

Ron Artest's a little nuts but could fit in Lakers' mix

The newest Laker brings to the table talent and combustibility in almost equal measure. Still, this is a marriage that just might work.

September 23, 2009|BILL PLASCHKE

So did you hear the latest from my new best friend, Ron Artest?

Here I was, worried he would upset the Lakers' delicate championship chemistry, cause all sorts of ugly distractions, then he shows up for a promotional appearance in San Diego on Monday and the opposite happens.

Artest was so certifiably loony, he made me momentarily forget about the current Lakers crisis.

That being, of course, what sort of wedding gift does one buy Lamar Odom and Khloe Kardashian?

How about two sets of strong hands to shake them both while you shout, "What are you doing?"

Is there enough room under the Lakers' baskets for all the paparazzi? Does Vanessa Bryant really need the competition?

But back to Artest. My new best friend showed up in San Diego and made me scratch my head so hard I forgot all about Lamar and Whatshername.

We know Artest is crazy. But, it turns out, maybe it's a good crazy.

During a news conference promoting an upcoming Lakers exhibition game at San Diego Sports Arena, Artest's muddled answers made two things patently clear.

1) He doesn't know where he is.

2) He doesn't know who he is.

He showed up wearing a black Kobe Bryant jersey and a dark San Diego Padres baseball cap, only one of which he could explain.

"I decided to wear the black Kobe Bryant jersey because he is the 'Black Mamba,' " he told reporters.

And the cap?

"I just love the SD; the logo looks great," he said.

So he's a Padres fan?

"Is there a baseball team here?" he asked. "I didn't realize there was a baseball team in San Diego."

Not only did he not realize there was a baseball team in San Diego, he didn't even know San Diego was in San Diego.

Asked about all the Lakers fans who greeted his visit, he said he was surprised.

"I thought I was going to be getting some Golden State Warriors fans, because I didn't know where I was at," he said.

Golden State Warriors fans?

Perhaps the most bizarre part of the interview was that, at one point, Artest actually made sense.

Asked whether fans should blame him if the Lakers fail to repeat as NBA champions, he said yes.

"They should. That's exactly what should happen if we don't repeat," he said. "They won last year, and I'm the new addition. The fans expect to repeat. Everybody in L.A. expects a second ring. And if we don't, then, yeah, they should point it right at me, throwing tomatoes and everything."

He's right, you know. Barring injuries, the only major difference in this team would be Artest, who is replacing the perfect complementary championship player in Trevor Ariza.

Artest is a better player, but Ariza was a perfect fit. Any dramatic change in Lakers culture would fall upon Artest's broad shoulders, and the Lakers know it.

I give Artest credit for admitting it. When was the last time you heard a professional athlete actually say what many fans were thinking? He is going to cause all kinds of commotion, but if San Diego is any indication maybe it will be a welcome commotion.

Maybe there will be times during this difficult repeat task that the Lakers will need to laugh. Given the enormity of their journey, maybe they need somebody hanging around who has no idea where he is.

As I said, the guy is becoming my new best friend.

"I'm also here to say that next year I'll be trying out for the San Diego Chargers, so I look forward to that," he said.

He's also looking forward to playing with Bryant, something he needs to say about every time he opens his mouth. So far, so good.

"That was friendship, what you saw out there with me and Kobe," he said of his tussles with Bryant last season. "That's like hard-core friendship, you know, like back in the days -- fight against your best friend when you were younger and go out and get some ice cream later?"

Yeah, the idea of ice cream fits perfectly in Artest's new environment . . . as soon as he figures out where that is.

"I'm learning a lot of different ways of California," he said. "Is this Southern California?"

When told that, actually, San Diego was the definition of Southern California, he seemed pleased.

"I'm happy to be a Southern Californian, or whatever you want to call it," he said.

In all, his appearance was so strange, one might think Artest would be the perfect guy to have cooked up a relationship between a Lakers star and a reality-TV stiff.

Actually, about a month ago, Odom and Kardashian met at an Artest party. So, yeah, it was all his fault, which in the crazy world of the newest Laker makes perfect sense.

Hmm. Wonder what he'll be buying them for the wedding?

Maybe he'll give them both blue L.A. baseball caps, at which point hopefully somebody will clue him in about the existence of the Dodgers.

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bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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Key dates for Lakers

Sept. 30: Training camp opens in El Segundo.

Oct. 7: First exhibition, vs. Golden State at the Honda Center, 7 p.m., Channel 9

Oct. 27: Season opener, vs. Clippers at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., TNT

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