Don't adjust your television. This is really happening. Unless Ron Artest experiences one of those Ron-Ron moments when he completely loses his senses and changes his mind, the free agent officially becomes a Los Angeles Laker on Wednesday.
Wow. I can't wait for tipoff.
Isn't the Internet available in L.A.? Game tape? Newspapers? When Artest signs -- as free agents Mike Bibby, Trevor Ariza and Hedo Turkoglu, among others, will do with their respective teams -- filming for the 2009-10 Lakers soap opera begins immediately.
One is tempted to ask whether Phil Jackson has any idea what he's leaping into, except that the Sacramento Kings, Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets already provide the answer: Of course he doesn't. Artest has to be experienced to be believed. He has to be endured and overcome. He has to be contained because he can't be controlled. He can be incredible, and within the same game, incredibly disruptive.
I hate this move by the Lakers ... but I can't wait for tipoff. I want to see how Jackson responds when Artest dribbles out the clock. I want to monitor Kobe Bryant's fury when he separates from his defender and is ignored by Artest. I want to count the games before Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum complain about touches, before Derek Fisher calls a team meeting, before Artest and Jackson engage in a furious sideline exchange.
I don't, however, want to see Artest freak out and earn another suspension. He tries. He really tries. Now 29 and approaching his 11th season, he has worked hard to modify his behavior and curb his volatile tendencies.
"Ron can be really good with the Lakers," former Kings coach Reggie Theus said. "I think Phil is the type of coach who can handle him and knows how best to use him, and with Kobe there, he has another strong personality."
The issues remain these: Will Artest embrace the share-the-ball principles of the triangle offense, and even more importantly, resemble the elite defender the Lakers believe him to be?
For all the comparisons between Artest and Dennis Rodman, another eccentric forward who won three titles with Jackson, there are as many differences as similarities. Rodman was a long-limbed, springy athlete who utilized his strength, quickness and anticipation to dominate the boards and harass his opponents. He was an oversized gnat who frustrated with his tenacity, and he cared little about scoring. He averaged 5.8 field-goal attempts and 7.3 points, with 13.1 boards.
Artest also was once the league's premier defender, a muscular, punishing presence with exceptional hands. But he has become increasingly committed to offense. He averages 13.6 shots - more than double Rodman's total.
"He's a player that, I mean, his own teams don't know exactly what he's going to do on a particular night," Jackson told KLAC radio. "What he does do well is defend. ... I think that's his calling card for us."
But what does Ron think? We know he thinks of himself as Kobe, as he has said on numerous occasions. But is he willing to sacrifice for the common goal if that means fewer shots? Is he ready to recognize and enhance Gasol's unique low-post skills? Bynum's potentially dominating presence?
Life at Staples Center certainly won't lack drama. By midseason, Jackson either will be pining for retirement or plotting for a contract extension. Seriously. I can't wait for November.