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Unclebuck
05-06-2004, 09:47 AM
http://www.usatoday.com/sports/basketball/nba/pacers/2004-05-05-artest-changed_x.htm

Posted 5/5/2004 11:07 PM Updated 5/6/2004 3:02 AM







Artest's play heats up, while temper cools off
By Mike Dodd, USA TODAY
INDIANAPOLIS — Ron Artest wants to be known as the poor man's Michael Jordan. To do it, he knows he has to overcome his label as Indiana's equipment-tossing heir to Bob Knight.

Indiana's Ron Artest has turned his attitude around this year and his game has followed suit.
By Adrian Wyld, AP

The Indiana Pacers' forward, who again will draw the toughest defensive assignment tonight in the second-round NBA playoff series against the Miami Heat (9 ET, TNT), is almost there on both counts.

A year after a tempestuous season in which he led the NBA in suspensions (12 games) and flagrant foul points (eight), Artest has turned the spotlight on his game and his new reputation as one of the more versatile players in the league.

He'll be presented the NBA's defensive player of the year award tonight. It follows his first selection to the All-Star Game and a breakout year that was simply a matter of mind over mayhem.

"I told him, 'Look, you should have been an All-Star last year. You should have been defensive player of the year last year. But nobody's going to notice that if every time you step on the court ... they're waiting for you to do something off the court or something crazy,' " All-Star teammate Jermaine O'Neal says. "He really understood that and has just been playing."

O'Neal's message had been repeated in various forms by friends, coaches, his agent, even his family. His daughter Sade, now 7, led the teasing at home. "My daughter was always making jokes when I got ejected," Artest says. "She'd say, 'Daddy, you were suspended. That's why you're home.' "

Artest has been home just twice this year: once for a flagrant foul (he had three flagrant foul points this season) and once for leaving the bench area during O'Neal's confrontation with Brandon Hunter in the first-round playoff series against Boston.

He decided near the end of last season he was hurting himself and his team too much. Not to mention his bank account: He lost nearly $500,000 in fines and suspensions.

"No positives came out of last year," he says. "I wasn't embarrassed about anything. I was more ashamed and ... disappointed in myself because a lot of that stuff had nothing to do with the game."

The 24-year-old fifth-year pro, polite and friendly off the court, is learning to keep the games in perspective as he maintains intensity.

"Whatever Ron's feeling, he expresses," says Mark Bartelstein, Artest's agent. "It's almost like a faucet turning the water on. His emotions get turned on and they come out. ... He had to learn to channel it."

Solving the problem

As he promised coach Rick Carlisle before the season, Artest made this year about basketball and improved at both ends of the court. He worked on his shooting in the offseason and averaged a career-high 18.3 points.

"He put in a lot of hours on his shooting, and they posted him a lot more than they had in the past," says Larry Bird, the Pacers president of basketball operations. "He doesn't have to score 25 points a game. If he keeps it at 17, 18, it's really beneficial to the team."

Defensively, the 6-7 forward has become a force, and he'll draw his typical assignment against the Heat. "Whoever is on fire," Artest says, providing no advance notice if he'll open on Caron Butler, Dwyane Wade or Lamar Odom.

"He's 250 pounds and can guard any one of four positions," Indiana's Reggie Miller says, citing Artest's quick hands, feet and uncanny anticipation. "His dad is a boxer, and he takes that adage to keep pounding and pounding away. Like wearing a fighter down."

Remember, this is the guy who broke two of Jordan's ribs when His Airness was training for his comeback with the Washington Wizards. But to hear Artest, defense is almost an intellectual exercise.

"It's a matter of effort, but you've also got to know how to adjust. I take defense the same way I do math," says Artest, a math major his two years at St. John's University. "I really have to try to think about it. It's like solving a problem."

The Pacers, not satisfied that standard statistics did justice to Artest's defensive contributions, sent staff aides into the video archives to research his play. The study concluded that Artest held opponents to 8.1 points a game on 42.6% shooting. In Pacers wins, Artest's opponents shot just 35% when he was on them.

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich called it fuzzy math, arguing the Spurs' Bruce Bowen deserved the award. Artest suggested a one-on-one matchup to settle it. If there's one thing that rivals his on-court intensity, it's his confidence.

"No one can ever be Michael Jordan, but I'm like the poor man's Michael Jordan. That's how I feel," he says. "I can play defense, I can play 'O.' I haven't found anybody that can stop me yet."

Not seeking publicity

He likes the challenge of playing defense against the top offensive players during the summer, and he travels to different gyms across the country for the workouts.

He also spends time in the offseason working with youngsters on the playgrounds of his old Queensbridge neighborhood in New York City. He prefers that to high-profile work with kids that might generate headlines.

Howard Garfinkel told The Indianapolis Star he invited Artest to give a speech at his Five-Star camp and accept admission to its hall of fame. Artest instead stayed for a week to teach, sleeping in the dorms with players and counselors, eating cafeteria food, even running errands.

It's that side that makes friends and family even more upset with the public image, courtesy of Artest's self-destruction highlight film. "He doesn't have a mean bone in his body, but when he plays basketball, his self-esteem is on the line," Bartelstein says.

This year his reputation as a person also was at stake. He says he learned that his family and his faith are more important than winning. "I was sending a message to be out of control, and I don't think that's the Lord's message," he says.

Clamping down

Indiana forward Ron Artest usually is assigned to guard the opponents' top-scoring shooting guard or small forward. A breakdown of his performance against four tough opponents this season:

Player (games) Season avg. Avg. vs. Artest Season FG% FG% vs. Artest
Carmelo Anthony (2) 21.0 8.0 .426 .364
Keith Van Horn (2) 16.1 3.0 .454 .188
Stephen Jackson (4) 18.1 3.5 .425 .333
Latrell Sprewell (2) 16.8 4.0 .409 .400

Harddrive7
05-06-2004, 10:04 AM
The greatest thing about this article...He's all ours!!!!

owl
05-06-2004, 10:08 AM
Ron is becoming my favorite player :) . And a math major to boot :o
Alright Ron!!!!!!!!!!



owl

sweabs
05-06-2004, 10:09 AM
Artest the math major - it seems funnier every time I hear that :laugh:

Unclebuck
05-06-2004, 11:04 AM
here is another good article


http://www.sun-sentinel.com/sports/basketball/heat/sfl-skolnick06xmay06,0,7849765.column?coll=sfla-sports-heat

Published May 6, 2004


INDIANAPOLIS -- The guy's still a menace.

Yet this season, he's merely been a menace to the opposition, and not to cameras, legendary coaches, fans, polite society or his own team. In other words, not the way he used to be, and the way the Heat needs him to be to have any chance to steal this series -- by somehow getting him off his game, and his rocker, before his tenacious two-way play gets a slew of Heat players off theirs.

In the old days, the odds were against Ron Artest surviving an 11-day layoff without earning some sort of suspension. Instead, after Wednesday's practice, he sat in the corner (by choice), answering questions quickly and quietly. Praising the Heat and his teammates, offering to come off the bench, declaring "we haven't proven nothing yet."

Again showing no sign of his weakness, perhaps the only his Pacers have:

His destructive inner child.

This is a Pacer team so deep that, when it splits into two squads to scrimmage, each side faces a five as fearsome as any foe's this season. This is a team so deep it plans to go deep; as baby-faced killer Jermaine O'Neal put it, "We feel we're supposed to win the championship." This is a team so deep it can only be deep-sixed by a return of Bad Ron.

You know that character. He's the one who missed 12 games in 2002-03 due to league or team-imposed suspensions, unable to go a week without a technical foul, flagrant foul or five-figure fine. He's the one who, in a January 2003 game, kneed Caron Butler out of bounds, forcing Butler to get an MRI on his foot; got in a shouting match with Heat assistant Keith Askins; twice sauntered over to taunt Pat Riley, who was forced to shove the intruder away; gave the Heat crowd his middle finger; and flexed for effect.

"It was a pretty big bicep, too," a smiling Riley said. "He let us know he's a man."

No, Artest actually did that this season, by staying out of trouble, and letting his play speak for him, until his appreciative coach, Rick Carlisle, spoke on his behalf for Defensive Player of the Year, distributing stats showing Artest's assignments scored just 8.1 per game. No one ever questioned Artest's ability. Lamar Odom saw it on the AAU teams the two New Yorkers shared with Elton Brand: "You can imagine. We didn't lose much. We kind of kicked the whole country's butt."

Even Riley said, after last season's incident: "I'd like to have two or three Ron Artests myself."

"He makes his guys do all kinds of crazy stuff, and then when they finally get past him, we are right there," O'Neal said. "It makes it easier for us to slide over and make these guys take tough shots or throw the ball away. We're going to throw him on the best offensive guy every single night."

Some nights, Artest has been the Pacers' best offensive guy, averaging career-highs in points (18.3), rebounds (5.3) and assists (3.7). He won that Defensive Player of the Year award, a spot on the All-NBA third team and the trust of his teammates.

"I think I've gotten more opportunities to shoot the ball," Artest said. "I was always playing defense, but just having the ball in my hands a little bit more, that's the biggest thing."

To O'Neal, Artest's mental growth has been the biggest thing. O'Neal admitted that their relationship started slow, but now they understand each other.

"I told him coming into this year, `Look, you should have been an All-Star, you should have been Defensive Player of the Year last year. But nobody is ever going to notice that if every time you step on the court, they're not even watching what you're doing on the basketball court, they're waiting for you to do something off the court or something crazy that's going to change the tone of the game,'" O'Neal said. "And he really understood that, and he's just been playing."

Now Artest is the first guy to calm O'Neal down during an emotional moment. "He'd probably be the last guy to come and grab me last year," O'Neal said.

Upon taking over for Isiah Thomas, Carlisle knew the player he was inheriting. The coach has been surprised by Artest the person, his "generosity, his kindness, he's a family man, he's a fun guy to be around." He hoped the former St. John's star could reinvent himself as aggressive Nets forward Kenyon Martin did the season before. He thinks some of Artest's progression was conscious, and some was the natural result of aging from 23 to 24.

Odom remembers the Queensbridge kid at 13: "There's nothing but love between me and Ron Artest." And while he knows that "right now Ron is my enemy," Odom expects them to soon talk just "like we're in the eighth grade again, or the ninth grade."

Even if Artest, much to his menacing team's benefit, no longer acts like he still belongs there.

Ethan J. Skolnick can be reached at eskolnick@sun-sentinel.com.
Copyright 2004, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

fwpacerfan
05-06-2004, 05:48 PM
Great, great articles. I've been saying this for the last 2 years - Ron Artest is as valuable to this team as JO is. They are a 1-2 punch that will only continue to get better.