Question: A big concern of fans for next season is team chemistry. Many fans feel this could be a potential problem because Reggie Miller is retiring and he is seen as a calming influence. The biggest concern is that Jermaine O'Neal and Ron Artest will not be able to co-exist. Basically, as fans we want to know if J.O and Artest get along well enough to play with each other. (Michele from Denver, Colo.)
Answer: I agree, their chemistry will be crucial next season. They have gotten along well enough in the past, except when Artest was benched by Rick Carlisle earlier this season. O'Neal was angry with Artest then, and I know Artest has been angry with O'Neal at times as well.
However, I've never noticed a problem on the court. Artest's first game back following his two-game benching was in Philadelphia and he and O'Neal interacted well that night. Both played very well, too, if you can remember that long ago era of Pacers basketball.
Players don't have to be the best of friends to be effective teammates, and I believe O'Neal and Artest can accomplish that. O'Neal has spoken positively of Artest during Artest's suspension, and Artest has had nothing bad to say about O'Neal the few times I've spoken with him.
I also have the impression Artest will have a fresh start with everyone when he returns next season. His teammates know he's done some things to help himself during the suspension and he's reportedly been a model teammate in recent practices.
People have been frustrated with Artest at times but the suspension was so severe that it seems to have put more people in his corner. He's something of a martyr now, and if he handles everything well next season he can actually benefit from that. He'll have paid a high price to achieve that status, however.