One thing has surprised me. Ron has not been taken off any of the posters in Conseco or any of the video they show on the big screen at the games, and from this article the team stays in constant contact with Artest.
Team's thoughts turn to Artest
Trying to stay sharp: Ron Artest hasn't played for the Indiana Pacers for months, but he has practiced often with the team this season. -- Sam Riche / The Star
By Bob Kravitz
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Ron Artest isn't here, and won't be a part of the Indiana Pacers' postseason journey, no matter how far it goes. But he's still in their thoughts.
"I left a message for him (Sunday)," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said before Game 1 of the Pacers-Detroit Pistons series at the Palace of Auburn Hills. "I've kept in contact with him consistently, even when we haven't been around him in person. He's still very much in our thoughts, still a part of our team.
"Our entire team has great compassion for Ron and what he's had to go through, and great admiration for how he's handled things. He's done everything he can do to keep himself in great basketball shape, to improve himself as a player and as a person and still be a part of what we're doing."
Here at the Palace, Artest's season ended. The other combatants in the terrible Nov. 19 brawl were allowed to return, but Artest got the toughest penalty ever levied by the NBA.
He has practiced with the team much of season and traveled with it a few times, but he's not here. And the Pacers know how much it's killing him to watch this unfold on television.
"I'm sure it's bothering him; he's competitive and he knows he could make a real difference in this series," CEO Donnie Walsh said before the game. "So I'm sure it's hitting him that he's not here. But basically, he's doing what he can do to make sure he can play next year and that he won't have anything like that (the brawl) happen again.
"I think he's doing all the right things for himself."
Walsh wouldn't specify what kinds of help Artest has sought in recent months, but said Artest has worked not only on his game, but on himself as a human being.
The Pacers believe, and hope, that the year away from the game will make the difference.
"It's hard for Ron," Carlisle said. "He's expressed to me that this has been the most difficult year of his life. But at the same time, he's told me now he has an appreciation for what the game means to his family and his life. I have no doubt he will come back in a big way."
Throughout the season, there have been rumors that Stern might reinstate Artest, that he might soften on the seasonlong ban.
Carlisle never thought it would happen, mostly because he couldn't afford to let his team "get into a hoping or waiting game. That would have been detrimental to us."
Walsh, though, said the Pacers twice made formal appeals to Stern.
In early December, Walsh, president Larry Bird and team owner Herb Simon flew to New York to make an appeal, more on behalf of the franchise than Artest.
Then, around the All-Star Game in February, the Pacers sensed from some public statements that maybe Stern was softening slightly, that perhaps there was a chance of reinstatement.
Once again, Walsh, Bird and Simon flew to New York.
"The gist of the appeal was that even though we accepted that our players had done wrong, there were an awful lot of circumstances that contributed to the whole deal, and that should ameliorate the punishment," Walsh said. "Because they (the Pacers players) weren't solely to blame.
"But I think (Stern) made his decision and I honestly think it would have been hard to go back on that decision publicly."
In Walsh's mind, Stern was taking on more than a single group of players or a single event. He was taking on what he perceived to be a destructive trend in the NBA. It just so happened that when he put his foot down, Artest and the Pacers were under it.
"My feeling is he (Stern) felt like looking at the league in general that he had to get tough with all these young players," Walsh said. "And he had to put down strict guidelines because a lot of them, they didn't have the benefit of knowing what you do and don't do."
By now, Artest knows what to do.
Or so the Pacers believe.