O'Neal says Artest let teammates down
By Mike Wells
The Pacers' All-Star forwards have had their problems, but both say this season is the closest they've ever been.
That's what made Artest's recent trade request so painful, O'Neal said Wednesday.
He thinks Artest turned his back on the same teammates who were suspended, had their images tarnished and lost millions of dollars for coming to his defense during last season's brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills (Mich.).
"I've been through a lot with him," O'Neal said. "I was one of the guys that went to bat for him. For him to talk about another team and other players while he's still on this team, it was disrespectful not only to me, but to the rest of the guys. I don't wish any bad things on Ron. I wish Ron still goes out and accomplishes his goals. It's just a painful thing when you went through what we went through. The money I lost while I was out was extremely high. Now it's like, what was it for?"
O'Neal was suspended for 15 games and lost $2.7 million for his part in the brawl. Stephen Jackson missed 30 games and lost $1.9 million. O'Neal also was charged with two counts of misdemeanor assault and battery. Jackson, Artest and two other Pacers were charged with one count. All five Pacers received probation, community service and a fine.
O'Neal criticized Artest's timing and the manner in which he asked out.
"We felt betrayed, a little disrespected," O'Neal said. "It caught me off-guard because our relationship was at an all-time high. I just wish it was handled differently because as a player, you're always for the players. It's a team sport."
As for their basketball relationship, O'Neal said: "The business relationship is over. That's fact."
O'Neal also said Artest had not contacted any of the Pacers since his trade demand became public.
Artest, who is on the inactive list for at least two more games, said in a phone interview Wednesday he understands O'Neal's frustration. He again said his decision was based on his dislike of playing for coach Rick Carlisle, not on his relationship with O'Neal.
"Jermaine has the right to be mad at me," Artest said. "I don't have a right to be mad at him. What I'm doing is a little selfish, but I still think this will help the team by me leaving. This has nothing to do with Jermaine. Me and Jermaine are cool. I've always said from the beginning that it's Jermaine's team. He's the most qualified for the job to lead this team."
O'Neal backed Artest's comments by saying, "In the off time, when we're in the streets, when I see him and he's with another team, we can talk."
Artest had more to say, however, about his relationship with Carlisle. Artest told The Star on Saturday that his role in Carlisle's offense led to his trade request.
Wednesday, Artest questioned whether Carlisle wanted him on the team.
"I believe coach didn't want me there," Artest said. "I think he did things to make me tick. Why keep fighting coach, when I have enough problems, when I can go elsewhere and play?"
Said Carlisle: "Ron Artest is a great player. He was leading the team in minutes played and was on track to have his best statistical year as a pro. Why would I not want to have a guy like that on my team?"
While Artest leads the team in minutes played and is second in scoring average, he felt stifled in Carlisle's structured system.
"Coach's offense is a distraction," Artest said. "I'm one of the best players in the league, and he won't call a play for me for most of the quarter. That's why I feel like I messed up the offense because I can take my man any time I want. He would call plays for me at the wrong time. He's always constantly switching things up and it's confusing."
Call Star reporter Mike Wells at (317) 444-6053.