| By David Lord and Mike Fisher -- DallasBasketball.com |
Ron Artest wants to be a rapper.
Ron Artest wants to be a boxer.
Ron Artest wants to be a Maverick.
You half get the feeling that Ron-Ron is like any other juvenile boy, so he also wants to grow up to be a fireman and an astronaut and a movie star!
There are as many opinions about the value of the mercurial Pacers star as there are blemishes on his behavioral record. Included in that mountainous stack of headlines is Artest's wish to be dealt out of Indiana -- and the existence of your Mavs on his short list of possible destinations.
We'll dissect the issues, with some answers, below. First, though, two foundations that must be established:
One, Artest wants out of Indy because he isn't getting enough shots. In Dallas, Dirk gets the most shot attempts, and JET is second. Artest has been getting 22% MORE shot attempts per game in Indy than JET takes. Do the math: About the only way get Artest more shots than he gets now would be to have him wrest the ball from Dirk's hands. Not acceptable.
Two, all the details we address below aside, a player doesn't find himself in this situation -- begging to be set free by a winning organization that has been extremely supportive of his oddball history -- unless he's got a screw loose. Period.
Start with the bottom line. Are the Mavs interested?
The public position of both Mark Cuban and Avery Johnson is that the Mavs are totally disinterested. In fact, they have used an identical phrase in interviews when asked about Artest: "We like our team." Avery went further in an interview Wednesday, stating that the Mavs have not even made a phone call on the possibility.
Could the Mavs' public disinterest merely be a deft negotiating tactic?
It's always possible, but based on the way the Mavs have operated in the past, our guess is that the front office is telling the truth -- or at least only stretching the truth a little bit.
Mavs fans have marveled at the team's aggressiveness in creating trades, and as a result every big-name player who has been on the block in recent years has been linked to the Mavs as a possible suitor. But, like it or not, times have changed in Dallas. The team has taken a much more focused approach to trades in the last couple of years, and since then the "trade from nowhere" involving key players is no longer a trademark.
The last trade that came unexpectedly was the trade that brought Antoine Walker and Tony Delk from the Celtics, on the eve of the 2003-04 regular season, and sent away Raef LaFrentz (and spare parts). It was obvious at the time that as a result of the trade the Mavs had too many power forwards on the team and was short on centers, and the obvious anticipation was that the other shoe could drop at any time with a follow-up trade from nowhere. However, team officials in unison replied that, unless there was a "no-brainer" offered, they would make no major changes during the year. At the runup to the trade deadline that year, they conveyed the same message - and to the surprise of many, when all was said and done, they made no trade during the year, just like they had promised.
When the summer arrived, the team again was more-or-less transparent in their trade goals. Jamison wanted to go to a team where he could start - and he was traded. Fortson played no role - and he was traded. Walker didn't fit - and he was traded. The team needed a center - and Dampier was acquired. After the season started, the Mavs needed some help at point guard and admitted they were looking for someone, eventually netting Darrell Armstrong. In each trade, although the exact details were unforeseen, the team was essentially straightforward in conveying their general goal.
At the trade deadline, the Mavs again reverted to their mantra of only being open to a no-brainer, using the same phrase we hear now - "we like our team." The trade then (essentially of 12th man Calvin Booth for key backup Keith Van Horn) would certainly fit into the no-brainer class.
After the season was over? We again heard "we like our team." And other than a few tweaks via free agency or waivers, they brought back the same team, with 11 of the 15 players returning. It was noteworthy that the Mavs made ZERO trades in the offseason, even though Mavs observers kept waiting intently for a trade to happen somewhere.
With that history as the backdrop, when the Mavs indicate they aren't looking to acquire Artest, we believe them.
Where is that "little stretch of the truth'' we mentioned earlier? Maybe in Avery suggesting that the Mavs haven't bothered to investigate Artest. That's a nice way for Avery to support the guys who are here, but it would be a lousy way to actually do business. Without a doubt, Dallas has done its homework here. And almost certainly, when Indy called the Mavs, the Mavs at least answered the phone.
Why wouldn't every team want Artest? Isn't he an incredible talent?
On the court, Artest is a stellar performer. Only two years ago, he was the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year, and he also is a strong contributor offensively, averaging almost 20 points per game.
Unfortunately, as has been well documented, he has off-court "issues." He fits into the same category as Dennis Rodman or Terrell Owens - players whose antics away from the game have been able to overshadow tremendous gametime ability. With such players, there is always a dilemma. Are they worth the hassle?
We say Artest's erratic nature makes him an orange-level risk. But still, there are many points to consider on both sides of the question with Artest. Let's list them.
WHY A TEAM MIGHT WANT ARTEST
1. He is one of the top defensive players in the NBA - maybe its best one-on-one defender.
2. His teammates have, for the most part, regarded him as a "good guy" and supported him even when he has gone through his various mad-man episodes.
3. On the court, he brings full intensity whenever he plays.
4. He might be available at a discounted price.
5. It is usually hard to obtain extra superstars to add to a team without giving up significant talent or getting incredibly lucky in the draft. This may be that rare opportunity.
6. Opposing players, who are in a great position to judge, see him as a warrior and generally say they want him on their team.
7. His contract is cheap for a superstar and runs for this year plus two more.
With all of those pluses, why isn't every team (including Dallas) doing everything they can to get Artest? Well, unfortunately the list of minuses is just as noteworthy.
WHY A TEAM MIGHT NOT WANT ARTEST
1. He always is enveloped by controversy. When one episode ends, another seems to always follow shortly thereafter. In time, that wears out a locker room, a fan base, and a franchise.
2. The Pacers have shown him great support and stood by him through one crisis after another, yet his latest response is one of disloyalty by demanding to go elsewhere. Do you want to bring that type of "me-over-team'' attitude into your locker room? There is no way of knowing if Artest can be placated -- or if next week is the week he decides to retire to rap stardom.
3. If you are the team that trades for him, you will do so with the expectation that you can do a better job than the Pacers did in keeping him happy. Yet in Indy, he had an incredibly supportive ownership, a front office that stood by him through every mishap, and teammates that always right were by his side - and it didnt work. We always say that coaches worth they're salt always believe they are the ones who can play daddy to an athlete better than the last coach. But can any other franchise actually do better than Indy has?
4. History has shown us that similar players (for example, Rodman and Owens) change teams but continue to have the same - or bigger - crises in each new location. There is simply no reason to believe history won't repeat itself here.
5. Although the potential definitely exists to get Artest at a discount, the asking price will be fairly close to full value. With all the headaches he brings, would a team want to make an offer that is at or near full value in the talent given away?
6. Although fans in many places feel Artest would help their team to get over the top, the fact is that he has NOT done that in Indy, where he is surrounded by great talent. In fact, his antics have in many ways held that team back. How would he suddenly be any more capable of helping a team (Dirk and the Mavs) to the next level when he hasnt been able to do it so far (with Jermaine O'Neal and Reggie Miller and the Pacers)?
All that is excellent theory, but let's be specific. The Mavs have said he wouldn't be a good fit in Dallas. Why not? Aren't the hassles worth it, if you get top talent? What, if anything, doesn't fit here?
Believe it or not, the hassles alone are not the only reason the Mavs may be expressing disinterest. Here are a few big-picture factors that we feel are important, as well as some minor ones, all of which are keeping the Mavs from pursuing Artest.
Does Artest fit easily in the locker room here? The chemistry issue is a really big positive for the Mavericks franchise, and everyone here is pulling in the same direction. This is a team in every sense of the word. All the players here have bought into a system that asks them to put egos aside. Any trade - even for a model citizen - would endanger that for a while and rock the boat. Does anyone recall how unsettled things were for a while last spring when Booth and Henderson were traded for Van Horn?
How unnerved would this team become by losing a teammate? In a trade, someone has to leave. With a team this unified, it will be someone that is making sacrifices and working hard. That's a bigger issue than is generally recognized, when everyone is working together so well. (And while we haven't exactly taken a formal poll of the Mavs locker room, there is certainly no buzz of excitement in favor of getting Artest.)
Where would Artest fit on the floor? It is widely assumed that he could easily be plugged into this lineup, but because of the way this team is constructed, it might not be as easy as you think.
Obviously, Artest would be brought in to be a starter. But, which one? Do you believe Artest could replace Josh Howard? Is Artest even remotely in J-Ho's class as a rebounder? The primary place he would have to fit would be as the SG, replacing Marquis Daniels (and thus, presumably, maybe being traded for him).
On the defensive end, although Marquis has been rapidly improving, Artest should be a clear upgrade. But on the offensive end, it would potentially creates MAJOR problems. The reason is that, because the Mavs don't have another offensive star to take the pressure off Dirk, they rely on offensively efficient guards, taking high percentage shots, to open the floor. Unfortunately, Artest is not in the same class as the curent Mavs SGs (Daniels and Terry) in his offensive efficiency. That not only would hurt the SG output, but it would impact Dirk's as well - and that's the team's bread-and-butter.
Where would Artest fit in this team's pecking order? Artest has been very vocal that he is unhappy in Indy and wants out because he isnt the No. 1 guy. In Dallas, wouldn't he be in the very same situation - at best - as the second banana behind Dirk? In fact, with the way this Mavs team is constructed, rather than competing to be the No. 1 guy, wouldn't he be competing here with JET, J-Ho and perhaps Devin Harris in time just to be the No. 2? And with Stackhouse and Van Horn for shots otherwise? We can see a very unhappy Artest in this format.
How would Artest fit with Avery Johnson? It is assumed that Avery could handle him quite readily, and maybe so. There is no question that Avery would welcome a player who brought such defensive intensity. But first and foremost, Avery is about a "team concept" and it seems that Artest's antics are typically self-centered. That would not be something Avery would be willing to cater to. Also, keep in mind that Avery went through San Antonio's experiment with Dennis Rodman, which brought lots of unrest but didnt ultimately add a thing to that team's success. The Spurs finally just had enough. Would the wisdom of having been in that locker room make Avery unwilling to mess with a similar player? We bet so.
What would be the cost? The furor over Artest in NBA cities has been fueled by the perception that he might be available at a discount. But Indy isn't looking for any ol' offer; they want to erase him from their roster by getting an up-and-coming player who is still on a rookie contract (like J-Ho or Harris) and then getting an expiring contract to fill the financial gap and make the trade NBA-legal. Thats pretty close to full value for "damaged goods.''
Good luck to them if they can get such an offer, but that should be way more than the Mavs ought to offer. Our sense is that the Mavs intend to keep J-Ho's rebounding and all-around play, and Harris explosiveness at PG, for many years here. When you have a young player that fits, with the potential to get even better, you don't let him get away.
Is there any price where he makes sense in Dallas? Maybe. An obvious player the Mavs could trade would be the one whose place Artest would take in the lineup. That is, Daniels, or perhaps Stackhouse. However, what is Daniels' upside? His ability to dominate at SG with his size gives him the potential to be something special in his own right. If that's the case, the Mavs wouldn't have as much reason to trade for Artest. And Marquis' laid-back style works well for team chemistry.
On the other hand, if the Mavs felt that Artest might be a sizable upgrade at SG, an offer of Daniels, or maybe Daniels-plus-something (a young big? a draft pick?) might be a good match, given Indy's need for a scoring SG.
There might be one other ideal alternative from Dallas' end. If (and only if) there is a real uncertainty over Stack's future availability, then you could envision bringing Artest in and using Daniels as the third swingman - in which case, the offer by Dallas wouldn't have to include the SG. In that event, the offer could be Keith Van Horn's expiring contract, for Artest and Austin Croshere (who plays a similar role as Van Horn, but has a longer contract). The Mavs might also add a small something on their side, in such a deal. The attraction for the Pacers in that scenario is the cap relief it offers Indy, who would then have around $10M in cap room to spend in free agency in the summer. But that idea is unlikely to attract Indy unless the market for Artest is extremely barren, and it is unlikely to make sense in Dallas unless Stack is more impaired than we know.
But why wouldn't the Mavs trade for him anyway? Isnt he still worth it? Wouldn't he guarantee a title, playing next to Dirk?
Artest comes with ability - but players dont come with guarantees. In fact, they come with certain degrees of risk attached. Such risk doesn't even count the off-court antics. This risk is the risk of tearing apart what you already have, and losing talent in the trade that otherwise has a chance to help you.
The Mavs have a good blend of talent right now. At his very best, Artest certainly may be able to help you get a title. But you can also say the same thing about Devin Harris, Josh Howard, Jason Terry, and Marquis Daniels, some of which would almost certainly be the price to bring Artest to Dallas. Just like Artest, at their best, each of those could be a key player in a title run here. Keep in mind that this current roster is still young and developing - it is far from its ceiling, as is.
You can say you THINK Artest will help here - and you might be right. But the fact is that you might be sending away talent that would help just as much. Once you layer on the significant added risk of Artest going askew here, why would you trade away something that might help you greatly - and is a dependable sure bet to be a plus - for someone who can help you but isn't dependable?
Don't forget: in Indy, surrounded by talent like O'Neal and Miller, and so on, Artest's presence did NOT bring a title.
We also need to note that his value right now in the league is apparently quite modest. If you look at the trade rumors flying, it looks like the real contenders feel the same way - many GMs apparently feel his huge risk isn't worth the uncertain reward. Detroit, SA, Miami, and so on dont appear to want him - and of course Indy doesn't either.
Which begs a question. Switch roles for a minute. Pretend you are a Pacers fan, or a Pacers exec. How excited are you to get Howard and Harris in exchange for dumping Artest? Beside-yourself-excited, right?
Then why should Dallas be so excited to be on the other end?
RealGM says the most noted current rumor has him going to Toronto, for MoPete and Matt Bonner. Toronto is like Dallas was, years ago, when Rodman was brought to town; not a playoff team, with little to lose except some money, if he is a nightmare. So as a drawing card alone, that makes some sense.
But here in Dallas, the discussion has been about whether to consider offering JHo or Harris for Artest. Let's get real; those two Toronto players they are discussing are some who one day will be lucky to be on the same floor with JHo or Devin, and are nowhere near the same caliber or potential.
Anyone who would even discuss Artest at a JHo/Harris price is overpaying foolishly, and when the Pacers putting that sort of price tag on him, the Mavs are wise to openly sit this one out. Dont forget the rule we have learned the hard way in the NBA: You don't ever overpay for a swingman. For better or worse, thats all he is - and trading away talent of the sort that Indy wants is definitely overpaying.
So where will Artest fit, if not in Dallas? Will he find a place that works for him and for the team that gets him?
We hear nice things being said about Artest from the locker rooms in Golden State, Boston and Charlotte. But we don't hear about any team with good chemistry, a good record and a solid talent base being willing to add Artest, as long as the price is near full value. The risk will be too great for such limited reward.
We simply don't see Ron Artest as ever being satisfied. The real root of his unrest is money. He is paid as a mid-level player, and is locked into that contract until the summer of 2008, even though, admittedly, he has been outplaying players making twice as much. That's why he is so constantly taken with outside-of-basketball money-making projects. Unfortunately for him, the NBA does not allow renegotiations, and there will be no remedy for several more years.
So until 2008, he is obsessed with becoming a headliner (via music or boxing or celebrity) and he is obsessed with being an NBA "superstar.'' To do so, he needs a much higher scoring average to go with his defensive prowess. He needs the ball a maximum number of times so he can eventually get a max contract.
Ron Artest is twisted. His focus is twisted. His goals are twisted.
A player not focused on team goals? That's not the player for the Mavs.