Pacers president says team's disgruntled player should not have gone public with his complaints
By Mike Wells
DALLAS -- Like everybody else in the organization, Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird stuck by Ron Artest through his trials and tribulations.
But no more. Bird, who recently returned from a 10-day scouting trip in Europe, made his first public comments since Artest told The Star he wanted to be traded. Bird said Monday he "felt betrayed," and though Artest has since said he wants to return, Bird insisted that's not possible.
"I think enough is enough," Bird said. "I think Ronnie will do fine but not here."
Bird said he thought Artest had turned the corner emotionally after his seasonlong suspension last year and would be an MVP candidate.
"But I don't know what goes on in Ronnie's world when he leaves (Conseco Fieldhouse)," he said.
"Ronnie needed support after everything he's been through. Who better to give it to him than the people in this organization?"
Bird recalled an offseason conversation with his three star players, a meeting that no longer matters.
"They thought this was their year as a team," Bird said. "Stephen (Jackson), Ronnie and Jermaine (O'Neal) came up to me and asked if I would keep them together for one more year and see how it goes. I was behind it 100 percent."
"I don't know if this is the right wording, but I felt betrayed," Bird said. "We're disappointed. Things happen, maybe it's a good thing. He's a very talented player. I always liked working with him and how he went about things on the basketball court. He's a top-12 player in the league, but we're in a situation where we have to move on."
Bird, who said he has yet to talk to Artest, said he took exception to Artest going public with his unhappiness.
"He was clearly frustrated," he said. "Ronnie thinks if we lose, we would have won the game if he had the ball every time. The offense bogs down at times, but it's still a great offense. He held the ball a lot at times. Nothing frustrated me more than him not rebounding. But I didn't go out in the public and say anything."
While in Europe, Bird said he spoke to CEO Donnie Walsh daily. Bird wondered whether he needed to return early but decided against it because he and Walsh weren't going to make a quick trade.
Artest, who did not return a phone message Monday, remains on the inactive list. His agent, Mark Stevens, said he spoke Monday with Walsh and "everything stands in the same place."
"(The trade) could happen tomorrow; it could be two weeks from now," Stevens said.
Bird and Walsh will continue to seek a trade this week. Bird said they prefer to trade Artest to a Western Conference team. Denver, the Los Angeles Clippers, Minnesota and Golden State have been mentioned.
"Any time you deal a player you would like him to go out of the conference," Bird said. "We're looking at the West, but if it's the East, that's how it's going to be. Whether we get a draft choice or a player, we're going to make sure it's the right deal. We've done enough to back Ronnie. We're in a position where we have to protect the franchise now."
Bird knows losing Artest will hurt, but he said the team chemistry will be better without the constant distractions.
"I'm not going to say we're better, that's not going to happen when you lose a player like Ronnie," he said. "As far as chemistry goes, we're a lot better. We're still deep. We have some emotional guys, but we'll be fine."
Call Star reporter Mike Wells at (317) 444-6053.