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Trading for Artest would be an insult
The ghost of Ron Artest prowled the Coliseum rafters during the Warriors-Pacers game Thursday night, haunting both teams. The Pacers seem more than happy with the separation. The Warriors may have been distracted by the trade rumors during their 99-89 loss, but this is a deal to be avoided at all costs.
Unlike any other player in the NBA, Artest is as much an image as he is an actual man. The image finds him playing all-world defense every night, scoring at will over the league's nastiest customers, being a genuinely nice guy at heart. It's why most every contending team in the league, including the Warriors, has figured out ways to trade for him.
None of that has anything to do with the man. Artest's history may suggest a sustained brilliance, interrupted only sporadically by radical regression, but that's true only in the "radical" sense. Artest doesn't often attack a fan, injure a teammate in practice or ask for a month off -- you know, to get his CD stuff together -- during the regular season.
What he does, according to a number of NBA insiders, is insult his organization -- every single day. Off the record, the Pacers will tell you it's always something with Artest: missing a practice, being late for a flight, drawing game-related suspensions, disrespecting teammates or club executives. It was especially revealing that Artest asked for a trade -- through the media, without telling anyone connected with the Pacers -- a month ago. He'd been coddled beyond all reason after the November 2004 incident that got him suspended for the season. At a time when he should have been banished from the organization, teammates welcomed him back, unconditionally, while GM Larry Bird defended him to Sports Illustrated or anyone else who would listen.
Artest's response to all that: This really isn't the place for me. The Pacers have irritated their fans and media by drawing out the trade talks (unload the guy, already), but at least they finally saw the light. Be gone. No more chances.
Probing the minds of some pretty wise observers around the Coliseum Thursday night, I heard a lot of reasons why the Warriors should get Artest. The team has no defensive presence on a good night, and on those annoying occasions when motivation completely takes leave, they play no defense at all. Defense is a state of mind, and it can be contagious, and Artest's tenacious play is pretty much the NBA standard of excellence.
To put it another way, the Warriors are soft. If they're not drilling 3-pointers with absurd regularity, they are no better than ordinary. They could use a little shakeup in the Mean department.
I'd put more stock in such theories if Artest were 7-foot-2. Not that any such player exists in this center-free era, but a high-scoring, interior-protecting big man could put the Warriors within range of San Antonio in the Western Conference hierarchy. Artest could make a difference in attitude; he might even be a reason the Warriors make the playoffs for the first time in a million years. He wouldn't be any help at all, though, getting them past the first round.
One of the reasons Artest rejected Indiana was that he wasn't getting enough "touches." If that's the case, Oakland is the wrong destination. Baron Davis and Jason Richardson get the major touches, and rightfully so; at their best, there isn't a better two-man show in the league. Why would Artest settle for being the third or fourth option? And because he admittedly gets "disturbed" by losing, and other game-related negativity, he wouldn't be too happy on a team that drifts constantly between relevance and mediocrity.
It's safe to say that few fans would regret the departure of Mike Dunleavy or Troy Murphy, just for the edgy thrill of getting Artest in return. Losing Ike Diogu or Mickael Pietrus would be another story, sacrificing a potentially brilliant future for a world of uncertainty. It would also be downright crazy for the soft, defensively challenged Warriors to get even smaller.
Artest makes sense for the Lakers, a one-man team with nothing to lose. He might lift Kevin Garnett and the Timberwolves out of their lethargy. He could define the still-questionable resurgence of the Clippers, or push Denver a lot closer to the Western Conference finals. You can't blame Chris Mullin for taking a good, hard look at this intriguing player. He is best viewed, however, from a distance.