SPECIAL MIDWEEK EDITION Life on the Ron, Day 32
By Marc Stein
Editor's note: ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein supplies each item for this midweek around-the-league notebook edition of the Daily Dime.
Quaint idea my pal Professor Hollinger tossed out in a chat the other day, informing his audience that he would happily answer their questions so long as no one asked about Ron Artest.
Maybe it's different in the numbers game, but there's really no such thing as an Artest-free zone on the NBA map.
These days? Every conversation with every executive or coach or scout or agent starts the same. The only uncertainty lies with who asks the question first.
When's this Artest thing going to happen?
Exactly a month has elapsed since Artest decided to tell the local newspaper instead of his Pacer bosses that he wanted to be traded and still we don't know for sure. All I can share, as the calendar flips to Day 32 of the Artest Watch, is the latest info as of Tuesday evening.
In three parts:
A) How can the Pacers be so patient? You are hardly alone in your wonderment, but it really isn't a mystery.
Quite simply, there is no move Indy can make this season that will restore its contender status. This season is already ruined, folks, as far as the Pacers' aspirations to win an Eastern Conference that also houses Detroit, Miami and New Jersey. They're not the same team without Artest and can't acquire anyone who replicates what he did in his lucid moments.
The prudent course, then, is patience. Right up to the Feb. 23 trading deadline if necessary.
The Pacers aren't delusional enough to believe that waiting will eventually bring them equal value for Artest's talents. That's not going to happen under any circumstances, because of his wild side. The goal, though, should be (and is) to make a deal that works best for the reshaping of Indy's future.
That translates to an avoidance of long-term contracts, like Wally Szczerbiak's in Minnesota, and free agents who would be costly to re-sign, such as Denver's Nene and Atlanta's Al Harrington.
B) The frontrunners for actually landing Artest, according to NBA front-office sources, continue to be Golden State and the back-in-it L.A. Clippers.
Indy's Larry Bird has made it clear he prefers a one-to-one trade and the Warriors and Clips are the teams best stocked to complete such a deal . . . unless Memphis, as mentioned many times before, unexpectedly consents to part with Shane Battier.
However . . .
As stated in this cyberspace back in 2005 -- and as the Warriors have re-iterated to the Pacers more than once -- rookie power forward Ike Diogu is an untouchable. Troy Murphy remains a possibility, but both Golden State and Indy would have some reluctance to build a deal around the power forward because the Warriors still like him and because Murphy's five remaining years at $51 million is worrisome for the tax-fearing Pacers.
Which brings us to a package headlined by Mike Dunleavy and Mickael Pietrus.
Enough for the Pacers? You wouldn't think so, especially since Dunleavy has a new long-term deal of his own and doesn't fill the Pacers' on-court needs nearly as well as Murphy. Sources close to the situation, furthermore, suggest that Mullin -- a proven gambler (see Baron Davis) and known Artest fan (who shares St. John's as an alma mater) -- is equally intrigued by the idea of keeping his young core together now that Pietrus is finally healthy enough to rejoin this teetering club.
That must be why multiple suitors who've chased Artest from the start are suddenly calling L.A. "the team." Yet that would almost certainly require the inclusion of Corey Maggette, which the Clippers have steadfastly resisted.
Have they reconsidered?
There is a growing belief around the league that they have, with the Clips' 14-5 start a memory and Mike Dunleavy Sr. perfectly willing to coach the game's foremost problem child. Remember what Dunleavy said in our recent package on the Clippers, before Artest's trade demand was issued: "Give me talent, I'll figure out how to make 'em happy."
Of course, if Maggette were on the table, you'd think we'd be busy breaking down a trade instead of waiting breathlessly for something to dissect. Maggette's left foot, instead, is in a cast with a ligament problem that could keep him sidelined another month. An uncertain recovery timetable, with an injury originally believed to be minor, would figure to give the Pacers some pause even if Donald Sterling is ready to part with one of the only three Clippers he has ever guaranteed long-term millions.
C) Minnesota, Denver and the L.A. Lakers haven't lost interest in Artest but still share the same shortcoming. None of those clubs appears to have the pieces to tempt the Pacers without pulling in a third or fourth team, which Bird, as stated, hopes to avoid.
None of those teams have pulled out of the derby. Yet the Nuggets, for example, have begun to explore their non-Artest trade possibilities, much as they'd love to get a call back from the Pacers and encouragement to refresh their bid.
Not that there is much of an Artest-free world out there, apart from certain chat rooms. The theory that every other trade in this league is being held up by a Ron-Ron deal looks more scientific with each passing day.