Well I'll be - someone who is NOT a GM like yours truly seems to agree with me... bold added by me - because it is what I have been saying for 2 weeks.
Artest saga may shape Francis' future
By Mark Kreidler
Special to ESPN.com
It's been another great week on the Ron Artest trade front, so long as you aren't counting the part about the Pacers actually, you know … making a trade.
But, goodness, there were some great rumors. The Warriors came and went and then crept back in. The Clippers got hot until Corey Maggette's bum foot cooled them off. Houston sneaked into the conversation. It was good stuff.
Of course, that's Artest still sitting over there, doing absolutely nothing. And those are the Indiana Pacers, still winning at a slightly higher rate than they lose, but with no serious prospects of making a run at the elite of the Eastern Conference.
And this is the emerging truth: Forget equal value for Artest. The Pacers, in the end, are going to be lucky to make a deal that gives them any future to look forward to -- and in the present, they have no part of an NBA Finals conversation.
Can we all now agree that it was a giant botch, this whole thing? Indiana's response to Artest's request to be traded, which hardly stacks up at the most outrageous thing ever said or done by the man, has maneuvered the Pacers into a windowless room. It's dark and creepy in there.
If Orlando's front office is paying the slightest attention to the Artest fiasco (and place no bets), then it will do the right thing with Stevie Francis. Francis committed an arguably greater sin than Artest talking about being moved to another team: He refused to re-enter a game the Magic were losing badly on the road. But after the guard serves a suspension, Orlando's bosses surely see that the clearest path to a future lies in reactivating Francis, getting him back on the court and telling him, "Play your hinders off so that we can make a great deal and get you somewhere you want to be."
Oh, if only Indiana had come to the same conclusion about Artest. Instead, the Pacers, from Larry Bird on through, took the publicly noble step of refusing to allow Artest back on campus, as it were. He's banned for life. The Pacers had had enough.
It must have felt wonderful, and no doubt a little righteous. It was a response widely applauded by many people, even by great sports fans who tired of Artest's act and had seen one chapter too many of his Me, Myself and I book in progress.
And it's killing the Pacers. Just killing them.
Indiana will ultimately deal Artest, but that's only because the Pacers have left themselves no real choice. Artest even opened the door some weeks back for them to let him in, at least long enough to re-establish his market value, and they refused. It surely felt like the upright thing to do, but in the cold world of business in the NBA, the result was this: Every team in the league now knew that Bird and Co. had to move Artest -- and no one in his right mind was going to offer equal value, or anything close to it.
Thus, the current steaming pile of possibilities. The Clippers were willing to part with damaged goods in Maggette, whose left foot is so suspect that the Pacers wouldn't bite. The Warriors would give other players, but not Ike Diogu, the one the Pacers wanted. Houston won't give up Yao Ming or Tracy McGrady, so the Rockets reportedly are trying to come up with some combination of players (in concert with other teams) that Indiana might want.
Meanwhile, the Pacers chug on. They hit the weekend at 19-14 overall and just 8-10 on the road. They're a decent, but hardly uninspiring, 9-7 within the Eastern Conference.
It could never be as simple as this, of course, but consider: When they punched Artest's ticket and sent him away, the Pacers also sent off the floor the NBA's leader in steals and their own second-leading scorer (at 19.4 points per game). That's how you go from potential conference finalist to playoff entry with a chance to advance a round.
Indiana has no choice at this point but to wait patiently as the Feb. 23 trade deadline approaches, and hope that a great deal for Artest somehow puts itself together. Other teams in the East are certainly happy enough that they can play the Pacers without facing Artest. Nobody on that side of the league is in any hurry to do a deal.
In a parallel universe, the Pacers' brass might have bit its collective tongue one last time in December, ignored Artest's latest look-at-me moment, and quietly pursued every possible trade for the troubled talent. Dunno what the end result might have been, but it couldn't have been more problematic than what the franchise is facing right now. You watching, Orlando? This, for future reference, is a tough lesson in how something that feels so right can go so wrong.
Mark Kreidler is a columnist for the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.