Deal is King-sized trouble
Ron Artest likely will continue his erratic behavior in Sacramento
Published January 26, 2006
Sometimes it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck--and NBA teams still believe it's a functioning player who can turn around their seasons and their franchises.
Once it was the Indiana Pacers. Wednesday it was the Sacramento Kings, who traded for Ron Artest in hopes of salvaging their season.
Before too long, they will be working on salvaging their franchise as the Pacers are now. Artest spent almost four seasons in Indianapolis creating hope and then burying it in a succession of bizarre and bitter activities. Those ranged from causing the worst brawl in NBA history to asking for a leave from his team to work on his recording career.
Now Artest is the Kings' problem because they traded high-scoring forward Peja Stojakovic for the high-maintenance forward.
The trade continues the breakup of the Kings, who were on the brink of a championship in 2002 and now have only Mike Bibby remaining from that team. The Kings were motivated partly by competitiveness, but also because they faced having to make a major financial investment in free-agent-to-be Stojakovic or losing him at a time their payroll is overflowing.
Artest, whom the Pacers deactivated after his trade demand last month, could provide short-term help for the Kings because of his ability to play defense and score. He was an All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year in 2003-04.
But his untamed behavior promises to ruin the deal eventually for Sacramento. On Tuesday, Artest broke up the trade when he reportedly said he didn't want to play for the Kings.
That was smoothed over, no doubt when Artest was informed a refusal to accept a trade would mean suspension, loss of pay and a substantial fine from the NBA.
But Artest has a manic work ethic that is endearing to fans and because he can guard the league's best scorers, he could add kick to the casual Kings.
What he will add otherwise could be a kick in the teeth, which is what other teams in the NBA had been discovering in trade negotiations with the Pacers.
Artest has been appearing at games in Los Angeles lately and he supposedly has been telling teams he intended to live in Los Angeles because he viewed the city and its recording industry as his future.
Artest was leading the NBA with 2.6 steals per game and was second on the team in scoring at 19.4 before he was benched this season with the name of his recording company shaped in his hair.
A Sacramento newspaper printed an interview on Tuesday with Stojakovic in which he said he would like to be a King for the rest of his career, the same day reports surfaced the trade was close. Stojakovic said he was angry with the team for the way the situation was handled during negotiations and it became clear he didn't want to stay. Despite their misgivings then, the Kings were stuck with the deal.
Although the Pacers are in a shambles because of the Artest mess and injuries, they at least acquire a scorer who can help them. Stojakovic likely will be one of the top free agents this summer and a player in whom the Bulls were believed to have interest. He could re-sign with Indiana, but the Pacers are well above the luxury-tax penalty.
"He's one of the best shooters in the league and we definitely feel he can come in and help us right away," Pacers general manager Larry Bird said.
Stojakovic, an MVP contender in 2003-04 and a three-time All-Star, is averaging just 16.5 points and shooting 40 percent in his second straight declining season marred by minor injuries. He could be dealt again.
Artest is regarded as gentle and big-hearted to most who know him. A man who supports multiple friends and family members, he remains prone to uncontrolled rages and unpredictable behavior. His biggest drawback is that after the Detroit brawl, he was unable to maintain personal discipline and stay committed to his team. Although the Pacers, and the Bulls before them, tried everything from virtual hand-holding to professional care, issues developed almost daily from simple matters like being late, to unconscionable demands and behavior.
But sports management is filled with large egos who believe they are the one who can change a person.
"There's no doubt in our mind he'll have an immediate impact on [the Kings]," Pacers President Donnie Walsh said of Artest. "We'll miss him very much."
Yes, there will be an impact. The Pacers dare not say what kind they think it will be.