Q. Ron Artest is, in my opinion, perhaps the most complete player in the NBA from a talent aspect. He’s got a respectable, above-average shot from all over the floor. He’s tenacious on defense like no player we’ve seen since the '80s. He can play two, three and a little bit of one, depending on the matchups -- and in some cases the four by the new NBA standards. He has to be the most frustrating player to be matched up against.
All that said, his behavior and attitude will, probably throughout his career, keep him out of several games per year. Even when he’s on the floor, it takes him out of some games. So, assuming you have Ron for 65-70 games per year on his best behavior and doing what he does best, is he a better choice than someone with less talent but plays 82 games (barring injuries, of course)?
I realize this is a media situation blown out of proportion more than an actual distraction, but it can’t possibly be a favorable situation either. I’m in favor of us trying to work it out because pure talent is too hard to come by. However, if he goes and we are compensated even close to evenly I won’t shed any tears, either. (From Jason in Greenfield, IN)
A. Whenever the issue is Artest, it's important to step out of the heat of the moment and try to take a much broader, long-term view. In that process, the first thing you must do is accept that Artest is 24 years old. That means he is not a finished product, either on or off the court. As you point out, he has a rare combination of skills. At his best, he is one of the top 10 or 15 players in the league. Does he occasionally drive the team bus over a speed-bump at 50 miles per hour? Absolutely, and some headaches result. But even the most jaded observer of Artest would have to admit to a couple of cold, hard realities: since joining the Pacers, his level of play has risen while the distracting incidents have declined. It's safe to say, given the period of time, that's a trend.
It is very difficult to remain patient as these things occur, and the current incident is particularly galling because of the timing. When a team is severely shorthanded, it needs as much stability and consistency as it can get from its key players. If Artest did indeed ask for time off to pursue other interests, Coach Rick Carlisle's response was absolutely correct. But to suggest it's time to give up on Artest and simply get rid of him because of this incident is flawed logic. The Pacers believe Artest has greatness inside and are willing to invest the time, energy, patience and will to bring it to the surface.
And I couldn't agree more.