For the record
By Joe Lago, Yahoo! Sports
November 11, 2004
Larry Bird probably has seen the TV talking heads poke fun at the situation or heard radio callers give their take on the matter. The Indiana Pacers' general manager likely has read the opinion of the hometown columnist, and the obligatory joke email will soon find its way into his in-box.
No doubt, Larry Bird is mulling over what to do with Ron Artest after the All-Star small forward made the totally ridiculous request of taking a month off to recharge after exhausting himself on a debut rap album. Like everyone else with a byline, here's my advice on doing the right thing.
Keep Ron Artest, Larry. Don't you dare trade him.
Without Artest, you know there will be no championship banner hanging in Conseco Fieldhouse. There will be no downtown parade to Monument Circle.
Ron Artest, with all of his unpredictable behavior, is the difference between the Pacers being a title contender and just an ordinary playoff hopeful.
Artest – when he's not making music – is the X factor that makes the Pacers championship material. He is the heart of Indiana's defense (and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year). He is the team's enforcer. In addition to locking down the opposing team's top perimeter scorer, he's capable of pumping in 30 points himself from the inside and outside.
Yes, you inquired about swapping Artest for Peja Stojakovic over the summer, and you acquired Stephen Jackson, who gives you the perimeter shooting your team lacked against Detroit in last season's Eastern Conference finals. Jackson, like Artest, can play a little defense, too.
But you know that Jackson, despite having won a ring with the Spurs as their starting shooting guard, can't lead the Pacers to a title as Jermaine O'Neal's No. 2. He's not a difference maker like Artest. He's a role player.
Ship Artest away and you can count out Indiana in the East, Larry, even if you finally swing that deal for Stojakovic (hopefully you saw what Peja did, or didn't do, in the playoffs). Besides, you're not going to get equal value anyway, not after this latest episode.
Artest wants to win a championship. He even said so while explaining his case to the media Wednesday. After Nov. 23 – when he finally releases his album – Artest says he'll commit himself to leading the Pacers to an NBA title. You have to believe him, because when Artest sets his mind to something, he'll run through a brick wall to do it.
Artest once said he wanted to stop the guy he's guarding every possession, whether his team is up 20 points or down 20 points. That intense concentration had his teammates in Chicago thinking he was, well, a little different. But that kind of tunnel vision is required to win a championship. If anyone should know that, it's you Larry Bird.
Last season, Artest's game matured, as he knocked down shots instead of opposing players. He was everything you wanted in a small forward.
So what happened to that player? He's still there, somewhere in the world Artest lives in. Trust that your level-headed head coach, Rick Carlisle, can bring that Artest back and get him to focus on the Central Division standings again, not the Billboard charts.
If this was the last straw and you've already made up your mind, at least wait until Jonathan Bender plays before you pull the trigger on a trade. See if the 7-footer is ready to take on a larger role now that Al Harrington is gone.
But once Artest leaves town, say goodbye to Indiana's championship hopes.
Keep Artest and you keep the Pacers in the title hunt.
Just make sure he doesn't have plans to release a double-album in late April.
Joe Lago is an NFL and NBA editor at Yahoo! Sports.