Mark Montieth: Pacers Q&A

November 30, 2004

Question: The Star reported that the Pacers organization can save $8 million on the suspended players' salaries. Knowing that they operate under a budget, what kind of things are Donnie Walsh and Larry Bird likely to do with that money? Invest in scouting? Buy or upgrade the corporate jet? Fund more promotional events for the Pacers team and the community? (Tim from Indianapolis)

Answer: I would hope they decide to upgrade the press room at Conseco Fieldhouse. I could use a cushioned seat, and the meals could always be better.

Kidding, of course. I'm sure they haven't had time to think or talk much about this yet. It might ultimately mean they lose 8 million fewer dollars this season, depending on how the rest of the season progresses.

Question: Do you know why Stephen Jackson was so steamed up about Big Ben Wallace's throat-shove foul on Ron Artest and then why he was so eager to join him in the stands? I simply haven't found any place where that is discussed. (Mark from Bloomington, Ind.)

Answer: Stephen Jackson is an emotional person by nature, so it wasn't surprising that he joined the fray. He's been quick to argue with officials and pick up technical fouls, too. He's been a good person to have in the locker room because he takes the "one for all, all for one" approach to the game. This time his emotions cost him dearly, so it will be interesting to see what impact the suspension has on him.

He admits he gets carried away sometimes, and realizes that's not always a good thing for his team. But I don't assume he regrets his actions in this instance. He saw a teammate get attacked by an opposing player and then being swarmed by fans in the stands, and he got involved.

I'm told that after the game, when the Pacers finally made it to the locker room, he said, "That was nothing, I've been shot at before." Every player reflected their background and their personality during that fracas, and he was no different.

Question: How long are Fred Jones and James Jones under contract? Do you think since Fred Jones is starting to become a noticeable player he'll take the same route that Al Harrington did? Or would he rather win and come off the bench? (Juan from Basin City, Wash.)

Answer: The Pacers extended Fred Jones' contract in October, so he's signed through the 2005-06 season. James Jones becomes a free agent after this season. He's obviously helping himself greatly with his performances since becoming a starter.

It's impossible to predict what either will do. It will depend on their opportunities for playing time, what salary they're able to command and how much money the Pacers have available when they are free agents. I have no doubt the team will want to keep both, however, and I'm confident both would prefer to stay with the franchise.

Question: I am sure I am not the only one who hopes Jermaine O'Neal's and Stephen Jackson's suspensions are reduced by a hair. But if not, can you tell me which games I can anticipate their return? Also, though unlikely, what would happen if J.O. is picked by the fans as an all-star? Happy holidays to all and GO PACERS! (John from Sacramento, Calif.)

Answer: There has been some disagreement over whether the suspensions included the Pacers' game against Orlando, when O'Neal, Jackson and Artest sat out before the commissioner made his ruling. I'm told by the Pacers, however, that they did include that game, in which case O'Neal would return for the home game with Orlando on Jan. 15 and Jackson would return for the game at Boston on Jan. 26.

Question: Your Nov. 18 answer stated that Jonathan Bender's knee injury did not appear to be serious. Then I saw something about a congenital problem with his knee. What's the latest ? (Greg from Madison, Miss.)

Answer: I don't believe I ever described his injury as congenital. He said before the game at Detroit (back in the good ol' days of the NBA) that he believes it relates to his growth spurt in high school, and that his knee is out of alignment. The hope now is that a six-week break that would take him through the end of December will allow him to strengthen his leg and buttocks and provide more stability.

He had a rigorous off-season workout program, but apparently the injury he suffered in September to his left knee set off a chain reaction that led to problems with his right leg.

Question: Thanks for your great coverage of the team. Was that Chuck Person helping Ron Artest out of the Palace? Is he with the team in some capacity? (Mike from Indianapolis)

Answer: Yes, that was Chuck Person. I've referenced him in several articles dating back to last season as he's been instrumental in the development of some of the players. I planned to write a lengthy feature on him late last season, but the timing was never quite right for it. And, as you know, other issues have gotten in the way lately. One of these days ...

Question: Just saying "Great job" over the last week. I just read your latest Q&A and loved the reasonable and balanced tone (IMO), as well as admiring the effort under the circumstances. If you took a few weeks off from it I would have understood.

You did answer one thing for me. I had been wishing that Mark Boyle or someone could have grabbed Ron Artest before he could get anywhere, even if it doesn't fit with journalistic neutrality (or whatever). Turns out he did, I see.

Please send a hearty get well and nice try from me. As a fan I really do appreciate the attempt. I'm sure I would have fared about as well. (Seth from Indianapolis)

Answer: Allow me to do my Jim Mora impression: "Time off? Time off!!!!? Are you kidding me?"

Anyway, I'll make sure Mark Boyle knows of your regards, although I'm sure he's a dedicated reader of Ask the Experts. And while he does a good job of providing an objective broadcast, he is an employee of the team so he was acting in the best interests of the franchise in that split-second.

Question: Finally!! I didn't hear it from the ESPN-NBA talking heads. Not from the so-called experts on Sport Reporters -- not from anybody on the Star. Finally on TNT Kenny Smith voiced what has been so obvious, so apparent. The Stern verdict which came down so hard on the NBA players did nothing to address the drunken low-lifes in the Detroit crowd or their actions.

Smith talked about a conversation that took place with his young daughter. When told what the punishment was for the players, she asked what was to happen with the offending fans. When told nothing as yet, she asked "well what makes them think they can't do it again?" Out of the mouths of babes.

David Stern, in his frenetic effort to cover the a-- of his beloved NBA may have given carte blanche to any idiot who wants to feel macho without fear of retribution. Your thoughts? (Dave from Decatur, Ind.)

Answer: I agree. Perhaps he'll come up with some form of punishment later, but you would think he would have done it by now if he planned to do so. His decision empowered fans, in a negative way. I know a lot of people believe Stern should be reminded that he's the commissioner of the NBA, which means he should look out for the best interests of everyone involved.

I also believe the long-range ramifications of the incident will relate to fan behavior. If so, that would be a good thing. Every crowd of 18,000 has its share of fools, but Detroit fans have long been regarded as among the very worst in the NBA. If this somehow improves the environment at the Pistons games, nobody would mind.

Question: I see where people expect Ron Artest to practice with the team and help them improve during this time, but why would he do that? He is not getting paid to be there at this point and will not be able to play again until next season.

Can the Pacers require him to be there even though he is not getting paid to be there? If I were him I would be busy defending myself in lawsuits and suing the Pistons, John Green and Ben Wallace to recoup some of the lost money. Then, if the suspension is not reduced, I would join the And-1 Tour or something. (Personally I would love to see artest playing defensive end for the Colts. He would be a beast on the football field!) (Phil from Indianapolis)

Answer: Artest remains an employee of the Pacers, so they can require him to practice. Although he's not receiving his salary, the Pacers are paying it -- for 10 games at least. And he's under contract following this season as well.

I'm sure he'll get time off here and there to defend himself, and he'll have more freedom when the team is on the road. But he still has an obligation to work on his game and try to help his teammates get better in practice.

He does look like he could be a great football player, doesn't he? He's told me he never played the game, however. I don't believe his high school had a team. He's a unique athlete for a basketball player, and it appears he could cross over into some other sports as well.

Question: Was it just me or did the Pacers (against Boston) execute the offense better than they did before the brawl? Were new plays added? The defense was also solid with good rotation and awareness.

I find it hard to believe the offense and defense was revamped so quickly. Do these players just listen and absorb better? Nothing intended against the players suspended, but maybe they are permitted to freelance more due to the fact that Jermaine O'Neal and Ron Artest are an offense and defense unto themselves? (Travis from Columbus, Ind.)

Answer: The offense has been adjusted for each game since the suspensions. Their last game as I write this was the one at Seattle on Sunday, and they put in new plays for that game, too.

The coaching staff has simply adjusted its offense to fit the personnel. O'Neal and Artest are effective post-up threats, so it only made sense to get the ball to them close to the basket. That tends to bog down the offense, however. That's why the new version, with the floor spread and players looking to penetrate and kick out passes, is more pleasing to the eye.

This group also has to help one another more on defense, which creates more movement. Artest never needed anyone's help on defense, and O'Neal is a great weakside shot-blocker, so it was important to keep him close to the basket when possible.

This group is undersized and has to double-team scoring threats when possible, and rotate to help out. It's not drastically different than what the previous group did, however.

Question: According to Bob Kravitz, the man who was pummeling Fred Jones in the stands was one of Ben Wallace's brothers. Has anything come from this? Has he or will he be charged criminally and will the NBA take actions against him? Or will the NBA just pretend that nothing happened in a attempt to kiss Ben Wallace's butt? (Adam from Reston, Va.)

Answer: That man was widely reported to be Wallace's brother, as he's well-known to people in Detroit. I have heard of no charges against him, however. The NBA hasn't punished any of the fans individually, and it's too early to know how the legal process plays out. I don't think it's out of the question that the Pacers would seek some form of legal recourse if the appeals are denied, but that's just my guess.

Answers Posted November 24, 2004

Question: Is there any speculation who the Pacers might sign to fill out the roster? (Joe from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.)

Answer: I have a report on that issue in Wednesday's issue of the Star. I've heard no quality speculation because it appears Desmon Farmer and Randy Holcomb, who impressed in training camp, have contractual obligations. There doesn't seem to be interest in veteran Michael Curry, either. So they'll find somebody in one of the minor leagues, probably. Rick Carlisle indicated they would probably only sign one player, or two at the most.

Question: We all know what Ron Artest is capable of, but attacking a fan crosses the line in sports. Is this the straw that broke the camel's back? Do you think that as long as Donnie Walsh can buy out his contract or void it, Artest will be cut this off-season if he is not traded? (Adam from Reston, Va.)

Answer: I asked Larry Bird about Artest's future on Monday and he said the team is backing Artest 100 percent. He did leave the door open a bit, saying it's impossible to predict what will happen down the road, but he made it a point to offer great praise for Artest's talent. Donnie Walsh, meanwhile, called Artest a "very good kid" and stated he has been perceived unfairly in some instances.

The Pacers believe the penalty against Artest is excessive, and would not release him or trade him based on that. They'll let the appeal process play out, and make a decision on his future after the season. Artest's trade value obviously is greatly hindered by this latest incident, whether the ruling is fair or not.

The Pacers won't do anything rash and give away a great asset. I suspect they believe they have a much better chance to win a title with him than without him, although obviously for now they are without him. It would do them no good to lessen the team's talent with a "bad" trade.

It's certainly possible they'll decide at some point the distractions are no longer worth what he offers as a player. But what he offers is so unique. The first quarter of the game in Detroit was an example, when he outscored Tayshaun Prince 17-0.

Question: In reading the transcript of David Stern's press conference, he stated Ron Artest would be suspended for, "the remainder of the season". This seems to leave the door slightly ajar for Ron to come back for the playoffs. Was this Stern's intention, or does he just assume we won't make the post-season. What is your take? (Rob from Indianapolis)

Answer: wrote in the story for Monday that the suspension included the playoffs. I didn't go back to check on whether it got into the story, but that's the answer.

Question: Could the Pacers activate Reggie Miller and Anthony Johnson one game and five games early, before they are completely ready to come off the injured list, in order to serve their suspensions? (Tim from Indianapolis)

Answer: Yes, they could, and I believe they will. Johnson was activated before the game against Boston. Carlisle said he was ready, but it's difficult to say. He had said earlier he probably would come back later in the week. But it only made sense to let him burn a few of his suspended games and get them out of the way while he finishes healing.

I have to believe they'll activate Reggie Miller a game before they think he's ready, too, although that would be difficult to gauge if they're facing a busy schedule. He's obviously eager to get back.

Question: I can understand the penalties for Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O'Neal, even though I may not agree with them. What I don't understand is the five-game penalty for Anthony Johnson. Everything I saw of the brawl, he was only trying to be a peacemaker. Did something happen that I'm not aware of? (Shawn from Indianapolis)

Answer: Johnson clearly threw a punch at a fan who came onto the court. He wasn't as easily noticed because he was in street clothes. A nice brown suit, I believe. Some people thought he was a security guard. He threw the punch with his broken right hand, but apparently didn't reinjure it.

Question: After David Stern's stunning abuse of power concerning Artest, O'Neal, and Jackson, how does the appeal process work in its entirety? (Brian from Fountain City, Ind.)

Answer: We have written about this at length, but in case anyone missed it appeals also are heard by Stern. Interesting, huh? The Players Association wants an arbitrator to hear this appeal and I think it would be wise for Stern to agree to deflect criticism of him. But it appears Stern's ruling is unlikely to be changed because the bylaws of the Collective Bargaining Agreement clearly state that he has sole authority on suspensions.

This will become a major issue in the next round of negotiations for the CBA. The union will want to limit Stern's power and have a third party or a committee rule on suspensions, or at least have someone else hear appeals. We live in a democratic society, so it only seems to make sense that this be done. Even President Bush doesn't have as much control over a person's life as Stern does in this instance.

Question: Since O'Neal and Jackson had to miss the Orlando game, why does that game not count toward the suspension? Therefore, instead of missing 25 and 30 games now it is 26 and 31. (Kevin from Indianapolis)

Answer: I've heard conflicting information on this. I asked again before the game with Boston and was told again that it did include the Orlando game. If it turns out differently we'll report on it. Detroit's game on Sunday counted against its suspensions, though, so it only seems reasonable that the same would be true for the Pacers.

Question: I know this would never happen, but if some team came to the Pacers to express interest in Ron Artest can the Pacers trade his rights while he's suspended? (Andy from Phoenix)

Answer: It's my understanding that they can. But you're right, it probably would never happen. Nobody would offer anything approaching equal value during a suspension.

Question: I imagine you've been keeping yourself pretty busy with all the shenanigans going on right now. Where were you when the fights broke out? Did you get injured at all like Mark Boyle did? How is Boyle doing? Also, do you think the suspensions will stand or will they be reduced in arbitration? (Andy from Phoenix)

Answer: Busy doesn't begin to describe it. It's been unbelievable, with the workload and all the requests for interviews from radio and television stations. I feel obligated to do them because it seems hypocritical to say no when I spend so much of my time seeking the cooperation of other people. But I've certainly said no plenty of times over the last few days.

I was in the media row behind the scorer's table, and sitting about 15 feet from Artest when he was laying on the scorer's table. I had a bad feeling while watching that unfold, and kept thinking he needed to get off that table. It seemed inevitable something bad was going to happen.

When he jumped off that table to go after the fan, both his career and mine flashed before my eyes. I knew it was going to be ugly, given his history and reputation. The rest was just stunning. I never felt in danger. I was pinned in at my seat and unable to move, and wouldn't have known where to go anyway. My laptop got rained on a little, but suffered no damage. Nothing like Shawn Bradley caused last season.

Mark Boyle suffered a cut over his eye, and still has a sore back as a result of trying to grab Artest as he jumped over the table. He had it examined, and there's no serious damage, but he was still feeling pain during the game against Boston on Tuesday. He said Artest saw the cut over his eye in the locker room after the game and asked him what had happened. Boyle told him, and Artest apologized.

My first reaction was that the suspensions would be reduced because they seemed wildly excessive in the opinion of most people. But after learning more about the process and the absolute power given to Stern, I'm less certain. Most people believe O'Neal has a chance to have his reduced. A lot of people believe Artest's should be reduced as well. But it's going to be difficult for the union to pull off.

Question: With three Pacers facing lengthy suspensions without pay, I was wondering what happens to the money they lost. Does the Pacers' organization get to retain it or does the NBA seize it? If the NBA pockets it, what will become of the money? (Sean from Indianapolis)

Answer: The Pacers still pay it, but it goes to the NBA. Traditionally money such as this goes to a charity designated by the NBA, but Donnie Walsh made the point that this incident is so unprecedented that he's not sure what will happen. If so, some charity or charities are in for a windfall.

Question: I'm wondering why the NBA didn't place sanctions on the Pistons fans and organization. Why not force the Pistons to play 15 of their home games on a neutral court (i.e. outside of Michigan)? This would address fairness questions and penalize the fans and Pistons organization for their behavior, by giving them a penalty roughly equal to what was assessed to Jackson and O'Neal.

This kind of penalty has precedent in international sports, e.g. overseas professional soccer (where it turns out the financial costs of this sort of thing are potentially worse for them than it would be for the Pistons). It seems that the NBA has forgotten one of the main offenders in this case.

Keep up the good work. (Jonathan from Indianapolis)

Answer: I've heard from a lot of people who wonder the same thing, and agree with you. The Pistons organization seemed guilty of a major security breach, one that endangered a lot of people. I expected it would get hit with a severe fine, and perhaps it will, but so far it has gotten off surprisingly easy. Stern's ruling was empowering for fans, who apparently can provoke players into action and have them suspended for great lengths of time.

I don't know if playing games at a neutral site would work. There are too many logistical issues and the financial loss would be huge. Perhaps the commissioner could have taken a few wins away from the Pistons (without giving the opponent in those games victories), but Detroit is likely to win the East by a wide margin now, so it probably wouldn't matter.

A heavy fine seems the best option. Even if that doesn't happen, however, the Pistons could lose a lot of money in lawsuits from fans. I wouldn't be surprised if the Pacers or some of their players filed some of their own.

Question: Under the current NBA bargaining agreement and FIBA rules, would Ron Artest be allowed to play for a club team in Europe this season if both parties were interested? (Jason from The Woodland, Texas)

Answer: I haven't heard a definitive answer to this one. But I doubt it. And I don't think the Pacers would want him to do so. They're paying out his salary to the NBA, and will want him in their practices and under the guidance of their coaches and medical staff. If he went to a team overseas he probably would be at greater risk of injury.

He also can be an asset to the Pacers in practice even if he doesn't play again this year. Who better to defend Fred Jones or James Jones to prepare them for an opponent? It's also best for him to stay in Indianapolis near his family.