I gotta share some thoughts on Ron Artest. A quick recap for those who missed last week’s antics:
Ron sat out the Minnesota and Clipper games because of a “situation that challenged the integrity of the team” according to Coach Rick Carlisle.
Said situation was later identified as Ron asking for up to a month off due to fatigue from production and promotion activities for two CD releases he’s involved with.
In two interviews, Ron alternately denied and confirmed this was the reason he asked for time off. He reaffirmed his loyalty to his teammates and the Pacers’ organization, but also said he contemplated retiring before the season started, and stated he may do exactly that if the Pacers win the NBA title this year. In an ESPN interview, while holding up the two CDs he’s been working on, he said three times that he was not crazy.
First off, before I address the rest of the situation, can we all agree if you insist on three different occasions in an interview that you’re not crazy, that you in fact probably are a little nutty? That’s nothing to be ashamed of; there have been plenty of certifiably insane professional athletes. I just think if Ron would accept the fact he’s crazy, his life might become less volatile.
The most important aspect to all of this is that the Pacers can no longer trust Ron Artest. In sports, arguably the biggest knock against someone’s reputation is if they take too long to come back from an injury, don’t play through minor injuries, or fake an injury. While roughly half the Pacers’ roster is struggling with ailments from serious to minor, Ron attempted to abandon them so he could more or less catch up on his sleep. In a year that, for the first time since the early 90s, the NBA East has multiple teams that could challenge for the championship, Ron put off-the-court interests over the team’s interests. Taking three weeks off could cost the Pacers valuable standings spots to the Pistons and Heat. Keep in mind, we’re not talking about a serious physical illness to Ron or someone in his family. We’re talking about someone who overextended himself off the court and rather than curtain those activities, wants to give his team the shaft while he wraps up those activities and recovers from them. Think of all the flack Shaq and Kobe have taken in recent years for spending their summers shooting movies or recording albums instead of working on free throws or learning how to play nicely with others. That was undeserved, in my opinion, as they made sure they isolated those activities away from the Lakers’ schedule. Ron, on the other hand, had the temerity to violate the sanctity of the team for his individual pursuits. The Pacers should be used to distractions from Ron. This takes it to a whole new and destructive level, however.
I find Artest to be a fascinating guy. When he talks to the media, there’s no telling what he’ll say or whether you’ll be able to decipher it when he’s done. On the court, he’s one of the ten best players in the league because of his ability to score and lock people up defensively. However, he looks more like a linebacker rumbling up and down the court than a traditional small forward. When he dribbles, the ball appears to have an equal chance of hitting his hand or flying into the third row of seats. When he drives to the hoop, he gets the ball to the rim by sheer force rather than technique. His shot selection can be maddening. Honestly, there’s nothing aesthetically pleasing about his game. And most basketball fans know of his penchant for playing an excessively physical style of basketball. Alone, those flaws are worth tolerating for the benefits he brings to the team. However, every professional athlete has a limit of how much they can screw up off the court before they become a distraction to the team’s goals. Ron hasn’t had an drug or alcohol offenses, hasn’t had any domestic abuse charges, or any of the other traditional pitfalls that curtail athlete’s careers. But he has made himself a distraction of the highest order.
Many in Indy are calling for the Pacers to trade Ron now, no matter what they can get in return. The Pacers did circulate his name over the summer, but never received any serious offers. His relatively cheap contract makes things problematic (Roughly $6M/year). They couldn’t trade him for someone like Vince Carter without throwing in several other players to off-set the washed up Raptor’s contract. I’d love to see Artest and Jamaal Tinsley shipped to the Nets for Jason Kidd, but again contractual disparity will keep that from happening. There have been persistent rumors that the Kings would like to swap Peja Stojakovic for Artest, which would work contractually. I think both teams are afraid that trade will come back to haunt them, though.
So what will happen? I think it’s up to Jermaine O’Neal. It’s no secret he’s thoroughly disgusted with Artest’s antics. He was dragging his bum foot up and down the court while Ron was sitting on his ass because he understands how important every game is and how to honor the sacrifice and commitment of his teammates. JO took great pains to say as little possible about Artest last week. I don’t think a conversation has taken place, but I believe both he and Larry Bird accept that Artest has one more opportunity to screw up. If/when that happens, JO will walk into Bird’s office and say, “Make the trade.” Jermaine is the team leader and understands that he has the power and obligation to save the team before it’s too late. I think he’s finally mature enough to know when to have that talk with Larry. If it’s not for Peja, I can see the Pacers either including Jonathan Bender in the trade to get a name player, or just go for a crafty veteran and draft picks. And I believe they’ll make the trade with a Western Conference team. They can’t afford to have Ron fired up to play them 4-6 times a year or at any point in the playoffs before the NBA Finals. Then Ron can go destroy some other team until they tire of his antics.