The Top Five Destinations for Ron Artest
Thursday, December 15, 2005; 2:51 PM
The Pacers spent all of last season patting all-star Ron Artest on the back after he embarrassed the franchise -- and the entire league -- with his mad dash into the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills and subsequent 73-game suspension. Artest has since pulled a switcheroo, grabbing the Pacers' consoling arm, twisting it and demanding that it scream "Uncle!" Artest asked to be traded over the weekend and the Pacers have elected to comply, deactivating the former Defensive Player of Year for three games and making available one of the best values in all of sports -- a top 15 talent earning a salary that's slightly more than the league average. Few teams appear concerned about the excess baggage that comes with NBA's version of Terrell Owens -- more than half of the league's other 29 teams have contacted the Pacers to express interest in Artest. The Pacers are expected to make deal by Monday, but here are a few suggestions:
1. Los Angeles
The Lakers reportedly have been interested in Artest ever since Phil Jackson took over. Jackson is probably one of just five coaches in the league -- Larry Brown, Pat Riley, Gregg Popovich and Jerry Sloan are the others -- with enough "court credibility" to handle the volatile forward. Jackson once refereed Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant and coached Dennis Rodman, an eccentric character whom Artest honored by wearing the No. 91 last season . . . when he went charging into the stands to clobber an unsuspecting fan. But, really, what do the Lakers have to offer? They likely wouldn't want to part with Lamar Odom, who is friends with Artest, being from New York. The Lakers would probably like to get rid of Devean George or Slava Medvedenko, but why would the Pacers jump at that? The Pacers were among the teams interested in Kwame Brown last summer, but those discussions included Jeff Foster, James Jones and Fred Jones -- not one of the top players in the league. And based on his play thus far, Brown wouldn't be able to yield much of anything in trade right now.
But remember, there is another team in Los Angeles that has the pieces to make an attractive offer to the Pacers. What would the Pacers like? A solidly-built small forward who can score at will? How about Corey Maggette (whose $7 million salary matches up almost perfectly with Artest's)? The Clippers are beginning to turn around after being a league-wide punch line for the past quarter-century and Artest could help take this team from feel-good upstart to legitimate contender. Coach Mike Dunleavy struggled to get a handle on Rasheed Wallace in Portland, but the Clippers have veterans who can at least try to keep Artest in line, with Sam Cassell, Cuttino Mobley and Elton Brand, who spent one season with Artest and is aware of his wacky ways. The Clippers appear to be the best fit because they could use a solid perimeter defender and Artest would love the offseasons in sunny California. Artest is a ready-made Hollywood superstar. Can't you just see him in action movies as a crazed vigilante out for justice? It would make for excellent cinema. Just delightful.
2. New York
The native of Queens, N.Y., and former St. John's standout has listed the Knicks as his desired destination. This would be a perfect fit for rowdy Ron-Ron. He can take his show to game's grandest stage, Madison Square Garden, spend his down time producing and promoting more double-lead albums for the R&B group Allure. Knicks president Isiah Thomas has been coy about his interest in Artest, whom he coached for three seasons in Indiana and developed a close relationship with. Thomas has been monitoring the situation, in the same fashion in which he studied Larry Brown's saga in Detroit before swooping in, and has at least two players who could help fill the offensive void left by Artest in either Quentin Richardson or Jamal Crawford. Richardson and Crawford have comparable salaries to Artest and both have struggled mightily playing for Brown. Brown recently lamented that he didn't have a prototypical small forward, especially a defensive-minded swingman -- and became so desperate that he started Matt Barnes for five games this season (Barnes has since been released and signed with Philadelphia). Brown managed another unstable character in Rasheed Wallace with the Pistons -- although Wallace doesn't come close to approaching Artest in terms of zaniness -- and would likely embrace the challenge of taming Artest. Stealing Artest from Indiana might seem like a bit of payback for Thomas, who still believes that he was wrongfully fired and replaced by Rick Carlisle two years ago. But given Artest's troubled past, the Pacers would probably be sticking it to Thomas again.
No trade rumor has had a longer life-span than Ron Artest for Peja Stojakovic. Pacers President Larry Bird once called Stojakovic "the best shooter in the game" and Stojakovic could provide Indiana with the outside shooting they knew they'd be missing when Reggie Miller retired. Stojakovic will be a free agent at the end of the season and has been playing like he already has a foot out the door. The Bulls have long coveted Stojakovic and may be able to offer more pieces that the Kings may like -- but the Kings certainly need a defensive-minded player in the mold of Artest. Pacers all-star Jermaine O'Neal told reporters in Boston on Wednesday that he lobbied for the Pacers to acquire Bonzi Wells, a native of Muncie, Ind., who played with O'Neal for two seasons in Portland. Kings president of basketball operations Geoff Petrie has dismissed rumors that Sacramento is looking to trade Stojakovic, but the Kings need a shock to their hackneyed team. Artest is the ultimate cure for boredom.
The Hawks have never had a wining season or made it to the playoffs since they acquired Isiah "J.R." Rider -- who has a textbook, forget a rap sheet of offenses -- from Portland in 1999. Rider is long gone, but the franchise has never recovered from the deal, which was a disaster from the start. Maybe the Hawks can reverse their fortunes by bringing in another player with excess baggage -- but one who can actually play. The Hawks have a player who could replace Artest and keep the Pacers among the Eastern Conference elite: Al Harrington. O'Neal has also pushed for the Pacers to bring back his friend and former teammate. Harrington, ironically, asked to be traded from Indiana in the summer of 2004 because he grew tired of backing up Artest. The Pacers are more likely to send Artest to a Western Conference team rather than risk paying the price later, specifically in the postseason. So they might actually love to deal Artest to a team with absolutely no chance of competing in the East, West, worldwide. They already punished Harrington, who is piling up big numbers and losses. Artest was frustrated being the second option on one of the best teams in the league. He certainly won't be happy in Atlanta, but at least he'll be entertaining. The Hawks probably wouldn't want Artest around to be an influence on their young, impressionable roster. So what? This is a business. In a city whose fans don't realize they have an NBA team until the Lakers or Allen Iverson comes to town, a combustible figure like Artest could be a great marketing tool. How about this campaign? "Come see the Mad Man Artest! Throw a cup, you might be next!" That ought to result in a few sellouts.
Remember when Lennox Lewis beat down Mike Tyson so badly in Memphis that Tyson, crumpled into his chair and said he "might just fade into bolivian"? Of course, Tyson meant to say, "oblivion." But in the past three years "Bolivian" has morphed into the bizarre planet occupied only by the ear-biting, face-tattoo-wearing, squeaky-voiced bipolar boxer. There might be room there for Artest, who is slowly approaching the freak-show status of the ticking time-bomb Tyson. Artest tosses television monitors, collects technical fouls, asks for time off to work on an album, carves "Tru Warier" into his hair, and makes outlandish comments. He's a riot. Much like Tyson, Artest is usually mild-mannered, soft-spoken -- which makes him a likable, sympathetic, multi-layered figure to many -- but anything can provoke his internal rage. Artest doesn't have a Tyson-like criminal record, is often considered an accommodating and generous person, and his skills are by no means diminished. But has there ever been a more frightening scene at an American sporting event than the melee Artest triggered in Auburn Hills, Mich., last season? Pacers players came to Artest's defense, lost millions of dollars and had to do community service because of his inability to keep his cool. Bird, Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh and Rick Carlisle (the person Artest blames for forcing his trade demand) went to bat for Artest and put their reputations on the line for him. Now, Artest turns his back on them. In the eyes of the Pacers, Artest is better off in the land of nothingness.