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Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Ron Artest Saga

Yes, our long national nightmare is over--the Indiana Pacers have traded Ron Artest to the Sacramento Kings for Peja Stojakovic, enabling Artest to return to action after spending much of the season on the Pacers' inactive list. For a brief 24 hour period it seemed that Artest was intent on not merely scuttling the Pacers' season but also the Kings' season as well by attempting to derail the Stojakovic trade after it had already been announced on Tuesday; the Pacers and Kings each lost on Tuesday night and I wondered which NBA team would be the next to place its season in limbo by offering one of its top players for Artest only to have to welcome that player back into the fold after Artest decided he didn't like the deal. Remember the neuralyzer from Men in Black? Couldn't you just see Kings' Coach Rick Adelman starring in a sequel, whipping out a neuralyzer in the locker room and restoring team chemistry in a flash by making everyone forget the proposed trade? Sadly, that option was not available, so the Kings' players must have been thrilled to go out and face the 76ers on Tuesday with Peja sitting in a hotel room and Artest playing Hamlet, musing to himself, "To be or not to be?"

The whole Artest saga is surreal. This season's installment began after the Pacers' brass did not like Artest's public criticisms of Coach Rick Carlisle and "punished" Artest by deactivating him with pay; in other lines of work this is known as "paid vacation." How long will it be until disgruntled players on lottery bound teams decide that they too would like to be "punished" like Artest and take an early, paid vacation in Tahiti instead of enduring 20-point blowouts in half-empty arenas? This is not meant to suggest that this is part of some grand plan by Artest; he seems to act first and think later, if at all. According to a report on ESPN, he and his agent spoke with the Maloof brothers--the Kings' owners--in a restaurant and specifically asked them to make a deal for Artest. Wouldn't you have loved to see the looks on the Maloofs' faces when the ink was barely dry on the deal and Artest did his Lee Corso "Not so fast my friend" imitation? Talk about the ultimate "Candid Camera" moment (or "Punk'd" moment, depending on how old you are).

I get a kick out of listening to the various TV analysts trying to decipher which team came out ahead, the Pacers or the Kings. Those who favor the Kings preface their comments with phrases like "Assuming Artest stays out of trouble..." Is this really a reasonable assumption to make? If Artest would have stayed out of trouble we never would have gotten to this point in the first place and the Pacers would still be viable championship contenders. Eveyone knows that he is an All-Star caliber player but no one knows if he is mentally/psychologically stable enough to play top level basketball for an extended period without incident. More to the point is the observation that the Maloofs own a casino and like to take risks; for risk junkies/thrill seekers, bringing Artest into the fold is like hitting the jackpot--and it's not like the Maloofs are breaking up a juggernaut here.

Those who believe that the Pacers came out ahead say that if Peja's body does not completely break down then he can really help Indiana because he is a proven shooter. Thank you, Captain Obvious. The question about Peja that no one is talking about is how will he perform in clutch moments in the playoffs (if the Pacers are fortunate enough to reach such moments this season). Some of Peja's three pointers down the stretch in playoff games have been more off target than Vanderjagt's kick against the Steelers.

How do I think this deal will turn out? Unless someone can read Artest's psychiatric report, look at the MRI scans of Peja's balky back and peer into Peja's psyche to see if he is going to welcome pressure shots the way Reggie Miller used to, there is no way to know right now who is going to come out ahead. Really, that isn't even the point; this deal had to be done because both teams were running out of options. The Pacers could not just go through the whole season short a player--particularly one with Artest's skill level--and the Kings had to get something for Peja before he became a free agent and left them empty-handed. For two teams with such rapidly dwindling options, this deal is probably about as good as it gets. With any luck, it could turn out to be one of those cliched "trades that benefit both teams."

As for the comparison of Ron Artest and Terrell Owens, I don't get it. The last straw with Owens supposedly was that interview in which he agreed with a statement that the Eagles would have won more games with a healthy Brett Favre than an injured Donovan McNabb. It would have been more prudent if he had not said that, particularly in light of some of the previous tension between Owens and McNabb, but read those words on the printed page and try to consider their plain meaning. Isn't it logical to assume that the Eagles would have done better with a healthy Favre? I think they also would have done better with a healthy McNabb instead of an injured one. Michael Irvin offered the perfect analyis of the Eagles' (over) reaction when he said sometimes you lose your butt to save your face. Does anybody honestly believe that the team was really better off without Owens? Couldn't the Eagles have resolved the whole thing by fining Owens for the proverbial "conduct detrimental to the team" and putting the whole matter behind them? The real underlying issue of the whole TO situation is that the Eagles did not redo his contract to his liking after the man played on a broken ankle in the Super Bowl. I may be the only one who thinks this, but after Owens risked his whole career to get on the field and produce in that game I think that the Eagles should have reworked his deal and that if they had done so then their relationship with Owens would never have gotten this bad. Despite everything, until they kicked him off the team he was still making plays and he was ranked among the NFL's receiving leaders for several weeks after being deactivated. While Owens is getting blasted in every corner of the media, has anyone noticed that few Eagles' players publicly sided with McNabb?

In contrast, many Pacer players have been vocal about the damaging effect that Artest has had on the team. Despite the team's numerous efforts to support him, he clearly wore out his welcome. The only similarity with the Owens' situation is that both players were deactivated by their teams. I'd much rather have Owens than Artest because I know that Owens is going to be productive, even if his off field statements/actions are not to everyone's liking; Artest is so volatile that there is no way to know what he is going to do next and whether or not he is going to show up. Artest may think that he has the world by the you-know-what, but that is only going to last for as long as people believe that he is an All-Star caliber player. Just ask Latrell Sprewell, who felt that he couldn't feed his family on $7 million a year and has found out that once you are no longer a top level player teams will not cater to your whims and eccentricities.

posted by David Friedman @ 1:42 AM

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