Trade rumors followed Mike Bibby for more than a year before the Sacramento Kings dealt him Saturday. Ron Artest endured just as much speculation, but with the trade deadline finally behind him, he's ready to continue his career with Sacramento.
Artest and the Kings go for their third straight win as they visit the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday.
Many Sacramento players were involved in trade rumors for months because of the team's collection of veterans and its failure to emerge as a legitimate playoff contender in the loaded Western Conference.
More than a year after a deadline deal that would have sent Bibby to Cleveland fell through, the team traded the 29-year-old point guard to Atlanta on Saturday for four players in a move that made the Kings (25-28) younger and gave them salary cap relief.
Perhaps more important, however, is the deal the team didn't make. Despite strong interest from Denver, Artest remained with the Kings as Thursday afternoon's trade deadline passed, ending months of speculation about the controversial forward who wavered on whether or not he wanted to stay with Sacramento.
After the Kings' 119-107 win over Bibby's Hawks on Wednesday night, Artest sounded committed to his current club.
"The main thing is that we won," said Artest, who can opt out of his contract after this season. "That is the only thing that is important. We are not worrying too much individually but more as playing as a team."
Artest has scored at least 20 points in nine of his last 10 games, and is averaging 27.7 and shooting 61.2 percent (30-for-49) from the field in his last three. He had 29 points, seven rebounds and three steals Wednesday.
"He is a great player, one of probably four or five two-way players in this league that affect a game at both ends of the court," said Kings coach Reggie Theus, whose club has won both of its games since trading Bibby during All-Star weekend. "He's playing smart, he's playing aggressive."
Beno Udrih, Sacramento's new starting point guard, had 18 points and 10 assists Wednesday. He's averaging 14.0 points and 5.0 assists in 33 starts this season - most of which came while Bibby was sidelined with a thumb injury for the first 2 1/2 months of the season.
"We have great confidence that Beno can handle the job, that's why we keep going to him," Theus said. "He's making good decisions and I think his defense has been just as good, too."
That's bad news for a Charlotte team coming off the second-worst shooting performance in the four-season history of the franchise. The Bobcats (19-35) shot 28.6 percent in their 85-65 loss at San Antonio on Tuesday night, and got just 13 field goals on 49 attempts (26.5 percent) from their starters.
Their only worse performance was Dec. 8, 2006, when they shot 28.4 percent in a 92-62 loss to Houston.
"We have to look at this as, 'It's the first game after the All-Star break,'" said point guard Raymond Felton, who led Charlotte with 19 points. "We might have looked a little sluggish. Just chalk this one up and try to finish up the next 28 (games)."
Charlotte's Gerald Wallace, who was 0-for-9 Tuesday, led the Bobcats with 25 points in a 105-91 loss at Sacramento on Jan. 30. The former Kings forward is averaging 18.3 points and 3.8 steals in six career games against the team that drafted him 25th overall in 2001.
With that January victory, the Kings improved to 4-0 at home all-time against the Bobcats, but they're 0-3 against them in Charlotte.
Artest had 21 points in these teams' first meeting, while Sacramento center Brad Miller added 22 points and 21 rebounds.
Copyright 2007 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited