Is Artest’s Absence the Problem?

by Conrad Brunner

February 4, 2005

Friday, February 4, 2005
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Conrad Brunner

Q. Everyone who's talked about the Pacers' current woes has failed to delve into what's on my mind: are the Pacers simply not a good basketball team without (Ron) Artest? I think their record with and without Artest over the past couple of years suggests that that is the case. He brings fire and intensity to the team, extraordinary defense and, recently, a menacing, multi-faceted offensive game. Can the Pacers really win when the main difference between this season and last is that they've gained Stephen Jackson and lost Al Harrington and Ron Artest? (From Nic in Rockville, MD)

A. That question is being raised more and more these days as the Pacers continue to struggle even with rest of the team largely intact. But the overriding belief around these parts is that, while it would be foolish to presume the team would not be hurt by the loss of an All-Star forward and reigning Defensive Player of the Year, there is enough talent on hand for the team to compete at a high level in the Eastern Conference.

The players could use Artest's absence as motivation to raise their games to a higher level, not to try and diminish his importance but rather to defy those who believe the season was essentially wrecked by the NBA suspensions. The team has quite a bit to prove and normally, when that is the case, the Pacers have responded quite well. Though everyone is tired of hearing and reading about the circumstances that have conspired against the team, they have presented very real obstacles. Thus, the team is taking longer to bounce back than some anticipated.

It was hoped the return of Stephen Jackson would immediately provide a missing spark but he has been bothered by a lack of timing and rhythm and his game has suffered as a result. Once he gets his legs beneath him and begins playing as he is capable, Jackson could indeed bring a lot of the intensity and passion the team needs.

Since the day the suspensions were announced, the Pacers have consistently said they could win at a high level even without Artest, and there are plenty of reasons to believe it possible. It's up to the team to put forth the proof.