by Conrad Brunner
Dec. 29, 2003
Updated at 6:25 p.m.
After missing the morning shootaround, an action that will cost him his spot in the starting lineup tonight, Ron Artest met with Pacers Coach Rick Carlisle, President Larry Bird and CEO Donnie Walsh on Monday afternoon in a session the player said put “things back in order.”
Artest accepted his benching for tonight’s game against Memphis without protest and re-affirmed his support for the team.
“There’s a couple of things they wanted to address (about) getting things back in order so we can start winning,” Artest said. “I’m going to support whatever decisions they make and get back to winning.”
Artest called the incident “a minor situation,” and added, “I’m going to do whatever it takes to win.”
Speaking to the media an hour before tipoff Monday night, Carlisle described the situation as "an isolated incident that's over with."
Carlisle also downplayed the idea of trading Artest.
I think Ron's here for the year," he said. "He's a valuable player who's essential to what we're doing. A lot of our system is built around what he can do at both ends of the floor. So I don't think he's going to be traded, but I'm not the final say on that."
After benching Artest for the second half of an 82-75 loss to New Jersey on Saturday night, Carlisle offered harsh criticism for his starting small forward’s recent performance and behavior, while also criticizing the team as a whole for its drop off in overall intensity, particularly on defense. On Sunday, Carlisle tried to reach Artest by phone and actually drove to his house hoping for a face-to-face talk, but the player was not home on any of the occasions.
Monday morning, Carlisle said Artest called just before the morning shootaround to say he had overslept and would soon come to the arena for the meeting. Neither Walsh nor Bird would comment on the meeting, which took place in Carlisle’s office in the locker room. Carlisle addressed it beforehand.
“Anything can be fixed, if you have the right parts,” Carlisle said. “Chuck Daly used to say, ‘You know what I like about this job? I like the crisis management.’ You’re going to hit some tough times and I don’t mind because getting through tough times is what makes a good team a better team. I don’t mind these types of challenges.
“The wrong types of distractions generally aren’t good. But they’re going to have to be overcome by any team at some point. I’d just as soon deal with it now as later.”
Carlisle also reinforced his stance on the need for the team as a whole to renew its commitment to defense. During the team’s 14-2 start, the defense allowed averages of 80 points and 41 percent shooting, In the 15 games since, the team has gone 7-8, allowed averages of 89 points and 45 percent shooting. The offensive numbers have been relatively unchanged (88 points and 43 percent shooting in the first 16 games, 88 points and 42 percent shooting in the last 15).
“I’m shocked we’ve won the number of games we have with that type of defensive performance,” Carlisle said. “The one thing I know is a strong, solid defense puts you in position to win. Offensively, I knew we'd be behind our defense but I also know we’ll figure those things out. The bottom line is, I think our team does understand who we have to be. We do need to get the ball up and down the court but we can’t do that unless we get stops and rebounds. It’s as simple as that.”
Artest, Jermaine O’Neal and Al Harrington – ironically, the team’s three top scorers – all have been quoted in various publications as being critical of the offense. But Harrington said that doesn’t necessarily reflect their true feelings.
“The reason we talk about the offense is (the media) asks us about the offense,” he said. “If you ask about the defense, we’ll have comments about the defense. It’s not that we’re blaming the offense for why we’re losing. We’ve always been a defensive team. I’ve never thought any team we’ve had in the six years I’ve been here thought we were going to just out-score people. We’ve always focused on defense and we always have tried to play defense as a unit.”
Harrington said the players took Carlisle’s criticism as “a challenge,” to the team.
“At the end of the day, we’re 21-10 and at the top of the East,” he said. “I don’t feel there’s any reason to panic. But we’ve got to respond.”