by Conrad Brunner
December 12, 2005
The Pacers are moving on. So, it appears, is Ron Artest.
In response to Artest's very public demand to be traded, franchise CEO and President Donnie Walsh met with the unhappy star, who repeated his request privately. As a result, Walsh said today he and team President Larry Bird will work to make a deal that would result in Artest's relocation.
"I do think it is a time to kind of break apart and see if he can get a new start somewhere else," Walsh said. "I think that it is important for us to put our past behind us and stop these distractions so that what I think is a fine basketball team can go on. What kind of trade is this going to be if there is going to be a trade? All that has got to be answered and we'll get about doing that as soon as possible."
In the interim, Artest will not practice or play with the Pacers. He has missed the last two games with a sore right wrist and Walsh said he will remain on the inactive list through this week. Though Artest has not been suspended, he has been told not to attend practice.
Walsh made it clear he would've preferred Artest express his desire privately, rather than conducting a weekend media blitz, granting one-on-one interviews to The Indianapolis Star and WXIN television. But after meeting with Artest, he said he had a much better understanding of the player's motivation.
"He's a young guy under a lot of pressure," Walsh said. "I don't feel betrayed at all. I really don't. I don't want anyone to think that because I don't feel that way. I've had situations from players that either leave mad or they are mad at you and I have never taken it personally from them because I understand.
"They have a finite career. There is a lot of money at stake. What they perceive is best for them you may take as, 'Oh, wow, look what I did for that guy.' Well, the guy did something for you, too. He won a lot of games here. The one thing that I would say about Ronnie is that for those people who say NBA players don't play hard, then they should pay money to come out to see Ronnie play because he plays hard all the time and I appreciated that."
Replacing a player who earned All-Star status and the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year award in 2003-04 will be a challenge made even more difficult by Artest's public trade demand. Making a one-for-one trade may not be possible because Artest's salary (a reported $6.5 million) is relatively modest; players of his caliber generally earn much more. But there already are numerous reports of interest from other teams, so the Pacers will have options. Bird is on a scouting trip in Spain and could not be reached for comment but is communicating with other teams testing the trade waters, Walsh said.
"Whatever we think is a good fit for our team is a good fit for our team," Walsh said. "I don't think I'm going to take the All-Star team from last year and say we have to get one of those guys."
The Pacers won their last two games in Artest's absence, improving their overall record to 12-7, second-best in the Eastern Conference. From those victories over Washington and Memphis, they've drawn confidence that they are in the process of developing the necessary chemistry to succeed, even without a player of Artest's obvious talents.
"The best way I can say it is we've played well, we've moved the ball and played great defense the last two games so we are showing signs that we are getting the chemistry," said Stephen Jackson. "We can't put the blame on Ron. We can't say because Ron's not here, everything's flowing better. All we can say is we're starting to figure each other out, we're starting to play well together and we're starting to play like the team we know we can be."
Jermaine O'Neal didn't even want to address questions about Artest's situation.
"It's about the Pacers," said Jermaine O'Neal. "It's about the players that suit up every single day. I'm tired of answering questions about Ron over and over and over again. … At some point, you just get tired of all the extras and you move on. I wish the best to Ron in his career and hopefully he's able to achieve whatever he's looking for.
"Our team is very good. Obviously, he helps our team win … but it hasn't just been about him. We have a good team. We have a talented team. And the business will go on. If he's traded, we will find somebody else who can help this team. That's all that matters."
In large part because of Artest's past, the Pacers are well-prepared to deal with not only this latest distraction, but the physical challenge of playing shorthanded until a trade is made.
"We've got to focus on the guys that are here and committed and go from there," said Coach Rick Carlisle. "It's pretty simple. We've got a group of guys that are capable and we've got to try to find ways to win. We've got to do our best find the right way to play and the right style and all those things.
"You're never going to be as good a team in terms of manpower without a guy like Ron Artest. But right now, the reality is we don't have him so we're going to go with the guys we have."