Pacers Welcome Artest Back for Practice

by Conrad Brunner

January 24, 2005

There was no fanfare, no speeches, no need for re-introductions. It was all about the basketball when Ron Artest returned to practice Monday.

"It was just another day of practice," said Jeff Foster, "He's been a part of this team for two-and-a-half, three years now so it's just like he'd been injured for awhile and this was his first day back."

The NBA cleared Artest to resume practicing with the Pacers, and Monday was his first day back since the Nov. 19 incident in Detroit that led to his suspension for the rest of the regular season and playoffs. In the interim, he had been working out either on his own or in individual sessions with members of the coaching staff.

Artest wasn't available for comment, but his teammates and Coach Rick Carlisle spoke warmly of his return.

"Having a guy like Ron in practice helps raise the level of your practice in terms of intensity because he's one of the real warrior-type players we have in this league," said Carlisle. "He came back in here today and it was like he never left. He's been working awfully hard. He's been doing swimming, pilates, yoga and a lot of other stuff to keep himself in great shape. And he's been working out a lot with our coaching staff on his own. I'm very pleased he has the opportunity to come back and be with the team. This is an important day for him in that respect.

"My sense is that he was a little humbled by the chance to come back. It's a meaningful day. It's a meaningful opportunity for him, given what's transpired. And he did great. He didn't say anything; he just came out here and played, and played great."

Stephen Jackson, whose 30-game suspension expired with the Pacers' 95-93 loss to Washington Saturday night, said the ability to spend time on the court with teammates will be therapeutic for Artest.

"I was feeling down myself being out 30 games but this guy got the whole season, so I know it's good for him to be around for him and for us," Jackson said. "I think the best thing for him is what was the best thing for me: to be with the team.

"Obviously, sitting at home and watching the news and hearing all this B.S., he needs to be around the team where people care about him and people support him. Being around the team is the best thing for him, not sitting at home and dwelling on what happened."

Though Artest has only been cleared to practice and there has been no indication from the NBA that the terms of his suspension will be altered, even his limited presence could have a positive impact on the team. A physical, intense player, Artest will work with the second and third units during practice, giving the backups a major weapon with which to push the starters.

"He's still a part of this team," said Austin Croshere. "I don't think you can ever fully get over what happened in Detroit until everybody's back and everybody's practicing. Then you can kind of begin to move on. It's certainly a reminder of how talented he is, having him on the third team and seeing the things he does defensively and some of the things he does offensively.

"At times it's kind of frustrating, because it's a reminder of what we don't have, of how good of a piece we're missing. But it's a step toward putting the whole thing behind us."

Each step in that direction is a positive one for the Pacers.