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Quaint idea my pal Professor Hollinger tossed out in a chat the other day, informing his audience that he would happily answer their questions so long as no one asked about Ron Artest.
Maybe it's different in the numbers game, but there's really no such thing as an Artest-free zone on the NBA map.
These days? Every conversation with every executive or coach or scout or agent starts the same. The only uncertainty lies with who asks the question first.
When's this Artest thing going to happen?
Exactly a month has elapsed since Artest decided to tell the local newspaper instead of his Pacer bosses that he wanted to be traded and still we don't know for sure. All I can share, as the calendar flips to Day 32 of the Artest Watch, is the latest info as of Tuesday evening.
In three parts:
A) How can the Pacers be so patient? You are hardly alone in your wonderment, but it really isn't a mystery.
Quite simply, there is no move Indy can make this season that will restore its contender status. This season is already ruined, folks, as far as the Pacers' aspirations to win an Eastern Conference that also houses Detroit, Miami and New Jersey. They're not the same team without Artest and can't acquire anyone who replicates what he did in his lucid moments.
The prudent course, then, is patience. Right up to the Feb. 23 trading deadline if necessary.
The Pacers aren't delusional enough to believe that waiting will eventually bring them equal value for Artest's talents. That's not going to happen under any circumstances, because of his wild side. The goal, though, should be (and is) to make a deal that works best for the reshaping of Indy's future.
That translates to an avoidance of long-term contracts, like Wally Szczerbiak's in Minnesota, and free agents who would be costly to re-sign, such as Denver's Nene and Atlanta's Al Harrington.
B) The frontrunners for actually landing Artest, according to NBA front-office sources, continue to be Golden State and the back-in-it L.A. Clippers.
Indy's Larry Bird has made it clear he prefers a one-to-one trade and the Warriors and Clips are the teams best stocked to complete such a deal . . . unless Memphis, as mentioned many times before, unexpectedly consents to part with Shane Battier.
However . . .
As stated in this cyberspace back in 2005 -- and as the Warriors have re-iterated to the Pacers more than once -- rookie power forward Ike Diogu is an untouchable. Troy Murphy remains a possibility, but both Golden State and Indy would have some reluctance to build a deal around the power forward because the Warriors still like him and because Murphy's five remaining years at $51 million is worrisome for the tax-fearing Pacers.
Which brings us to a package headlined by Mike Dunleavy and Mickael Pietrus.
Enough for the Pacers? You wouldn't think so, especially since Dunleavy has a new long-term deal of his own and doesn't fill the Pacers' on-court needs nearly as well as Murphy. Sources close to the situation, furthermore, suggest that Mullin -- a proven gambler (see Baron Davis) and known Artest fan (who shares St. John's as an alma mater) -- is equally intrigued by the idea of keeping his young core together now that Pietrus is finally healthy enough to rejoin this teetering club.
That must be why multiple suitors who've chased Artest from the start are suddenly calling L.A. "the team." Yet that would almost certainly require the inclusion of Corey Maggette, which the Clippers have steadfastly resisted.
Have they reconsidered?
There is a growing belief around the league that they have, with the Clips' 14-5 start a memory and Mike Dunleavy Sr. perfectly willing to coach the game's foremost problem child. Remember what Dunleavy said in our recent package on the Clippers, before Artest's trade demand was issued: "Give me talent, I'll figure out how to make 'em happy."
Of course, if Maggette were on the table, you'd think we'd be busy breaking down a trade instead of waiting breathlessly for something to dissect. Maggette's left foot, instead, is in a cast with a ligament problem that could keep him sidelined another month. An uncertain recovery timetable, with an injury originally believed to be minor, would figure to give the Pacers some pause even if Donald Sterling is ready to part with one of the only three Clippers he has ever guaranteed long-term millions.
C) Minnesota, Denver and the L.A. Lakers haven't lost interest in Artest but still share the same shortcoming. None of those clubs appears to have the pieces to tempt the Pacers without pulling in a third or fourth team, which Bird, as stated, hopes to avoid.
None of those teams have pulled out of the derby. Yet the Nuggets, for example, have begun to explore their non-Artest trade possibilities, much as they'd love to get a call back from the Pacers and encouragement to refresh their bid.
Not that there is much of an Artest-free world out there, apart from certain chat rooms. The theory that every other trade in this league is being held up by a Ron-Ron deal looks more scientific with each passing day.
• Talk back to ... Marc Stein | The Daily Dime gang
• Dimes Past: January 1 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6-8 | 9 | 10
Five questions with Pacers swingman Stephen Jackson:
Q: What are reasonable expectations for this team now without Ron Artest?
A: Obviously this kind of looks like what we're going to have for the rest of the year, but this is not the first time this team has been short-handed. We've just got to keep being professional about the situation and try to win games more as a team now. I'm not really putting pressure on myself. I'm just trying to stay within the team concept and do what coach asks me to do.
Q: You've probably been more publicly sympathetic to Artest than any other Pacer. How worried are you that there might be some backlash against you from fans -- or even people in the organization -- who are tired of Artest and want him gone?A: There might be [a backlash]. I think the same amount of people that are after him are after me. But I have no problem with it. That can't affect me physically. I really don't worry about what people say. I know a lot of people have labeled me as a thug or a bad guy, but I don't really care. My momma raised me and she knows me better than anyone. That's what's important to me -- what she thinks. Q: You've also been the one Pacer who originally seemed open to letting him come back. How could that work after everything that's happened? A: I think deep down inside, a lot of people around this organization feel like that. When you lose a guy like Ron Artest, one of the best players on both ends of the court in this league, I think a lot of people would want him back deep down. But I think a lot of people don't want to say it because he's stabbed so many people in the back.
Q: So you understand why Pacers management has taken the stance that it has to trade him now?A: Of course. A lot of people are upset, because a lot of teams won't give second chances [like the Pacers did with Artest]. A lot of teams won't do that. A lot of teams won't let a player be in a position like that where they're actually hurting the team, hurting the organization and giving the organization a bad name and then you turn your back and say something like that. Q: The first time you talked to Ron after he went public with his trade demand, what was the conversation like? A: I told him that if they allowed him back, I'd be happy to have him. Ron is my guy. We came up kind of the same way, so I can relate to him. I respect another man when he speaks his mind. And I'll never turn my back on anybody I play with. But I'm kind of hurt like everybody else because I almost lost my job for him last year, and I love my job. I would never asked to be traded. I love what I do.
Readers respond to the latest edition of the ESPN.com NBA Power Rankings:
Craig (Tempe): My Suns embarrass Miami (47 points in the first quarter!) and then beat the Spurs on the very next night. The only reason we're not on an eight-game win streak is the refs fouling out our entire roster at Madison Square Garden . . . and it still took the Knicks three OTs to close it out. The Nets, meanwhile, needed a Vince Carter prayer to beat powerhouse Toronto. Plus Phoenix has a better overall record -- without Amare, as we've been saying ad naseum. How do the Nets rank higher than the Suns?
Justin (Sydney, Australia): I don't think Carmelo can merit as much All-Star consideration as Gasol, Brand, etc. As you yourself said, team success is a factor in these decisions. But if the Clips keep sliding down the standings -- and the Power Rankings -- will Brand make it?
Mark (Idaho Falls): Now you're calling them "my" Raps? Just because Pape Sow is on their D-League team? Dude, you have some serious issues.
Matt C (Columbus, Ohio): How is it that the Cavs dropped a few spots? I just went and saw them play on Saturday night, without Hughes, and they ate up a solid Milwaukee team. As long as Lebron is healthy and they keep winning, I don't see how they aren't in the top 5 every week
Jack (San Francisco): Listen. The Nets are not better than the Suns. This is the last time I will look at your mindless rankings again.
(Ed's Note: That's what they all say, Jack. See you next Monday.)
Memphis swingman Mike Miller: With his first career triple-double, Miller sparked a Memphis comeback in a 99-85 triumph over Sacramento that improved Kings-ex Bobby Jackson's record as a starter to 4-1. More games like this (21 points, 10 boards, 10 assists) and Miller might stop getting questions about absorbing Kobe Bryant's elbow with his chin. (OK, maybe not.)
The plague of bad backs that sidelined Houston's Tracy McGrady, Denver's Kenyon Martin and New Jersey's Richard Jefferson on the same night. Houston's 111-106 loss in Charlotte in double-overtime marked the first game McGrady and Yao Ming (toe) did not start for the Rockets since T-Mac joined them the summer of 2004. Philadelphia's Chris Webber, the fourth big name to incur a back injury in recent days, is a maybe for Wednesday's game against Utah and is looking at a minutes cut from concerned coach Mo Cheeks when he does return to the lineup.
Quote of the Day
a) In the third season of a four-year deal, Jordan is the longest-tenured coach in the East. Crass as it sounds, and knee-jerk as it sounds given that Jordan is the only Wizards coach in more than two decades to have actually won a playoff series, he's due for some real pressure by the standards of job security on the bench in today's NBA. Sad but true. b) Gilbert Arenas has been ringing up spectacular numbers in his bid to join Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson and LeBron James as a 30-points-per-game guy. But I'm hearing too many scouts say that Arenas' domination of the ball stagnates what is designed to be a free-flowing offense -- a la New Jersey's, where Jordan made his rep -- and too many wondering whether Jordan can rein Arenas into a team structure. c) Owner Abe Pollin made it a public mandate before the season that he expects better defense from the Wiz. That's not easy with a size shortage up front and with Antonio Daniels struggling to replace perimeter defensive ace Larry Hughes, but Washington's defense has regressed to unfathomably low levels recently. January is a month Jordan himself targeted as a chance to look more like the team that started 5-1 -- and a team that beaten San Antonio and Detroit early -- compared to the group that has since gone 8-18. But this month is already getting away from the Wiz, judging by the 123 points they surrendered to the Yao-less Rockets and another 113 to New York. If Jordan's January doesn't get better, and soon, stay tuned. Sad but true.
2. Last week it was Jerome James jokes. As in: James was suspended by the Knicks for conduct detrimental to the team . . . signing his contract.
But I'm wondering when the Northworst Division jokes start.When details of the new divisional layout originally began to spread late in the 2003-04 season -- before Miami acquired Shaquille O'Neal, remember -- it was a reflex reaction to dismiss the new Southeast Division as the Southleast.
Now look. The only solace for Seattle in the wake of firing coach Bob Weiss after just 30 games is the reality that the No. 3 seed in the West isn't miles out of reach, as it should be, thanks to injury issues in Denver and Utah that have helped make the Northworst so weak.
Top-shelf perimeter defender, championship-worthy role player and proven 3-point threat -- Bowen answers to all of that. As a bonus, he also has the Cal State Fullerton Olympic mojo factor working in his favor.
Please don't tell me you've already forgotten how Titan great Leon Wood (now an NBA ref, of course) beat out John Stockton for a spot on Bobby Knight's famed 1984 team and wound up leading Michael Jordan and Co. in assists.
Hunter (Southfield, Mich.): I understand the loyalty to Rick Adelman, but the Maloofs aren't doing the guy any favors by letting him play out his lame-duck year. If they really wanted to cut the guy a break, shouldn't they just fire him so he can get a nice vacation while still collecting a salary? It seems like that entire franchise needs to move on and that's not really going to happen as long as the Adelman regime is still in effect.Marc Stein: Look. If the Kings make a habit of no-showing as seen Sunday night vs. Indy, they'll have to make a change. You can't give a zero effort, ESPECIALLY in a town like Sacto where the diehards keep coming out no matter how much the Kings are struggling.
But an ongoing lack of effort would be the only reason to make a change now. Sacto is too banged-up -- and too thin and mismatched even when healthy -- for a coaching change to make a real short-term difference.
Highest Rise: Toronto Raptors
I think we (me) got swept up in the moment. As soon as I made the decision early Sunday that the Raps deserved an eight-spot bump into the top 20, given how respectable they've been since that 1-15 nightmare start in November, they lost at home on the Vince Carter buzzer-beater to the Nets (who got only two minutes out of Richard Jefferson) and went to struggling Chicago and got routed.
Steepest Fall: Orlando Magic
The Magic, as they say in the Premiership about clubs that bounce up and down via promotion or relegation, have become a yo-yo team. In the past three weeks, Orlando has dropped six spots twice . . . dips sandwiched around a 10-spot jump. But dramatic shifts are bound to happen at the lower end of the rankings when you lose five in a row, win two, lose four straight, win three and then lose the next three.