Wednesday, January 25, 2006 Updated: January 26, 9:35 AM ET
Maloofs making gamble of a lifetime
By Chris Sheridan ESPN Insider
"We're gamblers, so we're going to take a chance on him."
That was the explanation Joe and Gavin Maloof gave Wednesday night after pulling the trigger on the trade sending Peja Stojakovic to Indiana for Ron Artest.
And the more one listened to the Maloof brothers on the sidelines at Madison Square Garden prior to Sacramento's matchup with the Knicks, the more it became clear how little the Maloof brothers understood how big a risk they were taking. You know that adage of "bet with your head, not over it?" The pair came off like a commercial for all-in denial.
How long will the Maloof smiles last if the Artest Experiment fails?
Amid sentence after sentence of how they prefer to look at positives, not negatives, and see glasses as half-full rather than half-empty, the Maloofs put on rose-colored glasses to accentuate their burgundy-and-black casual clothing as they tried to assure their local writers -- and themselves, from the way they sounded at times -- that this deal made all the sense in the world.
Talks between the Pacers and Kings began to heat up over the weekend, and the Kings finally agreed to the deal late Wednesday afternoon after Indiana owner Herb Simon facilitated a 15-minute phone call between the Maloofs and Artest.
"He seems like a nice guy on the phone," said the younger Maloof brother, Gavin, after that one brief conversation became the final determining factor in the decision to bring aboard a personality who has the potential to cause more problems in the locker room (and the front office) than either Maloof could ever imagine.
Artest is scheduled to join Sacramento in Boston prior to the Kings' game Friday night against the Celtics, with the Maloofs planning a get-to-know-you, face-to-face with Ron-Ron prior to his first appearance in purple and black.
During the fateful phone call that came after the Pacers summoned Artest to Conseco Fieldhouse to explain why his agent was standing in the way of a deal, Gavin Maloof said Artest did not need much convincing that the Kings would be a happy home for him. Joe Maloof indicated that the statement put out late Tuesday night by Artest's agent -- a statement Gavin Maloof acknowledged blindsided him -- was misrepresentative of where Artest truly stood on the issue.
One source involved in the inner workings of the deal suggested that agent Mark Stevens was the person most opposed to the trade because it would preclude Artest from earning any of the endorsement money from companies embracing street cred that might have been available to him in a larger market.
The absurd notion of Artest somehow being a marketable commodity at this point in his career helps show the degree of delusion under which Artest's advisers sometimes operate, but Artest long ago replaced a much more established agent, Mark Bartelstein, with the less-experienced Stevens. Bartelstein continues to collect a percentage of Artest's salary, while Stevens won't be in position to earn a similar commission until Artest decides whether to opt out of his contract following the 2007-08 season.
"It wasn't combative, but it wasn't positive," Gavin Maloof said of the phone call from agent Mark Stevens that ended up causing a 24-hour delay in finalizing the deal.
"They weren't on the same page. We spoke to Ron and he was very positive. He told me he wants to play basketball, he wants to be here. That's all I know."
But in choosing to focus on what Artest was saying instead of what others were saying about Artest, the Maloofs were guilty of listening to the same bad advice that compels so many of their Las Vegas hotel/casino patrons to make that one last walk of shame to the cash machine to heed that pesky inner voice telling them they can still get ahead, still win back those Benjamins the blackjack dealer stole away.
The voices of reason were overruled in this case, as the Maloofs decided things in Sacramento had sunken to such depths that a gamble on Artest was worth the risk.
It's impossible to say at this point whether the gamble was wise, but the rules of the House of Maloof seem to prevent risks of this magnitude.
If you, me, Artest, Stojakovic or anyone else walked into the Maloofs' Palms Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and tried to plunk down a $50,000 bet, we'd be turned down. The max wager the Palms will accept is $45,000 for any gambler wishing to play three $15,000 hands of blackjack against the dealer at once.
When that rule was established, the thinking behind it was obvious: Some gambles are just too big to make. But that house rule was waived in this instance.
"You get a player like this probably once in a lifetime," Joe Maloof said.
And that once-in-a-lifetime wager, the likes of which the Maloofs had never made before, is now their biggest gamble.
Chris Sheridan, a national NBA reporter for the past decade, covers the league for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.