Indiana forward Ron Artest, speaking to ESPN.com in a phone interview, vowed Thursday that the Pacers can count on him for the rest of the season. He likewise insisted that he requested a leave of absence to spend more time with his family and heal his body, not because he would prefer to work on his budding career as a music producer.
Artest, who turns 25 on Saturday, also revealed he has contemplated retirement to have more time at home and for off-court interests. Artest said he intends to keep playing until he wins an NBA championship, but that there's "a chance" he would retire after this season if the Pacers were to win the title.
"A chance," Artest said. "A nice chance."
Artest called ESPN.com to protest the fast-spreading notion that he's trying to become a rap artist at the expense of his team. The album coming out Nov. 23, which Artest referenced in interviews Wednesday night, is an R&B release from Allure. Artest is the CEO of TruWarier Records and executive producer on the Allure album.
In a wide-ranging conversation, the NBA's reigning Defensive Player of the Year blasted the media's portrayal of his time-off request, saying his motivation was never music but making himself more available to his four children, daughters Sade and Diamond and sons Ron III and Jeron. Artest also revealed that he had been "calling around the NBA" to find out the ramifications of a leave of absence or even retirement, but said that conversations in recent days with Pacers president Larry Bird and CEO Donnie Walsh convinced him to shelve those ideas for now.
Other highlights follow from the conversation with Artest, who's earning $6.2 million this season and who has four seasons left on his contract worth just over $29 million.
ESPN.com: Whom, specifically, did you ask for time off?
Artest: I did it the wrong way. I talked to a few players first and then the coach. I wish I would have done it a little bit differently. Coach told me I wouldn't be playing in two games, and he always makes good decisions. The whole team was behind his decision.
ESPN.com: Are you physically well enough to play Friday against Philadelphia?
Artest: I'm OK. I'm going to play through my injuries. I'm going to be tired for the rest of my life. I like to be tired. I like to be hurt. If I'm not tired and I'm not hurt, the game is not fun. When we were 3-0, I wasn't even supposed to play (against Chicago). But I played. I had something wrong with my knee; my patella is slightly in the wrong spot. I hurt my shoulder and then I have a nagging foot injury. But last year, when I had surgery on my hand, I came back in 10 days. Nobody is ever back from surgery in 10 days and playing and producing. I think I'm one of the few guys who gets better every year. I'm on my way to being an MVP and champion.
ESPN.com: So why would you even think about retirement? You were off to such a good start this season.
Artest: Sometimes I think I'm in a position to do what I want. If I think I want to retire, it doesn't make me crazy. What's so crazy about being home with your family? I don't see anything so crazy about that. If people think that's crazy, maybe they don't know what it's like to be with their family. Family is more important than money.
ESPN.com: Is retirement something you're thinking about soon?
Artest: Not soon. I really, before I retire, I want to win a championship. I want to reach at least one of the things Michael Jordan reached.
ESPN.com: Do you understand why the Pacers don't want to let you take a month off?
Artest: I agree with them. They depend on me. There's not many people that make $6 million a year (who can be called) a franchise player. I'm not paid as much as a T-Mac or a Kobe or a Shaq, but they really look at me as a franchise player. When I first came into the NBA, I didn't look at myself as a franchise player. But if they would have accepted it, I would have been gone for a month or a month and a half and not worried about the pay.
ESPN.com: How worried are you that the Pacers are going to trade you? Your name came up in trade rumors all summer.
Artest: That's life. Guys get traded for all sorts of reasons. I'm just going to do what I do. If it happens, it happens.
ESPN.com: Don't you want them to keep you?
Artest: I love the Pacers. I like the organization. I like the team. But just as much as I like Indiana, I've got to be able to show people what's me. I can't lie to people. This is Ron Artest. I was in a (music) studio all summer and I came back and had 31 (points) in my first game (of the season against Cleveland). You have to accept Ron Artest the way he is, and if not, that's OK.
ESPN.com: Can the Pacers really count on you for the rest of the season?
Artest: I'll be here for the rest of the season. I didn't play the last two games, but I talked to who I had to talk to. I'll be playing for the rest of the season.
ESPN.com: There have also been suggestions that you and Jermaine O'Neal aren't getting along so well. What's your relationship like?
Artest: Everybody in the NBA, you don't have to be talking (off the court) to go out there and do a job. Jermaine is the MVP of our team. He should have been MVP (of the league) last year. It's a good fit between us on the court. It's perfect, along with Stephen Jackson. Stephen Jackson could easily be an All-Star this year. I'll give up my All-Star spot for Stephen Jackson.
ESPN.com: You are working on an album of your own, right?
Artest: When I have off days, I go into the studio. But I'm not really anxious to drop mine (on the public). I'll be singing on some tracks and rapping on some tracks. I'm speaking to kids on there. There's no cursing. Kids can listen to it and adults can listen to it. When I do (release) it, you'll be able to download it. I'm not in it to make money. But don't download Allure -- go buy that album.