After leaving the door open for Ron Artest's possible return to the NBA this season, commissioner David Stern closed off that possibility on Monday.
"Our goal is to do everything we possibly can to ensure Ron's return to the NBA next season is as smooth as it can possibly be," Stern told The Indianapolis Star.
"There's a lot of things we're participating in to that end and we're confident he'll be back as a contributing member of the Pacers and the NBA next season."
Stern suspended the Indiana Pacer All-Star for the remainder of the season after he bolted into the stands at The Palace on Nov. 19 and exchanged punches with Pistons fans, who showered Artest and the rest of the Pacers with debris.
Stern acknowledged that he had considered shortening Artest's suspension.
"At a certain point in the last week or two we decided the most important thing here is Ron's return to the NBA and the best path for that is through a program in which he's now engaged," Stern told The Star.
Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh said Monday that he wasn't surprised by Stern's decision, although he held out hope for reinstatement.
"I haven't had any indication at any time that he would change his mind," Walsh told the paper. "We certainly tried to get him to change his mind. But when you're starting out thinking that won't happen (options are limited)."
Artest has been practicing with the Pacers in Indianapolis since Jan. 24. His management group expects to make Artest available for public comment sometime after April 19.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.