Kings' Artest says he's no longer lobbying for trade

Mike Bibby has been exiled after nearly seven seasons with the Sacramento Kings. Is Ron Artest next?

Artest told ESPN.com on Saturday that he's no longer lobbying for a move before Thursday's trading deadline.

"I am anxious to see what my future holds, [but] I like Sac," Artest wrote in an e-mail. "My entire focus is with Sac and winning a championship this year."

Earlier this month, Artest said repeatedly that the Kings "would be better if I wasn't on the team." But he's backed off those comments, which apparently stem from Artest's concern that Sacramento isn't interested in keeping him beyond this season.

Artest has the ability to terminate his contract at season's end and become a free agent in July. Earning $7.4 million this season and due to make the same amount next season, Artest will be seeking a substantial raise if he does opt out.

Yet there have been no indications that such a raise is coming from the Kings. And after shedding Bibby's $14.5 million salary for next season, Sacramento seems unlikely to part with Artest now in any trade that adds long-term salary to the Kings' payroll -- even with the likes of Denver's Carmelo Anthony using his All-Star Weekend platform to publicly call for his team to trade for Artest.

The Kings might have other motivations to keep him around. Artest has been playing maybe his best ball as a King since those comments about leaving, with first-year coach Reggie Theus praising Artest's increased willingness to share the ball and his all-around team play in making the claim this week that "Ron is our go-to guy."

As for Bibby's departure,
Artest has always tried to convince the skeptics that he and Bibby were closer than outsiders believe. He tried again Saturday to dispel the notion that there was friction between the two, insisting that they often worked out together away from the practice floor and spent time with each other's children.

"Bibby treated me like family," Artest said.