Artest will give Kings action they crave - and then some

Other Voices

February 15, 2006|By SAM SMITH | SAM SMITH,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

What had Ron done now?

Actually, it was what the other Kings hadn't done. The team had missed all 20 of its fourth-quarter field-goal attempts in blowing a big lead and losing to the Utah Jazz. Artest believed it was time the Kings began acting like the NBA royalty they once were instead of like the burger guy running around in tights.

"It was mainly Ron's idea," Corliss Williamson told reporters. "It was about how we're going to approach the rest of the season."

Pretty impressively thus far. The Kings, who played the Bulls last night, had won four of five since that meeting, including a 98-80 blowout of the Bulls last week.

Once known mostly for clever passing, finesse play and whining about a slew of alleged inequities visited upon them, the Kings are now trying to hit back. Since acquiring Artest, they are giving up seven fewer points a game and holding teams to 42 percent shooting, which applied over the full season would lead the league.

Yes, this is the other side of Ron Artest, or actually one of many sides of the enigma wrapped in a riddle hiding inside an octagonal sphinx.

We can't come up with enough descriptions for Artest, the most unusual character ever to come into the NBA, if not all of pro sports.

The Kings are a team in transition after shedding the core of a title-contending group: Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, Doug Christie, Bobby Jackson and now Stojakovic. None has prospered elsewhere (Divac and Christie are out of the league), so it was necessary. But they'd become vanilla at the ice cream shop. Just a bunch of guys playing basketball with no real purpose or identity, sort of like being in Sacramento when you're living in California. Where's the ocean?

So if you want to make waves, you add Ron Artest.

It's what the Kings' Mark Cuban-wannabe owners, the Maloof brothers, decided to do for their team. They have a little too much dignity to be just like Cuban, but as owners of a Las Vegas casino, they do crave action.

Artest should provide plenty.

His defense can inspire a team and thwart the league's top scorer. His strength makes him as difficult to defend near the basket as Shaquille O'Neal. He's a terrific all-around basketball player, if a little undisciplined.

Artest's idea of an offense was one in which he shot the ball when it occurred to him he should. Though it was not the major problem with the Pacers, Artest had difficulty with coach Rick Carlisle's more deliberate approach of throwing the ball into the post.

So he just shot the ball when the mood struck.

Ah, moods. That's an Artest problem - he has difficulty controlling his emotions. The Bulls and Pacers had professionals in to work with him, only to have him brag about throwing away medication prescribed for his anger. It's almost as if he's most comfortable when there's chaos around him, and if it's not there, he'll create it.

Yes, we know of the Artest rages, of the Cinderella stepmother of a brawl he provoked in Detroit last season that pretty much knocked the Pacers out of serious championship consideration.

That was bad Ron. Bad Ron also was suspended the previous season for rages against mankind and the cameras they make, though it's his quirks and oddities that most contributed to his departures from Chicago and Indiana.

Artest likes to come to the gym to practice after midnight. Sometimes he comes to practice in sandals or without a shirt. He'll ignore a team trip on occasion, as he did when the Pacers were in the playoffs a few years back and he went to the movies. He is a free spirit, and sometimes it's costly to his team.

Artest didn't deal well with losing in Chicago or with teammates who lacked his work ethic in Indiana. He holds others to his high competitive standard, which has enhanced the Kings' defensive effort for now.

No one truly knows what comes next with Artest. He's a terrific defender and will get better on offense-he's averaging 18 points for the Kings but shooting just 39 percent. He's a little out of shape, so he has some catching up to do. And though he has been a perfect teammate and citizen, we know that doesn't last long.

Welcome back, Ron. We're glad you're somewhere, though as the Bulls and Pacers decided, just not with them.

Sam Smith writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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