Artest deal benefits both sides
By Scott Howard-Cooper
It was tough to tell over the shrieking celebration with noisemakers and streamers, but theyíll love the Ron Artest trade in Houston, too.
A deal with the framework of Bobby Jackson, Donte Greene and what figures to be a late first-round pick in 2009 for a talented forward, with minor parts likely to be added before becoming official Aug. 14, is an escape route for the Sacramento Kings and a no-brainer for the Rockets in a way the NBA rarely has no-brainers.
Of course, it never has just been about Artest the basketball talent. Itís just that heís a decreasing risk by the day, entering the final season of his contract at a manageable $7.4 million and unable to do any real damage to the championship hopes of a team that can annually lose in the first round without his traveling fun house.
If the relationship doesnít work, the Rockets get the cap relief of letting him go as a free agent or the chance to work a sign-and-trade, just as they probably would have done with Jackson and his expiring deal at $6.49 million.
If Artest doesnít fit on the court ó and there will be issues because Shane Battier is an ideal complementary piece at small forward ó the Rockets will have enviable options near the February trade deadline.
Theyíll be very versatile until then, able to go big (with Tracy McGrady at point guard and Battier at shooting guard) or small (with Rafer Alston at the point, Artest at power forward and Luis Scola at center).
All for the price of one player from the rotation of a 55-win team.
Jackson was barely that anyway, having played just 26 games after being acquired from New Orleans. He averaged 19.2 minutes and 8.8 points, and he shot 41.9 percent. Jackson turned 35 in March.
Greene was the 28th pick in the June draft, a wiry 6-10 small forward. The first-round pick should be in the 20s.
No one who has lived ithe Ron Show,î as one general manager described his scrambled career, would dare wonder about the worst that can happen because some wince-inducing answer will be forthcoming. But it says everything that the Rockets are set to give up three pieces they barely had, with the chance another minor player will be included to satisfy salary-cap requirements, for a low-risk investment on a passionate defender who can score.
The Rocketsí greatest challenge in reuniting Artest with coach Rick Adelman, obviously aware Artest helped spark the Kings to the 2006 playoffs after a midseason trade from Indiana, is sorting through the new lineup. Battier, after all, received the sixth-most votes in the league in a poll of coaches for the All-Defensive team. Battier also is a much better passer who will keep the offense centered on McGrady and Yao Ming.
If the Kings are relieved to finally be away from the emotional obstacle course of life with Artest, they also get tangible gains if the deal goes through as expected, with one league source with knowledge of the talks noting, iIt feels done to me.î
It doesnít match a Lamar Odom deal on the glitz meter, but it is an important step to the future that adds one prospect and the path to another with the í09 first-rounder without taking on a bad contract as the price for leaving Artest by the roadside.
Even if Jackson contributes little, he potentially comes off the cap as a free agent at the end of the season, just as Artest would have. He can be flipped into another building block before the trade deadline, when some playoff hopeful will be looking for veteran help.
And if he stays the entire season and plays a minor role, it undoubtedly will be with little trouble. Unlike some people.