It's great to be King
Forward Ron Artest looks forward to a new season -- and a new beginning
By Joe Davidson - Bee Staff Writer
Last Updated 12:45 am PDT Sunday, October 8, 2006
The Ron Artest of old is near. He's coming and ready to break free.
The old Artest is so antsy these days, he can barely contain the glee of a new season and continued new hope.
Artest is the Kings' mercurial forward who was explaining this week that he's in full giddy mode. It's evident by his body language and grins -- like a kid parading his new bike through the neighborhood. He's refreshed, reborn, eager to play a full season for the first time in ... how long?
Artest hasn't logged an entire NBA campaign since 2003-04 with the Indiana Pacers. Everyone knows why. The brawl suspension that cost him an NBA-record 73 games in 2004-05. Then last season when the Pacers deactivated him after 16 games for suggesting a trade. That ultimately led to his trade to Sacramento. Ever since, he has been hustling to catch up, to be the "Ron-Ron" of old.
"And," Artest promised, "you'll see it, too."
But the old Artest is merging with a new version of the player. The ugly behavior? Nowhere to be found. He said that comes from humility and maturity.
Artest's offseason included community service for his role in the brawl. He talked with Detroit youths in an experience he deemed equal parts necessary, insightful and spiritual. He also polished off his own rap CD that went with his barnstorming musical tour.
As part of the feel-good vibe, the Kings even played one of Artest's songs over the loudspeakers near the end of practice Friday, with Artest turning slightly with that "Hey, I know that tune" sort of gaze.
But now it's basketball full time, every day. Time to regain his form after an encouraging start with the Kings last season that ended in a fit of frustration when his shooting percentage plummeted against the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs and his ankle gave out in the clinching final game.
"It was a great, great summer, and I'm feeling great about things," Artest said. "But there's a lot of work to do. I definitely have to get myself to an MVP form. I got suspended that year (for the brawl), and it set me back some. But I was really good as a player before that. Averaged like 25 points, and I was locking people down. It was the best I've ever played. Now it's important to get it all back. I'm close."
Is that pride or ego? Or both?
"It's definitely both," Artest assured. "People want to see me really ball again. I need to see that again, to see that type of player again. This team needs me to do that."
Artest said he takes pride in his role as a leader by example, though he said Corliss Williamson and Mike Bibby are also team leaders. Artest also takes it upon himself to mentor the younger players in camp. How to focus, how to post up, how to move their feet.
How to steer clear of trouble.
He demands that his teammates work and compete. He takes every lost possession -- and every loss, period -- personally. Even in practice. When other "bigs" beat him down the floor in wind sprints? He frowns. When someone scores on him, be it an established veteran or a rookie free-agent long shot, he slaps his hands and grimaces.
And he also takes being critiqued.
When teammate Kenny Thomas pointed out something to Artest he didn't agree with during a recent practice, Artest listened. They talked. No hard feelings.
"He told me, 'Yeah, you can always tell me,' " Thomas said. "It's a matter of respect. We respect each other, and you have to."
New coach Eric Musselman said he's delighted at the prospect of unleashing Artest, a player he deems "off the charts."
When Artest joined the Kings for summer-league play in Las Vegas -- virtually unthinkable for star veterans -- Musselman had Artest sit with him in the front of the team bus to talk. Artest the defender, Musselman knows already. Everyone knows. There might not be a better stopper in the game. Artest the scorer remains an intriguing work in progress. No one logs more post-practice time to hone his shot than Artest. He's usually the last player to leave.
"I have to keep getting better," Artest said. "I have to."
Said Musselman: "He's better than what I envisioned, offensively. He's a great post-up player. He has the ability to beat people off the dribble, and his ability to stretch the defense with the three ball has been phenomenal."
Artest also is known to offer an opinion or two. When he arrived in Sacramento last season, the Kings were 18-24, and fans were booing the product. Still, he boldly proclaimed that the club would make the playoffs. It did, as the eighth and final seed out of the Western Conference.
Then he said the Kings would conquer the Spurs. They made it a six-game series.
Now? If you really push him, he'll say the Kings have championship ability.
But he also said the Kings lack that "killer instinct," that team-wide nasty demeanor. He said the Spurs have it. Dallas, too. And Detroit. And Miami.
"We have to get that," he said. "If not, we'll lose (in the playoffs). No friends. We can't have friends on the floor. Not injuring anyone, but no friends."
Sounds like the old Artest merging with the new.
About the writer: The Bee's Joe Davidson can be reached at jdavidson@ sacbee.com.
Wow if Ron can play at that level I think we can really go places. It's a tall order though, and he's right that the team needs killer instinct. I don't know if our ball club has ever had killer instinct.