July 01, 2009
At times, last season, I seemed to be the only one out there that was unswayed by Artest's batch of good behavior. It's probably because good or bad behavior has never been what matters most to me, when appraising the play of Ron Artest. It's the on-court stuff I'm obsessed with, and as someone who has been watching closely since he entered the NBA, you can tell when Ron isn't holding his own.
He'll shoot too much. He'll dominate the ball. He'll fancy himself a point forward, set up absolutely nobody, come to meet the ball late in the possession, and end up firing a contested 20-footer. If it goes in, great, but it's not likely to go in more than a third of the time. And as time has moved along, through his many stops, it's Ron's team-killing offensive play that has gotten worse and worse.
Few point it out. Most are concerned with the nonsense that starts after the whistle stops play. That's fair, but that's been covered.
And you could tell, toward the end of his turn in Indiana, growing much worse in Sacramento, and coming to a head last year (for me, at least) with the Rockets, that Ron's insistence on fancying himself an offensive superstar was killing teams. Way more than any suspension or off-court headache.
And before we heard about Yao Ming's potentially career-ending injury, I'd hoped that the Rockets would have gotten creative with Artest's future. The guy is a free agent, and while Houston wouldn't exactly be selling high with Ron, I'd hoped that GM Daryl Morey would try to find a sign-and-trade suitor to replace the lame offensive possessions that Ron continually uses up. I wanted him on another team.
Now that Yao's out, and the Rockets are apparently set on holding serve until he returns (as opposed to completely rebuilding)? Yeah, you should probably bring Ron back.
Because this team is pretty hopeless offensively. And while Artest can create some awful, awful shots, he's still creating shots. You're not likely to find that in the open market, while over the cap, while hoping to spend your mid-level exception money on Marcin Gortat.
Sorry for being simple with it, but you can sign Artest while over the cap, because he's your free agent. That's a sound rotation player you can retain without having to give anything up. Anyone else would cost you something, especially if Gortat signs your MLE.
From there, you tinker. Tracy McGrady(notes), I'm sorry, but I just don't see him returning from microfracture surgery as soon as people think. The guy went under the knife late in the season, it's a year's worth of rehab, and Tracy has never been one to rush back to the lineup. His expiring contract is a huge asset. Artest can be the same, if signed to a solid deal. Houston has options, I know, but options the team probably won't cash in until next February.
I'm tossing this out there because the Rockets are unlikely to blow things up. They'll probably try to hold serve while sussing out Yao's future, getting by on a smallish lineup with or without Gortat, one that could possibly make the playoffs even with Yao out for the year. As name-heavy as some other lottery teams were last year out West, I'd still pick Houston to make the postseason, because they have so many players who use their time on the court to do great things.
Artest isn't always one of those players. On the bad nights, and there are really bad nights, he's rarely one of those players. But he's also a guy who isn't going to fetch much on the open market, he probably wants to sign quickly and without the embarrassment of dealing with limited options from around the league.
And unless some other team wants to send you compensation for the right to pay Artest, you need to bring back a contributor at this price. Retain the assets, figure the rest out later.