And the rebuilding Sacramento Kings were willing to gamble on
the league's most unpredictable All-Star.
The elements came together Wednesday, and this time they stuck:
The Kings sent sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic to the Pacers for
Artest in an on-again, off-again deal that's been talked about for
"We're glad this is over with," Pacers president Larry Bird
said. "We wanted to be patient with this one because Ronnie is a
heck of a player and someone's always going to take a chance on
someone like that."
best known as the man who set off one of the nastiest brawls in
U.S. sports history last November. The fight with Detroit Pistons
fans earned Artest a 73-game suspension -- the longest in NBA
The latest mess with Artest began with a trade rumor in December
that wound up coming true: Artest for Stojakovic. Upset at the
perceived slight, Artest demanded a trade. The Pacers responded to
the tantrum by deactivating the former NBA defensive player of the
Trouble follows Artest. He had kicked a ball into the stands,
broke a television camera when he threw it down and verbally
sparred with Miami Heat coach Pat Riley during games.
On Tuesday, it appeared Artest would no longer be Indiana's
problem. Not so fast. Artest reportedly balked at playing in
Sacramento, temporarily scuttling the deal.
But the Kings owners were more interested in Artest's skills
than his sideshows, which will return to Indy when the Kings visit
"We're gamblers. So we're going to take a chance on him," said
Kings co-owner Gavin Maloof, who also owns a casino with his
brother, Joe. "We want to look forward, otherwise we wouldn't have
made this happen."
The Kings are in last place in the Pacific Division.
Artest apparently changed his mind about the Kings after meeting
with Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh earlier Wednesday after again
expressing interest in returning to Indiana.
At the meeting, Walsh said Artest never complained to him about
going to Sacramento. Instead, Walsh explained that Sacramento may
be a good place for Artest to get a fresh start.
"Ronnie didn't say he wouldn't go there, in fact he said the
opposite was true," Walsh said. "He said he wanted go there and
need to replace the retired Reggie Miller. Stojakovic, a three-time
All-Star, was averaging 16.5 points in 31 games for the Kings this
season despite playing with a bad back and having his worst NBA
Stojakovic has averaged 18.5 points in his career and shot 46.5
percent from the field and 39.8 percent from 3-point range.
Now that Artest is gone, Bird hopes the Pacers can again focus
He acknowledged the persistent trade rumors took a toll on an
Indiana team expected to contend for an NBA title. Indiana was 10-6
with Artest, but had gone 11-14 since his trade demand. The Pacers
were tied for sixth in the Eastern Conference standings entering
"It seemed like our team was going to the West Coast, stopping
off at cities and our players were worried about being traded,"
Bird said. "Our time for excuses are over."
Artest was an All-Star and the NBA's defensive player of the
year in 2003-04. He led the league in steals and averaged 19.4
points per game this season before being deactivated.
"He can win a game at either end of the floor and he's still
only 26 years old," Kings president of basketball operations Geoff
Petrie said, "and as you all know he hasn't played much in the
last year and I know right now he's really excited to get back out
Artest is due to make $7.15 million next season and $7.8 million
in 2007-08, with an $8.45 million player option for 2008-09. His
defensive presence and infamous instability should be an intriguing
fit with the Kings, whose franchise makeover now has a more
But it also rids the Pacers of a player who made the
inexplicable seem routine.
Since coming to Indiana in February 2002 in a trade-deadline deal
with the Chicago Bulls, Artest has been one of the Pacers' top
players -- when he has stayed on the court.
The Kings believe he will continue to play well in a new
"It's a new chapter in Sacramento's basketball history and
hopefully it'll be a successful one," Joe Maloof said.
"He's a terrific athlete, we all know that. He's one of the top 15
or 20 players in the league, in our opinion anyway, and he brings
it every night."
"He's a teammate," Kings forward Corliss Williamson told ESPN. "We know what kind of player he is. … [He] can help us out, especially on defense. … [For him] it's a fresh start."
Stojakovic gives Indiana a different look.
After joining the Kings as an unheralded 21-year-old rookie in
1998, he had become Sacramento's longest-tenured player. He was
expected to void the final season of his contract to become a free
agent this summer.
"I know he might put us over that hump that we need," guard
Mike Bibby said. "The way he plays, he plays good defense, he can
score too. Maybe that can pick up the intensity in everybody
And the Pacers brass seemed just as happy.
"I probably went too far to support Ronnie," Walsh said. "But
he generated so much attention that he felt as long as he was here,
whatever he did would get blown up. The more I thought about that,
the more I thought it was absolutely true. ... I'm praying for him
that he does do that [change]."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.