Done deal: Pacers trade Artest to Kings for Peja

Updated: January 26, 2006, 8:13 AM ET news services

INDIANAPOLIS -- Ron Artest needed a place to play. The Indiana Pacers needed to unload their biggest problem.

 Peja Stojakovic
 Ron Artest

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 months.

"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."

It's been clear for some time that the Kings had to do something. The team has basically been lifeless the first three months of the season, except for three occasions when they've won three straight games, and they're at their lowest point in the standings in six years.

This is a good risk for the Kings, because they stood a chance of getting nothing if Stojakovic left as a free agent this summer. Now instead they have a player who is signed for two more years, not to mention a player with a much better all-around game than Stojakovic.

Artest will be reunited with Brad Miller, and he'll be able to take Stojakovic's spot in the lineup. At this point, Artest has more game than Stojakovic on offense, and it goes without saying that he's a much stronger defender.

From the Pacers' perspective, you have to give credit to the front office for holding out. It took a lot of guts for them to wait six weeks for a player they wanted to come along. It's only mid-January, so they have plenty of time to recover. They are tied for fifth in the East, and should have no trouble securing a playoff spot.

It's not clear how Stojakovic will function in that offense, but he's not the fastest guy in the league so he should fit well into the Pacers' methodical offense.

The deal ends a turmoil-filled career in Indiana for Artest, 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 history.

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 year.

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 March 17.

"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 win games."

Just about the time last month the Philadelphia Eagles' season was settling into irrelevancy, with Terrell Owens suspended and deactivated, Ron Artest demanded his trade from the Indiana Pacers. It took six weeks for the Pacers to strike a deal -- one Artest originally balked at. Outside the Lines parallels the fates of two talented stars raging against the establishment to achieve their individual goals. (ESPN, 1:40 a.m. ET/10:40 p.m. PT).
In exchange, the Pacers may have gotten the outside shooter they 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 season.

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 on basketball.

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 Wednesday.

"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."

Indiana spent several weeks searching for the right deal, nearly sending Artest to the Los Angeles Clippers for Corey Maggette before reviving talks with the Kings in recent days.

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 there."

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 defensive look.

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 setting.

"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.

It was Sacramento's fourth major trade in 13 months, following deals involving Chris Webber, Bobby Jackson and Doug Christie. And Kings players welcomed their new teammate.

"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 else."

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.