- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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Artest told ESPN.com on Tuesday that he wishes now he had opted for unrestricted free agency, like Brand and Davis, instead of electing to play out the final year of his contract with the Kings next season at $7.4 million.
Artest also conceded that his long-term future is likely not in Sacramento, saying via e-mail: "I don't see myself with [the] Kings beyond 2008-09."
"I think I made the biggest mistake by staying in my contract and I have to live with it," Artest said. "I had some misleading information [in making the] decision on not opting out. [But] I still thank God for all his blessings and being able to play basketball and help people."
Artest let his opportunity to become a free agent pass Monday as he had been vowing to do for weeks. But he apparently did so believing that the Kings would considering signing him to an extension this summer, even though there have been no clear indications from Kings management that it was prepared to make that offer.
The 28-year-old was also apparently convinced that he'd likely only generate contract offers this summer starting at the mid-level exception, which was $5.4 million last season. So putting off free agency until next summer, Artest reasoned, would increase his chances of securing a long-term deal from either the Kings or someone else if he could produce a big 2008-09 season.
Before announcing his decision, Artest said last week: "Even if I was to opt out, which probably won't happen, I will never accept a mid-level exception. So people trying to figure out possibilities should get that out of their heads."
But by declining to walk away from the final year of his current contract -- and thus surrendering the right to choose a new team -- Artest might actually have increased the likelihood that he winds up playing elsewhere between now and next February's trading deadline.
At what amounts to an expiring contract valued at less than $8 million, Artest has a very tradeable salary in spite of any concerns about his controversial past.
The Kings seriously explored the market for Artest at the February trading deadline, most notably in talks with the Denver Nuggets.
The Los Angeles Lakers have been widely expected to revisit past trade interest in Artest, given Artest's friendship with Lakers star Kobe Bryant and after L.A.'s toughness and defense were subjected to heavily criticism during the NBA Finals. It's also presumed that Lakers coach Phil Jackson would be an ideal boss for the mercurial swingman, but trades between teams from the same division -- especially teams that have the contentious history that the Lakers and Kings share -- are always complicated.
The Kings far exceeded most preseason forecasts by posting a 38-44 record under rookie coach Reggie Theus. Artest had one his best statistical seasons -- averaging 20.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 57 games -- and has claimed often that the Kings would have been right there with the eight 50-win teams in the West if not for the injuries suffered by leading scorer Kevin Martin and ex-Kings guard Mike Bibby as well as the 25 games Artest lost to injury and suspension. Artest missed the first seven games of the season serving a seven-game league ban after a no-contest plea to infliction of injury on his wife.
That was the latest transgression in a career full of missteps -- a list that most notably includes Artest's suspension for the remainder of the season for his role in the infamous Detroit Pistons-Indiana Pacers brawl in November 2004 -- but Artest has been actively working to address doubts about his reliability. He is heavily involved with the NBA Players Association's humanitarian efforts in Africa and elsewhere abroad, signed on this season as a spokesman for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and has volunteered in recent weeks to do television work for the WNBA's Sacramento Monarchs, who are likewise operated by Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof.
Artest also unsuccessfully reached out to USA Basketball officials earlier this month in a bid to convince them to consider him as an 11th-hour candidate for this summer's China-bound Olympic team.
"My basketball skill and my character and community work speaks for itself," Artest said. "I believe in them and believe it can work for an organization."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
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