- Marc Stein, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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LAS VEGAS -- Sacramento Kings forward Ron Artest joined teammates Kevin Martin, Beno Udrih and Shareef Abdur-Rahim as celebrity spectators for the Kings' first game in the NBA Summer League on the campus of UNLV.
But Artest isn't feeling like a King.
In a series of e-mails he sent to ESPN.com late Saturday and early Sunday, Artest continued to lament his decision to pass on an opportunity to become a free agent July 1 by announcing that he is now representing himself without an agent and expressing hope that he will soon be traded to "a team out there that can be more committed than Sacramento to me."
That team is believed to be the Los Angeles Lakers. Almost from the minute they were routed by the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of the NBA Finals -- which Artest attended in Boston to root for friends
Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom -- it has been strongly expected throughout the league that the Lakers would revisit their longstanding trade interest in Artest and eventually acquire the enigmatic forward sometime this summer to address the defense and toughness issues that the Celtics exposed.
But NBA front-office sources told ESPN.com on Sunday that the Lakers -- fond as they are of Artest and confident as they are that they can get the best out of him through Phil Jackson's coaching and Artest's respect for Bryant -- are reluctant to part with Odom in an Artest swap. That stance, if the Lakers hold firm, would almost certainly prompt Sacramento to look elsewhere for a trade partner.
The most consistent trade chatter involving Artest suggests that the Kings would want Odom in return for Artest and Kings forward
Artest, for his part, is now openly pushing for a move, telling ESPN.com that he's suddenly feeling a chill from Kings co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof in the same desert where, just two summers ago in 2006, Joe Maloof proclaimed him to be the new "face of our franchise."
Questioning his future with Sacramento in an all-over-the-map manner, as only he can, Artest needed just a few sentences to put Kings coach Reggie Theus on par with Jackson, second-guess the Kings' decision to fire Rick Adelman in May 2006, speak of a hypothetical move to his hometown New York Knicks and describe the Lakers' Jackson as an ideal coach.
"It's weird because [the] Maloofs [were] high on me [after] the initial trade," Artest wrote, referring to the January 2006 deal that brought him from the Indiana Pacers to the Kings in exchange for
Peja Stojakovic. "But during this opt-out time in my career I have not heard from them. That should have been a sign to me that my future in [Sacramento] is N/A or undetermined.
"In a way I wish this [coming 2008-09 season] would have been [Theus'] first year and [Adelman] would have left this summer, because it could have showed how much [of] a winner I am. Guys like Rick Adelman and Rick Carlisle [brought] that out of me. Isiah [Thomas] was going to bring that out of me if he didn't get fired [by the Knicks]. A coach like Phil Jackson can bring that out me."
"Reggie more than qualifies," Artest continued. "[But] as much as I have to prove I can win like a Rasheed [Wallace] or [Kevin] Garnett in the first year [with their] respective [new] teams, I can make an argument [that] firing Rick Adelman was not the best thing to do. It put me in a position where I had to start over. The good thing is, I should be in my prime at 32 years old, so I have time and, with faith in God, I can move ahead with progress to reach success."
On the first day of free agency, after seeing Elton Brand and
Baron Davis unexpectedly put themselves on the free-agent market when it was widely assumed that they wouldn't opt out, Artest told ESPN.com that he immediately regretted his decision not to opt out of the final year of his contract to become an unrestricted agent. The 28-year-old instead elected to play out the final year of his contract with the Kings at $7.4 million, as he had vowed for weeks. But he apparently did so believing that the Kings would consider signing him to a contract extension this summer, even though there had been little indication from Sacramento management that it was preparing to make such an offer.
Artest emerged from a July 1 meeting with Kings president Geoff Petrie saying that he "made the biggest mistake by staying in my contract" after it was made clear to him that his long-term future lay elsewhere.
"I don't see myself with [the] Kings beyond 2008-09," Artest said then.
He lately apologized publicly in an e-mail to ESPN.com and The Sacramento Bee "for being mistakenly frustrated with the Kings" and called it "a mistake that I made," but the conciliatory tone didn't last long.
"After being around the Kings and letting the missed opportunity soak in, it makes me hungry to play good basketball this year," Artest wrote Sunday. "My agent at the time [Mark Stevens] did not pay attention to the last minute of the opt-out hour and David Falk and all these other agents pulled a fast one. They were so smart to opt out [at] the last minute.
"I hope I can go with a team who can commit to me on whatever the terms may be. Even in Indiana when they were worried about extending me, I still produced for them. I do believe [there is] a team out there that can be more committed than Sacramento to me. Now that I'm my own agent, I can get a better feel on how teams really view me because I can represent myself.
"When my agent at the time asked me not to opt out so the Kings can get something in return, I thought it was the right thing to do. I didn't want to leave them out there after all they did for me. But [by] doing that, I'm left out in the cold and still being experimented on like a lab rat. Wherever I'm at next year I can't wait to work.
"When Rick Adelman got fired and Bonzi [Wells] didn't get re-signed, that messed up my legacy as a King because we were headed in the right direction. Now it's like I have to re-identify what type of team play I can bring to a team.
"I was blinded by friendship. Even Mama Maloof [Colleen Maloof, Joe and Gavin's mother] told me she wanted me to stay. I never knew that meant one more year. I thought it meant several. When Mama [Maloof] talks, you listen, and it's a must you consider and take heed to what she is saying.
"I didn't know I would be on this roller-coaster ride. Even my coaches convinced me things will be OK. I guess they didn't know, either, that would mean a couple more years. I feel like I let my family down by not being a smarter businessman."
The Kings would undoubtedly counter that it's the team, like Artest's previous employers in Chicago and Indiana, who have been subjected to the roller-coaster ride by the rugged forward's unpredictable nature. Artest revitalized the Kings in his first half-season in town, powering Sacramento into the 2006 playoffs and a feisty first-round loss to the San Antonio Spurs that was more competitive than most experts predicted. But legal troubles and friction with then-coach Eric Musselman in 2006-07 were followed by Musselman's dismissal after just one season on the bench, with Artest revealing late in the season that he strongly contemplated retirement to spend more time with his family.
Artest missed the first seven games last season to serve a league suspension after a no-contest plea to infliction of injury on his wife. He went on to miss 18 more games through injury, but Sacramento weathered its myriad dramas and health issues -- as well as the midseason trade of Mike Bibby to Atlanta -- to exceed most preseason forecasts and post a 38-44 record under Theus. Artest wound up having 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 him, Bibby and Martin.
He has been actively working to address doubts about his reliability, which are most commonly associated with Artest's suspension for the remainder of the 2004-05 season for his role in the infamous Pistons-Pacers brawl in November 2004. Heavily involved with the NBA Players Association's humanitarian efforts in Africa and elsewhere abroad, Artest likewise signed on last season as a spokesman for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and has done volunteer television work in recent months for the Maloofs-owned Sacramento Monarchs of the WNBA.
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.
In spite of Artest's eccentricities and controversial past, most NBA executives agree that Artest will attract plenty of interest from contending teams between now and next February's trading deadline with his reputation as one of the league's top all-around players when focused ... and his very tradeable salary. Sacramento had serious Artest talks with the Denver Nuggets at the February trading deadline and Petrie's fellow GMs surely haven't forgotten the initial impact Artest had on the Kings when he arrived.
But even if the Lakers did budge from their current stance and consented to include Odom in a deal with the Kings, chances are nothing could happen before Friday at the earliest, as L.A. must first decide whether to match the Golden State Warriors' four-year, $17 million offer sheet to forward Ronny Turiaf. The Kings could also elect to take their time before consenting to move Artest in hopes of generating better trade offers as the summer progresses and other teams' free-agent options begin to dwindle.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
Ron Artest will represent himself and hopes for a new team.