- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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He's also not complaining.
Artest was unmistakably giddy in the early hours of Wednesday morning in a phone conversation with ESPN.com as he discussed his forthcoming trade to the Houston Rockets.
"I'll be a kid in a candy store," Artest said. "I'll be a kid in a store with a lot of candy. I'm going to dance with the stars."
Instead of the trade to Hollywood to Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers, as many around the league expected, Artest is headed to Houston for a reunion with Rick Adelman, who ranks as his favorite pro coach.
In a swap first reported Tuesday night by The Houston Chronicle, Sacramento has agreed to part with its rugged but controversial swingman in exchange for newly drafted Rockets rookie Donte Greene, Kings alumnus Bobby Jackson (and his salary cap-friendly contract) and a first-round pick in 2009.
NBA front-office sources confirmed to ESPN.com that the Kings also will receive approximately $1 million in cash considerations. But the deal can't be completed and announced before Aug. 14 because Greene is not eligible to be traded until then, per league rules, since he signed with the Rockets on July 14.
"For this trade to happen it means the Rockets have to start winning right now," Yao Ming told Houston television station KRIV from Nanjing, China.
Artest simply can't wait. He has been second-guessing his decision not to opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent since the first day of free agency July 1, telling ESPN.com earlier this month that he was hoping to be dealt to "a team out there that can be more committed than Sacramento to me."
Although it's believed that the Rockets have made no promises to keep the 28-year-old beyond the coming season, when he'll earn a modest (by NBA standards) $7.4 million, Artest insisted that the opportunity to play with Tracy McGrady and Yao "wipes everything out" in terms of his summer frustrations with the Kings or any disappointment that he didn't end up with the Lakers.
"I haven't spoken to anybody yet," Artest said. "But if that's true [about a Houston trade], I don't even know what to say. It could be amazing. I don't even know the potential.
"I just think so highly of Mr. Adelman that I can't really speak on it. When I first got to Sacramento [in 2006], he believed in me. I said, 'Coach, we're going to the playoffs,' and everybody laughed at me. He said, 'Ron, we're going to go as far as you take us.' I've never had a coach do that before.
"How can you say no to Rick Adelman? How can anyone not be happy playing for Rick Adelman?"
NBA front-office sources said the Lakers were undeniably disappointed not to land Artest. But, as ESPN.com reported earlier this month, L.A. was reluctant to part with Lamar Odom in a deal for Artest, which virtually assured that the Kings would opt to look for another trade partner. Sacramento ultimately relented on its insistence that any team acquiring Artest absorb the contract of forward Kenny Thomas, as well, dropping that condition and agreeing to Houston's offer because the Kings are essentially coming away with two first-round picks for the unpredictable Artest.
Greene also has been plagued by reliability issues but quickly emerged as one of the brightest prospects at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas when the No. 28 overall pick from last month's draft scored 40 points in his summer-league debut. On a pure talent basis, Green rates higher with most personnel experts than the player Sacramento selected with the No. 12 overall pick: Rider forward Jason Thompson.
The Rockets, meanwhile, are assembling one of the league's deepest teams by adding Artest and recent free-agent signee Brent Barry to the McGrady-Yao-Shane Battier-Luis Scola core. The Rockets finished 55-27 in Adelman's first season but lost Yao to a season-ending foot injury in March and, despite a historic 22-game winning streak, failed again to get out of the first round of the playoffs -- something neither McGrady nor Yao has yet managed.
"I couldn't be more happy," McGrady told KRIV. "Pleased at how the organization is trying to improve this team, get the help that Yao and myself really need to really get to where we want to be, and that's one of the elite teams in this league.
"If this is true, this is definitely what I have been waiting on for 11 years in my career, for a team to really improve and put the talent [on the floor] that I feel that we can compete with the best."
Said Artest: "Boston kind of blitzed the whole league with that trio they have. To pretty much compete for a championship, you need a trio and some great role players. I guess if it's McGrady, Yao and Artest ... I'll let everybody else do the math."
The offseason had been a tumultuous one for Artest until this news. He declined the opportunity to become a free agent, immediately second-guessed his decision publicly, apologized to the Kings and still wound up pushing for a trade soon thereafter as part of a series of e-mails to ESPN.com which questioned the Kings' commitment to him. But the Rockets have expressed little concern about Artest fitting in, banking on Adelman's brief but successful history with his former player and the fact that Artest's expiring contract makes this a short-term gamble with little risk.
Yet it can be said that Artest's entire stint with the Kings had a roller-coaster feel, as seen with Artest's previous employers in Chicago and Indiana.
He revitalized the Kings in his first half-season in town, powering Sacramento into the 2006 playoffs and a narrow 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 '06-07 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 first-year coach Reggie 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 Kevin Martin.
Artest 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 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.
"After all I've been through, I'm still here," Artest said, clearly beaming through the phone. "And somebody else wants me.
"I'm still not the type of guy to do all the right things. That's not my culture. I was raised different, but that doesn't mean I'm not a good person. I might do different things. I might say I don't want to be a King [anymore] or that my teammates aren't playing hard, but that doesn't mean I'm a bad person. I might have had the [incident] in Detroit, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to be traded."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
7hMichael C. Wright