Yao excited about Artest's trade to Houston, apologizes for comments

Updated: August 1, 2008, 10:10 PM ET
Associated Press

BEIJING -- Yao Ming has quickly squashed any potential rift that could have developed with new teammate Ron Artest prior to the volatile forward's arrival in Houston.

Earlier this week, it was widely reported that Artest would be coming to the Rockets from Sacramento for a 2009 first-round pick, guard Bobby Jackson and another player -- likely rookie forward Donte Greene. However, the trade can't officially be announced yet: Greene signed a contract with Houston on July 14, and, according to NBA rules, a player can't be traded within 30 days of signing a deal.

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According to the Houston Chronicle, Yao was generally excited about the move, but had some reservations as to whether Artest would be a good fit with his new club, saying, "We worry about the new attitude to the team. We are adding talent to the team and we need that, but building team chemistry is important."

But the two stars spoke this week on the phone -- Yao is in China preparing for the Olympics -- and the All-Star center told Houston TV station Fox 26 on Friday that he looks forward to having Artest as a teammate.

"I talked to him last night China time about [a] misunderstanding on the report," Yao said Friday during his interview with Fox 26. "It's better when we have a chance to sit down and talk face to face.

"Before training camp, before the season, we have a lot of time. I think we can be good friends."

That seemed unlikely after a report in the Chronicle quoted Yao as saying, "Hopefully, he's not fighting anymore and going after a guy in the stands."

Yao, of course, was referencing the infamous 2004 brawl in Detroit when, as a member of the Indiana Pacers, Artest left the court to attack a fan. He was suspended for the rest of that season which amounted to 73 games, a punishment that's the most notable in a long list of negative publicity he's received via suspensions and off-the-court issues.

Apparently his recent talk with Artest has put Yao more at ease with the controversial acquisition.

"If something I said would make Ron feel uncomfortable, I apologize," Yao said. "I'm really sorry about that, because I still don't know him very well. Still, by the time we stay together, obviously I will fix it."

Yao is generally not a player to make critical comments and avoids controversy, so the development with Artest made headlines in Houston and even in his native China. However, it seems the 7-foot-6 superstar is more comfortable with Artest after their conversation and is confident he will give the Rockets a better chance to win a championship.

"Right now the Rockets made a good trade for us and we got a good player," Yao said.

Artest, a nine-year veteran, averaged 20.5 points last season and added 2.3 steals per game to rank among the league's top 10 in that category for the fifth time. He's considered one of the top defenders in the NBA, having been the Defensive Player of the Year for the 2003-04 season.

The Rockets already are one of the NBA's top teams defensively with Yao clogging the middle. They have finished among the league's top five in scoring defense in five consecutive seasons, but have not advanced past the first round of the playoffs since Yao joined them in 2002.

Both Yao and Artest are coming off major injuries, but Yao will be playing for China in Beijing after having surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left foot in March and Artest should be ready to go after having his left thumb operated on in April.

"Ron joining us as a teammate," Yao said, "I think that can put (our) team in the next level."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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