SEATTLE - Ron Artest wandered onto the Kings practice floor on Saturday long after practice had ended.
He was in street clothes, looking to grab a drink from the team cooler when he ran into a couple of straggling media members with whom he offered to chat.
"How are ya?" he was asked.
He was good, Artest said with a huge smile. Really good.
It seems the Kings had one phenomenal practice on Saturday, one that left all involved raving about a new spirit that should certainly carry them from tonight's game in Seattle until the end. Kings coach Reggie Theus had everything to do with the enjoyment factor of this particular session, as he ordered defensive slide drills that are typically the stuff of training camp but seemed to be embraced by his players. Artest was the proof, saying over and over again that it was a "great practice."
Part of the new inspiration, Artest said, was the fan turnout and tone at Arco Arena in Friday's loss to Washington that left him realizing why coasting until the end just isn't acceptable to the team's paying customers.
"Now (the players were) like, ‘You know what, the fans came out yesterday, we played hard, things happen, we almost won,'" he said. "And guys came in here (on Saturday) and were working hard. We’re just building, just building for next year.
"We had a bad third quarter (against Washington), and we’ve just got to get back in shape again. I think guys kind of toned it down a little bit (in recent weeks), but we’ve got to turn it back up, get our legs back under us and finish off strong."
Speaking of impassioned performances, there was Spencer Hawes talking about the likely exodus of his hometown team.
While the Sonics could be gone by this summer, owner Clay Bennett has agreed to leave the team's name behind. But as Hawes sees it, the locals aren't looking for sympathy gifts from the tycoon.
"You can leave the name, but when you’re stealing the team that doesn’t do a lot for you (as a fan)," Hawes said. "That’s just smoke and mirrors."
And if Bennett is forced to fulfill the last two seasons on the lease agreement for KeyArena, Hawes said that leaves the team's fans in a most-undesirable position.
"So much of sports and being a fan is just, ‘If something is going wrong now, you can always look toward the future and always find (reasons for) optimism over what could happen," he said. "That’s a lot of what keeps fans being fans is that eternal hope…When there’s none of that, I don’t know what motivates you."
* Sonics point guard Earl Watson had a triple-double last time these teams met, and he's looking to do it again because he's simply sick of losing.
* Sonics forward Chris Wilcox, who is on the long list of athletic bigs that Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie has tried to acquire in recent years, will not take part tonight or any other night in the near future.