The future of the Kings depends on the future of Ron Artest.
That has been true for a while now. Will he stay or will he go? If he stays, will he be traded and if so can the Kings get fair value in return in the form of a core player to go forward with? Or, perhaps, would the Kings look to lock him up with a new deal and make him one of those core pieces? And if he goes (as in opts out of his contract by June 30), then how will they go about building the new core?
While Artest's future remains unknown, it was made clear this week that they could have a potential trade partner in Dallas. In a Dallas debut interview on the local ESPN affiliate (Galloway and Co. show), new Mavericks coach and former Indiana coach Rick Carlisle gave a Marv Albert-like "Yes!" when asked if he would coach the 28-year-old Artest again (for the whole interview, read here and here).
"Of course," Carlisle said when asked if he would coach his former player again. "This guy is one of the real difference-makers that we have in this league. He's had one all-star year; that's when he played for me. I've had a chance to reconnect with Ronnie a couple times over the last couple of years. I love him and I love his family, so yeah. This guy was one of the most physical, intimidating players that I've ever seen at the small forward position, so he'd be a player that any team would want to have."
The Mavs, of course, just so happen to have a talented 28-year-old small forward of their own who could fit quite nicely in a Kings uniform. Josh Howard, who has two years and approximately $20 million left on his deal with a team option for a third season, is coming off a horrendous season-ending series against New Orleans that also included his admission as a pot-smoker.
The decision to share that personal info on a radio interview in the thick of the playoffs led to no love lost from his bosses and much speculation that he could be on the trading block. Yet even on the purely-basketball front, the Mavs will be looking to mix up their roster and adding Artest's toughness and two-way abilities (with his final season worth $7.4 million) could be quite an upgrade. As for the Kings side of this potential trade (which would have to include some fill-in pieces), Howard would qualify as a significant upgrade from the sort of offers they've received to this point.
If Artest doesn't opt out, the Kings can trade him starting in July. If he does opt out, then he could obviously sign with Dallas as a free agent. As for what he might do, I've been polling people within the organization and around the league for the last week or so and the consensus remains that there is no consensus. Strangely, one of the few indicators could involve the Monarchs.
When the local WNBA squad takes the Arco Arena floor on Saturday for its season-opener against San Antonio, I've been told that Artest may be doing sideline work as a TV reporter. He'll analyze, maybe even drop a "back to you" in there somewhere and hopefully bring the same unpredictable element to his media work that is always there with his real day job. The possible relevance of this is that I can't see Artest engaging in this kind of Maloof-related hijinx if he had one foot out the Sacramento door.
As for any official change on his public stance, the last word from Artest and his agent, Mark Stevens, is that he is "not likely" to opt out. I called Stevens multiple times last week as well to see if that was still the case and didn't hear back from him, for what it's worth. - Sam Amick