I spoke with Ron Artest's agent, Mark Stevens, on Saturday, but finally typed out his thoughts to post on the blog today.
While there are no definitive declarations as to whether Artest will or will not exercise his early termination option by the June 30 deadline, all indications continue to point to him staying in Sacramento for the 2008-09 season. In short, it sounds as if it's likely Artest won't opt out and will try his luck at free agency next summer. If that holds true, the Kings can do one of four things come July.
1) Offer an extension
2) Trade him
3) Sign and trade him, thereby allowing Artest to sign for a maximum of six years rather than the five-year max for free agents.
4) Do nothing, with Artest playing the year out and becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer.
And of course, Artest could decide at any point here that the uncertainty is killing him and he wants his free agency freedom now. As for Stevens, it's obvious he sees the free agent market as more viable for his client next summer. Having said in February that he sees Artest as a player worthy of a salary in the $13 million to $14 million range, he acknowledges that opting out now could very well mean taking a midlevel exception deal (approximately $6 million per season). What's more, he's hoping the Kings' track record of paying big to retain their stars holds true if Artest sticks around. Here's a Q&A format of our conversation...
Amick: In a perfect world, what are you hoping for here?
Stevens: Ron would love to get a wonderful contract in a perfect world that's lucrative and promising. However, we don't live in a perfect world so at the end of the day we'll go to the table and hopefully we'll agree to disagree.
He wants to be a King. If he is the best player on the team, he would like to be paid as the best player. That's just his position. But he's thankful to the Maloofs because they gave him an opportunity to help turn his career around. He's appreciative and loyal to that fact. That's why him opting out at this point is not even an option. He wants to first go to the table and see if he can get a deal done. He would love to be in Sacramento. He loves the fans in Sacramento. He would love to be in Sacramento.
Amick: Officially, you can't go to the table until July, by which time the deadline has come and gone. How do you handle that?
Stevens: It's a catch 22. We can't talk until July 1, but the opt out day is the 30th. Between now and the 30th, we will get a feel from each other if we're wanted. We just hope to see if we can work things out.
Amick: And what if the only guarantee you have is that he'll be paid $7.4 million next year and have no indication beyond that point?
Stevens: Ron is thankful to the Maloofs. It's their right to say $7.4 million is what we're prepared to pay you, and let's talk next summer. And if that is said, then that's the decision that Ron has to make - what does he want to do? If they say that, it's a decision him and his family have to make.
If you look at the market, there's only four teams, five teams maybe, that have the ability to pay him (what he is hoping to make). If he opts out, it's obvious we're looking at a midlevel exception deal (approximately $6 million per season). The good thing is, everybody knows where everybody's at. Ron fully understands that if he opts out, he runs the risk of Sacramento saying, 'OK, opt out, you can leave and we won't get nothing for you or we can do a sign and trade.' Or Ron runs the risk of knowing he's open to the free market and he might get midlevel exception. All the cards are definitely on the table...You have to make a decision and live with it.
Ron would hope that Sacramento sees him as their best player and pays him as their best player, but things can happen. That's a decision that I'll leave up to management and ownership.
Amick: What about the theory that another year of good numbers on the floor and no controversy off it could put you in a much better position next summer?
Stevens: Yes and no. A lot can happen in a year. A lot happened in this one year - his daughter was diagnosed with cancer. Based on a lot of incidents that have happened with Ron, he understands the importance of the moment in time and what must be done. Patience is a virtue, and the question we have to ask ourselves is this: if we wait a year, what teams are going to have the money then? What teams will want him? ...He could get hurt and be out for the year.
Amick: How do you see the market for next summer free-agency wise?
Stevens: How's it looking for next summer? There's maybe five or six teams (who could pay him what he's hoping to make), maybe two more different teams (compared to this summer) will be able to pay him. But again, you have to ask yourselves what direction the teams are trying to go in too. Just like Sacramento - what direction are they trying to go in?
Amick: Have you asked (Kings basketball president) Geoff (Petrie) directly if Ron's a guy he wants to have in purple for the next, say, five years?
Stevens: To be honest with you, I haven't asked Geoff that. If I was going to ask that question, I would ask that question directly to ownership.
Amick: Have you asked them?
Stevens: No I haven't.
Amick: Between the radio interviews and TV work Ron's done in town lately, he's putting himself out there so much that it's hard to think he has one foot out the door. Does that mean anything?
Stevens: In all fairness, Ron doesn't want to go nowhere. He's happy that he's in Sacramento, and he's hopeful that an agreement can be made (to stay) because he would like to be in Sacramento. He hopes that his openness and his honesty and how he interacts with the media and the fans, that everyone sees that he's making an honest attempt that he wants to be in Sacramento.
- Sam Amick