A seemingly hesitant and wary Yao Ming discussed the agreed-on Ron Artest trade to Houston with the Houston Chronicle's Fran Blinebury in this story. A few hours later, I caught up with the small forward by phone.
In what could be perceived as a second potential problem in this pairing, Artest - who will be a free agent after next season - says he wants to know sooner rather than later if the Rockets will commit to him long-term. I'm not sure yet if this could be enough to scare the Rockets out of the deal, but it certainly isn't the start they were looking for. Keep in mind, there is nothing legally binding about this trade yet.
Here is the Q&A in its entirety. (Questions in italics and answers below)
It's good to catch you finally. How you feeling about this?
I think being that third option I can be more effective. I think I could have the best season of my career as a third option because they can't double or triple team me anymore.
We've still got to make sure there's still a commitment. That's the main thing, is to make sure there's still a commitment. When I speak to the powers-that-be of the Houston Rockets organization, we're going to find out how much they really want me there. We'll find out. I'm still waiting to find out if this is just a trade or if this is like a long-term commitment type thing. I haven't spoken to anybody yet. I'm still waiting.
You don't technically have any say (in the trade), but if you decided you didn't want to go there then they might think twice about this.
If they want me, I'm going. If they want me, and they're committed to Ron Artest, I'm gone. I don't have nothing to prove. I've been in the league going on 10 years. My first few years weren't as good as my last few years and my last seven years have been really consistent, so if they want me I'm gone and even if they don't want me, I still love Tracy McGrady. Every time I see him, he's always competitive, always shows love, and he always competes. I can't wait to play with Tracy McGrady, and I can't wait to play with Shane Battier and the rest of the guys like Rafer Alston. I just can't wait.
I've got to ask you - you didn't mention Yao and I'm sure you've heard of some of the stuff he said back in China. Did that catch you off guard?
This is Tracy and Yao's team, you know. I'm not going to take it personal. I understand what Yao said, but I'm still ghetto. That's not going to change. I'm never going to change my culture. Yao has played with a lot of black players, but I don't think he's ever played with a black player that really represents his culture as much as I represent my culture. Once Yao Ming gets to know me, he'll understand what I'm about. Sometimes it's hard to get to know Ron Artest because I'm so down to earth to a fault. But once Yao Ming gets to know me, he'll understand what I'm about and that I'm a pretty intelligent basketball player. I know how to adapt. And all I have to do is play defense anyways, so I can't wait.
But really, he doesn't have to talk to me because to me I'm going. But if Yao Ming needs to talk to his general manager and talk to Tracy, then if they want me, I am going.
They obviously want you for this year, but what if they told you it's nothing more than this year and let's see how it goes after that.
I already made my stance on that. I don't think you have to repeat that. Everybody knows I made my stance on what type of player I am and who I think I am.
I know you're excited to play with Rick, but are leaving with any bitter feelings with the Kings or fired up to join up with him?
I'm just excited to be reunited with Rick Adelman. I don't care about anything else. If Rick Adelman has Yao Ming, they win championships without even thinking about me. I don't even want people to think that because the Houston Rockets are acquiring Ron Artest, then that's the reason they'll get over the hump. They would've been over the hump if Yao Ming hadn't gone down. They were having a great season.
I'll come off the bench, I don't care. Let Shane start, and bring me off as a sixth man or seventh man. I would love to come off the bench in Houston. It doesn't even matter.
You threw me off with your comments about Yao, and now I'm wondering if you have any plans of throwing this thing off. Are you definitely going there?
It's up to Yao Ming. It's up to Yao Ming. Tracy McGrady called me. I was playing basketball when I heard about it...This is great. This is great for me.
So what do you do now with the Yao thing? Do you just wait to talk to them and go from there?
I've got to do what I've got to do, but I'm just so happy to be in the Houston Rockets' picture frame. I can't wait to be putting on that jersey and be standing next to Yao Ming. I can't wait. I guess once Yao Ming approves it, I'll be a Houston Rocket.
I know you can't read his mind, but did you feel like he was trying to send a statement to the organization with his comments?
I'm not on his team yet, and he has a team that played well this year. Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets, they don't need a Ron Artest. I'd be a great addition, but it's not like they needed a Ron Artest. I understand where he's coming from. But like I said, whatever Yao Ming wants to do baby, whatever Yao Ming wants to do. It's up to big fella because it's not my team.
It's his team, it's him and Tracy's team. But when I come in there, I'm definitely going to play my game and play to win. I'm definitely going to play with my ghetto and my hood roots. I'm going to play hard, and I'm going to play just like my culture taught me how to play.
Is that it? Is it a cultural thing?
No, it's not a cultural thing. I think Yao Ming is a great guy. He's a great face for the NBA, him and LeBron (James). Yao Ming is a different type of person where he's not from a ghetto in America, so he doesn't understand how someone from the ghetto really acts. And I'm like one of the most ghetto-ist guys in the NBA.
He probably reads all the headlines and doesn't understand. He automatically believes all the propaganda. He probably should've called me first. But at the same time, it's Yao Ming's team. If he tells me to jump off the building, I'll jump off the building.
Whatever Yao Ming wants me to do, I'll be there. Whatever Tracy McGrady tells me to do, that's how it's going to go down. Ultimately, whatever Rick Adelman tells me to do is exactly what I'm going to do.
It's been three or four years since the brawl. You surprised he went there (with his comments)?
I understand. I guess we're the same age, but he's looked at differently and he was raised differently....Yao Ming was raised differently. But definitely he shouldn't believe in the propaganda. You've also got to understand. I totally, totally represent my culture. So if you go back to the brawl, that's a culture issue right there. Somebody was disrespecting me, so he's got to understand where I'm coming from. People that know me know that Ron Artest never changed.
Like I said, I'm going to still stay true to myself and still stay true to my roots. Everybody knows that I'd give all the money in the world to play for Rick Adelman, so it is what it is and if they accept me on their team then I'll be on their team.
Tracy is known as an elite scorer but not so much for his defense. You going to teach him a few things?
All Tracy has to do is go score and I'm shutting (opponents) down. You score, Yao Ming in the post, I don't have to get doubled the whole game anymore in the post. When Yao Ming gets tired, I'll get on the block and give somebody some work. When they're ready to take Shane back over, I'll step back. I shot 38 percent from three last year. I don't have no problem with taking five or six threes a game. Just spotting up and playing defense.
I don't have a problem with stars not playing defense. That's great. That's right up my alley. I'm probably the only dude in the NBA who practices defense in the summer. That's right up my alley.
I'm real excited. I was a little bit thrown off by the whole Yao Ming thing. I called my dad, and my dad said, 'Ron don't worry about it.' I said, alright let's go. - Sam Amick