You know the emotional obstacle course, his ability to keep even the Kings guessing on his availability for a game a few hours later, his incessant flip-flopping over wanting to be here / not wanting to be here / waking up with buyer's remorse over not opting out. Boy, do you know.
Two-and-a-half seasons is a long time on any ride with so many 100-degree turnarounds. But his decision Monday to stay in his contract rather than void the final season and become a free agent on the spot is a positive development for the Kings. Not bad news, either, for whatever pharmacy with massive amounts of meds to combat high blood pressure, sleepless nights and accelerating nervous ticks is closest to the Arco executives suites and coaching offices.
In other non-ulcer news:
*The Kings are back in control. They have nearly eight months, until the trade deadline in late-February, to decide whether Artest stays or goes and, in the event he gets an out-bound ticket, where. The possibility of losing him for nothing grows exponentially from there, but Geoff Petrie may still have the option of browsing through some deals, depending where Artest wants to go as a free agent in summer 2009.
*Trading Artest will be much easier in the next eight months than the last eight months. The new advantage for the Kings is that the calendar has turned and Artest is now officially in the final season of his contract, an added appeal to any team considering acquiring him. That team would now get a talented small forward plus an expiring contract, giving them cap flexibility next summer and the chance to try out the relationship without having to make a long-term commitment. It's always good to know the location of all emergency exits when flying Air Ron.
*Artest will still be working under a reasonable salary, $7.4 million. He doesn't clog the cap. If the Kings can trade him, great. If not, he will produce on both ends at a bargain rate. There will be issues, because there always are, but on a team that needs to move some bad contracts, he isn't one of them. Small favors.
*If Artest had become a free agent July 1, before regretting it and changing his mind, and then changing his mind again, the Kings could have lost him without compensation. The Kings could also have worked a sign-and-trade, but it's a bad assumption to consider that an automatic outcome. They were not going to take back bad contracts or bad players with reasonable contracts just to say they salvaged something. This way, they have eight months to ditch him on their terms and, fail that, another stretch beginning next July to weight sign-and-trade possibilities.
Not that the Kings necessarily want more time with Artest. It is a possibility, though. A lot of the trade possibilities that once existed have dried up over changing circumstances in Sacramento and elsewhere.
But options always develop and so there will be new ones, especially if the other team is willing and able to take a bad contract from the Kings. Some front office will miss out on the free-agent priorities and feel the need to do something before camp or some club will have a bad start in the winter and worry about the title hopes pulling away and need to do something before the February trade deadline. Of course something always happens. It's Artest.