We know the ending. Ron Artest to the Rockets for Bobby Jackson, Donte Greene and a No. 1, with minor pieces to be added for financial purposes, a deal that will become official Aug. 14 when the calendar cooperates and the holdup of a salary-cap technicality expires.
In retrospect, Houston was a very logical Artest destination. I had thought so for the last week or so, but could not nail anything down. The Rockets were one of the few teams that fit the unique set of circumstances that would prompt someone to undertake the challenge of the Tour de Ron, so no great surprise.
It makes so much sense in the end. It's like that backwards episode on "Seinfeld." Start with the outcome and fit the pieces together that led everyone to this point and it becomes easy to see the Rockets at the finish line.
One reason they would not have been an obvious fit, and it's a big one: position need. The Rockets were more than covered at small forward with Shane Battier, a much better complementary fit for the Tracy McGrady / Yao Ming foundation. Battier keeps the ball moving, does not disrupt, and last season was easily rated a better defender.
Otherwise, a match.
The standings. The team that takes on Artest has to be a team pushing to make something happen now. The risk is too great. A young club ramping up for 2010 or '11, a fringe playoff possibility, an owner content to float around No. 8 in either conference and make money -- they don't give up a first-round pick this year (Greene) and next for a guy who could bolt in 11 months as a free agent and is wildly unpredictable no matter the contract status.
The Warriors were a potential exception because Chris Mullin loves Artest and Artest could have played power forward in the Don Nelson smallball world. Maybe a team in the Eastern Conference, knowing anything's possible there. Mostly, though, the Kings' trade partner had to need to push the envelope.
The Rockets won 55 games... and finished third in the Southwest Division and tied for fourth in the Western Conference. Yao played just 55 games and McGrady 66, so Houston would have been better in 2008-09 just by being healthy, but so would the Lakers with Andrew Bynum back and the Hornets with the valuable postseason experience and the addition of free agent James Posey. This was no time for the Rockets to feel content.
The price. Again, no playoff team was going to rip a chunk from its rotation and no playoff wannabe was going to mortgage the future for a free agent-in-waiting with his history. The Rockets spent one player who was on the team last season, and Jackson was there for 26 games, mostly as a reserve. Greene is 20 years old and the No. 28 selection in the draft after one season at Syracuse. He could have spent 2008-09 near the end of the bench. The pick next June projects to be somewhere in the 20s.
The atmosphere. It's one of the reasons the Lakers made so much sense, because of Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson on board as strong personalities to keep Artest in check, or close to it. The Rockets don't have that. But the Rockets do have someone with a history of reaching Artest.
Rick Adelman coached Artest for all of three-plus months with the Kings in 2006, after Artest came from Indiana in the Peja Stojakovic deal, but it was a good short-term match. Adelman has good feelings for Artest and Artest will arrive in Houston with good feelings for Adelman. There's every chance that will change, but it's a good start, at least.
The Kings. They were not going to do a deal just to get away from Artest and they were not going to take back any more bad contracts. Longer contracts for good young players, yes. Longer, bloated contracts for average old players, no. Given the choice between the latter and holding on to Artest the entire season, they would have held and considered his departure as a free agent in the summer of 2009 as the gain.
The Rockets could offer the proper dollar considerations and the desired Sacramento roster infusion. Jackson is 35 and on the books for $6.49 million, but an expiring contract. No great financial commitment there. Greene is hope for the future. The No. 1 in '09 is hope for the future.