Ron Artest to Houston. No NBA summer is complete without the Rockets picking up yet another forward who is supposed to put them into title contention.
In the summer of 2005, the Houston Rockets picked up Stromile Swift from the Memphis Grizzlies, and, due to the immense amount of methamphetamine I must have been shooting into my eyeballs at the time, I thought that they finally had the athletic forward who can take the pressure off Yao Ming on the block and push them to the NBA Finals.
Of course, that year Yao and Tracy McGrady combined to miss 3,000 games total, and the Rockets missed the playoffs altogether.
The next year, they brought in another forward, Shane Battier, for the lump Swift and future perennial-All-Star-on-a-bad-team Rudy Gay. It seemed like a lot to give up for a role player/character guy, but they seemed to adapt pretty well before yet another disappointing first-round playoff knockout for Yao and T-Mac.
Then last year, they brought in yet another forward, Luis Scola, strengthened the guard position, and looked like title contenders again before Yao ended his season for a Chinese government-mandated "Your Parents Will Mysteriously Disappear If You Miss The Olympics"-vacation.
That brings us to this year and Ron “Punchy” Artest.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Ron Artest. I think he should be on the USA Olympic team, and not just because he would have the most potential since Mike Tyson to cause an international incident.
Artest is renowned for his perimeter defense, but his powerful body also makes him sneakily good at posting up on offense. That’s great. He also likes to dribble the nubs off the basketball. And, despite his post skills, he loves chucking up jump shots.
Unfortunately, Tracy McGrady already has that skill set covered for the Rockets, and that’s not even mentioning Steve Francis. Plus, unlike Battier and Scola, Artest's desire to hold and caress the ball means even fewer touches for Yao, the focal point through which all their plays should run.
On the defensive end, Shane Battier is the rare breed of player who is classy enough to come off the bench behind Artest when Battier would normally start for most teams in this league, which incredibly gives the Rockets an elite, veteran perimeter defender on both the first and second teams.
However, according to John Hollinger's "spies"—probably the same guy who sent military secrets to China—the Rockets are planning to keep Battier at the three and play Artest at the four.
What the funk? Are they seriously expecting Ron Artest to be guarding guys like Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and Chris Bosh? (No, Yao, put your hand down.) And where does that leave last year's breakouts, Luis Scola and Carl Landry, in the competition for minutes?
Then again, Rick Adelman earns his paycheck on getting players to move the ball around on offense, and Artest is supposedly an underrated playmaker (mysteriously skills always appear when sportswriters need to justify trade—e.g. Artest’s hidden play-making skills or Kwame Brown’s hidden basketball-playing skills). If they work as well together here as they did in Sacramento (Artest dished one APG above his career average during his tenure with Adelman—one whole assist!!), then could be contenders after all.
Regardless, Artest's salary has always been a bargain, with his level of talent countered by his level of craz. With only one year left on contract, he's well worth the risk. Plus, Yao is definitely missing time after rushing back early from a foot injury to play in the Olympics, and T-Mac is definitely missing time because he just likes doing that kind of stuff.
Let's face it, nobody plans their defense around Rafer Alston. When that happens, the Rockets will be thankful that other teams will still have to worry about Punchy Artest.