Sports

Artest departure leaves Sacramento with plenty of problems to address

And now, the parts you will miss.

Because Ron Artest will be missed. Not in the way he turned his first name of the moment into a guessing game -- Artest requested to be called by his middle name, Bill, on a Sacramento radio show last month. Not because he was the only person who missed the well-telegraphed message that the Sacramento Kings had no interest in talking contract extension. Or that emotional discipline was never really his thing. And certainly not in the incessant waffling about his future in Sacramento.

There will be massive voids when the Artest trade to the Houston Rockets becomes official Aug. 14. A team already bad on defense loses its best defender, a team lacking post threats on offense losses its best post option and a bad rebounding team losses last season's third-best rebounder.

Whether Francisco Garcia or John Salmons replaces Artest as the starting small forward, with the chance that rookie Donte Greene could grow into the role, is the least of the Kings' problems. The team that won 38 games in 2007-08 will take a major hit in all the areas it is already susceptible.

That's the most of the problems.

In no particular order:

The defense

The Kings were 24th in scoring defense and 22nd in shooting defense. They lost 23 games by 10 points or more despite an offense that averaged 102.5 per outing.

Artest was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2003-04, as voted by the media, and first-team All-Defense in 2004 and '06 and second-team in '03, as selected by head coaches. Last season, he received two votes for first-team defense and four for second-team, finishing behind San Antonio's Bruce Bowen (officially listed at guard/forward), new Rockets teammate Shane Battier and Detroit's Tayshaun Price among small forwards and eighth among all forwards.

The dedication

Seriously. For all the melodramas that dominated his 2½ seasons as a King, he was a tremendous worker, easily one of the most dedicated players on a roster that at various times had rising stars and successful veterans.

That has always been the Artest contradiction: sometimes so undependable about his availability for a game hours away and yet so passionate about winning that some within the team said he was the hardest worker.

His young daughter had a cancerous tumor on her kidney and Artest continued to play. He played through the team's trips to Indiana in January and Memphis in February, visiting her during hospital stays, through the surgeries and chemotherapy. He could have asked for a leave and everyone would have understood. Artest missed one game.

The rebounding

The Kings finished 26th in rebounding percentage. Brad Miller led the team, Mikki Moore was second, Artest was third at 5.8, a solid contribution for a small forward. The Kings will be pushing to become more physical, on defense and on the boards, and Garcia or Salmons will not replace Artest in that regard.

The post play

Problem was, Artest would get the ball near the lane and hold it, wait for the defense to make its move, hold it some more, dribble, and hold it some more. But he was the only King opponents had to worry about in that spot.

After the trade is official, defenses will be able to fan out even more on the perimeter and not have to be concerned with getting hurt inside.

Bad news for Kevin Martin.

The return of Shareef Abdur-Rahim from knee surgery would be a boost for the post play. But while the veteran power forward is hoping to play, he also concedes there are serious concerns that his career is over, at which point there would be even more for the Kings to miss once Aug. 14 arrives.

  Comments