Ron Artest's defensive skills, scoring ability and toughness will be put to good use by Houston.
On Dec. 31, 2007, Houston was 15-16 and 10th in the Western Conference. From Jan. 1 through the end of the season, the Rockets had an NBA-best 40-11 mark and climbed six spots in the standings.
Record: 55-27 (T-4th in West) Points scored: 96.7 (22nd in NBA) Points allowed: 92.0 (4th)
They took a one-year lease on a high-risk forward. The potential payoff: a shot at a title
It would be hard to come up with a riskier move this off-season than the Rockets' trade for Ron Artest, controversy magnet. "[His past] came up a lot," says general manager Daryl Morey, whose background check on Artest included speaking with people from Artest's last two NBA stops, Indiana and Sacramento. "But we got pretty comfortable that, while he's had a volatile past, we're getting him at probably the right time in his maturity, and we have much going for us to mitigate some of that risk."
Those mitigating factors include a locker room with strong character guys (Shane Battier, Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, among others); a coach, Rick Adelman, who is an Artest favorite (he once offered to give up his salary if the Kings retained Adelman; they didn't); and good timing (Artest, who was acquired as part of a five-player trade, is in a contract year and needs to play -- and behave -- well to earn a long-term deal).
The 6-foot-7, 264-pound Artest's basketball skills have never been questioned. With his ability to guard anyone from Kobe Bryant to Carmelo Anthony to Amaré Stoudemire, Artest (who said, "I don't have to answer that," when asked about his history) gives Houston the flexibility to go with a big lineup or a small one. He's also a smart passer and a scoring complement to McGrady and Yao. "This is the first time I've felt going into a season that something really special is going to come out of it if we put everything together and understand our roles," McGrady said at the start of training camp. "There's a God that sent help. I've been waiting for this [chance] for a while."-- Gene Menez
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