Artest deal makes Rockets a contender in Western Conference
The Houston Rockets may have just punched Tracy McGrady's ticket out of the first round.
SI.com confirmed Tuesday night that the Houston Rockets will send veteran guard Bobby Jackson, rookie forward Donte' Greene and a 2009 first-round pick to Sacramento for forward Ron Artest. The trade -- which was first reported by the Houston Chronicle -- reunites Artest with Rockets coach Rick Adelman, who coached Artest for 40 games in Sacramento in 2005-06.
Why is getting Artest a good move for Houston? Well, for starters, Artest's numbers are impressive. Artest, 28, averaged 20.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 57 games with the Kings last season. In addition, Artest, the 2004 Defensive Player of the Year, is still a lock-down defender; he has been named to the NBA All-Defensive first or second teams three times in his career. With Artest on board, the Rockets now have a premier defender to match up against Kobe Bryant, Manu Ginobili, Peja Stojakovic and Carmelo Anthony in the Western Conference.
But Artest's value goes far beyond the numbers. For the last four seasons, the Rockets have been searching for another All-Star-caliber player to pair with franchise cornerstones Yao Ming and McGrady. But finding someone who complements the skills of Yao and McGrady has been difficult.
Artest is the perfect complement. The 6-foot-7, 246-pound Artest can play three positions (shooting guard, small forward or power forward in a small lineup), he's a rugged defender (something McGrady is not) and he should be willing to cede some of the spotlight for a chance to win.
"He brings a mental and physical toughness," McGrady told KRIV television in Houston. "He brings a guy that competes at a high level on the basketball court. Defensively, he's tough. Offensively, he is a force to be reckoned with. He's probably one of the most difficult guys to guard on the perimeter because of his size, because of his strength."
Is there a downside? Yes. Greene, the 28th pick in the 2008 draft, has the potential to be a star. The 6-9, 222-pound swingman showed enormous potential at the Las Vegas summer league, where he averaged 22.8 points and 3.6 rebounds, including a 40-point outburst in his debut. Houston GM Daryl Morey told SI.com at the time that the team was "very high" on Greene. But though Greene may one day become a solid NBA player, the Rockets are built to win now.
Artest's volatility should be mitigated by the presence of Adelman, an excellent players' coach who enjoyed a relatively smooth half season with Artest in Sacramento (Artest was acquired at midseason from Indiana). Adelman's offensive philosophy favors ball movement (he is a disciple of the Princeton offense) and while he will at times force the ball to Yao in the low post, Adelman will make sure that Artest -- who averaged 16.9 shots per game last season -- gets his fair share of looks.
In Artest, the Rockets also find themselves with another legitimate low-post presence. When Artest and McGrady are paired together on the perimeter, one will ultimately have a mismatch. Artest is a physical post player who can bully smaller guards on his way to the rim while the fluid McGrady can shoot over almost anyone who plays his position.
With Yao, McGrady, Artest, power forward Luis Scola and point guard Rafer Alston, Houston now has one of the most formidable starting lineups in the West. If Yao can stay healthy, the Rockets have a legitimate chance to make a run for the conference title.