As repeatedly as Isiah Thomas starts afresh or breaks bread with those who’ve tormented, tortured or turned on him, the notion of reuniting with Ron Artest is so unappealing he wouldn’t give up Frederic Weis straight up.
I make this statement emphatically knowing what I know about their year-and-a-half Pacers association. Thomas found Artest so unmanageable, so disorderly, so inclined to do the opposite of what the situation called for, he seriously considered excluding him (and Ron Mercer) from the playoff roster in ’02-03. A late season superior recital at the Garden forced him to change his mind, but not his opinion or a scheme to get rid of him.
Thomas and Jermaine O’Neal were very tight. As far as I know, they still are. Thomas always told his franchise player everything he wanted to hear and saved the negative evaluations for the ears of others. He also manipulated him to do his dirty work.
That summer O’Neal became a free agent. Before he re-signed, I wrote a column that charged him with trying to use his leverage (in conjunction with his distaste for Artest’s irresponsibility, disruptive behavior and aloofness) to pressure management to trade Artest, Mercer and Jamaal Tinsley. It was clear who put him to it; Jermaine is too nice a person to pull such a Machiavellian stunt.
O’Neal was furious the story got out and denied its accuracy. Meanwhile, I got a frantic call from Thomas. He implored me to call O’Neal and convince him that he wasn’t the source, which is true. I had no problem with that. I called the number Thomas gave me but O’Neal never called back.
I know I’m naive; but it seems to me anybody who’d go to that extreme to deport Artest and two others (Thomas’ mistreatment of Tinsley is a sordid story for another day) from Indiana has no intention of importing him to New York,
Don’t get me wrong! I absolutely concur with Thomas’ position for all the obvious reasons. A day or so after Artest’s starring role in the Malice at the Palace, I called Thomas to get his take. “That’s what I’m talking about,” he said. “You could see this coming. It was just a matter of when.”
That’s why half the NBA is petrified to add Artest to their mix despite a relatively inexpensive outlay. The Pacers know they can’t get equal value, thus they’re willing to accept a young talent or two vs. an established veteran in hopes of getting a deal done swiftly. Nobody’s blaming Thomas for not wanting Artest. I just wish he’d come out and tell us what’s really on his mind instead of making a grandstand call to Walsh, then have one of his flacks leak it to the press.
(Robbie “White Chocolate” Gill is ready for his close-up. Sort of.)