- The Washington Times - Friday, January 27, 2006

The Ron Artest-Peja Stojakovic trade helps both teams, plus increases the business of the mental-health experts of Sacramento.

Or perhaps the exchange helps neither team.

Perhaps Artest implodes before he reaches the 10-game mark with the Kings and Stojakovic coerces a sign-and-trade deal out of the Pacers following the season.

The initial breakdown is stuffed with a plethora of intangibles, starting with the prospect of Artest having another breakdown.

Artest, of course, has accepted the nut-job baton from Mike Tyson, which gives him a certain car-wreck appeal. America is determined to rubberneck from a safe distance.

Incredibly, Artest has morphed into a Top Five-like player, according to at least one of the ESPN analysts on steroids. His is a remarkable accomplishment, considering he has appeared in only 23 games the last two seasons and no one put him in such exalted company before he was assaulted with an empty cup in Auburn Hills, Mich., last season.

The flying cup precipitated one of the most riveting psychosocial dramas ever, of both players and fans gone wild that was said to have tarnished the NBA’s G-rated product, which, of course, it didn’t.

We are all animals, after all, and animals like a good row. It keeps it primal. Or real.

Even the most obtuse animals with mustard stains on their X-large shirts intended to hide their rolls of fat understood that the communication problem involving the Pacers, Pistons and fans was an aberration.

Being in an NBA arena is far safer than being behind the wheel of an automobile, heavy-handed though the observation may be.

The initial reaction of Artest not wanting to join the Kings can be taken as a sign of his improved coherence. Most players do not want to be sentenced to the cowbells of Sacramento, the cow being an apt symbol of the modest state capital.

Another positive indication of Artest’s mental stability was his decision to finally accept the trade after considering the suspend-without-pay option of the Pacers.

Even nut jobs discover that eating is habit-forming.

Artest leaves behind a whole lot of ill will in Indianapolis. There, the feeling of the players, management and fans was good riddance, the goodbye optional.

The NBA is one of the last refuges of the politically incorrect.

Artest would have to be a killer on death row to garner his proper share of sympathy from the blue-hued extremists in our midst.

The goofy-looking Maloof brothers, Joe and Gavin, have made a fortune exploiting the miseries of those who embrace the million-to-one dreams of the casinos in Las Vegas.

Accepting the miseries of Artest is their act of contrition.

The owners of the Kings flash the faraway smiles of those lurking on late-night infomercials. Their utterances merit a translation at the bottom of the television screen. They cannot expect Artest to salvage their team’s season after he sabotaged the last two seasons of the Pacers.

Odd as it is, Stojakovic has the sense of being the throw-in part of the exchange. Yet Stojakovic has appeared in three All-Star Games, two more than Artest.

The Serbian has learned well from his American brethren in the NBA, complaining of being disrespected as the deal unraveled late Tuesday.

His boo-hoo lacked the accompaniment of a violin and tissue, only a recognition that he has a tendency to be one of those shooters who likes to powder his nose before releasing a 3-point attempt.

Stojakovic is hardly what he was at the moment, not that he ever was the lead player of a team, except in his mind.

Yet he is considerably better than nothing, which is what Artest became with the Pacers, and that is giving him the benefit of the doubt.

The wayward shooting touch of Stojakovic is liable to benefit from the deconstruction of Larry Bird.

That is a clinical aspect of basketball the Pacers are eager to embrace after being a hand-holding enabler, apologist, spin doctor and part-time shrink to Artest.

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