- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 20, 2005

SEATTLE — Whenever a team falls on hard times as the Washington Wizards have — they’re 4-13 over the last month — people start wondering whether it’s time to make a change here, a tweak there.

Indiana’s volatile Ron Artest — one day calling for a trade, the next telling his coaches and teammates he wants to remain with the Pacers — is on the market, according to team president Donnie Walsh. And because of his relatively low salary, teams are going to come calling.

Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld certainly isn’t satisfied with the Wizards in recent weeks — they have lost all three of their games so far on this road trip.

As a result, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan is expected to make a lineup change tonight against the Denver Nuggets, inserting forward Caron Butler into the starting lineup in place of Jared Jeffries.

Butler, who has come off the bench in the team’s first 23 games, is third on the Wizards in scoring (15.0) and rebounding (5.0). Jeffries has started all 23 games but is averaging just 5.3 points and 4.3 rebounds.

The slide also means Grunfeld at least has to be considering the tenacious defense Artest could bring to the buttery-soft Wizards. But point guard Gilbert Arenas, for one, wants no part of Artest.

“A guy like that can help any team,” Arenas said when asked whether he would like to have Artest as a teammate. “But he’s one of those guys where you’re going to need someone like Phil Jackson who has dealt with a guy with that type of personality.”

Nobody questions what Artest brings to the court for 48 minutes. But a more important factor for any potential suitors is the havoc he’s capable of creating off it.

Rightly or wrongly, Artest always will be connected to last season’s infamous brawl with abusive fans in Detroit that resulted in charges being brought against players and Artest receiving a 73-game suspension and losing $4.9 million in salary. Even before the brawl, Artest was guilty of questionable actions and infractions, not to mention his absurd desire to take an in-season hiatus to work more closely on his Tru Warier record label.

“If you really look at it, the same reason they are getting rid of him is the same reason a lot of teams won’t touch him: He can mess up a locker room,” Arenas said. “It’s a shame because if you look at what he does on the court, he’s just as important as Jermaine O’Neal. But when you think about what he does, you’d rather have Jermaine O’Neal. With Ron, you just don’t know what type of disturbances he’s going to bring to the locker room.”

Even if the Wizards don’t make a play for Artest, team captain Antawn Jamison knows trade rumors will grow stronger until the Feb. 23 trade deadline.

Jamison, mired in perhaps the worst shooting slump of his tenure in Washington, is against the Wizards tinkering with a team that has seven new faces on the roster.

“I’m happy with what we have,” said Jamison, who has made just 18 of his last 72 field goal attempts. “I don’t think they should make any changes — they should just let it ride out. We’re going to be all right.”

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