How times have changed. The Cavaliers used to be a black hole players tried their hardest to stay away from. Now, when a mercurial all star wants to be traded from his current team, he calls the Cavs by name.
Ron Artest recently told the Pacers he wants to be traded, and the reaction of the Indiana front office seems to be, "With pleasure."
The Pacers stuck by Artest through all his antics, his request to take time off to produce a rap album, and most notoriously, his 73-game suspension last season for igniting the worst fan-involved brawl in NBA history. I don't blame the Pacers, a class organization, for treating Artest's desire to defect as the last straw.
In making his trade request, Artest reportedly said he'd like to be traded to the Cavs, or to his hometown Knicks. The Pacers, meanwhile, might be exploring an Artest-for-Peja Stojakovic swap with Sacramento.
With regard to the Cavs, he reportedly said he'd "love to come off the bench behind LeBron James."
I admit, the prospect of Ron Artest on the Cavs is an intriguing one. The Cavs have been struggling defensively, and Artest was the 2004 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. With Artest in the lineup, Cleveland's league-worst defense against the three-point shot would be bound to improve.
Artest and Cavs coach Mike Brown have a working history. Artest was Brown's star pupil in Indiana, where Brown was the architect of one of the NBA's best defenses prior to landing the Cavs' head coaching job.
But selfish, mercurial sorts like Artest have a history of quickly wearing out their welcome in Cleveland. Albert Belle was gone by 1997 after the Indians made a half-hearted attempt to keep him in free agency. Milton Bradley was quickly traded in spring training 2004 after he was yanked out of a game for dogging it, then ditched the team via taxi.
Jeff McInnis wasn't even offered a contract by the Cavs after the way he finished last season.
Unlike Bradley or McInnis, Artest gives his game maximum effort every time he is on the floor. When he steps onto the court, winning matters to him more than just about anything. That, and his excellent skills at both ends of the floor, are the two most compelling reasons to want Artest on your team.
But Artest's horrible temper and sense of judgment that borders on batty are always simmering just below the surface. In a way, he is Milton Bradley with a large dose of Manny Ramirez mixed in. This season, he has by all accounts been a model citizen. But that didn't stop him from having the words "tru warier" carved into his hair for no apparent reason.
He is as unpredicatble as a mine field. One day, he is a good soldier. The next, he gets into a fight or decides he'd rather be P. Diddy than an NBA player. Those are the most compelling reasons to not want Artest on your team.
One has to wonder about the LeBron-Artest dynamic should Artest end up in Cleveland. If the No. 1 job of general manager Danny Ferry is to keep LeBron happy and do his best to ensure LeBron signs that big, fat contract extension the Cavs will likely slide under his nose next summer, Artest is a double-edged sword.
Winning is the staple ingredient to making sure LeBron stays a Cav for a long time. Right now, thanks to a lack of defense (the defense Artest could provide), the wins aren't coming.
But LeBron's happiness is also dependent on a healthy team environment, free of locker-room cancers and distractions from winning. That is the warning light pulsing when Artest walks into a room.
Artest could be the defensive yin to LeBron's offensive yang. He could raise the defensive bar for the Cavs and turn Cleveland into a team that prides itself on defense.
He could also be the selfish grenade that detonates the best team atmosphere the Cavs have had in quite some time. Buyer beware.
This could all be much ado about nothing. The Cavs would have to make it worth Indiana's while to trade Artest to a division rival. That probably couldn't be accomplished without getting a third team involved, like Sacramento.
We know LeBron, Larry Hughes, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Donyell Marshall are off limits in any trade. Damon Jones and Eric Snow would be tough to move because of their salaries. Trading Drew Gooden would open up a whole new hole in the front court. The Cavs are tapped out until 2009 with regard to trading first-roun draft picks.
There is one potential trump card the Cavs might have, however: Luke Jackson. Dangling Jackson as part of a three-team trade could entice the Pacers. Indiana team president Larry Bird likes Jackson. He even reportedly tried to move up on draft day 2004 to get Jackson, but he went to Cleveland with the 10th pick.
Jackson has been mired deep on Brown's bench for much of this season, and has provided limited production when he has played.