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Artest 'might be on the bench again'

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Ron Artest vs. Rick Carlisle saga grew more bizarre Monday, with Artest missing the morning shootaround, meeting with team officials and then coming up with a mysterious injury.

Artest surprised the Pacers by saying he would sit out Monday
night's game against the Memphis Grizzlies because of a sore back.
But 30 minutes before tipoff, Pacers officials announced Artest
would play.

The developments came two nights after Artest was benched for
the second half of a loss to New Jersey for what Carlisle called
"conduct detrimental to winning."

Artest called the team Monday morning and said he had overslept.
As punishment for missing the shootaround, Al Harrington started in
Artest's place.

Artest was summoned to a meeting with team president Larry Bird
and CEO Donnie Walsh that Carlisle termed "productive, upbeat,
honest and forthright."

"I view this as an isolated incident," Carlisle said. "It's
over with. It's in the past, it's been talked about and we're
moving on."

Artest was more noncommittal.

"I don't like being benched or anything like that, but he's got
a way he wants to run the offense and run the team," Artest said.
"It doesn't mean I'm not going to shoot. I might be on the bench
again."

Bird and Walsh declined interview requests.

Artest checked into the game with 4:56 remaining in the first
quarter.

Artest and Carlisle have disagreed about the coach's offensive
system, which calls for set plays on most trips down the floor.
Their differences came to a head against the Nets, when Artest took
three 3-pointers out of the flow of the offense in the first
quarter.

Artest also gave a lackluster defensive effort and argued with
Carlisle at halftime, prompting the coach to bench him for the
second half.

"I wasn't playing how he wanted me to play," Artest said. "I
didn't play well for about three minutes and it kind of blew up.
You just deal with it."

Artest said he would "never" change the way he plays, but he
also seemed willing to work with Carlisle.

"Coach (isn't) compromising," Artest said. "Coach is going to
run the offense how he wants to run it."

Carlisle ripped the team Pacers after the loss to the Nets,
saying Artest "compromised what the game is all about."

He tried to contact Artest on Sunday, calling him on the phone
and even stopping by his house and knocking on his door, but Artest
was not home.

The recent troubles have been the first for Artest this season
after he was suspended for 12 games and fined $155,000 last year.
His mature, well-rounded play has been one of the main reasons the
Pacers have spent the entire season in first place in the East.

But things started to sour after a blowout loss to Minnesota on
Dec. 20, when Artest called Carlisle's offense "boring." His
criticisms continued after losses to Milwaukee and the Nets, and
Artest suggested he may be a better fit on a different team.

On Monday, however, Artest made it clear he wants to remain in
Indiana.

"We're going to make it work here, definitely," Artest said.
"We're trying to make big things happen this year."

Carlisle supported Artest, saying he wasn't on the trading
block.

"I think Ron's here for the year," Carlisle said. "He's too
valuable of a player. He's an essential part of this system and
much of it is built around his abilities on both ends of the
floor."

The distraction comes at a time when the Pacers are struggling
to get wins. After starting the season 14-2, they're 7-8 and have
lost two in a row for the first time.

"You're going to have some tough times," Carlisle said. "I
don't mind, because getting through tough times is what makes a
good team a better team.

"The wrong kinds of distractions generally aren't good, but
they're going to have to be overcome with any team at some point.
I'd just as soon deal with it now, rather than later."