The trade that almost wasn't is finally happening. The Kings and Pacers have both signed off on a deal that will send Ron Artest to Sacramento and Peja Stojakovic to Indiana, the Pacers announced Thursday.
"Obviously, we're very happy about getting a player of his caliber," said Larry Bird, President of Basketball Operations for Indiana. "[Peja's] one of the best shooters in the league and we definitely feel he can come in and help us right away. We think he'll fit in with our team because he'll help spread the floor and give our big men better opportunities to score."
ESPN's Stephen A. Smith reports that Artest is boarding a plane for Boston and he will be in a Kings uniform Friday night against the Celtics.
"We wish Ron the best at Sacramento," said Pacers CEO/President Donnie Walsh. "There's no doubt in our mind he'll have an immediate impact on their team. We'll miss him very much. We know this has been a long process for our fans, but we have a player we think our fans will enjoy watching."
"They said they were going to try to get something sorted out to get the trade done," Artest told the Indianapolis Star by phone as he drove away from the meeting at Conseco Fieldhouse. Artest told the Star it was a good meeting.
However, ESPN's Jim Gray and Smith reported Wednesday after the meeting that Artest had agreed to be traded. Gray reported that Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof talked to Artest and planned to talk to him again before finalizing any trade.
On Tuesday, his agent was more guarded about the prospect of Artest playing in Sacramento.
"In the last month, Ron Artest has been vehemently portrayed in an unflattering manner in the media, specifically in the aftermath of requesting a trade, even after it was made clear that he only spoke out because he believed the Pacers were going to trade him to Sacramento, a place he did not want to go to," Mark Stevens said in a statement to Smith on Tuesday night. "Now it has become evident that this trade was not merely speculation but something that has been at least discussed for quite some time.
"Ron Artest did not want to be traded to Sacramento weeks ago, and he does not want to be traded to Sacramento now.
"Basketball is Ron Artest's passion. In order for Ron to fully demonstrate his natural skills and abilities, to the best of his abilities, he not only must be in an environment that is conducive to his growth an development as a player, he must also ensure that his family is happy and content as well. Ron does not believe that will be the case if he were in Sacramento. Period. However, as mentioned earlier, Ron is deeply committed to the sport of basketball and desperately misses playing the game he loves. If the trade is made he will play for his new team, regardless of how he may feel about it."
Stevens told ESPN's Greg Anthony that he thought Artest needed a stable situation with strong leadership, and that the uncertainty about both Kings coach Rick Adelman's future and the Kings' future in Sacramento indicated a lack of stability that would be uncomfortable for Artest.
Likewise, National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter told Anthony that Artest had not refused to report to Sacramento, although he had told Hunter of his reservations about the potential trade. Hunter expressed concern about reports that the Pacers might attempt to suspend Artest for playing a role in the Kings' rejection of the trade. Hunter told Anthony that Artest was not culpable for the possible dissolution of the deal because he had expressed that he would accept the trade.
The Pacers and Kings were close to a deal Tuesday, and Stojakovic stayed at the team hotel in Philadelphia when it appeared the trade would be finalized. But a source with inner knowledge of the day's events told Sheridan a call from Stevens to the Kings gave them second thoughts about pulling the trigger, and the deal was temporarily shelved.
"The way I was treated today, I was disappointed," Stojakovic told ESPN.com in Philadelphia. "I feel kind of disrespected with the way I found out. Thank God they have TVs here. I understand being traded, but this situation is weird. I had already planned my flight back to Sacramento, and now everything is reversed.
"I guess this is just a business, but the way I was told and the way I found out, I feel I deserved better from [Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof]. Anybody can get traded in the NBA, but the way I found out, it was disrespectful. I deserve better after seven and a half years."
Stojakovic rode the team bus on the two-hour trip to New York after arriving by limo at the Wachovia Center during the second half of Sacramento's 109-103 loss to Philadelphia. He attended the team meeting on Wednesday morning as the Kings prepared to face the New York Knicks.
A source told Sheridan that the efforts to rekindle the deal were ongoing Wednesday and extended all the way to the ownership level on both teams.
Artest, who is due to make $7.15 million next season and $7.8 million
in 2007-08, was a key component to a team that was expected to challenge for the Eastern Conference crown. He led the league in steals and was the Pacers' second-leading scorer at 19.4 points a game before being deactivated after publicly requesting a trade in early December.
Stojakovic has been having an unproductive, injury-hampered season for the last-place Kings, whose loss Tuesday was their third in a row. Stojakovic's scoring average is down almost eight points from his All-Star level of two years ago, and the Kings are at risk of losing him with nothing in return when he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Indiana has been holding out for more than six weeks for an offer that it deems acceptable. A proposed swap for Corey Maggette fell through because of the Pacers' concerns over Maggette's foot injury, and talks with several other Western Conference teams failed to produce a deal that pleased all parties.