Artest shakes off rust with strong showing
The volatile All-Star will need to work harder on repairing his image.
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Ron Artest's exile is over. His long road back to the brink of NBA stardom is only beginning.
That road began at the Minnesota summer league, where Artest played with rookies, undrafted free agents and journeymen, trying to get comfortable in an Indiana Pacers uniform again.
It didn't take long.
Less than a minute into his first game, Artest took a pass at the left elbow of the 3-point line, elevated and drilled the shot. It was as though he had never left.
"Stopping on a dime and throwing it up and making it swish, that was cool," he said, his eyes bright and his smile beaming.
The pure love of the game always has been there. Unfortunately for Artest, that love has been accompanied by a volatile temper that can snap in the blink of an eye.
Despite being one of the best all-around players in the game -- able to shut down an opponent's top scorer on defense and drop 30 points with a near limitless repertoire on offense -- Artest is known more in the mainstream for his unpredictable and often boorish behavior.
It all came to a head on Nov. 19, when Artest charged into the stands in Auburn Hills, Mich., after a fan threw a beer on him moments after Artest was involved in an altercation with Pistons center Ben Wallace. Artest exchanged punches with fans, who relentlessly pelted Artest and his Pacers teammates with debris in one of the worst brawls in NBA history.
He was suspended for 73 regular season games, lost nearly $5 million in salary and was barred from a chance at revenge against the Pistons in the playoffs.
Staying in shape
Instead of sulking and pouting about his suspension, Artest went to work.
He retained his linebacker's physique and soft jumper despite not playing in a pro game for eight months, much to the amazement of Indiana center David Harrison.
"Every day he was in there working out like he was playing," Harrison said. "That taught me a lot, just seeing him out there still working after everything. If they told me, 'You're out for the year,' I don't think you'd see me for a long time."
Now he's back. Speaking to dozens of media members who waited outside the locker room after a meaningless summer league game in the middle of July, Artest said he might never change the negative perceptions surrounding him.
"I'm not trying to redo my image and I'm not trying to please anybody," Artest said. "I'm going to continue to do what I have to do and be myself.
"I'm not looking to do any Cheerios commercials or Coca-Cola commercials," Artest said.
What he wants to do more than anything is move ahead.
"When you have to sit out 73 games and not get paid, you're going to look forward to being back," coach Rick Carlisle said. "And you're probably going to have a little different perspective on things than you did before. I just know Ronnie's ready to come back, and really looking forward to being part of the team."