A week ago, I called Ron Artest the most valuable King. And the numbers don't lie - his presence makes everyone better.
But he is killing this team.
He's begging to get Mike Bibby traded, or to get traded himself. His actions speak louder than any demands could. He is fighting a battle in the shadows, trying to take this for his own. The "I guess I have to guard the point guard, too" comment. The play at the end of the Utah game. Taking himself out of the lineup at the last minute last night. It's all a push for power, whether Ron-Ron is doing it consciously or not. It's his way to both show the powers that he is the most important piece and that he is in control.
And it's working.
The Kings won't dare suspend or otherwise punish Artest for his bullsh*t manuever last night. If I were in the position, I doubt I'd punish him. They've lost control. If things don't go exactly the way he wants them to go, all he has to do is yank his injury string and sit. And the Kings are then virtually guaranteed to lose.
I thought Eric Musselman would be a disciplinarian where Rick Adelman was lax. I thought Artest would realize his next big contract depended on being the classiest of guys on the court and in the lockerroom. I thought Bibby - not a leader by any stretch of the imagination - would cede control of the on-court Kings to Artest.
I was wrong on all three counts.
Musselman seems like he's trying to be even more of a player's coach than Adelman was. Maybe he's overcompensating for his unfair Golden State reputation, maybe he thinks he can juggle these incredible personalities. At this point, it's clear he can't. Adelman, I'm afraid to say, did.
Artest is too shortsighted, too caught up in right this minute to see the forest. Summer 2008 is a long time from now, and Ron-Ron can't even possibly be counting his free agent dollars. He's too busy counting his shot attempts and making sure everyone knows he's the biggest rooster in this pen.
Bibby has chosen an odd time to puff out his feathers. To his credit, he has sucked up his pride on his sucky start, not playing the injury card or blaming the slump on anything other than a slump and the overall stagnant offense. But making a big deal about the ball being out of your hands? Taking offense on statements from a guy you rib harder than anyone? (See: The "blacked out" comment.) Please. Yeah, Ron's infuriating. He also almost singlehandedly got you into the playoffs last year. He's the face of the franchise, for better or worse. Deal with it.
Because Musselman can't control his team, Artest can't control his mouth, and Bibby can't deal with his hurt feelings, this team is in a freefall, and Geoff Petrie is the one who has to fix it. That may mean moving Bibby, it may mean asking Elgin Baylor if he's still interested in Ron. If neither of those options are permeable, maybe it means sitting Artest down for a game or two to try to wrestle control of the roster back. I doubt it would work, but at some point (February 22), it becomes the only option.
We knew what we were getting into when we advocated for the Ron-Ron trade. That bitter fruit, it's ripe.