I'm calling the Ron Artest trade the most intriguing move of the offseason. It will be very interesting to see how it turns out. It all depends on whether we see Good Ron or Bad Ron...
What to expect if Good Ron shows up
By "Good Ron", I am referring to the player who came to Sacramento midway through the 2005-06 season. The Ron who told Rick Adelman (coincidence?) that he would lead the Kings to the playoffs despite their longshot hopes at the time -- and delivered. The Ron who is just plain nasty and scares opposing offenses with his maniacal defense and physicality. The Ron who is comfortable playing in the shadows of superstars.
This is a side of Artest that we haven't seen much of, but he has been trying to make believers out of all of us ever since he was dealt. I was pleasantly surprised by his reaction to Yao Ming's public statements of concern regarding his character and the Detroit brawl. He's been referring to himself as a "Yao Ming Soldier" in interviews, and went out of his way to sort things out with the Chinese giant the day after Yao's remarks went public. He even hinted at the possibility of traveling to Beijing to support Yao in the Olympics this summer.
If Good Ron emerges and remains focused throughout the season the Rockets could be scary. In my book, they'd have a chance to dethrone the other Texas teams and compete for home court advantage in the West. At worst, he would help end McGrady's oh-for in playoff series. At best, he could help T-Mac shed his reputation as a perennial choker.
Even if Yao went down via another injury, the Rockets would be a tough out in the playoffs due to their defense alone. Put Ron with all-defensive player Shane Battier and a 67-year-old Mutombo, and there would be no easy baskets. In the Finals, we saw just how much of an impact stingy defense can have.
What to Expect if Bad Ron Shows Up
By "Bad Ron", I am referring to the bipolar sideshow that has earmarked the majority of Artest's career. The Ron who flirted with retirement to pursue a hip-hop career. The Ron who leaped into the stands and duked it out with Piston fans. The Ron who has a tendency to be at the center of domestic disputes.
Ron has always said that he is "misunderstood." No argument here. The majority of basketball fans are at least somewhat sane -- of course we don't understand the psychological or behavioral oddities of a lunatic. I know for certain Yao Ming doesn't understand him.
This oft-seen side of Artest has me worried. How can I expect him to mesh with the Gentle Giant and the emotional, softspoken McGrady? I won't be surprised if this whole thing backfires in an ugly way. If Bad Ron shows up, at best they are a fringe playoff team in the West with some serious issues heading into the playoffs. At worst, Ron goes Ricky Davis and poisons any chemistry this team has built. Meaning: no playoffs & no players that want to stay around to witness the carnage.
I've always believed that winning is the best medicine for any individual player's problems. For this reason, I think Good Ron is going to show up. As a Laker fan, I advocated an Odom for Artest deal. The Rockets have a championship-caliber roster, and Artest knows it. Despite his numerous character flaws, he is a fierce competitor who relishes the opportunity to win. The Kings sucked, and Artest knew that, too. Despite his god-given ability, he is an immature man who relishes the opportunity to make headlines (a la Dennis Rodman).
I see Ron's situation in Houston similar to Dennis' situation in Chicago. They are (and were) at the peak of their pre-madonna status, but nobody ever questions (or questioned) the toughness they brought to the table. For the first time since playing under Chuck Daly, Rodman respected his coach. Artest has played for Adelman before, and has nothing but good things to say about him.
In closing, I think the Ron Artest deal is going to work out for the Rockets. Of course, all bets are off if they start off slowly. If so, we are in for a circus, and the West is still safe for the other contenders' taking.