by Marcel Mutoni

In light of last night’s wholly unexpected news, it’s the question that must be asked today: With Ron Artest, can the Houston Rockets win a championship next season?

Forget about getting out of the First Round; the hopes, dreams, and expectations are much loftier this morning in Clutch City. The starting lineup on paper alone – Mac, Yao, Rafer, Scola, Artest – is already arguably the League’s best. It’s not hard to see why Rockets fans are more than a little anxious for the 2008-09 campaign to kick off.

Of course, this is still Ron Artest we’re talking about. Yes, he’s exceptionally talented on both ends of the floor, and when mood permitting, quite often the NBA’s best one-on-one defender.

But he’s also the same guy that charged after a fan in the stands a few years back because beer was thrown at him; the same guy who asked for time off from his team so he could work on his rap album; the same guy who’s been arrested on domestic violence charges; the same guy who will occasionally skip a game or practice without a valid reason.

With Ron Artest on your squad, you must be fully prepared to take the good with the batsh*t crazy.

Of course there are other factors at play here: McGrady and Ming’s never-ending health concerns, this team’s ability to share the ball in a civil manner, and the Playoff ghosts that haunt Rick Adelman’s (who knows first-hand what it’s like to deal with Artest on a daily basis) dreams.

At the end of the day, however, this team’s success will depend largely on Ron-Ron’s behavior from November to June. So, indeed, proceed with caution Houstonites. He may end up being your savior, but depending the alignment of the stars, Mr. Artest could also just as easily flush the whole promising season down the toilet.