by Earl K. Sneed

The war of words between Yao Ming and Ron Artest is probably not the start that Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey was looking for. Anytime you bring in a 20-point scoring defensive beast like Artest, that can get you five boards, three assists and two steals a game you hope that your team embraces him. So goes the life of a polarizing figure like Ron Ron.

While you have to love his game and what he could bring to the table, should he keep his head straight, he is still Queenbridge-bred and he’ll never let you forget. For a team of clean-cut good guys, the tough and rugged style of Artest is needed, regardless of what Yao says. Yeah, the Rockets already have a defensive perimeter guy in Shane Battier, and Yao can get you a few blocks a game, but both are the kind of guys to help someone from the other team up from the floor and neither of them will literally hit you in the chin with a one-hitter-quiter should you blow by them for a wide open layup. Ron Artest will not only do it, but he’ll go back and make a hip hop diss track about how he knocked you out. My kind of dude.

The question is will the Tru Warrior make the Rockets a “tru” contender out West or will they just make for the best Mutoni SLAM Wire postings all season long?

You have to figure that the Rockets will be able to keep Artest focused on basketball and out of the headlines, well at least out of the stands. Ronnie all but handpicked Rick Adelman to be his next Anger Management Coach, so he has to like his surroundings, pending teammates like Yao not publically bashing QB’s finest in the papers. Artest is like a delicate flower, meaning you have to tend to him everyday. Yao is right, chemistry is important, but criticizing your new teammate doesn’t do much as far as ice-breaking exercises go. If T-Mac and Yao want to get out of the First Round, it would be wise for them to learn to stroke Artest’s ego, see Tony Romo and T.O. (That’s my teammate man!)

While this deal won’t be finalized until mid-August, it is safe to say that with Artest the Rockets are Top 4 out West on paper. With Skip-to-My-Lou at the point, T-Mac at the two and Ron Ron at the three (my guess is Shane will move to the six man spot), with Scola and Yao tending to things in the paint, you have to think this team matches up with the Lakers, Hornets, and Spurs, leaving an up and coming Blazers team to battle with the Jazz, Suns, Mavs, Clippers, Warriors and Kings for the middle of the pack of the West. Title contenders? I’m not so ready to say that because you still have yet to see this team on the court together, and unlike the Celtics last year, you don’t really see how all of the pieces might fit together.

Will Artest still be able to post up weaker small forwards if Yao has the lane clogged up? Will Ronnie play the point forward? Will Battier or Austin go to the bench and how will that mesh with the chemistry of a team that won 22 straight last year? Oh, and the big question, how long will it take before the inevitable happens and Artest and his teammates stop seeing eye-to-eye, or has that already happened? It’s too many questions and only more will develop by October.

All joking aside, Morey and Adelman are not afraid to show that they are willing to take a big risk to win now, and they clearly see how much this team needs to distance itself from the perception that they are soft. If you look at the trade at face value it may make a lot of sense, but when you start to look at the details it could lean in Sacramento’s favor should Artest not pan out.

Sending Bobby Jackson back to Sac town is not a major blow, due to the developing Aaron Brooks and Artest/ T-Mac’s ability to play with the ball in their hands to take the ball handling responsibilities off of Skip at times. With that said, if the deal does in fact include Donte Greene and next year’s first round pick than this deal could have residual effects on the team’s future.

While Greene figures to be a project, he could be in the same mold as Rashard Lewis, so the Kings may have a future gem. As far as the future first rounder, it figures to be a late round pick so who knows what you well get there, but after all of the trades that Morey made to get Greene, it opens himself up for criticize if Greene flourishes and Artest returns to Malice in the Palace mode.

In short, don’t jump on the bandwagon too soon, Ryne. These are still the Rockets. The injury-prone, can’t make it out of the first round Rockets, but boy oh boy they do look good on paper. If nothing else, the NBA just got their newest soap opera or sitcom. “As the Rockets Launch.” No? “Houston we have a BIG Problem.” Nope? How about “General Hospital: Will Ron Ron send anyone to the ER?”