Artest can practice
No word on shorter suspension, but Walsh hopeful
Indiana Pacers forward Ron Artest will return to practice next week for the first time since being suspended for the remainder of the season after
fighting with Detroit fans on Nov. 19.
Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh said Friday that the team has been working with commissioner David Stern and the league to get Artest to practice but stressed
that he has not been reinstated.
"The league has allowed us to bring him back to practice," Walsh said. "I'm sure he will return sometime next week."
Depending on the team's practice schedule, the All-Star could be back with his teammates as early as Monday. Walsh said the team received the go-ahead
to allow Artest to practice about two weeks ago, but the Pacers' glut of road games prevented them from doing so until now.
"He looks really good," Walsh told ESPN Insider Chad Ford. "He's kept himself in shape. He's hungry. He's got a lot of energy."
"We've got two games to play before he practices," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said before his team played in Miami on Friday night. "I know Ron's been
looking forward to coming back. We'll see. We'll see. We plan to get him involved in a way that will help the team."
Having Artest back in practice will make the Pacers better, said reserve guard Anthony Johnson.
"It will definitely increase our intensity and the execution level in practice having an All-Star player return," Johnson said. "It brings in a player
with a high skill level who really likes to get into guys, a great defender. ... I know he's really going to elevate our play as a whole team."
Walsh said it was important to get Artest back with the team in some way so he did not feel abandoned while sitting out the entire season.
"He's isolated," Walsh said. "I think it'll be good for him and it will be good for the team."
Artest has spent some time in Conseco Fieldhouse working out on his own, and Walsh said he is eager to rejoin his teammates. He will not be able to
attend games or go on road trips.
"I don't think it's good for him to just be out there," Walsh said. "He is our player. I think it would be good for him to get back. He wants to
It was Artest who bolted into the stands after being hit in the face by a cup thrown by a Pistons fan, touching off a nasty brawl between players and
fans. Artest exchanged punches with several fans, as did Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O'Neal.
Jackson was suspended for 30 games and is due to return Wednesday at Boston. O'Neal's 25-game suspension was reduced to 15 by an arbitrator and he has
been back since Dec. 25.
Walsh said the league also did not allow O'Neal or Jackson to practice initially but relented as their return dates grew closer.
With Artest back in practice, the Pacers will have their full team back together for the first time since the November brawl. Jackson has been
practicing and traveling with the team for about 10 days, according to Walsh.
On Tuesday, Artest and other Pacers players must be in Detroit for a preliminary hearing on criminal charges filed. On Thursday, the team is back home
for a game against the Pistons. That means Friday may be the first time Artest has a chance to practice with the team.
Though he still holds out hope, Walsh made it clear on Friday that Artest's return to practice should not be confused with his return to game
"This in no way should be taken as an indication that he will return this season," Walsh said. "It has nothing to do with him being reinstated."
However, the Pacers and NBPA have made separate pleas to Stern, asking him to reduce Artest's suspension.
"I have no assurances of anything," Walsh told Ford. "I wouldn't take this as any indication that he's going to play again this season. But we did
talk to Stern and made our case. We received no commitments from the league that they're going to reduce the suspension."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.