LOS ANGELES - From Ron Artest's generally unique perspective, the issues that might keep the star-quality free agents from signing with the Knicks next summer aren't as much the supporting cast or the recent history of perpetual losing. Instead it is a much greater problem that not even the Knicks can control.
The Lakers forward, who is proudly from Queensbridge, said players are "scared" of New York.
"People always say, 'New York, they always booing us.' They're just scared," Artest said Tuesday after the morning shootaround, before the Knicks, who are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday, played the Lakers last night at Staples Center. "They're just scared of the fans and scared of the media . . . They're scared because you know how crazy it is in New York in the media and when you have a bad game and once that pressure gets to you. But if somebody wants to be there, they've got to be able to say, 'Enough of this B.S., and I don't care what anybody thinks of me.' Even if the fans boo when you lose, you've got to be able to take that and play."
He later said: "You know how New York is, if you're not doing well, we don't like you. You know? You've got to produce . . . You guys have to write stories and the fans want to win. So if you go with that understanding, you'll be fine in New York. New York is a tough place and a tough place to play."
Artest, in an uninterrupted, effusive monologue, also explained how he would handle things if he played in New York.
He insists he wouldn't allow the media to put pressure on him. "That's why I went to St. John's. People were like, 'Don't go to St. John's because you don't need the distractions.' I was like, 'I'm going here because I want to go here.' If I wanted to play for the Knicks, I would play because I wanted to play and I wouldn't feel no pressure from anybody."
Asked if he felt if LeBron James - the Knicks' primary target in the 2010 free agency sweepstakes - could handle the pressure, Artest replied: "LeBron? I know he could."
Artest had held out hope that he might one day play for the Knicks, who infamously passed on him in the 1999 draft for French center Frederic Weis. Isiah Thomas couldn't work out a trade to acquire him from the Sacramento Kings and Donnie Walsh showed no interest in giving up 2010-11 salary-cap space by signing him as a free agent this summer.
Though Artest now seems to have given up on his dream, he still wants to see the franchise get back on its feet and be a contender.
Phil Jackson, who was part of the franchise's brief and distant championship era and not too long ago strongly considered coaching the Knicks, considers New York "an attractive place to play" and "all the facilities are in place to make life as easy as possible for the players." But he did not agree with Larry Brown, who earlier this season said the NBA needed the Knicks to be a good team.
"I don't know, how long has it been?" Jackson said. "I don't even think 2001 was a team you could say was a great team. It hasn't been since the mid-'90s, somewhere in that era, that the team has been a substantial team. They haven't won a championship since '73 and the league's been doing fine. It's nice to have a good team there and it's important that basketball is still an important game to the New Yorkers. But the league has survived without them having a championship or [being] contenders."
But just how much better off would the league be if there was a bona fide superstar in New York?
"It'll be a huge thing to see L.A.-New York in the championship, you know?" Artest said. "Somebody, go to New York."