Sunday Basketball notes

Hard to know what to call Artest these days

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / August 28, 2011

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Having experienced an NBA career in which he was transformed from rookie cornerstone to villain to sympathetic figure to league champion, Ron Artest not only welcomes change, he relishes it.

So just when Artest’s career leveled to the normalcy phase, he decided to give his image another jump-start with a name change. On Friday, Artest’s quest to legally change his name to Metta World Peace was delayed three weeks because of traffic warrants, but he fully plans to use the name, to promote unity.

Exactly how, he isn’t quite sure. But perhaps the drastic name alteration will foster nonviolence. His explanation isn’t clear as to why 10 years into his career he would take World B. Free’s idea a step further. But then again, nothing Artest does makes sense on a practical level.

“It’s just about love, world peace, everybody can relate to that,’’ he said. “Whether it’s in the same community or same state or same country, or whether it’s country to country going to war, it’s just like world peace, you know what I mean? And kids need to know that and they know it now.’’

Artest is a complex man who has no issue baring his soul and his bizarreness in a public manner. While his cohorts are pursuing contracts with European teams in Turkey, Italy, and Spain, Artest is seeking a contract in London, not exactly a hotbed for international basketball.

Last year with the Lakers, Artest returned to the No. 15 uniform number he wore at St. John’s and as a Bulls rookie, but he apparently couldn’t stand the idea of normalcy and will change to 70 - the ninth number adjustment of his career.

Why 70?

“It’s like the universe, something to do with the universe,’’ he said. “Everything kind of repeats itself and the universe is one. It’s the same thing, healthy minds and stuff like that. Keeping the kids positive.

“I think I am at number eight with my jersey number [changes], so I’m hopefully trying to get to 10. That would be a great career.’’

It seems Artest was oblivious to the criticism that peppered him last season. After his perimeter shooting extinguished an exhausted Celtics team in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals, he responded with the worst statistical year of his career. He averaged just 8.5 points per game; his once-feared defensive skills looked ragged and faded, and he was constantly target practice for coach Phil Jackson.

The Lakers’ season crashed and burned in the second round of the playoffs against the eventual champion Mavericks. Los Angeles was not only swept but embarrassed, with Andrew Bynum symbolizing the collapse by getting ejected for a flagrant foul and then ripping off his jersey as he exited the court.

Much of the blame was placed on Artest, who appeared to lose focus at times after winning the first title of his tumultuous career. But with three years remaining on his contract and his emotional state always in question, Artest’s stock has taken a dip.

Kobe Bryant has promised to atone for last spring’s breakdown, and Artest looks to be in good shape. In pickup games at UCLA, he simply used his strength to defend. In one sequence, current UCLA guard Lazeric Jones worked the ball up the court, only to be defended by Artest near the midcourt sideline.

Artest, with a bulging forearm, reached out and offered Jones a shiver, forcing the senior guard to drop the ball out of bounds. Because it was an informal pickup game, Jones’s team was allowed to retain possession but the guard walked away shaking his head in amazement at Artest’s brute strength.

During his prime, Artest was a game-changing defender, but now he is becoming more known for his off-the-court activities, including a record label, a chain of restaurants, and a waterless car wash. How much does he have left? No assessment of Artest produces a simple answer.

Asked about last season, he said, “I thought it was good, man. We had a chance to go to the Finals four times in a row and came up short, but overall I thought it was all right. Phil never made the Finals four times in a row, only three times, so [losing before the Finals] was nothing new.

“We were motivated last year, I just think we lost. I think we lost fair and square, no excuses. The only thing I can say is the Lakers were probably a little tired. We thought we would win but Dallas just came and they brung it, they just brung it.’’

Artest said he is going to sign with the Cheshire Jets in Great Britain, but will decide by Nov. 22 whether to join the club if the lockout continues. Artest said he has been offered more money to play with more highly regarded teams overseas but he likes the small arenas and laid-back atmosphere in Britain.

It’s no shock that Artest goes against the grain on his lockout activities. He says he has three movies about to be released and is releasing a music single for himself as well as his daughter.

So Metta World Peace is doing anything but being tranquil. Conventional behavior is not in Artest’s nature.

Volleyball is a Love interest Kevin Love looks as if he has been working all summer on his conditioning, dropping to 240 pounds after playing most of last season with the Timberwolves at 265. This new-look Love, who led the NBA with 15.2 rebounds per game, participated in his first beach volleyball tournament Thursday, the Jose Cuervo Open in Manhattan Beach, Calif.

Love and partner Hans Stolfus lost, 21-15, 21-13, to the top-seeded duo of Sean Scott and John Hyden in the first round, giving the power forward some perspective on pursuing another professional sport.

Love and Stolfus were supposed to play in the qualifying round against teams of similar talent but at the last minute they were seeded and placed in the arduous position of facing two of the nation’s top Olympic hopefuls.

Players such as Love are chasing other dreams during the lockout, and the 6-foot-10-inch former UCLA standout learned the hard way that beach volleyball is more than spiking against defenseless opponents. On several occasions, Scott and Hyden met Love at the net and slammed the ball past him with little regard for his hulking frame.

“The experience was great,’’ Love said. “On a scale of 1 to 10, it was right at the top. I’d have to say being able to cross over sports is not an easy thing to do. Putting yourself out there and developing a relationship with players from a different sport is really what it’s all about.’’

Love, added to the NBA All-Star Game last February as an injury replacement, is one of the league’s emerging stars. He said he played beach volleyball for a little more than a month before his first professional match, which was not exactly brimming with intensity. When Love and Stolfus found out they were matched up with the Scott-Hyden team, their approach changed.

“The minute we knew there wasn’t going to be a qualifier and it had changed to us being the last seed in the draw, we basically both said, ‘Let’s have as much fun with it as possible,’’ said Stolfus, a nine-year veteran of the pro beach volleyball tour. “If we went in serious and said, ‘Let’s go, we got a side out right here,’ we would have put too much pressure on ourselves. That’s a team that hasn’t lost all year, so that’s a really good opponent.’’

Love learned that technique beats size in this game. He took a Hyden spike to the head at one point and another time punished the ball so furiously that it sailed well out of bounds. But Stolfus said Love isn’t just some stiff looking for publicity.

“He’s been phenomenal,’’ said Stolfus. “From the days that he’s started playing to just now, the learning curve is as steep as I have ever seen. From a guy that literally stepped foot on the sand and said, ‘OK, how do I do this?’ He’s like a sponge, it’s not an easy game to pick up.’’

For a sport desperately seeking publicity - the tournament was free to the public - Love is helping shed some light on it.

“What he does for the game [the other players] respect,’’ Stolfus said. “What he does is he’s able to bring attention to the game in a non-Olympic year. And that’s fantastic.

“[The players] understand that. It’s all gravy for the game. It’s a fun sport and we need more attention on it. And on the second practice, he said, ‘I’m addicted.’

“Did it start as a promotion? Sure. But now we may have a beach volleyball fan for life.’’

As much as Love attempted to shift the focus away from the problems of the NBA, he couldn’t. One of the more intelligent and astute players in the league, the fourth-year forward had to address the labor situation.

“It’s disheartening not only to the fans, the owners, and the players, but you have the in-house people - people that are working the games and feel like they are part of the organization,’’ he said. “I just don’t think it’s good for business if we don’t have a season. All the players really want is to play basketball and hopefully we can work out the right deal.

“I think we anticipate missing games but all we can do is keep on a steady path. We want to play basketball, for the NBA.’’

New Nugget eager for shot Jordan Hamilton is one of those rookies in limbo, eagerly anticipating the opportunity to prove his worth to his detractors but able to do little besides stay in shape because of the lockout.

The swingman from the University of Texas considered following teammate Avery Bradley into last year’s draft but entered as a sophomore this year.

Bradley, the Celtics guard, had a difficult rookie season, battling a painful ankle injury that lingered deep into the season. During that time, Bradley was offering advice to Hamilton, who was trying to improve his NBA stock after hearing criticism about his inconsistency and lack of leadership.

Hamilton, who was dealt to the Nuggets on a draft-night trade, hopes to blend in with Denver’s younger core.

“I talked to Avery a lot and he told me the injury was kind of tough on him,’’ said Hamilton, a 6-foot-7-inch, 220-pounder. “All in all, the veterans made sure he was taken care of and he made sure he worked hard and he listened.

“I think Avery’s going to have a good career. It’s good to talk to a guy like Avery because he can tell you what coaches are going to expect out of you as a rookie and on a team that’s made the playoffs.’’

Hamilton said he met with Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri a day before the lockout began, but like all players, he has been banned from contact with team officials. He has worked out feverishly this summer but he still craves guidance.

“It’s been tough because at times I want to know what’s really going on and get a better feel of things,’’ he said. “But right now we have to wait it out and see what happens. If not, I may just have to make a move [overseas] to get some kind of income.’’

Hamilton developed a reputation as more of a spot-up shooter and took his share of criticism at Texas, as the Longhorns were unable to advance beyond the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament in his two years.

“Most people look at me as a guy who can come off screens,’’ said Hamilton, who averaged 18.6 points and 7.7 rebounds as a sophomore. “I want to show people I can put the ball on the ground and get to the rack. I can post up smaller guys. I can take bigger guys out on the wing.

“I think I am an underrated rebounder and passer, so I just want to work on those things and go in and have a great career.’’

Clock ticking as sides meet The league and the players’ association reportedly have agreed to meet this week in their first organized negotiating session in nearly a month. Training camps are scheduled to kick off in early October and the belief is that an agreement must be reached by the middle of September to secure a full training camp. That seems hardly possible, given that the league filed two lawsuits against the union following the last negotiating session. And an increasing number of players are pessimistic about starting the season on time, including 76ers forward Elton Brand, who organized a team workout at UCLA this weekend.

Layups The Timberwolves are still looking for a coach, and Kevin Love not-so-inconspicuously endorsed Rick Adelman for the job. Adelman, the former Blazers, Kings, and Rockets coach, met with general manager David Kahn Tuesday and appears to be the front-runner. Minnesota also talked with Larry Brown and former Hawks coach Mike Woodson, who is also talking with the Knicks about their defensive specialist position . . . This weekend’s Under Armour Elite 24 tournament featuring two dozen of the nation’s best senior and junior players has a link to the lockout for those players interested in entering the draft one year after their high school eligibility concludes. The new collective bargaining agreement is sure to address the one-and-done rule, and that would directly affect players such as Las Vegas’s Shabazz Muhammad, one of the top seniors in the country. The 24 players scrimmaged Wednesday against select NBA players, including Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings, Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans, and Denver rookie Kenneth Faried . . . After the Goodman (D.C.) all-stars defeated the Drew (Los Angeles) all-stars in an exhibition last Saturday in Washington, D.C., there is talk of a Sept. 10 rematch in Los Angeles and then a matchup between the Goodman stars and a team from Seattle that would likely feature Celtics guard Avery Bradley.

Gary Washburn can be reached at Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.