Suspended Artest to Return to Practice

Friday, January 21st 2005, 6:53 pm
By: News On 6

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ 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 Pacers have 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.

``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 practice.''

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 on 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.

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 action.

``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.''