Rockets taking a chance

FRANK ZICARELLI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:34 AM ET

The summer makeover of NBA teams is almost over as the money runs dry and as player options slowly run out.

The final verdict won't be in until the fall when all the various personnel pieces fall into place.

From afar, the team that has gained the most this off-season appears to be the Houston Rockets.

The player most likely to benefit is Tracy McGrady, who may finally get to experience the second round of the post-season.

Because of the NBA's arcane rules, the much talked about and much debated deal for Ron Artest won't be made official for another two weeks.

It's not unlike the Jermaine O'Neal deal that brought the six-time all-star to Toronto last month, a deal that could net the Raptors a franchise-first 50-win season, that's assuming O'Neal stays healthy and Jose Calderon doesn't break down.

Everyone, including Artest, knows that Houston and Sacramento have agreed in principle, but nothing official can be said, at least from the teams, until Aug. 14, which speaks to the stupidity of the rules governing trades and player movement in the NBA.

Artest openly talks about his move from the California state capital, while McGrady and Yao offer their reactions on an almost daily basis to any news outlet seeking comment.

For what it's worth, Yao and Artest haven't exactly gotten off on the right foot and Artest hasn't even set foot in Houston.

When reached overseas as he prepares for the Olympics, Yao wondered aloud whether the bad-boy image Artest has cultivated and perpetuated during his role in the Malice at the Palace in 2004 would resurface in Houston.

"I understand what Yao said, but I'm still ghetto," Artest told the Sacramento Bee. "That's not going to change. I'm never going to change my culture.

"Yao has played with a lot of black players, but I don't think he's ever played with a black player that really represents his culture as much as I represent my culture. Once Yao Ming gets to know me, he'll understand what I'm about.

"If you go back to the brawl, that's a culture issue right there. Somebody was disrespecting me, so he's got to understand where I'm coming from. People that know me know that Ron Artest never changed."

That might be bad news for the Rockets.

Artest is eligible for free agency next summer and has made waves of wanting to be treated with respect by the Rockets.

In other words, he wants a lucrative extension.

Such is life with Ron-Ron, a big-time talent who can't separate his hip-hop image from his hoopster responsibilities.

CAMBY AND THE CLIPPERS

Good guy Marcus Camby gets to play power forward in L.A. following his unexpected trade from Denver, which shedded salary but received nothing tangible in return for the three-time shot-blocking king.

Having seen Elton Brand bolt to Philly, the Clippers needed a front-court piece to complement Chris Kaman.

In Camby, the Clippers get a guy who can pass out of the high post and knock down shots.

Hard to believe, but Camby joined the league back in 1996 when the Raptors used the second overall pick on the UMass product.

The Clippers stand to make a move in the standings, despite the loss of Brand and Corey Maggette.

Baron Davis is back in his native L.A. and should battle Lakers guard Kobe Bryant for league scoring honours.

RUSSIAN TO CONCLUSIONS

The Raptors will play Euroleague champions CSKA Moscow during the pre-season, a team that features, among others, Trajan Langdon, the Alaskan Assassin who was a bust during his brief fling in the NBA.

Langdon was considered a great shooter in college who couldn't create his shot at the pro level.

Had he not attended Duke, Langdon would not have received the attention that warranted a first-round selection.

Too bad the NBA could not have pitted the Raptors with another Russian-based club, Khimki Moscow, a side that is dotted with former Raptors in Jorge Garbajosa, Carlos Delfino, Milt Palacio and Jerome Moiso.


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