Sam Mitchell raised a few eyebrows after practice yesterday when he said he would love his rookie small forward Joey Graham to develop into the type of NBAer that Ron Artest has become.
Of course, Mitchell was quick to point out that he meant the type of NBAer Artest is on the court.
Mitchell has long admired Artest the player, a physical, take-no-prisoner defensive zealot who almost is as accomplished on offence. The kind of player who, when not charging into the stands to beat up spectators or making trade demands, makes his teammates play that much better.
Graham, while much younger than the newest Sacramento King, is cut from the same cloth physically as Artest, not particularly tall, but very strong and athletic.
Mitchell believes there is nothing stopping Graham from developing into an Artest-type player. Except himself.
"We feel like Joey has the physical attributes, the strength, the quickness, the speed," the coach said. "We're trying to see if we can develop that type of mentality, on the court."
Artest will play in his second game tonight since his self-imposed vacation this season after he demanded a trade from the Indiana Pacers.
The fiery malcontent was finally dealt to the Kings for Peja Stojakovic and played Friday night in Boston, picking up 15 points in an 84-74 loss to the Boston Celtics.
Artest spent extra time at the Raptors' practice facility yesterday shooting jump shots while his teammates relaxed following a team workout.
Afterwards, he was surrounded by media and said he appreciated the words from Mitchell.
"That's the first time I've heard that from an opposing coach," Artest said. "But that's a great compliment and I just look at guys like Michael Jordan and (Dennis) Rodman, they played continually hard for the whole game and they won rings."
And that is exactly what Mitchell hopes Graham, as well as Charlie Villanueva and Jose Calderon, notice as they watch Artest tear up and down the court tonight -- his work ethic and commitment to defence.