Is NFL really in Artest’s future?

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — When Golden State’s Monta Ellis was scrambling to hold onto the ball in the corner of the court Sunday night, he reached down to snatch it away from Matt Barnes. Ron Artest, standing behind Ellis, crouched down and tried to reach through Ellis’ legs to take the ball away.

For a moment, it looked like a quarterback waiting for a center to snap the ball.

And this being Artest, then perhaps that is what it was.

The Lakers’ quirky forward, who walked onto Jimmy Kimmel’s show in his underwear, launched a rap career and thanked his psychologist after winning his first championship, believes that when his contract expires in 2014, he will be ready to move onto a new career — in the NFL.

Though it is more than three years from now and he would be 34, Artest appears intent on pursuing what he said was his favorite sport growing up in Queens. To help him, he has enlisted none other than Terrell Owens.

“Since you’re crazy enough to even think about this, we can talk,” Artest said Owens told him. “I’m going to talk to T.O. to see if I’m crazy or if I have a legitimate shot.”

Those of you who feel compelled to fill in your own punch line, you have company in the Lakers’ locker room.

When Artest mentioned to reporters last week that he was intent on pursuing a career in football (he has also said the same thing about boxing) it was too much for Lamar Odom, the fellow New Yorker who was getting dressed next to him.

“No, you’re not,” Odom said, laughing.

Derek Fisher stood listening with a smile on his face and just shook his head.

“I don’t know what pops into his head, but he always has some clever way to make some noise,” Shannon Brown said.

Artest understands the ribbing, but he insists that he is serious about pursuing football. Whether he can make it or not, he has no idea. But he wants to try. At 6-foot-7, 260 pounds, he fancies himself as a tight end in the mold of Antonio Gates, the Chargers’ All-Pro tight end who starred in basketball at Kent State and did not play football in college. Marcus Pollard, a former Colts tight end, played only basketball at Bradley before embarking on a 15-year NFL career.

The difference with Gates is that he was a high school All-American in football and first went to Michigan State, where he was going to play two sports. Artest has not played football since he was in elementary school.

Perhaps a better role model might be Julius Peppers, the Chicago Bears defensive end who played basketball and football at North Carolina.

“I wouldn’t want to get hit by Ron going across the middle,” Luke Walton said.

Artest, who might be the most fearless player in the NBA, admits that he might not be tough enough to play in the NFL. But the way he looks at it, you only live once.

“As a kid growing up in my neighborhood, you don’t have enough money for football equipment,” Artest said. “You want to play football, but you can’t afford to play on a football team. It was the same thing with music. You wanted to do music, but there’s no way to buy equipment.”

It might not be difficult for Artest to solicit feedback from NFL players when the Lakers hit the road. When they were in Phoenix, Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald sat courtside. When they played in Milwaukee, about half the Packers — including quarterback Aaron Rodgers — were in attendance. And in Detroit, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh sat near their bench.

There is one Laker who does have an idea of what would lay ahead for Artest. Barnes was a high school All-American receiver in Sacramento, and twice since then has given thought to playing football when his basketball career stagnated.

Once, after two seasons stuck mostly to the bench, he participated in the offseason program and spring practice at UCLA, but did not join the team when then-UCLA basketball coach Steve Lavin frowned on the idea. Then in 2006, after bouncing around between four teams in three seasons, Barnes was trying to arrange a workout for NFL teams when Golden State signed him to a two-year contract.

“I still feel like I’m a football player playing basketball,” said Barnes, whose father played semi-pro football and whose younger brother, Jason, plays in the Canadian Football League.

“But I don’t know about Ron. The NFL’s a whole other level, boy, especially if you haven’t played. And I know guys kind of take it personally in different sports when somebody thinks they can just go over to their sport and play well. He would have his work cut out for him.”

The joker knows this himself, too. It might be a Hail Mary, but he is intent on throwing it.

“I’m definitely going to try,” Artest said. “The worst thing that happens is they say you suck.”