Published on June 15, 2008, Page C2
We all knew Game 6 of the 2002 Lakers-Kings series was poorly officiated. When the Tim Donaghy story broke last summer, Kings fans couldn't help but wonder if their team had been the subject of a cruel conspiracy or betting scandal. But we didn't want to believe it. We were paranoid and seeking an excuse for losing. Sacramento couldn't pull out Games 6 and 7, and we moved on. After six years, we didn't want to remember the notorious Robert Horry shot, the phantom foul calls and the missed free throws. Yet here we are again, debating whether Sacramento deserved a championship parade that never came. The pain is back, and it's worse than ever. We're back to wondering how history might have been altered and if a ratings fix played the biggest role in the fortunes of a rising franchise.
Published on March 9, 2008, Page C2
I'd like to know how the Maloofs feel every time they check the standings and find Houston more than a dozen games ahead of Sacramento in the standings.
Are they ashamed about disrespecting and senselessly dismissing the best coach in franchise history, the same coach who is now leading a team without its best player on a franchise-record winning streak?
Are they disgusted that his two successors have done less with more nightly?
The fact is, the Kings have too much talent and experience to routinely lose winnable games and fail to show up in second half.
If anything, the 2007-08 roster is better than the one Rick Adelman had during his final season in 2005-06, with Kevin Martin's progression and the emergence of two spectacular reserves in John Salmons and Francisco García.
Instead, Reggie Theus already has a strained relationship with Martin and has barely attempted to tame Ron Artest's wild antics. Theus has alternated between winning now and playing for the future, apprehensively alluding to his job security in the process.
It's not a stretch to say that if Adelman were still coaching the Kings, not only would such problems be nonexistent, but Sacramento would find itself amid the heavily bunched top tier of the wide-open Western Conference.
Questionable calls and poor officiating have been a constant source of fan discontent in the NBA and, to a lesser extent, in the NFL and Major League Baseball, but I never once believed in fixes, conspiracies or intentionally incorrect calls by the referees. Yet now, it is plausible and inevitable for sports fans to question every call that goes against their favorite teams.
As sad as it is, we will never know what could have been, not only in last season's NBA Finals, but even key series in years past. Kings fans, for instance, have learned to live with the outcome of the 2002 Western Conference finals, but not one of them will ever forget the biased officiating in Game 6. Was it because someone involved was attempting to catapult a big-market Los Angeles team into the Finals instead of Sacramento? Should Game 7 have even taken place?
Those are just two of hundreds of questions that we will never be able to answer, two of a hundred barely visible specks that are slowly merging into a big black mark on the NBA's credibility. Stern has done and will continue to do all that he can to make his league respectable and credible, and I sincerely hope he finds a way to make us forgive -- but never forget -- this scandal. As it stands right now, that seems like a tall burden for a suddenly less professional association.
We wanted to believe it would be different this time. He was a changed man who had finally overcome his troubled past and felt fortunate to be embraced by devoted owners and passionate fans. He was the franchise savior, a leader and conceivably the missing championship piece.
Yet not one of us blinked an eye when Ron Artest was again making news for the wrong reasons, this time taken into custody on charges of domestic abuse. Trouble with the law has followed him since his youth, escalating over the last few years.
The conservative would claim Artest remains innocent until proven guilty, but conservatism has never been Artest's style, from his involvement in the infamous Palace brawl to his outrageous musical marketing tactics and hairstyles. ... This latest incident only further confirms that Ron lacks proper judgment and has a delusional sense of responsibility for himself and his family. ...We certainly haven't seen the last of Artest, since in professional sports, talent and potential far outweigh morality and character. But here's to hoping that one day Ron is able to overcome his demons and perform to his highest ability in all areas of his life. Too bad that won't happen in Sacramento.
Mike Bibby's trade value has never been lower, and it's almost a sure bet that he will exercise his player option to return next season. Both his shot selection and shooting percentages have not only hurt the team, but have hindered the continuing development of Kevin Martin. Geoff Petrie needs to jump at any legitimate opportunity to ship Bibby out of town. Pat Riley is the only coach/president to express interest in trading for the former star, but he's mistaken if he feels the Heat does not have the pieces to work out a deal with Sacramento. Who could bring a little bit of excitement back to Arco with his flair for the game? None other than former fan favorite Jason Williams. After all, this isn't the J-Will who was benched in the playoffs and routinely threw behind-the-back passes into the third row. On the contrary, he's become a much better shooter and more consistent overall player. He's altered his game to better suit his teammates and coaches, and is the starting point guard for the defending NBA champions. ... Throw in a few more players and draft picks, and the Kings could easily find themselves back in the hunt with a more cohesive and entertaining nucleus -- not to mention bring back some much-needed nostalgia.
To put it bluntly: there is no reason for Maurice Taylor to be a Sacramento King going forward. In fact, he should be out of the league entirely after committing his third drug violation in four years. How can Chris 'Birdman' Anderson be expelled from the league for what was, by all accounts, his first offense, regardless which banned substance he took? Taylor, on the other hand, now receives a paid five-game vacation, time which he would have spent sitting on the end of the Sacramento bench while he continuing to "round into shape." It's not enough that he's been a tremendous disappointment on the court, but embarrassing the organization during a difficult stretch and not long after Coach Musselman's own DUI arrest, cannot and should not be forgiven. Perhaps worst of all, this incident epitomizes the NBA's weak and inconsistent drug policy, and it is time for the Kings and the league to change their ways, since Taylor clearly will not.
If there Kings could bring Chris Webber back by basically resending Kenny Thomas and Corliss Williamson to the Sixers, or anyone else that isn't a major contributor, I wouldn't mind that one bit. Sure, the Kings are a much different team now, with a supposed focus on defense (which hasn't shown up in the last two games, mind you). But Thomas is doing very little, and Williamson is only getting minutes because of injuries. A gifted passer and good mid-range shooter, Webber knows many of the players and can adjust very quickly. The Kings traded him for three major reasons: a) they didn't believe he would ever be fully healthy b) his enormous contract and c) his reportedly cold relationship with Peja Stojakovic. Well, Webber has shown that he's still got a lot left and says he feels as good as he has since the knee surgery. Peja is now a distant memory and key players like Kevin Martin would only benefit from his team game. Plus, with two years left on his deal, he's not nearly as big of a cap killer as he was a couple of years ago. His experience and love of the city would be a welcome addition to Sacramento on all fronts.
Coaches are often fired at the most inopportune times and after multiple winning seasons (see Rick Carlile, Byron Scott, Paul Silas, etc.). All it takes is for a superstar to voice even the slightest hint of disagreement. The difference in Sacramento is the team's best and most volatile player, the one who has been credited with single-handedly turning around the Kings' fortunes, has gone on record to say that he wants his coach to return. And yet, Rick Adelman will not be on the sidelines at Arco next season. No one will know the extent of the rumored spats between him and Geoff Petrie and the Maloof brothers, but the truth of the matter is that Adelman deserved better treatment and more loyalty. After not leadings the Kings to the Finals in eight seasons, or out of the first round in the last two, and having his worst statistical season with the team, management finally had a "legitimate" reason to let him go rather than rewarding him for continuous success. As a longtime fan, I am shamed at the way they have handled sensitive situations (most recently the on and off Stojakovic trade that he had to see on television). But while certain moves had to be made for the benefit of the team, Rick Adelman's dismissal is not one of them. Will Don Nelson, long-rumored to be on the radar, or anyone else who is brought in to replace him, command more respect from the players or lead the team further in the playoffs? And in the NBA, that is all that should matter in the end.