Tuesday, December 06, 2005

17-Game Review

by SonDog

For weeks I've been calculating the dynamics of an appropriate time for an early-season review of the 2005/2006 version of the Sacramento Kings. While I posted a "Not-So-Secret 7" preview of the Kings before the season, I wasn't entirely happy with the synopsis. Therefore, after a night of binge Scotch drinking during another maddening loss, I thought to myself, "Self, let's wait until the magic 10 hits (i.e., e.g., vis a vis, 10 wins or 10 losses). Whichever comes first, we'll write an analysis." Okay, maybe I didn't say all of that to myself (especially the "i.e., e.g., vis a vis," or referring to my work in the first-person plural), but just work with me here.

However, before I criticize this roster, coaching staff, ownership, and all-things Kings, let me re-post a basketball self-analysis from a couple of months ago (Editor's Note: Some of you may have seen that twice already, but I still feel compelled to post this disclaimer before acting like I actually know what the f~~~ I'm talking about.):

"I'm a 5'10", 180 lb mayonnaise-white guy with limited to no jumping ability. In addition, I don't have a jump shot. Really, not to use a cliché, but I don't think I could hit the ocean if I shot from a boat (wow, that was a serious cliché, wasn't it?). If that weren't enough, I have limited lateral quickness and my dribble-drive consists all of one move, which doesn't come close to involving my left hand. Defensively, I'm as active as a fence post. The words "blocking" or "out" exist nowhere in my vocabulary. The last time I grabbed a rebound was my freshman year of college, and I ended up dating her for about three years. Impressive, but it didn't involve a basketball. While I was always considered "coachable," coaches never considered me "playable." With all that going for me, I have absolutely no right to critique the game of NBA players. However, since I've never trusted my better judgment before, why start now?"
As of Monday, December 5, the Kings' record stands at 7-10. For fans in Sacramento, this officially qualifies as the worst start in the history of Western Civilization (or 1996. Which, as we all know, was a time in ancient history when "getting to second base with your girlfriend" meant something entirely different than what it does today, "a three-way in front of a crowd with two girls you just met at the bar." Honestly, if releasing a sex tape would launch a pop-culture explosion of this web-site like it launched the career of Paris Hilton, I'd have to do it (literally and figuratively).).
I'm imagining the possibilities...
And my wife just slapped me across the head.
It worked for her, and she doesn't have ANY discernable talent (other than what was found on said tape)
Back to the Kings: I have not been shy in sharing my belief that the Kings made a franchise-altering mistake when they essentially chose Peja Stojakovic over Chris Webber last season. That is not to say that I think Peja was the ONLY reason why Webber was shipped out of town for 75-cents on the dollar (no offense to Kenny Thomas, Brian Skinner, Corliss Williamson). However, with the trade, the franchise sent a clear message that they planned on progressing in a direction featuring the incredibly soft, yet sweet-shooting small forward from Serbia over the cantankerous, injury-prone, yet silky-smooth power forward from Michigan.
There are two aspects from that move that lead directly to the 7-10 beginning to this season. First, Peja Stojakovic is not a consistent MVP-type player as the team had hoped. Today's NBA is a star-driven league, and with the trade of Webber, Sac was counting on Peja to be the team's lone superstar. Sure, in 2004, he was an all-world shooter (until Webber returned from injury) finishing second in the NBA in scoring average, and he even managed 6+ rebounds a game. In fact, many believed Peja was indeed having an MVP season before Webber returned 50+ games into the season. However, Peja's game is largely dependent on other people getting him the ball (and other people setting screens to get him open). Subsequently, like graphic designers, Vlade Divac, Brad Miller and Doug Christie helped make Peja look a lot better than he actually is by looking specifically for him on most posessions.
Peja can play solid, on-the-ball defense when he is so inclined. His help defense, however, is horrible at best. This doesn't begin to describe his rebounding, as "disinterested" is a major understatement. Basically, Stojakovic's game has come to the point where if he doesn't score, he's invisible. Thus, he falls into my "Houdini" category. (Peja and Brandon Lloyd of the 49ers are the first two entrances into this mythical hall, as they have the innate ability to disapear at a moment's notice during the course of a game.)
Peja's long-lost relative from Serbia-Montenegro... Vladimir Stepania-Houdini
2) As a die-hard Sac fan, you can't help but get the feeling that the Kings ownership (Joe and Gavin Maloof) just isn't committed to putting a championship-caliber team on the court... in Sacramento. Earlier this decade, the Maloofs spent millions over the salary cap in order to field a contender. Thus, Webber received an elephant-sized extension back in 2001; Christie received a 7-year deal; The bench was 7-men deep on most nights (if you count Bill Wennington); Bibby received an enormous extension; and so on and so on.
This season, the Kings are still capped out, but rather than going over by a small amount to bring back guys like Eddie House, or Jim Jackson, or Vlade Divac (which probably was a good move, but I don't want to split hairs) or Jerome James (thanks A LOT Isiah! No, seriously, thanks, 'cause that has to be the most hilarious signing in the pantheon of hilarious signings), ownership has demanded that GM Geoff Petrie does not go over the cap. Part of the reason for the Webber trade was to clear his $20+ million per year contract off the books. However, in bringing back large contracts for Skinner, Williamson, and Thomas, the Kings didn't really save much of any money. The thought was that smaller pieces would be easier to move than the one large piece, but so far all three power forwards are still on the roster, with only Thomas receiving consistent minutes.
What the Kings are left with is a bench that, other than Kenny Thomas and surprising rookie Francisco Garcia, seems completely inept. Skinner, Williamson, Jason Hart, and Kevin Martin all have had their moments, but all have been maddeningly inconsistent as well. Basically, if the starters don't produce (they currently average 78.9 ppg between the five), the Kings are in serious trouble. I don't know if there is any truth to the rumors that Coach Adelman has considered putting 151-year-old Pete Carrill in uniform to provide a spark, but it wouldn't be a bad idea at this point.
(On a side note, as the losses mount, and as stadium-deal after stadium deal in Sacramento sinks into the quicksand that is "agricultural re-zoning," the Kings seem one step closer to playing in the Maloof's adopted home of Las Vegas year-round. This is the last time I'm going to mention this seemingly pre-destined fate until my heart can actually deal with this reality, or until residents of Sacramento wake up to the fact that their team will indeed leave if they don't assist financially in building a new stadium.)
Honestly, do we look like the type of family that would want to move a team to Vegas? No, wait... don't answer that. What we meant to ask was, are we not the sexiest bitches you've ever seen in your life? Did you know we have, like, a gazillion dollars?
Back to the starters, this current edition just doesn't have the athleticism needed to make up for a lack of effort. Of course, this is a huge problem when they seemingly have a lack of effort on most nights. Up front, the Kings' 3-4-5 starting combo of Peja, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Brad Miller averages a combined 18.3 rebounds per game, which is simply god-awful when you consider they are averaging 35.5 minutes of burn. The simple fact that shooting guard, Bonzi Wells, leads the team in rebounding (7.9) after 17 games should leave the Kings' bigs embarrassed.
Defensively, the team still can't stop anybody (opponents are scoring 98.3 points per game -- seventh worst in the league). Point man, Mike Bibby, would struggle to keep an amputee in front of him defensively, and the team on a whole treats "help defense" as if it's an airborne illness. The fact remains, as it has for years, that if the Kings don't score over 100 points, they don't win. As pointed out on ESPN's power rankings yesterday, in the Kings seven wins, they are averaging 110.1 ppg (highest in the league). In their 10 losses, they average 89.7 (while giving up an average of 100.3). It doesn't take a sabermetrics expert to point out that a -10.6 differential in 10 losses doesn't amount to "keeping games close."
From the coaching staff, you primarily hear about the problems on offense, which makes sense if you've decided as a staff to completely surrender the idea of preaching defense and rebounding (as we heard all through the off-season and training camp). Master of the Obvious once told me that a team is not going to win many games giving up 100.3 points per contest. Thus, one might consider offense a secondary issue.
With all of that in mind, by January 1, if this team has not turned around its season, changes will be made. In other words, if the status quo remains the status quo, there are two mortal locks: 1) Rick Adelman will be fired 2) Peja will be traded.
Lest any Kings fans think I'm giving up on the season, I'm not. There are solid pieces in place, but there are also some proverbial square pegs trying to fit into some antiverbial round holes (I really think antiverbial should be a word). I'm still going to watch every game. I'm still going to root for Sac like I'm watching family. But, I'm just not at all as optimistic as I have been in years past. There are far too many issues for this team to overcome to truly compete for anything other than a 7 or 8 seed in the Western Conference. Even to do that, they need to turn this sinking ship around, and they need to turn it fast, starting yesterday.


Kings fan said...

Don't you think you're panicing a little too much here? And no way they trade Peja. They'd keep him even if they don't win another game this season.

SonDog said...

If Chicago offered up a package of two of their young players (Deng, Nocioni, Sweetney, hell I'd even take Duhon), the Kings would have to jump all over it. Michael Redd received the max from the Bucks for being a shooter, so one could anticipate that Peja will demand the same. The Kings would be fools to give him that deal.

Stapes said...

Two things:

- I wish I could get a refund on my league pass. I've commited $160 to watch them battle for the 8 spot - not a good investment.

- The Cavs are favored to night in Arco (by one point). Who would have thought we'd see the Kings underdogs at home? Don't the Vegas oddsmakers know these are the best fans in the blah blah blah. I've always kind of thought the people at arco were geeks who just yelled and didn't know basketball. Anyways, I'm hanging in there for a bit longer - give me the kings plus the 1 tonight

SonDog said...

Weren't they like 120-1 at home against the East over the last 7 years? Now, in the course of one month, they lose at home to an Isiah Thomas-generated New York team that was winless, a Miami team w/o Shaq (that subsequently loses to Denver and the Clippers), and Detroit (which nobody can fault). Anyways, to have that happen in one month, and now be underdogs against the Jesus-led Cavs is just... well, it's disheartening.

You know what my favorite part of having league pass is? It's being able to say, "If I want to, I can watch Toronto play Atlanta tonight. Not that I will, but I could if I wanted to."

bh said...

Vladimir Stepania-Houdini looks like Martin Sheen.

OZ said...

What I miss most about league pass (all Kings games are now available for those in the Sac area) is being able to listen to anybody other than the moron twins. I love other teams announcers.