When we left our local heroes at the end of the last installment, the Kings had returned to the land of the lottery for two consecutive seasons. In the first thirteen years of existence, the Sacramento Kings had made the playoffs exactly twice: in 1986 and 1996. Kangz was not yet part of the lexicon, but the seeds had been sewn.
During this period, fans began to grumble a little about the front office. This was pre-blog / twitter / social media, so it was pretty much confined to the bars and lounges at the top of ARCO II and malcontents at local haunts, such as me while sulking up and down the aisles at Tower Records. Geoff Petrie and company had done a pretty good job of dismantling the 95-96 playoff team and fired popular head coach Garry St. Jean, hiring an unproven Eddie Jordan to take his place. They drafted some unknown international kid named Sto-jah-koh-vich over Syracuse's John Wallace, and then the damned kid didn't even come over and play. Pre-drag? Really? And then they followed that up by drafting some kid out of Florida that had played only a few games before getting suspended for smoking weed. With the #7 pick.
But wait, there's more! Prior to drafting Williams, the Kings jettisoned Mitch Richmond and Otis Thorpe for Chris Webber, an eminently talented but seemingly troubled young man, arrested just months ago on nine misdemeanor charges ranging from marijuana possession to assaulting an officer. After the trade, Webber would make it known that he would never come to Sacramento. The cherry on top was the Kings firing Eddie Jordan and then hiring Rick Adelman one month later. Rick Adelman, who couldn't win the big one with a loaded Portland team and then went on to flame out spectacularly in Golden State. Rick Adelman. The only thing that could possibly make things worse would be a lockout, followed by the signing of a former Laker! But what were the odds of that happening? Now if you'll excuse me, the blues aisle at the Broadway Tower location was calling my name.
Chris Webber. 20 points, 13 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 2.1 blocks, 1.4 steals per game, perhaps the best season that anyone had ever seen by a King in Sacramento. He and Vlade Divac provided interior passing that had never really been seen in these (or most other) parts, Jason Williams brought the flash, Corliss Williamson the lunch pail, Vernon Maxwell the crazy, and Jon Barry the floor burns.
Sign of the times: The Kings played their first game of the lockout-shortened, 50-game season on Feb. 5 (an 18 pt. loss at San Antonio). Two weeks prior they had signed Vlade Divac, Vernon Maxwell and Jon Barry. Five of the seven players that went on to log at least 1,000 minutes for the Kings were not on the roster the year prior, and had less than a month to prepare for the season. The team finished 27-23, the first winning record in Sacramento Kings history. The Kings would lose in the 1st round of the playoffs to Utah, but not before Webber laid out John Stockton with a perfect (and brutal screen) at the top of game 1, serving notice to the Jazz (and the NBA) that these were not your dad's Kings.
Fun(!) fact: You could not swing a dead cat in the Sacramento region without hitting a purple Kings flag or someone rocking the purple. It was collegiate in atmosphere, and the Kings owned the town. This was no longer about which star was coming to town it was now all about the home team.
Chris Webber. 24.5, 10.5, 4.6 assists, 1.7 blocks, 1.6 steals.
Sign of the times: Peja Stojakovic logs more minutes than Corliss Williamson.
Fun(!) fact: The Kings two wins in the 1st round of the playoffs (losing to the Lakers) matches their Sacramento total for playoff wins. The Kings have still not seen the 2nd round of the playoffs, now fifteen years into their Sacramento stay. But the times they are a changin'.
Chris Webber: 27.1, 11.1, 4.2 assists, 1.7 blocks, 1.3 steals. Peja Stojakovic becomes the 2nd go-to guy on offense at 20.4 ppg. Doug Christie, obtained in a trade for Corliss Williamson (I thought we should have gotten more at the time¦) solidified the backcourt. 55 wins! The Kings win their 1st round playoff series (against the Suns) before falling to the Lakers in a 2nd round sweep.
Sign of the times:
Fun(!) fact: The original bench mob, featuring Bobby Jackson, Scot Pollard, Hedo Turkoglu, Jon Barry and Lawrence Funderburke. This group averages approximately 29, 17, 6 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks. Everyone marvels at Geoff Petrie's ability to get such a great return on cheap free agents and unconventional draft picks, something that would continue for the next few years.
Peja Stojakovic. There will be some pushback on this one, as Webber was his usual stellar self. But he missed 28 games to injury, and Stojakovic took his game up a notch, averaging 21.2 points on only 15.9 shots a game, and providing very capable defense as well.
Sign of the times: Jason Williams is traded for Mike Bibby. Scot Pollard cements himself as a legit 3rd big, especially during Webber's absence.
Fun(?) fact: This was as close as the Kings have ever gotten to the NBA finals, losing game 7 of the Western Conference Finals to the Lakers. Divac's tap out to Robert Horry cost the Kings game four, horrific officiating cost them game 6, and missing a whopping 14 of 30 free throws cost them in the overtime game 7 loss (the Lakers were 27-33).
Chris Webber: At 23.5 and 10 he was still the primary focus of the offense and the lightning rod for the team, but there were more than a few fans that thought that Stojakovic was much more efficient and that he should not be getting seven fewer shots per game than C-Webb. Regardless, hope sprang eternal that last year the Kings learned the lessons that would deliver them and the City of Sacramento its first major professional sports championship.
Sign of the times: Peja misses 10 games, Webber 15, Jackson 23, Bibby 27. The team is starting to get banged up a bit more than they used to. Webber's knee explodes against Dallas in the playoffs. Kings lose to the Mavs in seven in the 2nd round, and San Antonio goes on to be crowned NBA champions. So close, yet so far.
Fun(!) at all fact: 17,317 fans at ARCO have larger calf muscles than Keon Clark.
There should be no pushback this time around. With Webber sidelined Stojakovic steps into the realm of NBA elite players. Mike Bibby turns in perhaps his best season as a King, and newly acquired Brad Miller quiets the partisan crowd that was not enamored of trading away Pollard and Turkoglu in the sign and trade for him. But at 24.2 ppg, this was Peja's team, at least up until the final quarter of the season.
Sign of the times: Miller looks like a much better version of Vlade Divac. Once Webber returns to health, watch out, NBA!
Fun(?) Fact: Webber returns for the final 23 games of the season, and the 44-15 Kings go 10-12 the rest of the way, losing to Minnesota in the 2nd round of the playoffs.
Mike Bibby: 19.6 points and 6.8 assists per game. Bibby (80 games) and Darius Songaila (81) are the only two players on the roster to play more than 66 games.
Sign of the times: The team is racked with injuries and turnover. Webber is shipped to Philadelphia for Kenny Thomas, Brian Skinner and Matt Barnes.
Fun(?) fact: The Kings don't get out of the 1st round of the playoffs, getting thumped 4-1 by Seattle.
Brad Miller, though I will entertain objections from Mike Bibby fans. Bibby scored 21 a game, Miller 15 but much more efficiently. Miller's 4.7 assists out of the post more than offset Bibby's 5.4 from the point, and Miller added almost 8 boards. Yes, Ron Artest is the guy that got the team to the playoffs, but his 40 games does not overtake Miller's 79 games, in my opinion.
Sign of the times: The Kings trade bad back Peja for bad penny Artest. The Kings are 18-24 with Peja and 26-14 with Ron-Ron.
Fun(?) fact: The Maloofs make overtures to Phil Jackson about the head coaching job. Adelman speaks out about it and says the he won't re-sign on the cheap. The Kings part ways with Adelman. Jackson is not interested in coaching the Kings. The Kings hire Eric Musselman, who should be able to match Adelman's eight-year playoff run, right? Right?
Did all of this playoff talk bore you? Leave you feeling flat? Well, good news! We have two installments left, and we won't be bothering you with playoffs anymore. The Kings are dead. Long live the Kangz.