Kings Blog and Q&A

News, observations and reader questions about the Sacramento Kings and the NBA.

March 31, 2008
The Young and the Restless

Maloofs

SEATTLE - An issue that has been talked for months came to a head on Sunday, when I spoke with Kings co-owner Joe Maloof about the season at large and he voiced a concern over not seeing the young players enough.
Joe was candid on that topic and many more, and readers should keep an eye out for Tuesday's paper as I'll have more material from the interview. He talked about Tuesday's game against Houston, specifically about the censoring of Rick Adelman that went on when the former Kings coach returned for the first time on Dec. 1. He talked about the future on many fronts, the job Kings coach Reggie Theus has done this season and even shared a few insights in terms of offseason priorities. But in the name of fairness on this topic of young guys developing, and since Joe clearly had his time to talk, here is Theus' response in full to his boss's concern about playing the youngsters.

ďMy professional opinion is that we know what Quincy can do. I know what Quincy can do. Whether itís in short spurts or extended minutes, thereís no doubt in my mind who Quincy is as a player, and I donít mean that in a negative way. I just know who he is as a player.
ďItís a tough balance because I know the message from my bosses is ĎWe want to win and be in every game, and we want to develop our young guys. Sometimes itís difficult to have both cut and dry. You canít be cut and dry.
"Itís got to be one or the other. But if youíre going to try to win every game and you want to develop these young guys, weíve got to pick and choose our moments. And when we have a chance to win every game, and when we have a chance to make a run, weíve got to go for it.
ďI agree we have to play and develop our young guys, and I thought thatís what I was doing. Spencerís (Hawes) minutes went up enormously. Letís not forget that weíve got other young guys too who have to continue to develop.
It canít be about Quincy Douby. It canít be about Shelden Williams. I can totally understand Spencerís (minutes) going up immensely, which Iíve done. But it canít be about those guys. I want those guys to play, but itís very hard as a first-year coachÖwhen Iím judged on a lot of different levels, itís very hard to put guys in a game thatís going well and you put them in the game and the game goes south. What am I supposed to do?"

THE DILEMMA

Clearly, the only way to make this complicated equation work is to slash into some of the veterans' minutes and go 11-deep with the rotation. It's a long ways from Adelman's old seven-man rotations, but this franchise is certainly in a whole different place that may require such strategies.
As a note of reference as the March games came to an end on Sunday, here is a list of how many players deep Theus' rotations went during the 15 games this month of which the Kings won seven...

11-man rotation: three times
10-man rotation: eight times
9-man rotation: four times

THE BREAKDOWN

Joe Maloof focused on the playing time related to Douby and Williams so we'll look at those two players first strictly from a minutes standpoint and take a peek at Hawes because his recent growth and use should be noticed. The performance debate surrounding Douby and Williams is almost moot as it relates to Joe because his argument is that these players don't see enough time to even gauge how they're playing.

Williams

The second-year forward who was acquired from Atlanta in the Feb. 16 Mike Bibby trade remains a priority in Maloof's eyes. In the last four games, though, he's largely disappeared after a stretch of seeing some significant time.

Last four games: combined 10 minutes.
Previous nine games before that: average of 10.4 minutes per game.

Douby

First off, there is a context here that you can bet is on the mind of Kings management.
During Douby's rookie season, his confidence took a beating under Eric Musselman as he played in just 42 games and logged 362 minutes. This season under Theus, he has played in 64 games and logged 711 minutes.
Like Williams, Douby has seen less floor time recently as well.

Last four games: 25 combined minutes.
Previous nine games before that: average of 12.1 minutes per game.

Hawes

His ankle injury, obviously, renders the last three games pointless. As such...

In the 19 games from Feb. 19 to March 24: average of 16.5 minutes per game.

Overall, the No. 10 pick in the draft ranks 22nd in minutes played among rookies (677). By comparison - and because tonight's affair was in Seattle - Hawes' good friend and Sonics' sensation Kevin Durant leads the league with 2,447 minutes. The No. 9 pick, Chicago's Joakim Noah, has played 1,250 minutes and is ranked 11th among rookies and the No. 11 pick, Atlanta's Acie Law, has played 813 minutes and is ranked 19th among rookies. - Sam Amick

March 30, 2008
No Hawes tonight

SEATTLE - Spencer Hawes will miss what could be his last chance to play against his hometown team tonight because of his sprained left ankle, although he may have been able to take part if only he'd listened to his father.
His mother, Lisa, said before the game that his pops, Jeff, had advised the Kings rookie center to sit out on Friday against Washington so as not to risk reinjuring the ankle that he turned against Memphis on Wednesday. Hawes - a Seattle native who played one season at Washington - played anyway, of course, and turned it again early in the second quarter against the Wizards after blocking a Roger Mason layup and landing on Ron Artest's foot.
"I came down and it was the same thing as (the Memphis) game," Hawes said. "To me, theyíre just two separate (injuries). Ankles are weird when you roll them. It seems like youíll go a long time and wonít roll them, but then when you roll them itís like you get a few strung together."
Part of sitting out tonight, to be sure, is to avoid the in-between ground between healthy and hurt that can drive a player mad.
"You canít start telling yourself you canít jump and start thinking about it," he said. "Thatís how you end up hurting something else. Youíve just got to keep going, keep playing with your instincts and you canít let it start affecting how you play or the movements that you make....Iím lucky Iím young so I heal pretty quick."
Just not quick enough. - Sam Amick

March 30, 2008
Will practice make perfect?

SEATTLE - Ron Artest wandered onto the Kings practice floor on Saturday long after practice had ended.
He was in street clothes, looking to grab a drink from the team cooler when he ran into a couple of straggling media members with whom he offered to chat.
"How are ya?" he was asked.
He was good, Artest said with a huge smile. Really good.
It seems the Kings had one phenomenal practice on Saturday, one that left all involved raving about a new spirit that should certainly carry them from tonight's game in Seattle until the end. Kings coach Reggie Theus had everything to do with the enjoyment factor of this particular session, as he ordered defensive slide drills that are typically the stuff of training camp but seemed to be embraced by his players. Artest was the proof, saying over and over again that it was a "great practice."
Part of the new inspiration, Artest said, was the fan turnout and tone at Arco Arena in Friday's loss to Washington that left him realizing why coasting until the end just isn't acceptable to the team's paying customers.
"Now (the players were) like, ĎYou know what, the fans came out yesterday, we played hard, things happen, we almost won,'" he said. "And guys came in here (on Saturday) and were working hard. Weíre just building, just building for next year.
"We had a bad third quarter (against Washington), and weíve just got to get back in shape again. I think guys kind of toned it down a little bit (in recent weeks), but weíve got to turn it back up, get our legs back under us and finish off strong."

MORE HAWES

Speaking of impassioned performances, there was Spencer Hawes talking about the likely exodus of his hometown team.
While the Sonics could be gone by this summer, owner Clay Bennett has agreed to leave the team's name behind. But as Hawes sees it, the locals aren't looking for sympathy gifts from the tycoon.
"You can leave the name, but when youíre stealing the team that doesnít do a lot for you (as a fan)," Hawes said. "Thatís just smoke and mirrors."
And if Bennett is forced to fulfill the last two seasons on the lease agreement for KeyArena, Hawes said that leaves the team's fans in a most-undesirable position.
"So much of sports and being a fan is just, ĎIf something is going wrong now, you can always look toward the future and always find (reasons for) optimism over what could happen," he said. "Thatís a lot of what keeps fans being fans is that eternal hopeÖWhen thereís none of that, I donít know what motivates you."

* Sonics point guard Earl Watson had a triple-double last time these teams met, and he's looking to do it again because he's simply sick of losing.

* Sonics forward Chris Wilcox, who is on the long list of athletic bigs that Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie has tried to acquire in recent years, will not take part tonight or any other night in the near future.

March 28, 2008
Weekly Web Watch

My particular interest in the 'Most Improved Player' award (see previous posts) relates to last season, when the question of whether Kevin Martin or Golden State's Monta Ellis would win the award became one of the few late storylines.
Sure enough, Kevin - who lost out to Ellis - asked me before the Wednesday game against Memphis who should win this year's MIP. Just as he was mentioning the Grizzlies' Rudy Gay and Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge, none other than current candidate and Kings point guard Beno Udrih walked our way.
It was, I have to admit, enjoyable to have the debate over what the award should mean with the players themselves who are part of the discussion in the past and present. Which leads us to this blog post from the Contra Costa Times' Marcus Thompson in which he raised the question of who's better between Martin and Ellis.
Along those same lines, Clippers center Chris Kaman talks about the race in this video clip from Hoopsworld.

* The anti-blogger situation in Dallas has reached some resolution.

* The season of the wardrobe malfunctions continues. First, it was Cleveland's Donyell Marshall a few months ago. This week, it was Erick Dampier dropping his shorts on the Dallas bench...

* Via Truehoop, a comical exchange between league commissioner David Stern and a reporter while discussing preseason games in Europe. The context can be found here.

* The Kings remain relevant on the Fantasy League front, and a couple of gurus break down Spencer Hawes' game and fantasy worth here. In this story, Kings in-house reporter Andrew Nicholson looks at the latest version of the ever-improving rookie center. And finally, ESPN's David Thorpe - who has been analyzing the league's rookie class all season long - has a breakdown of which veterans each youngster should study to improve and Hawes' is a bit different than the rest.

* Considering Kings fans won't see Gilbert Arenas tonight, here's the latest on his continued absence and how he's handled it. I was rather shocked he would share such thoughts on his blog. Kids just don't need to read that.
And while Arenas' blog has long been a must-read, this raises an interesting question: if mainstream media bloggers can be banned from locker rooms, should players in those same locker rooms be banned from blogging? - Sam Amick

March 27, 2008
The real race to the finish

Gilbert Arenas isn't expected to be at Arco Arena on Friday night, which is a good thing for the Kings for more reasons than the obvious.
If they can beat Washington without its still-ailing star, that will mean 33 wins for the season. And one more after that, of course, will mean a whole lot of relief from the Kings coaching staff.
While head coach Reggie Theus has never hidden the fact that he would like to improve on last season's mark of 33-49, the feat is about much more than the simple concept of improvement. It's about the reality that new coaches often see winning as the easiest means to job security, which certainly applies to this first-year coach who has one season left on his contract and a a team option for the third season. It's about the fact that Theus and his staff have been working with the Kings' front office for all of nine months, a far cry from the days when Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie was teamed up with longtime teammate and colleague Rick Adelman. It's about the fact that the awkwardness of the challenge that continues to face Theus - that of the youth movement which coincides with the desire for a strong finish - has left some uncertainty about exactly how he and his assistants will be judged. But with 34 wins, that pressure - whether real or perceived - will be lifted.
"Weíve been trying to do what we can to get the young guys some time on the floor, but yet do what we can to win a game and finish strong and keep the veterans engaged," Theus said before Wednesday's win over Memphis. "If they get the wrong message, then they sort of back off this time of year...You canít have it both ways. You canít say, ĎHey weíre going to work on the youth movement here,' and expect your veterans to play. You canít have it both ways. In sports, a lot of it is an attitude and a focus.
"Itís still a funny animal in the sense that youíre developing guys and you want to finish strong. I know Geoff (Petrie)Öwants to finish strong. I know that. But he also wants to develop young guys."

INJURED OR HURT?

Theus has grown frustrated recently with having to so often deal with a limited roster. Injuries and ailment that would typically be played with if the playoffs were still a possibility have suddenly become enough to keep some players off the floor, no one moreso than Ron Artest. The small forward admitted after downing the Grizzlies that the team's current plight has played a part in his recent decisions to either not play or decide if he could go late on gamedays.
ďIf it were playoff time, Iíd be playing (every game),Ē Artest said. ď(But) I can push through it."
For the umpteenth time, Artest hit on the fact that he was never a fan of Theus' goal of simply reaching the playoffs or the strive for .500.
"I set goals of winning a championship, and Reggie thought that was a little steep," he said. "The coach and player didnít see eye to eye." - Sam Amick

INJURY UPDATE

Beno Udrih is a jovial sort, almost always in good spirits whether it's in the locker room or even on the floor.
But the Kings point guard was visibly frustrated before tipoff against Memphis, walking toward his locker and sitting slowly and cautiously into his chair.
"How goes it," I asked.
"I've been better," he said.
Udrih said the back tightened up against Houston on Monday and hasn't improved since, which doesn't bode well for a quick return. As for Spencer Hawes, the rookie center who sprained his left ankle in the second quarter and didn't return is also a question mark now. He is day to day, although Theus said he was told that the swelling wasn't severe and the injury may not be too serious. - Sam Amick

March 26, 2008
Injury updates

Point guard Beno Udrih will not play tonight against Memphis at Arco Arena, according to Kings coach Reggie Theus (via the Bee's Melody Gutierrez from shoot-a-round). Kings center Brad Miller and small forward Ron Artest are expected to play, however.
The Artest appearance will surely upset NBATV's Rick Kamla, the hoops host who last night aired a list of Fantasy League players who will most benefit from other players shutting it down at the end of the season. He had swingman John Salmons as the No. 1 candidate, although Artest isn't ready to give up his spot just yet. - Sam Amick

March 25, 2008
No Bueno for Beno

I know, I know.
That headline is about as linguistically jarring as the short-lived nickname for Beno Udrih - "The Tasmanian Slovenian" - was geographically-challenged. Nonetheless, it's true.
After taking a measured approach to his return from a lower back strain, the Kings point guard is out again after playing just 10 minutes at Houston on Monday night.
And that's not good for Beno.
He's questionable for tomorrow night's game against Memphis, but I'd guess that he doesn't go. All of which, of course, doesn't help matters in his universe on three fronts...
A) It doesn't help the Kings win games, and they remain interested in at least getting to No. 34 so as to improve on last season's 33-49 mark...
B) It doesn't help Udrih with his upcoming free agency, as he may have already convinced the Kings about his talents but there's still time left to impress other possible suitors from around the league...
C) It doesn't help his case for the league's Most Improved Player award.
I broke the race down recently as I saw it in this story, and have to concede that - upon further review - Toronto point guard Jose Calderon should've been on the list. What's more, watching Houston point guard Rafer Alston drop 28 points on the Kings in Rick Adelman's 800th win got me thinking that he should at least be mentioned as well since Rockets fans were ready to cut him last year. No excuse for the omissions other than I thought the list was getting a little long.
As for Udrih, he's not the MIP. He's had a breakout year, indeed, but his lack of a significant role last season means it's hard to quantify whether he improved or if he just made the most of a long-awaited chance. Udrih could've been playing at or near this level for some time now if there wasn't some guy named Tony Parker in front of him.

As we have all seen on a nightly basis, Beno can have a dazzling offensive game that carries shades of Parker and even Manu Ginobili...

As for improving even more, the makeup of this particular team means Beno needs to find his teammates more often. He can score on his own, in transition, and in the offense, but so can most of this roster. I remember when he first came to town and the Kings had just had that atrocious seven-assist performance in a loss to Cleveland at Arco. I asked Beno about it, and he said he fully expected to be getting that number on his own when he joined in.
"One guy should be averaging at least seven assists," Udrih made clear.
Yet in his 60 games this season, he has had seven or more assists just 12 times and he ranks 32nd in the league in assists per game (4.4). The Kings, meanwhile, are 29th in the league in assists per game (19), a mark that is on pace to be lowest in team history as the media guide sees it. The year-by-year stats go back to 1970-71, and last season's 20.3 mark was the worst to that point. I'll try to track down the numbers before then.
To be fair, this is not only Beno's problem to solve. The system is largely responsible because it allows for so much one-on-one play, with Kings coach Reggie Theus conflicted all season about this problem. Some of his players can be so good at creating on their own, but the ball movement and flow obviously suffers and the style has everything to do with the Kings ranking 29th in turnovers (15.2 per game). They don't get the easy baskets on backcuts very often or the transition points or focus for any length of time on finding the open man. Instead, they stay in the sort of attack mode that makes them vulnerable to donating extra possessions, all of which has a profound effect on the defense that's ranked 24th in points allowed per game (104.3). But as for the original point, Beno is the MIP if that stands for 'Much Improved Player.' He's just not the 'Most Improved Player.'

FANTASY FANATICS UNITE

The volume of e-mails from Fantasy League types has picked up of late, so I'll do my best to help y'all out. Like I said, Udrih could be out tomorrow but I should know more in the late morning (the Kings did not practice today). Ron Artest and Brad Miller appear ready to play, although Artest is obviously capable of changing his mind. - Sam Amick

March 24, 2008
Artest to play

HOUSTON - I've been running around and couldn't get back to the ol' laptop, but Ron Artest will play tonight.
It was another classic Artest affair, with his status a mystery all day long and the official word coming approximately 90 minutes before tipoff that his sore right elbow wouldn't keep him out. You've got to feel for John Salmons, who has had so many days this season in which he thought he was going to start only to be sent back to the bench. - Sam Amick

March 24, 2008
Injury update and more defensive chatter with ET

HOUSTON - It felt like two Kings shoot-a-rounds this afternoon.
First, there was my early Toyota Center attendance at the session for the Kings South, otherwise known as the Rockets. Then, of course, the actual Kings.
A brief conversation with Kings coach Reggie Theus led to the discovery that point guard Beno Udrih (lower back strain) will return tonight after a three-game absence and center Brad Miller (right elbow bursitis) will start as well. Ron Artest will not play, although Theus wasn't sure which ailment - knee or elbow - was bothering his small forward.
"You have to ask him," he said.
Artest, however, was already on the team bus.
On the other side, I asked former former Kings assistant and Rockets' assistant Elston Turner about the sort of defensive topics I covered in today's paper, and he wasn't shy to share his views.
"It ain't like we went back and read a book on defense for dummies," Turner said. "We know what we're doing on both ends. You don't get as many wins as we've gotten (over the years) coming up short in some areas."
Turner always took great offense to the claims that Adelman's coaching staff didn't coach defense, namely because that end of the floor has long been his area of expertise as a coach and when he was a player. His argument, then and now, has been that you just can't do much defensively if the players given to you don't have a good amount of defensive pedigree on their own.
"A lot of these guys had defense on their resumes before they got here," Turner said. "It's been good. They really work at it, execute it, and they hold each other accountable. We hold them accountable and they hold each other accountable. We've got a team that's pretty good when we're clicking on all cylinders."

"BIG GIVE" TODAY

As a reminder, the Maloofs are on Oprah's show this afternoon giving away mounds of cash to people in need. All the info you need is right here.
- Sam Amick

March 24, 2008
Adelman gunning for No. 800

HOUSTON - On Saturday night, I did my best to drive the ratings up on the Kings game at Memphis by touting the first career start of Spencer Hawes.
And now, there may actually be two legitimate reasons to tune in when they tip off against Houston on Monday night. For starters, Hawes could be a starter again, although the team didn't practice on Sunday and the status of Brad Miller (right elbow bursitis) is unclear (Beno Udrih could also play, and likewise for Ron Artest). Secondly, former Kings coach Rick Adelman will be gunning for his 800th career win against his old team.
It was almost three years ago to the day that Adelman was winning No. 700 with the Kings in a 112-93 win over Portland at Arco Arena on March 22, 2005.
"It is special," Adelman said then. "Each time (a milestone happens), you appreciate it more. I've been in two great situations (in Portland and Sacramento), and the seven years in Sacramento have been terrific."
Even with the season-ending injury to Yao Ming, Houston certainly qualifies as a third 'great situation.' Adelman is being hailed as a Coach of the Year candidate perhaps like never before, mostly for his ability to win despite such a devastating blow in the loss of Yao.

WEST RACE GROWS MORE INTERESTING
Dirk3.jpg Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

For as seemingly disastrous as the loss of Yao was for the Rockets, Dallas losing Dirk Nowitzki as the Mavs did on Sunday night is worse.
It's a problem made worse still because there is no room for error. It's three losses in a row now and a two games separating them and ninth-place Denver. It actually takes some heat off the Rockets, whose schedule down the stretch is very favorable (nine of 12 games against teams currently out of playoff position; seven of those teams under .500, including two games apiece against Seattle and the Clippers and one against Minnesota). They may be dancing in Denver in light of Dirk's downfall.

The NBA: "Where No-witzki means No-playoffs Happens'

DONNIE WALSH-RON ARTEST REUNION? DON'T COUNT ON IT

BLOG UPDATE: Who knows if Donnie is headed for New York, but his tenure in Indiana has come to an end.

For those who have long been looking ahead to the offseason, the Donnie Walsh situation in Indiana came close to possibly impacting the Kings.
The Pacers CEO met with Knicks owner Jim Dolan a while back but now appears prepared to stay in his current spot. Had Walsh gone to the Knicks, it would seem highly unlikely that Ron Artest would land there at some point in his career as so many still believe will eventually happen. The Kings small forward who can opt out this summer but whose agent has said he likely won't has never hidden the fact that he would love to play for the Knicks if the circumstances were right, but it seems inconceivable that Walsh would tie his hitch to that wagon again. The odds remain highest so long as Isiah Thomas is in charge. - Sam Amick

March 23, 2008
Mikki doesn't like it

Mikki.jpg AP Photo/Alan Spearman

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - When Mikki Moore vented about his own role after an early season loss at New Jersey, there was some question from fans as to whether he was as much of a team-first player as he professed.
And while it appeared that none of his teammates or anyone around the team questioned that notion, he showed why on Saturday night. Moore, who has been one of the most candid and critical Kings all season long, let loose a postgame rant that was all about the team at large after the Kings' loss to Memphis.
"Since weíre not going to make it to the playoffs, we need to improve as a team every time we step on the court," he began. "And I donít think, as a team, that we did. Some players individually did tonight, like Spencer (Hawes). Spencer came out and he played a great game. He made some mistakes, but he played hard. Thatís the main thing. His effort was there.
Moore mostly looked down, as he was nearly done putting his street clothes on but not quite finished sharing his opinion.
"But as a team, we played selfish on both ends of the floor," he continued. "We didnít help each other out on defense, and we were greedy on offense, which ended up turning into easy baskets for them. Every time we play a bad team, people start thinking that, ĎI need to get my stats right, or I need to go at the guy more, but in reality we need to play team basketball on both ends. Iím not saying it's just somebody shooting the ball more, but it could be a guy not setting a screen because heís looking for the ball. You never know what it is until you look at film, but I felt like we played selfish basketball on both ends."
Moore - who had nine points, eight rebounds and five assists in 36 minutes - was asked if he was surprised by the absences of center Brad Miller (right elbow bursitis) and small forward Ron Artest (right elbow soreness). The Kings had known they would be without point guard Beno Udrih (lower back strain), but numerous Kings players had said they weren't aware the other two starters wouldn't play until taking the floor for pregame warmups. Miller and Artest were questionable before the Kings' game at San Antonio on Friday, but played.
"No, it never surprises me anymore," Moore answered. "Nothing surprises me anymore. Thatís all I can say." - Sam Amick


March 22, 2008
Kings down three starters v. Memphis

BLOG UPDATE: For those of you not in front of your boob tubes, there is one fairly significant reason to tune in tonight. Spencer Hawes is about to get his first career start. And for any Grizzlies fans who have a strange connection to the University of Washington or just forgot that your hometown team is playing tonight, feel free to hop in the car and head on down to the FedEx Forum. There are only about 14,000 empty seats with your name on them. Better hurry...

MEMPHIS - As if this game wasn't lacking intrigue already, the Kings will be without Beno Udrih, Ron Artest and Brad Miller tonight against Memphis.
Udrih will miss his third straight game with a lower back strain, while Artest has right elbow stiffness and Miller continues to deal with bursitis in his right elbow. It's welcome news for the Grizzlies, who downed New York at the Garden on Friday night and have won two straight games just once this season. Should they prevail in this one as they did when downing the Kings on Feb. 12, it will be the Kings' 11th loss to a team with a winning percentage of .400 or less this season. - Sam Amick

March 21, 2008
Beno to sit vs. San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO - Point guard Beno Udrih is expected to miss tonight's game against San Antonio, according to Kings coach Reggie Theus.
The fourth-year player who spent his first three seasons with the Spurs continues to deal with a lower back strain and will miss his second consecutive game. Eleven-year veteran Anthony Johnson will continue in his spot. Udrih scored a career-high 27 points in his first game against the Spurs on Nov. 26 as the Kings won 112-99 at Arco Arena but will miss what would've been his first chance to play at the AT&T Center since he left town in late October. Udrih, who was part of two Spurs' championships, was traded to Minnesota just before the regular season, waived hours later and signed by the Kings as a free agent.
The Kings' other ailing players - Ron Artest, Brad Miller, Spencer Hawes and Kenny Thomas - are all expected to be available to play tonight. Sam Amick

March 21, 2008
Weekly Web Watch (From KG to Donaghy to AI)

SAN ANTONIO - This particular Web Watch is waiting for you long before the final day of another hard work week comes to an end.
So clock in, sit down, and clock out in your head as you click away on some of the more interesting storylines from around the NBA this week...

* Nothing like retroactive retribution to get a downtrodden organization back in the headlines again. Such was the case with the Minnesota Timberwolves this week, as owner Glen Taylor started it all by acccusing Kevin Garnett of tanking at the end of last season and then let his staffers try to to clean up the mess afterward. Garnett took the high road on the topic, but obviously wasn't thrilled to be asked about it after Boston beat Houston on Tuesday.

* With enough salary cap space, the Kings could be among the many teams angling for LeBron James in 2010. This week, however, the pre-, pre-, pre-emptive strikes in this battle reached a new level in New York, where a campaign to raise extra funds for King James is well under way and the closest competition to the Knicks just might be the New Jersey Nets because of his relationship with part owner and James pal Jay-Z. Don't forget, of course, that the Nets may be in Brooklyn the same year James becomes a free agent.

* There is a poster-sized photo in the media room at Arco Arena that is outdated on two fronts. First of all, it shows Kings forward Kenny Thomas flying to finish a layup on the break, which is obviously something we don't see anymore. Secondly, it shows disgraced official Tim Donaghy watching the action in the background. Obviously, much has changed since then. And it only got worse for Donaghy this week, as the wife who vowed to stand behind him when the whole saga became public is now hoping to stand behind a restraining order.

* Longtime NBA scribe Sam Smith is no more at the Chicago Tribune, as he accepted a buyout this week. He's not off the hoops map, though, as he has been writing for hoopshype.com and can be found here.

* Who said Philadelphia has bad sports fans? Allen Iverson returned to the Wachovia Center on Wednesday for the first time since being traded to Denver in December 2006 and - according to the legendary Phil Jasner of the Philadelphia Daily News - was shown even more love than Charles Barkley received in his return. Judging by one fan's view, the welcome was warm in every way...

That city wants heart, hustle, grit and some wins to go along with it, and AI could almost always provide that. The story had everything but the perfect ending, as he missed a potential game-winning three as Denver fell.

* Speaking of which, you think the Nuggets wish they'd blinked on the Ron Artest talks yet as they sit 2 1/2 games out of the eighth spot? I do. - Sam Amick

March 20, 2008
Kings of questionable

SAN ANTONIO - It remains a bit of a mystery who the Kings will trot out against San Antonio tomorrow, but here's the latest.
Brad Miller (right elbow bursitis), Ron Artest (right knee soreness, right elbow stiffness), and Beno Udrih (lower back strain) did not practice today, although that doesn't necessarily mean they won't play tomorrow. Spencer Hawes (left midfoot sprain) did practice and - according to Melody Gutierrez, who was at practice while I was on a plane - was dunking quite nicely and said he is back on board. Miller isn't even on the team's official list as 'questionable' and is listed in the starting lineup, and you can bet Udrih will play if it's humanly possibly since this is his first game back in San Antonio since he spent his first three seasons there.
Meanwhile, the Spurs broke their four-game losing streak in fine form tonight in Chicago. They never panicked, so says Spurs' beat writer Jeff McDonald, even while enduring a historically-woeful stretch. The silver lining for the Kings is that San Antonio is expected to touch down at 2:30 a.m. local time and get some late sleep before lacing them up tomorrow.
- Sam Amick

March 20, 2008
Q&As (Remember the Alamo - and the playoffs? - version)

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SAN ANTONIO - Ah, the memories.
Remember when the Kings came to this part of the country for the playoffs instead of quasi-meaningless regular season affairs? It seems like yesterday that it was April 2006, and the Ron Artest-led Kings were as hot as any team in the league and in a quite a little battle with the hometown Spurs.
I was having flashbacks on my way into town, remembering the time I saw Ron-Ron walking the streets near the downtown Riverwalk on the night he couldn't play against the Spurs because he had been suspended for a game. I was on my way to the arena, and sure enough Ron was going to take in the sights and find a place to watch the action other than his hotel if he couldn't actually take part. The classic memory, though, was walking through the San Antonio airport recalling a chat I'd had with the agent for Bonzi Wells, William Phillips, during the series in which his client looked well on his way to a huge payday.
Oh, how life can take us on twists and turns. Like Q&As, for example, which I'd promised on Tuesdays but didn't get around to until today. As Geoff Petrie told me one time when I was late to meet him for lunch, better late than never.

Question: Do you think (Quincy) Douby is feeling a little left out since it seems (Kings coach Reggie) Theus has no problem playing Spencer Hawes, his new rookie, but Douby really doesn't get to see that much floor time.
And how come Anthony Johnson has not received more playing time? Do you think with this recent win we will see more of him? Also do you think the Kings will keep Shareef Abdur-Rahim during the off season or will they try to trade him? Ė Julie, Lodi, Calif.

Answer: Douby continues to say all the right things, that all he can do is be patient and professional. But Iíd bet my mortgage that heís pretty disappointed, and he wouldnít be a competitor if he wasnít. The problem, though, isnít easily fixed. In practices and limited game time, Douby hasnít shown Theus that he is a point guard, meaning heís fighting for minutes at the off-guard spot. Then itís just a matter of Theus getting him in right after Kevin Martin, Francisco Garcia, and John Salmons.
As for Johnson, some of his minutes were coming when Douby was actually used at the point guard spot. In general, heís been the casualty in terms of the organizationís priorities of the moment. They want to see the young guys, not an 11-year veteran who is expected to be gone soon as he is a free agent this summer. Lastly, Abdur-Rahim could be traded if they find a suitor. Iíll have more in the paper soon on his status, but he is no longer looking to come back this season after having two arthroscopic surgeries on his left knee. He had said a few months ago that he would try to get back this year.

Question: I'm wondering why Artest's comments after the Warriors game are not getting more attention. In the post-game interview, when asked about (Johnson), Artest said that he always knew AJ could play and if the coaches played him more, like they should have, the Kings would have made the playoffs. He went on to say that maybe by next year the coaches could figure things out and the team could focus on trying to win. Ė Derek, Sacramento, Calif.

Answer: The thing about Ron is he says something just about every day that could be considered a big deal. As the beat writer, the upside is you never run out of material. The downside is you run the risk of lopsided coverage if every headline relates to the latest Artest comment.
Thatís almost the way it is anyway, but there has to be discretion at some point. Artest has been questioning Theusí moves for much of the season. And if he had said this while Johnson was still sitting and the Kings were still even remotely close in the playoff race, then it wouldíve been big news. Now? Itís old news.

Question: Can Francisco dunk? If so, why doesnít he dunk some of those near-open shots instead of laying them up and, all too often, not in? Ė Cindy, Stockton, Calif.

Answer: Cindy, you must have contacted the Kings coaching staff along with e-mailing me about ĎCisco, because someone appears to have mentioned that to him. Right after your query (which was sent a few days back), Garcia became a dunking machine. Forget ĎEl Flaco,í as he is known in the locker room, letís start calling him ĎSenor Slam!í OK, so maybe thatís a little strong, but he had dunks on the break at Phoenix and against Golden State and can obviously put it down when he wants to.

Question: When the Kings players are fined by Coach Reggie Theus, where does the money go? Ė Tina Paoli, Sacramento, Calif.
Answer: I went digging for an answer for you Tina, as I actually wasnít sure. According to Theus, the money sometimes goes to various charities or is sometimes put in an in-house account for various things the team needs. It sounds like itís a case-by-case basis.
Theus said the ballplayers in the old days would sometimes have a bit more fun with the money, throwing parties funded by the fine.
ďIs the player who was fined invited?Ē I asked.
ďOh, heck yeah,Ē he said with a laugh.

Question: Did the Kings have to pay Tyronn Lue any money when they waived him? Did Dallas has to pay the Kings any money when they picked him up? I am not sure how that works. Would the Kings have traded a pick or something instead of just letting him walk away w/ their money?
Thanks. Ė Kathy Nelson, Browns Valley, Calif.

Answer: There was some sort of buyout, although I never heard the specific amount. In terms of the process, though, the Kings came to an agreement with Lueís agent, Andy Miller, regarding a discount of some sort on the remaining portion of his $3.5 million salary for this season. Miller would want to cut a deal, of course, because it gave Lue a chance to go from a dead-end situation to playing a role on a contender. In this type of case, the agent would be well aware of what kind of interest his client had around the league and would have a short list of teams he was fairly confident his guy could land with. And, yes, Dallas is paying Lue as well, but under a new contract.
As for trading Lue for a draft pick (which I think is what you meant to say), the Kings were open to doing that before the Feb. 21 trade deadline and it would have been preferred. Obviously, however, that didnít take place.

Question: Sam, Any chance the Kings waive Lorenzen Wright and take a look at Gerald Green - a player with alleged "upside" who has never gotten the minutes? What's the risk? Ė Frank, Sacramento, Calif.

Answer: I havenít heard that, but you can bet Theus would be all for it. Itís no secret the Kings arenít exactly a whoís-who of the leagueís top athletes, and Green has always been one of those guys whose raw skills are enticing.

Question: Dear Mr. Amick, Could you please lead me to a good photographer that takes pictures of the Kings? I am looking for some good clear shots of Kevin Martin to purchase. Thank You in advance. - Patricia Weber, Galt, Calif.

Answer: And who wouldnít want a few top-notch Kings shots to hang around the house? For you and anyone else looking to have some of the Beeís fine photog work sent your way for a small fee, call (916) 321-5286 and just do as the automated message says.

Question: Hello Sam, Now and then, I read a comment suggesting that the Kings buy out the contracts of some players (for example Kenny Thomas and Shareef Abdur-Rahim). What I wanted to know is how does a contract buyout affect an NBA team's salary cap. Thanks. Ė Arnel, Marysville, Calif.

Answer: Itís not the quick fix everybody assumes. First, the team and the playerís agent have to agree on a dollar figure for the buyout. That amount is then split evenly based on how many years that player had left on his deal and applied to the cap. For example, a $21 million buyout for a guy with three seasons left is a $7 million cap presence each of those three seasons. Assuming the player is in a position to land a new deal with another team, the reward is far greater on his end than it is for the team unless the agreed-on buyout is a serious discount. - Sam Amick

March 19, 2008
Miller joins list of walking wounded (with MRI update)

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(That sleeve on Miller's right elbow isn't a fashion accessory after all...)

BLOG UPDATE: Per the Kings' PR department, the MRIs for Beno Udrih and Spencer Hawes were both negative and both players are considered day-to-day.

Just got back from the doctor's office, err, Kings practice.
Kings center Brad Miller is questionable for Friday's game at San Antonio due to bursitis (joint area inflammation) in his right elbow, while point guard Beno Udrih (lower back strain) and rookie center Spencer Hawes (left mid-foot strain) are both having MRIs taken today to ensure there isn't further damage, respectively. There should be MRI results later today.
All three being question marks would typically open up playing time for the never-used Kenny Thomas, but he has soreness in his right knee that is keeping him from hitting the floor for the first time since Jan. 2. Speaking of which, I continue to receive questions about Kenny and have no further answers than I did when I wrote this piece in mid-January about his situation. As Kenny himself always says, it is what it is.
I've also received a good amount of inquiries about why Artest was so chippy early on in Tuesday's game. And as I noted before, I didn't know of a backstory or context and still don't. That being said, it should be noted that Artest - whose injuries and occasional absences are so often met with skepticism - was the one playing despite right knee soreness and a stiff right elbow yesterday. Such is life when you are such a big piece of the overall puzzle.
As for why he was so edgy so quick, my only point was that he essentially started the game looking like an agitated man. This wasn't a game's worth of goings on that led to a breaking point. It was frustration coming from elsewhere. Where? Who knows.

* Matt Barnes, aka "Sactown's Finest," made his first trip to Arco Arena since the Golden State forward's emotional trip home on Nov. 28. His mother, Ann, had succumbed to cancer the day before. As Barnes continues to learn, coming home will never be the same again.
- Sam Amick

March 19, 2008
Your cranky and competitive Kings

It didn't take long, and it didn't make much sense for those of us unaware of the backstory or the context of the day at large.
Less than four minutes into play on Tuesday night at Arco Arena, Ron Artest was clearly fed up with Kings coach Reggie Theus. There had been an exchange in which Artest asked Theus about a play call from the floor and appeared less than thrilled with how the conversation had gone. And seconds later, there was Artest staring at Theus from afar while the coach continued on with his duties. A few minutes later, Theus finally acknowledged the obvious as Artest continued looking in his direction. He shrugged his shoulders and said, "What?"
Like all of the Kings, they battled through on this night and appeared to have resolved the issue by the beginning of the second quarter (although Artest's edge continued as he drew a rare technical for arguing with an official in the second quarter). All in all, though, this was among the edgiest nights at Arco this season. Even stranger was how much of it was amongst the Kings themselves.
Francisco Garcia grew tired of being blamed for perceived mistakes and yelled in an exasperated tone at Theus. Mikki Moore and Theus had a tense moment of their own as they both vented to officials about the Warriors' physical play. The real perspective from my vantage point, however, actually came from press row.
Associated Press reporter Greg Beacham is the main man for all of Northern California sports, meaning he has to prioritize when it comes to the NBA scene. What that means, of course, is that after years of making the trek from the Bay Area to cover the more-competitive Kings, he has been busy at Oracle Arena all season long and unfamiliar with this Kings' crew. So as the courtside flare-ups continued on a fairly routine basis, Beacham kept leaning my way and asking, 'Is this normal?'
As always, the feel-good win glossed over all the early theatrics and the Kings eventually directed their ire toward the opponent. Kevin Martin (34 points on 13 of 22 shooting) won the latest round against Monta Ellis (3 of 9 shooting, 11 points), their media-driven rivalry related to the Warriors guard winning last season's Most Improved Player award by a historically-close voting margin to Martin.
Artest had Martin's back when he was nailed in the face by Kelenna Azubuike in the second quarter. While Martin lay on the ground and was tended to by trainer Pete Youngman...

K-Mart

...Artest griped with the officials and Warriors point guard Baron Davis.
"Kevin, that's our golden child," Artest said. "You can't hurt the Golden Child."

THOSE WINNING WARRIORS (Just not on this night)

The largest part of the Warriors' winning equation this season has been far from rocket science, as Davis has finally avoided the sort of significant setback that has plagued him in so many seasons past.
With 66 games logged, he has already played more than any season since the 2003-04 campaign while averaging more minutes (39.4 per game) since that time as well. Whatís more, the offseason trade that sent longtime Warrior Jason Richardson to Charlotte was supposed to leave a void for one of the teamís younger talents to fill. Ellis has done just that, upping his scoring (16.5 points per game to 19.5), rebounding (3.2 to 4.7), and shooting percentage (47.5 percent to 53.3) while gaining coach Don Nelsonís confidence like never before.
ďHeís quite a player,Ē Nelson said of Ellis. ďHe was a bit of a pouter when I first got him, and we had to get through that last year. (But) heís playing all the time now so thereís nothing to pout about. We havenít seen that side of him this year."

Ellis

Ellis - whose mind had to be somewhere else in light of his brother being shot over the weekend - said on Tuesday morning that he was paid little attention to the award last year. Once he won it, however, he wanted to show he'd earned it.
"I really didnít even pay attention when I was in the (mix)," Ellis said. "It wasnít even one of those things that was in the back of my mind. (But) I didnít want to get Most Improved last year and then come back and have a bust season this year, so it just carried on from last year and picked it up even harder this year."
The 2005 second round pick out of high school in Mississippi can be a restricted free agent this summer, and there has already been word that Memphis will try to lure him away with all their cap space. Ellis is already quite a bargain at $770,610 and will certainly be looking for a payday.
So, I asked Monta, is he eager to lock up his future in Golden State considering how well he's fitting in these days?
"Ummm, I mean time will tell," he said somewhat reluctantly. "Right now the most important thing is trying to make the playoffs and go through that and when the offseason comes and I have to make decisions then Iíll make it but right now Iím just focusing on basketball."

***

* Kings swingman John Salmons played despite a right ankle that is still bothering him. John said he had an X-Ray taken on Tuesday and all is fine and that he has no plans of sitting anytime soon.
"We've got a lot of time off coming in a couple of weeks," he said.

* Theus' pick for best play of the night? The second quarter sequence in which his team grabbed five straight offensive rebounds in one possession and a Garcia layup put them up 52-51 and sparked quite a spike in the building's decibel level. In all, the Kings won the boards battle 48 to 43 and that one play accounted for half of their offensive boards.

* My pick for highlight of the night? Brad Miller pretending he was Kevin Garnett in the fourth quarter.
With 4:20 remaining, the Kings were whistled for defensive three seconds and Davis went to the line. He missed the free throw, then tried a pretend attempt out of frustration that Miller blocked from behind. Then Miller - a la Garnett and his infamous move from his Minnesota days - goaltended when Davis tried yet another free throw. Davis was whistled for delay of game, and Mikki Moore finished the sequence nicely by actually blocking Stephen Jackson seconds later on a layup attempt.

* Moore had yet another fine outing, with 19 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. His dunk over Azubuike was monstrous with 4:45 left in the fourth to put the Kings up 10.

* Beno Udrih (lower back strain) and rookie center Spencer Hawes (left midfoot sprain) are day to day and I should know more on Wednesday.

* The Warriors missed a golden chance to pull away from Denver (which lost to Detroit) and remain in eighth.

* When the TV cameras caught my mug allegedly looking angry at an anti-Kings call in the second half, Beacham accused me of being a homer beat writer. He obviously hasn't read the bio on this page, as the only hoops allegiances I've ever known are the blue and gold kind.

* Q&As are coming soon, but ye ol' gas tank - my own personal Arco Arena, if you will - has gone dry.

* Speaking of Arco, it was filled with Warriors fans who were as vocal if not moreso than the home crowd. Artest assessed this latest trend rather accurately after the game.
"Itís not surprising (that there were so many Warriors fans) because weíve got to win," he said. "We win a little bit next year, the next year after that, and we just pack this thing and then there wonít be any tickets left for the Golden State fans. Itís our fault. Itís our fault because weíre losers. When weíre winners, the fans come out. I totally understand why there werenít that many Sacramento Kings fans out there."

* As always, don't forget to relive the win via our multimedia slide show. - Sam Amick

March 18, 2008
Kings down four players v. Warriors

The Kings' hopes of playing the spoiler role tonight aren't looking so good, as they will be without point guard Beno Udrih, reserve swingman John Salmons and rookie center Spencer Hawes.
According to Kings coach Reggie Theus at this morning's shoot-a-round, Udrih strained his lower back against Toronto on Sunday. Salmons will have an X-Ray taken on his sprained ankle to see if there's more damage than originally thought, and Hawes is still hobbled from a left midfoot sprain. The capper is Kenny Thomas, who would have seen some rare playing time tonight but is out with a sore right knee. Ron Artest is expected to play despite right elbow stiffness and continued complaints, according to Theus, of a sore right knee. It sounds as if Anthony Johnson will likely get the start at the point.- Sam Amick

March 17, 2008
The real California rival returns

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Yes, there is still plenty of Kings-Lakers buzz.
As many of you said last week when Kobe Bryant said the rivalry was dead, the fans have everything to do with the rivalry equation. But there has to be a context, too, and that's what's missing from Kings-Lakers these days.
As for the Golden State team coming into Arco Arena tonight? The rivalry continues to grow. The Warriors have all but claimed Northern California as their own on the hoops map. Their crowds are bigger. Their team is better. And all of this is painful for the locals because it was only a few years ago when the Warriors weren't within a fullcourt shot of being as relevant as the Kings.
But now they've won 12 of the last 17 meetings, including both faceoffs this season. They broke their playoff-less streak of 12 seasons while the Kings' streak of playoff berths ended at eight and their playoff-less streak is about to become two. This rivalry, unlike the one with the Lakers, is about success and failure at alternating times. And this, obviously, is not the Kings' time.
Yet this is quite an opportunity to play the spoiler. The Warriors are only 1 1/2 games up on Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot, and the Nuggets on their heels as they've won three straight. All that being said, the Kings may be without Ron Artest (right elbow stiffness), John Salmons (sprained ankle) and Spencer Hawes (left mid-foot strain) and would be hard-pressed to keep up with Nellie's crew without them.

***
* Just in case there's little for Kings fans to cheer about tonight, enjoy this incredibly bizarre YouTube clip of Baron Davis.

Not so menacing now, is he?

* Warriors forward Chris Webber hasn't played in seven games and may not be available for some time because of knee trouble. Sound familiar?

* Another just-in-case: Just in case you Kings fans want to relish a win before crossing your fingers that another is on its way, you need to check out the audio slideshow of the Raptors game. Heck, I wasn't even there and I felt like I was there. I took a short respite and am back on as of Tuesday morning, but those who want to relive every game need to make sure you don't forget about the fantastic slideshows that are produced after every home. Bookmark this page and they'll always be stripped across the top. - Sam Amick

March 16, 2008
Suns starting to shine

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PHOENIX - Mmmm. So tasty, that crow.
"How the West won't be won." That's how I dubbed it just eight days ago when I was ready to bury Shaq and the Suns. Now granted, winning four straight doesn't mean they're title-bound, but they certainly have played well of late.
The Kings' blowout began with a tinge of desperation, with Kings coach Reggie Theus barking at officials far more than the norm and earning his second technical of the season just a few minutes into play. There was, however, one saving grace at least as far as Theus was concerned: Shaq is apparently an advocate of the Kings coach.
As Theus was riding official John Goble about O'Neal's tactics in the paint, someone on the Kings bench appeared to prompt O'Neal as to whether he was going to chime in on Theus' rant. For a moment, it seemed like he would, as O'Neal watched Theus intently as he yelled but ultimately stayed quiet.
"That's my guy," he said of Theus as the coach kept on Goble. "I ain't saying nothing."
Otherwise, the Suns didn't shovel out much love for the Kings. Brad Miller and Spencer Hawes bounced off Shaq all night, with Hawes having as rough a night as he's had since his playing time increased recently (four points on 2 of 9 shooting, eight rebounds and five turnovers in 25 minutes).
Kevin Martin saw just six shots (hitting four) while Ron Artest took 22 (hitting 10) while partaking in some hollow trash talk with Amare Stoudemire in the second half when the frustration continued to build.
"Iím going to live and die with my teammates and myself," Artest said. "Weíre going to live and die with ourselves. And when we live, (opponents are) going to hear it even more. Right now (the Suns) are living and weíre dying. One day, somebodyís going to breath some life into this team and weíre going to have our chance to swag a little bit."
The good news for Theus? Artest remains on board with the youth movement.
"I told the young guys, keep getting that experience because next year weíre going to need it," he said. "Get better while these other teams are getting older, and letís shock the world next year."
Artest, who was yapping with Stoudemire from the free throw line early in the third quarter while the Suns big man had all but clocked out for the night and was on the Suns bench, had little to talk about.
"It was a little friendly trash talk," Stoudemire said afterward. "He was just trying to get himself going. But you're down 30 (points). Just read the stat sheet, bro."
Stoudemire added that he is friendly with Artest off the floor. This, however, was no way to treat your friends.

* Quick note that was omitted from print: swingman John Salmons left late in the fourth quarter limping with a sprained ankle and his status is not known for today's game against Toronto. - Sam Amick

March 15, 2008
Your favorite King: Wayne Gretzky

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Glendale, Ariz. - First things first, there's been a change in this blogosphere.
I will be doing Q&As on Tuesdays now instead of Saturdays, mainly because - just like NBA teams - I am not a fan of back-to-backs. Between the Friday "Web Watch" and Q&As a day later, the only two standing elements of this forum are way too close together. What's more, web traffic on the weekends slows to a crawl and more folks will enjoy the responses during the week anyways.
Now on to the more intriguing happenings: Wayne Gretzky thinks the Kings should tank their season.
I learned this while sharing an elevator with the Great One in a hotel next to the Jobing.com Arena where his Phoenix Coyotes play in Glendale. On my way up to the 10th floor, I lost all focus as Gretzky turned the corner and headed my way. Admittedly, I didn't grow up a hockey fan by any stretch - meaning this wasn't the same sort of experience as my Pete Rose encounter - but Gretzky is big-time no matter what your view on hockey. So as I stared to see if it was, in fact, Gretzky himself, my finger slipped on the elevator button and hit "down" instead of "up."
"Are you going down?" Gretzky asked.
"Well, no," I stammered. "Honestly, I got a little distracted by who I saw coming my way and hit the wrong button."
All in all, the all-time great who is now the head coach of the Coyotes could not have been classier. We jammed quite a little conversation into a seven-story trip (his destination floor) and the added bonus of Gretzky holding the elevator door to finish a few thoughts of his own before he left. He shared a story of the one time he played in Sacramento, a mid-1990s affair in which his Los Angeles Kings played his old Edmonton squad in an NHL effort to attract fans in non-hockey cities.
He had quite the curiosity about the Sacramento Kings, too, asking about their record and whether they had some good young players to build with. I mentioned how they are currently looking at the same No. 10-12 range draft pick they had last season and how it's a period of transition, to which he responded that sometimes you have to go all the way down to get back up again.

***

* Beno Udrih caught up with Hoopsworld recently in an interesting interview. From the early returns on this Bee poll, you Kings fans are still liking Beno for the long term.

* The esteemed Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic helps get you ready for tonight's affair in his blog.

* No matter what style the Kings play, they may be in trouble tonight. Whether they play fast of whether they play slow, the Suns are - according to big man Amare Stoudemire - very dangerous right now. - Sam Amick

March 14, 2008
Weekly Web Watch (From blogger bans to the Shaq show)

We'll keep the blogging short today, lest I write too much and get kicked out of the Dallas Mavericks' locker room next time I'm in there. Which brings us to our first item.
Mavs owner Mark Cuban pulled quite a stunt a few weeks back, booting a Dallas Morning News reporter from his team's locker room because he has instituted a blogger ban. When I read this item, it all made sense. The night of the reporter removal, you see, the Kings were in Dallas.
And while I was in the Kings locker room at the American Airlines Center talking to Shareef Abdur-Rahim about how I'd visited his "Reef House" in Atlanta, he started picking my brain about the world of blogging. His questions were fairly basic, but I found his curiosity a little strange.
Shareef cleared it all up for me at Thursday night's game, telling me how he was doing cardiovascular work near the Mavs' locker room when he saw Cuban inform the reporter that he had to go. Shareef said Cuban was very respectful, but his stance was that 'If I let you in, then I've got to let the 16- or 17-year-old blogger from Indiana' in too.
Needless to say, this media member is established and connected to a major news outlet and Cuban's decision has sparked quite a discussion. The retaliatiatory move didn't take long, and this will be an interesting situation to watch develop.

LEAVING AN IMPRESSION

* When you win 20 straight games like former Kings coach Rick Adelman and his Houston Rockets have, then there's just no reason to not have a good time. So in between continuing the run that no one saw coming - least of all the Maloofs - the teammates of legendary Rockets center Dikembe Mutombo try to perfect his Yoda-like voice in this hilarious clip.

* From Yoda to Gollum, there's Sam Cassell. Back in his Minnesota days, he left Kevin Garnett wondering every time he called a play with his trademark babble.

DEVIN WHO?

It's one thing for the media to have a bias in regards to a blockbuster trade. But a teammate? That's just not right.
The Jason Kidd deal actually did involve other pieces, the most significant among them Devin Harris. But not long after the young rising star arrived in New Jersey to join his new crew, his most high-profile teammate, that being Vince Carter, had hardly noticed he was there.

FOR YOUR READING PLEASURE

* ESPN's Bill Simmons had a fantastic 'What-if?' story breaking down his top 15 hoops hypotheticals, including 'What if Ron Artest never went into the stands in Detroit?'

* Another Worldwide Leader production: JA Adande catches up with former Kings player and renowned Jazz musician Wayman Tisdale in this piece. I still say Tisdale's saxophone rendition of the national anthem that officially welcomed hoops back to New Orleans at the 2005 regular season opener was the best I've ever heard.

* Melody Gutierrez came through for the masses, catching up with Portland forward Channing Frye regarding his swipe at Sacramento. The short version? His opinion certainly hasn't changed after his latest visit.

BENCH-CLEARING BALL

For those who missed it, Shaquille O'Neal nearly pancaked a few innocent fans in one game this week and wasn't about to get any help from his teammates when he headed for the stands again in the next game. Can you really blame them?

- Sam Amick

March 13, 2008
From Martin v. Theus to Martin & Theus

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What a difference two weeks can make...

There was Kevin Martin and Reggie Theus in late February, when the buzz around their non-symbiotic ways was growing and an online analysis was even done regarding which guy was the better player in their prime.
Fast forward to mid-March, and Kevin Martin and Reggie Theus in mid-March are in cahoots like never before.

When I spoke with Martin about his recent one-on-one sessions with Reggie, I was surprised when he likened it to the work he'd done with former Kings assistant/Princeton legend Pete Carril. I even joked with him that he shouldn't reference that name lightly because that's rarified air to even loosely put Theus in. He laughed. But more to the point, there was no retraction to the statement.
"I love just knowing that he was a player in the league who can do some things," Martin said. "I just know that he expects a lot out of me. He's trying to get all my potential out....He knows the stage I'm in right now and the stage I'm entering, and how much harder it's going to keep on getting with (opposing defenses) and stuff."
Martin is right. Four years into his career, the learning can't stop. And while no one expects Theus to do individual sessions every day, it's a hugely positive sign for all involved that they have done them recently. This player is the only secured piece of your core group going forward, a 25-year-old who is entering the prime of his playing days, whose coach just so happened to play the same position (albeit with a different style and with far more point guard stints) at a near-Hall of Fame level. It's not rocket science that they can help each other here. It's not even Algebra I.
Whether it's Carril, Martin's personal coach David Thorpe or Theus and the team's coaching staff at large, Martin has the ability to be an absolute sponge of information and grow his game as a result. Among the lessons? The fine art of keeping your defender off-balance.
"I always tell our offensive guys, 'You have to be more aggressive than the defense,'" Theus said. "You have to take the contact to the defense first as an offensive player. Because if you allow the defense to make contact with you, then you are off-balance. But if you get to them first, then you get them off-balance. Offensive players, great offensive players, control the defense. And that's what Kevin will be able to do eventually."

***

* I'm hoping to catch up with Channing Frye before tipoff tonight to see if he had a good time in Sactown last night. For those who missed it, here's why.

* Greg Oden will be in street clothes as he has been all season when Portland enters Arco Arena tonight, but the notion of the monstrous center actually playing is drawing closer. Why? He practiced yesterday. (P.S. I love the comment under the story from 'TBrown.' That's priceless.)

* We started with Martin, and we'll finish with Martin.
While he currently averages 23.1 points per game, the shooting guard doesn't qualify among the league leaders because of the 17 games he missed with a groin strain. However, if Martin can reach 1,400 total points in the next 19 games then he will be official.
He currently has 1,040 points in all. Barring injury or absence, he'll need to score at a pace of 19 points per game down the stretch to have his numbers be counted. Hypothetically, his average would currently place him at ninth in the league in scoring. - Sam Amick

March 12, 2008
Being Hector Amezcua

His name is Hector Amezcua, and he's more than just an obstacle.
At least three times per Kings home game, I nearly spill my coffee while maneuvering around a squatting Hector on the baseline en route to my seat. That, however, is part of the routine at Arco Arena, where Hector is immersed in this hoops world as he sees it through his lens and it's up to those around him to stay out of his way. And really, it's in all of our best interest.
Let the man work, and he'll produce the same fabulous work you Kings fans have been enjoying for years. As the Kings can attest, passion for the job has everything to do with the final product. Thus, meet our MVP...

THOUGHTS/COMMENTS?

So we have no shortage of web traffic - which is appreciated - but you folks seem to have stopped commenting since some hacker shut that feature down for a few days a while back. And unless you simply can't live without those high-brow arguments with NNA at end of each Kings story, then take some of those conversations over this way where you might actually get answers to your questions or, at the very least, be able to share your insights with a little less friction. For starters, how about some feedback on this sort of multimedia presentation that we're trying to provide more often. - Sam Amick

March 11, 2008
Fighting the good fight

Just because the Kings have three days off between games doesn't mean we'll slow down here, as I have some content I've been waiting to share that should help pass the time leading up to Thursday's game against Portland.
As a quick tease, check back tomorrow for an interesting video on the life of being a sports photographer as we look at The Bee's Hector Amezcua. But for today - and with the Trail Blazers on the mind - there is no better starting point than the esteemed web site of Channing Frye.
The Portland forward was one of many folks to weigh in on the news that former All-Star hoopster Kevin Johnson would be running for mayor of Sacramento. But in the process, he took a swipe at Sacramento that can't go unnoticed. It's no breaking news that Sactown is no New York City, but there's no way it's the worst in the league in terms of nightlife. I touched on the subject in this previous blog post . Sports Illustrated even polled most of the league's players on this topic in what could serve as proof, although I don't believe the results have been published yet.
But heck, even Kobe Bryant had a good time when he was out here last week, as the word was that he spent part of his evening at the fine Mexican joint Zocalos on Capitol Ave. If he so chose, he could have walked just down the way to "The Park Downtown," a quality nightlife establishment.
The Thursday game means Portland should be hitting the town on Wednesday evening, and someone needs to step up and show Channing a good time.

MORE COLLAR-POPPING QUERIES

Collar 2.jpg

So I finally got to the bottom of the Popped Collar Controversy. After the Kings' win over the Lakers on Sunday, I quoted Ron Artest as saying of his postgame celebration (shown above) that "I wanted one game, to run across the L.A. court and show everybody. (The jersey) says 'Kings.' I wish it said Sacramento."
Readers wondered about his comment, considering the Kings' away jerseys do, in fact, say Sacramento. And truthfully, it hadn't clicked with me that Artest was wearing his warm-up (and not his jersey) until I saw the above picture. Now, of course, it all makes sense. And come to think of it, Artest is the perfect candidate to show Channing around this week if he has that kind of civic pride.
Artest's inspiration behind all of it, to review, was Kobe's celebration after the Lakers win at Arco in which he popped his collar for quite a while after the comeback. (See video here)
As for Kobe's claim that Artest is no different than Puff Daddy, judge for yourself...

Puff 2.jpg Ron 3.jpg

.......Puff ...............vs...............Tru Warier

THE FEISTY FOLKS AT SACKINGS.COM

I love a fighter. Doesn't matter if it's an athlete, a politician, or that kid who keeps hitting back when the school bully has him pinned down and is sitting on his puny little chest (no, that's not a personal anecdote).
And for that fact alone, I now like the folks at sackings.com.
Quite a few weeks back, I decided to remove their web site from our short list of links. The decision was fairly simple, as one glance at the site's home page made you wonder if their systems all crashed back in early November.
There's a recap of the regular season opener in New Orleans, and news links to stories about how the Kings drafted Spencer Hawes and picked up the contract options for Francisco Garcia and Quincy Douby. And they wondered why I didn't want to affiliate our site with that kind of outdated content?
But all that being said, this spirited response on their site was enough to convince me that there's enough passion there to render them relevant.
(BLOG UPDATE: It appears the site's forum that has the response is no longer functioning, which is not good given the context. The response - since you now can't see it - was a whole lot of venom hissed my way for removing the link)
So here's the deal: update your home page, and you're back on. I don't care what you put on it - an Amick dartboard, perhaps? - just nothing that counts as outdated. - Sam Amick

March 10, 2008
Welcome to the NBA Mr. Hawes

LOS ANGELES - There had been many a night this season when my fingers just didn't want to talk about Spencer Hawes.
He may have put up a few points and a few boards. He had the status of being the team's prized draft pick, which means he's always worth discussing. But when it came time to write a game story and decide whether Hawes worthy of notice, it just wouldn't happen. His production was often hollow - better than not producing but it had little or nothing to do with the outcome. Tonight? I didn't write enough about him.
He was sensational (14 points on 7 of 11 shooting, eight rebounds, three assists), never moreso than his stretch late in the third quarter when a Kings letdown would have been deadly. He buried a jumper from 22 feet out, then palmed Pau Gasol's layup attempt on the other end in a vital defensive stand that pitted the two in a jumpball. He won it, of course, leading to a Kevin Martin layup that kept things going as they were up 92-87.
He was just as big in the fourth, with another block on Gasol with 1:44 left in which he not only swatted the attempt but also walked the tightrope on the baseline to save the ball and keep the possession.
"It was a big game for us, especially the way weíve been playing," Hawes said. "We need to win like this to get our confidence back up. I think the last few games, Iíve been starting to play better. Iím just trying every game to grow on the court with my confidence and I think itís starting to show."
And the dunk. Don't forget about the dunk.

Aw, shucks. He's growing up - and getting up - before our eyes.

Hawes 2 Hawes.jpg


***

A few more notes from the action...

* Mikki Moore's help defense on the Kobe Bryant attempted game-winner was a game saver, and only the last of many solid efforts for the Kings forward. He had 14 points and nine rebounds, coming one shy of just his fourth double-double of this season. Bryant, however, wishes Lakers coach Phil Jackson hadn't made it so easy to stop him at the end.
"It was isolation from the top," Bryant said. "Teams are used to seeing it, so theyíre all going to pack it in and send me one way and crowd the lane. Weíll give them a different look next time."

* Speaking of next time, Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic said he can't wait to see the Kings again. Not only did Sasha believe he was wronged on the call in which he fouled Beno Udrih from the floor in what led to the game-winning free throws, but Vujacic felt no shame from the acting job he did to prompt a technical on Mikki Moore late in the fourth.
"I would like to play Sacramento again and I think weíre going to play them again soon, so I think that makes it very interesting," Vujacic said. "Every loss is painful, especially this one. The way I was called for that foul at the end. I donít want to talk about it, but we had the game. We found a way to come back and we almost won it. Itís tough to lose like that."
And what of the Oscar-worthy performance he gave when Moore swung an elbow that didn't come close to Vujacic despite his theatrics that made it look otherwise?
"(Moore) was swinging with the elbows before that," he said. "I think every swing like that with the elbows should be a technical when a big guys takes the elbow out."

* Bryant's line about how Ron Artest pulled a Puff Daddy (in the game story) was hysterical, but it wasn't the only anti-Artest fodder.
When asked about how the third quarter with Artest seemed a bit chippy, Kobe said, "Ron knows he can't guard me."
Francisco Garcia did, though, holding Bryant to one point in the fourth quarter after he had exploded for 17 in the final period against the Kings on Tuesday.

* Kings coach Reggie Theus pulled the right strings late.
His last solid decision was to replace Hawes with Brad Miller with 15 seconds left to go. Hawes had already provided a handful of nice passes, but he's still far from Miller in that department. Sure enough, Miller - who hadn't played to that point in the fourth quarter - found Udrih with a bounce pass from atop the key that led to the win.
What's more, Theus' decision to play Artest for just seven minutes, 34 seconds in the second half was certainly new territory. He said it had nothing to do with the foot soreness Artest had cited and was merely about the flow of the game.
"No," Theus replied when asked if the decision was at all related to health matters. "I go with the guys who I think are in the best rhythm."
To Artest's credit, he was giddy afterward, throwing kudos around to the young guys and saying how he didn't care about anything other than getting the win.

* The Kings finally won a game within the Pacific Division. They're 1-9, avoiding the infamy of being the only team in league history to go winless within the division with six division games left to go.

* Game highlights courtesy of NBA.com here. - Sam Amick

March 9, 2008
Ron responds

Ron

LOS ANGELES - Ron Artest talked for some 10 minutes after yesterday's practice in Sacramento. And if we at the local newspaper had decided to publish all of his comments, we may as well called it the 'Ron-Ron' section with all the ink it would have taken.
That's what this space is for, though, and it's much-needed since this is starting to look like a Lakers blog with the Kobe presence (four pics, two videos in the last week alone, although I'm sure I made my colleague/Kobe lover Jason Jones a happy man).
I don't think any of Ron's interview needs all that much explaining, as you have all been along for the ride all season and this is merely the latest chapter. The only new element here would be Artest's comments about Grant Napear, the team's TV and radio personality who spent much of the week being very critical of Artest on the air.

On how he looks at the rest of the season...

Artest: "I think right now weíre trying to find what type of players the young players are going to turn into. I think right now is a time where weíve just got to still play hard no matter what. Itís been a tough season. I think weíve got a lot to learn. Unfortunately, weíve got a lot of growing to do. Itís like a new seed being planted. Weíve just got to grow, as an organization, as players, as coaches. Weíve just got to grow together. Itís unfortunate that we couldnít jell at this point in the season like Iíve seen, but itíll be OK.
Itís been tough for me. Iíll tell you that. Itís been real tough. Every game you lose just makes it that much tougher. I guess Iíve grown. When I was in Indiana, right now I wouldíve said I wanted to be traded with all these games weíve lost and not having a shot to go to the playoffs."

On how much it pains him that he likely won't be in the playoffs for the second straight season...

"Sick. Itís a failure. Right now, we still have a chance. Hopefully everybody else loses their games. Weíve just got to keep trying to win our games. We lost to two of the worst teams in the league the last couple of nights, so that didnít help us at all. Thatís been the story a lot this season. At the same time, I think guys really want to win and thatís what makes it harder."

On his absences from the last two games...

"Before the first day, I wasnít even going to shoot, and I just thought itíd be better if I rest my leg and rest my foot. I thought itíd be better if I just let the guys go get the win. I thought weíd be able to win still.
Then yesterday, we were playing against one of the worst teams in the league and I just thought itíd be better if I just rest my foot because weíve got a tough schedule coming up. The games we have coming up, to me, were more important. Weíve got all the teams who are trying to get homecourt advantage (in the playoffs). Itís still an important season for them. Itís still an important season for us."

On whether last season's 5-17 record down stretch is enough to remind this team how bad it could get if they don't keep competing...

"The year before that was pretty strong (when the Kings went 26-12 down the stretch after trading for Artest). A lot of people want to look at last year, and thatís been hard for me to cope with, but I look at the year before that. We were real strong at this point. We were at our strongest point of the season when times got tough.
Itís very tough. Itís very tough, knowing you have the pieces to compete for a championship, itís very tough being in this situation right here. Youíve still got to give the young guys a chance to grow, a chance to turn into really good players, and next year hopefully there wonít be no soul searching. It will be, 'If youíre ready, youíre ready; if youíre not, youíre not.'"

On the skepticism that surrounded his absence from the last two games because of a sore foot...

"Iíve been getting a lot of good feedback. As much things as people are saying, like you hear Grant (Napear) on the radio talking crazy and you hear a lot of other sportscasters talking crazy. As much as thatís been going on, there have been a lot of players who want me to play with them, a lot of organizations (who want him). The Kings have been supportive of me also. Grant said I wouldíve been traded by now, but Iím still here, so the Kings have got some kind of interest in me to keep me here this long. I feel real good about where my careerís at right now. "

On his critics...

"There are a lot of people out there who know my agenda was to make the playoffs. Even when I came back early from my elbow injury, and I put the season before my daughter. So when people say theyíre doubting me, and Iím really hurt, I like those people. Because now you get to see who hates you, who really donít like you. Because I donít want people to love me, and then hate me. I always told people Iíd rather hate than love because hate is more real with love.
Iíd rather get all those people out now, and I want them to stay like that. So when we start winning, donít come on the bandwagon, alright? Donít come say, ĎHey Ron, I love you.í No. After everything Iíve been through this season, after playing when my daughter was in the hospital, not missing a game Ė missing maybe one game Ė playing the same day she had surgery, coming back early after elbow surgery when everybody told me I should come back after a month or month and a half and I came back early to get in the playoffs. I think that shows dedication. That shows commitment. So for anybody to forget that, they have different agendas and that means they didnít like me from the beginning.
Donít be on my side. Donít be on my side. Stay against me, and the people thatís with me, stay with me. Thatíll clear that up."

On whether his impact gets forgotten, as the Kings are 21-22 this season with Artest and 6-13 without him...

"I think so. I think with everything Iíve been through this season, the record when weíre on the court with me wouldíve been better (if it hadn't happened). We wouldíve had a better rhythm (if there were) no suspensions.
So next year, coming into the season Ė given if Iím a King coming into the season Ė the team will jell that much faster and everybody will be ready. There wonít be no more tune-up games. We had a lot of tune-up games this year.
Iím still having a career year. I donít really know how I ended up having a better year. Every year, Iím getting better, so I just feel real confident.
Iím just going to keep working, because in order to win a championship in this league, Iíve got to be able to compete. Iíve got to have somebody on this team that can compete with Kobe and LeBron (James). So Iím not going to leave it to chance." - Sam Amick

March 9, 2008
Q&A time!

LOS ANGELES - So it's just a few hours before tipoff at Staples Center for the latest Kings-Lakers meeting. And in light of the Tuesday faceoff at Arco Arena in which the "MVP" chants for Kobe Bryant filled the building in the Lakers win, I fully expect that at least a few thousand Kings faithful made the trip to SoCal to return the favor.
There's only one problem: Kobe will still be the only MVP candidate on the floor.

Kobe

What's that? You're still at home in Sac? Fine then. Feast on some Q&As before the game begins...

Question: What benefit did the Kings get from buying out Tyronn Lue's contract and waiving him? When Mike Bibby's trade happened and there was talk of trading Ron Artest to Denver for a first round pick, Eduardo Najera, and Linas Kleiza, and the whole deal went south because Denver did not want to part with Kleiza, why didn't (Kings basketball president) Geoff Petrie just sweeten the deal by adding Lue? The end result would have been a first round pick and Kleiza and an expiring contract to Sacramento for the rebuilding efforts, and Artest and Lue to Denver. Now Denver can pick Lue up for free (Lue has since signed with Dallas). Ė Andre, San Diego, Calif.

Answer: The Kings were certainly hoping to get something for Lue, whether it was a deal that would involve a second-round pick or Ė and this was the best-case scenario Ė a first-round pick. But none of the pre-trade-deadline discussions regarding his expiring contract of $3.5 million actually turned into a deal, and he was of no value to them at that point.
This was similar to the Jason Hart situation last year, when Petrie cut a guy loose for the betterment of his career. As for the Denver deal and possibly adding Lue, that wouldnít have made the difference with Kleiza. The deal still wouldnít have gone down.

Question: Why didn't (Kings coach Reggie) Theus hire Coachie (Pete Carril)? No, it is not a rhetorical question. Most of the elite teams in the league have some gray hair on the bench. Coachie is one man who can get inside K-Mart's (Kevin Martinís) head and keep him focused.
I have a lot of gray hair and I have long felt that teams mirror their coaching. The usual Jekyl-Hyde team turned into a Hyde-Jekyl team tonight against the Heat (on March 2). Frankly, I think the pass Theus and crew have been getting should come to an end. I'd like to hear some comments from Charles Barkley on Kings coaching. Ė Richard Colby, Yuba City, Calif.

Answer: Barkley has been Theusí most ardent national supporter all season, throwing him kudos at least a couple times while in the TNT studios and even joking that Theus just might make the ĎFave Fiveí on his phone (from those T-Mobile ads). As for ĎCoachie,í youíre not the only one who feels that way.
His impact on Martin has been well-chronicled. And from a political standpoint, it would have gone a long way toward connecting Theusí staff to the front office and possibly ensuring a smoother operation all around. The Kingsí exec has been close friends with Carril for years, but he has also not been the type to insist on whom his head coaches hire as assistants.

Question: Was it just me, or did Kevin Martin seemed to be playing very timid Ė or dare I say, scared Ė against Kobe (Bryant) in the fourth quarter (on Tuesday)? Almost every time he touched the balled he passed it away as fast as he could, never attempting to do anything with it. The one time he did try and drive, he missed an easy layup. I know Kobe was playing good defense, but that doesn't mean you should just take the rest of the night off, does it? Ė Kevin Grassel, West Sacramento, Calif.

Martin

Answer: As we later learned, his hand was in bad shape after he fell hard at the end of the third quarter in that game. That was the ailment that kept him out against the Clippers the next day. Iím sure the injury Ė combined with Kobeís defense and the fact that Artest was taking nine shots in the period Ė had something to do with the fact that Kevin ended badly.
At the time, I thought the biggest factor was how he appeared to be completely out of rhythm after a stellar first three quarters. He sat for six minutes before coming in, which made little sense since both sides were treating this contest like a playoff game. Then he was getting hounded by Kobe, who took over like only he can.

Question: Ron Artest had no qualms about throwing Reggie Theus and the coaching staff under the bus earlier this week (with his comments after the March 2 win over Miami that resulted in a $5,000 fine), but how did he justify sitting out on a back to back against the Clippers? I wonder (no, I know) that Reggie will take the high road in his post game comments. Better yet, how do deal with all of this as a reporter? Love your work Sam! Ė Jim Mazzaferro, Elk Grove, Calif.

Answer: I have Ronís explanation for sitting out the Clippers game in a blog post that will follow this one, but itís definitely not easy covering him sometimes. In that situation, it was just too hard to ignore the fact that nearly everyone around the team (and some on the team) was extremely skeptical about his absence. On the flip side, you let Ron explain himself when that times comes (as I did in todayís paper and the subsequent blog) and call it a day. Hopefully, a fair, balanced and accurate day.

Question: What is the scoop on Kenny Thomas? I see him sitting on the bench, suited up, game after game, but he never gets in the game. Is he injured? Thanks. - Janet Vavra, Antelope, Calif.

Answer: I covered the Kenny Thomas existence a while back, but I could see where some fans are confused if they happened to not pick up the paper that day (shame on you). Hereís that story. As a short aside, the word from back then remains the same now, which is that Thomas will continue to sit until he is likely to either be traded this summer or bought out. Also, he continues to work with renowned shooting coach Buzz Braman and keep his game sharp with plans for a revival elsewhere down the road.

Question: Sam, why did the Kings dump Dahntay Jones and keep Anthony Johnson, who is basically awful? For a team that lacks athleticism, they had it in Jones and they let him go and it is hard to take. Thanks - Steven Rapaport, Stockton, Calif.

Answer: Itís a numbers game. They had to make room for Johnson, Tyronn Lue, Shelden Williams and Lorenzen Wright to make the Mike Bibby deal work, and they werenít about to cut draft picks or players with more guaranteed money. Jones is certainly athletic, but he was cheap, too, and on a one-year deal. They didnít see him making any significant difference in the big picture.

Question: If Gilbert Arenas opts out, what are the chances the Kings will go after him? - Zach Gregory, Elk Grove, Calif.

Answer: ĎGilí would be a phenomenal addition, except that the Kings wonít have any salary cap space this summer (when he is expected to opt out) and will be happy with their free agent signings if they can lock up Beno Udrih. This is still a team gearing for 2010. Thatís when they should have cap space galore and make a serious run at some of the biggest names in the game.

Question: Hey Sam, I really enjoy these blogs, man. My question is about the upcoming draft. Who do you think the Kings should take a look at? We obviously have little chance of landing (Memphisí Derrick) Rose or (Kansas Stateís Michael) Beasley, but some websites have us taking (Nevada 7-foot center) JaVale McGee. After watching his highlight tape on Youtube, he seems like an Andrew Bynum-type of player. I think it would be great if the Kings could land him. Ė Daniel, Tucson, Ariz.

Answer: Daniel, Iím not quite ready to break down draft prospects yet, but you have me on alert that is fast becoming a priority. Then again, I shouldíve hit that mode already since the Kingsí pick is improving every day.
In general, though, they continue to be in need of a big-time power forward and could be looking for a small forward if Artest is traded this summer. A big like McGee could be attractive, too, especially if he could aid the interior defense thatís been so bad lately.

Question: You'd think I could let questions like this pass, but it is my inquisitive nature I guess. Why are you riding commercial instead of on the Kingsí charter plane? Gee, I know you are thinking, 'What a stupid question.' However, somewhere deep in the recesses of my tiny little brain I thought I remembered that beat writers rode with the team. Look at all the beat writers that ride with future presidents of the United States of America! How else do we get the cold hard facts? This is one way newspapers get paid for all the free advertising. Isn't it? Ė Richard Colby, Yuba City, Calif.

Answer: Two solid questions in one Q&A session Richard! Well done. Yeah, itís quite the misnomer that beat writers fly with the team, but it hasnít been that way for quite a while. The beat guy used to fly with the team in the old days, and I donít know the exact period when it changed but I believe it was in the last 15 years. The thinking, from the newspaperís standpoint, is that flying with the team threatens your ability to objective.
Whatís more, Iím not sure how we could pull that off even if we chose to fly with the team. By the time Iím done working after most road games, the team has already jumped on their plane and sometimes even landed in their new city. Iím all-commercial, all-the-time. I donít stay in the team hotel, either. - Sam Amick

March 8, 2008
Web Watch (Because 'Kings Watch' is clearly unbearable)

Before we get to the late-night edition (or early morning, rather) of the Web Watch you can expect every Friday (or early Saturday), let me pick up some of the carnage left behind in the Arco Arena media room here. After all, I'm still not far from where Kings coach Reggie Theus roasted his team for its lack of effort in this one.
Specifically, he pointed to the nonexistent interior defense, as the T-Wolves frontline of Al Jefferson and Ryan Gomes were slightly overwhelming with a combined 38 points and 20 rebounds. Someone asked Theus if Brad Miller was hurt during his media session, to which he replied with a telling grin, "He's fine."
His numbers are far from fine, though. In what is easily his worst performance in consecutive games since the first month of the season, Miller - who was scoreless against Minnesota on 0 of 3 shooting - has scored seven points and had one block in 59 minutes against Minnesota and the Clippers. He had six rebounds against the Clippers and a team-high eight against the T-Wolves.
Anyhow, back to the much-needed distraction for Kings fans that is the Web Watch...

HAWES REUNION

Not long after the Kings' season began, there was a story in the one of the Seattle-area papers about how the University of Washington players welcomed the opportunity and growth that would come with the absence of Spencer Hawes.
Now that the team is in the midst of a season that has fallen short of their own hopes, isn't it interesting that the tone changed a bit when the Kings rookie center who was drafted No. 10 back in June went to visit his old Huskies teammates.

HOW THE WEST WON'T BE WON

The Kings will get their first look at the new-look Phoenix Suns on March 15. And considering they are 3-6 since trading for Shaq after leading the Western Conference before the deal, I have no problem patting myself on the back for not seeing how this could work out well. Granted, there were plenty of pundits killing the move, but the evidence is starting to pile up. I feel for Mike D'Antoni, who continues to take the optimistic route in this situation.

CALL ME BENO

Tom Ziller of Sactownroyalty has convinced me to stop using Beno Udrih's nickname of the "Tasmanian Slovenian." He gives many good reasons, but the fact that it's eight syllables is really the clincher.

J-WILL IN HOUSTON

I'm breaking the Web Watch form here (because there are no links). But with Justin Williams signing a 10-day contract with Houston, here are some thoughts from the former Kings big man and former Kings coach Rick Adelman on his new player. Adelman was gone before Williams arrived, but he could certainly use some frontcourt help in light of Yao Ming's season-ending injury. From the Kings' freefall to a Rockets team that's won a franchise-record 17 straight games? Not bad for Williams.
Quotes courtesy of the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen...

Williams: ďItís a real big opportunity, getting waived by Sacramento and getting brought in by this organization. I look forward to coming in and helping guys out. Iím going to learn a lot from (Dikembe Mutombo), a guy who played so long in the league. Iím only going to get better playing with him and practicing with him every day.Ē

Adelman: ďWhat weíre looking for is to see if we can add a fifth big guy. Weíre really short (down) there. Outside of (Mutombo), weíre not very big. Weíre trying to see if he or anybody can help us up there in case something does happen. We get a chance to get him to work in and find out what he can do. I already saw in one game what he can do. He did it against us (on Feb. 13). He had 12 rebounds in a half. He has the ability to really attack the boards and to be very active defensively. He fronted. Heís always moving. Youíre not going to have the perfect big guy who can do it all or you wouldnít be picking him up right now.Ē

My oh my how the controversy surrounding Williams in the preseason seems like so long ago.

WELCOME TO THE TOILET BOWL GAMES!

Chris Kaman was talking just about that night, but he may as well have been referring to much of the Kings' last two weeks of play.
After the Clippers downed the Kings on Wednesday, the center went on a lengthy rant about how bad his team is, calling the win a "toilet bowl game." In more ways than one, his attitude gives credence to Theus' opinion after Friday's game that ďteams come in here who are bad and they think weíre a crappy team.Ē Read his rant here.

HAWKS GROUNDED WITH BIBBY

The pressure has been on Mike Bibby since he was traded to Atlanta on Feb. 16, with the Hawks desperate for a playoff berth and the point guard expected to lead them there.
But they've lost eight of 11 games since the deal went down, and Bibby's sore foot has only made matters worse. The critics will only get more ruthless if this continues.

KOBE'S COMING, BUT IS RON-RON?

Only Ron Artest knows if he'll suit up to face the Lakers on Sunday as he did against them on Tuesday. But just in case he needs a little added motivation, this recap of the night Arco Arena became Staples North should do it.
(Blog update: A Lakers fan from Chico who was at Tuesday's game chimed in to add some context to this video, saying that part of Kobe's anger may have come from a rowdy Kings fan who was yelling 'Colorado!' at him.)

- Sam Amick

March 7, 2008
Artest out again

In the words of Yogi Berra, it's deja vu all over again.
Ron Artest will not play tonight due to a sore foot, just as he sat out Wednesday's game against the Clippers for that given reason. And just as was the case that night in Los Angeles, Artest informed the team by way of trainer Pete Youngman late in the day. Whereas it was less than an hour before tipoff last time, it was approximately 90 minutes before tipoff this time around. John Salmons will start in his place. - Sam Amick

March 7, 2008
Being Reggie Theus

Reggie

You'd think the daily dealings with Reggie Theus would be enough to know everything there was to know about the man.
Post-practice, postgame, phone sessions, etc. There are some days - heck, quite a few days - where I see more of him than I see my wife and baby boy. And still, I hadn't seen him like this before.
On my way back from the team's one-game stop in LA, I strolled toward Gate No. 14 at LAX on Thursday where none other than the Kings coach was already waiting for the Southwest flight back to Sacramento. Theus, I assume, had stayed back for a little extra time because of the locale. He is, after all, from Los Angeles, a local legend from his high school days there whose family is all staying in the region. And while his team had headed back the night before via charter jet, there was really no harm since back-to-back games like the Kings had just had meant there was no practice on this day.
We certainly caught up a bit and discussed the previous night's game, but the most intriguing aspect of seeing Theus in this environment was to watch the people around him. He autographed boarding passes, mingled with a few men in the "A" line who offered compliments for the job he'd done this season and had no shortage of questions about his team. When Theus walked down the tunnel to the plane and was out of earshot, the man said to his friend, "He's one of the best basketball players of all-time."
It's no secret that Theus is typically very gracious when in public, and this was no different. Upon landing - which I would later learn was something to appreciate, given the day's news of this airline - Theus was approached by a man in a Brad Miller hat who wanted to offer his approval for the job he'd done.
"Well, thank you," Theus said.
Then a middle-aged man had a story to share. The two of them walked and talked, and the man told the tale of how his mother - Mrs. Welch - had always claimed that she taught Reggie Theus in grade school. She rooted for the Kings based on that alone, because that kid was - she would tell her son - studious and polite.
As the man continued to describe the late woman, Theus went from polite to pensive to pleased. He did, in fact, recall his third-grade teacher from his boyhood days in LA.
"A tall, skinny woman?" he asked. "Had a little bit of toughness to her?"
Yes, indeed. The man walked away with a memory, thanking Theus for confirming the story he'd always doubted. Theus, who enjoyed the nostalgic moment as well and was surprised that his memory had been so keen, kept walking toward the parking garage.
Now because his car was closer to the nearby private airport where the charter planes depart from, Theus asked for a ride. I obliged, and here's where the comedy came in.
As we spoke briefly near the runway, a security guard who obviously knew who Theus was asked that the talking stop and the exiting begin. There was a jet on its way in and we were too close to the chosen path. As I left, I just had to know who Reggie Theus was being asked to yield to. What possible reason could there be for rushing the man who - by all appearances on this day - is some sort of King of Sacramento?
"It's Governor Schwarzenegger," he replied. - Sam Amick

March 6, 2008
Clipped again

LOS ANGELES - Well, it's official.
This darn team is going to make me call the Elias Sports Bureau to find out if a team has ever gone an entire season without beating a team in its own division. It's 0-9 and counting for the Kings, whose loss to the Clippers on Wednesday night was unfortunate for them for one significant reason: they almost won with the young guns.
A chance like this won't come along too often, as the typical battle from here on out will be how to get the Spencer Hawes, Quincy Douby, Shelden Williams types more floor time without finishing completely folding down the stretch. That being said, the intrigue of the night was what happened to Ron Artest. Unfortunately, I didn't talk to Ron before and was unable to hit the locker room after (double-overtime on deadline just isn't pretty), so I'll have to follow up on that situation. It was less than an hour before tipoff when word of his right sore foot came down, so hopefully I can get a few answers tomorrow.
In all, this game was entirely anticlimactic after the electricity of the Lakers game. Everything was out of sorts, nothing moreso than the G-stringed sumo wrestler dudes that were the halftime show. No one needed to see their fleshy manhood exposed to that degree.

***

It never gets old seeing the one and only Elie Seckbach.
The funnyman with the video camera who is based in LA was on hand, and it turns out he's now done a few mini-documentaries on being a beat writer. He and I teamed up for a look at the job a while back...

...and here's another featuring the LA Times' Jonathan Abrams. Unfortunately for Abrams, the Clippers' woeful ways mean the Times hasn't been traveling with the team for some time now (nor has the Orange County Register).
Seckbach's real niche, though, has been his rapport with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal over the years. His report on a little-known off-the-court interest of Bryant's may help explain how Kobe is so ruthless on the floor - a la his fourth quarter against the Kings on Tuesday. And considering the Kings will put their 0-9 Pacific record on the line against the Lakers once again on Sunday, there could be more of this to come.

- Sam Amick

March 5, 2008
Martin and Artest out

BLOG UPDATE: The X-Rays on Kevin Martin's right thumb were negative.

LOS ANGELES - The Kings will be without Kevin Martin and Ron Artest tonight against the Clippers.
Martin has a bruised right thumb that was injured at the end of the third quarter of Tuesday's game and is said to be getting X-Rayed by the docs this evening. It is not believed to be serious, according to Kings coach Reggie Theus. Artest, however, has a sore right foot that no one was discussing until less than 40 minutes before tipoff and wasn't mentioned by Theus in his 6:30 p.m. interview. Game on... - Sam Amick

March 5, 2008
Martin may sit

LOS ANGELES - The Kings could be down a man in their quest to finally win a division game, as shooting guard Kevin Martin may not play tonight against the Clippers.
Martin fell hard to the floor at the end of the third quarter on Tuesday night against the Lakers while attempting to catch a full-court pass. He walked off the floor holding his right wrist and hand, which may be sore enough for him to miss a game for the first time since Jan. 10. The Kings, of course, are 0-8 in games against Pacific Division opponents. They are the only team in the league that hasn't downed a division foe. - Sam Amick

March 4, 2008
Parity anyone?

With the Lakers' win at Arco Arena on Tuesday night, they are now tied for the Western Conference lead with San Antonio.
Yet the Kings - who could go undefeated for the rest of the season and still not make the playoffs - had their way with the them until Kobe Bryant took over late. These are the same Kings who have downed the Spurs this season, the same Kings who have shown that they can down the league's best on any given night. All of which is precisely why I am of the opinion that a new playoff system is in order. The West is too good to leave teams like Denver, Portland and the Kings - if they were able to make a late run - out of the postseason.
As it was, this one was a regular season thriller of the most electric kind. Ron Artest didn't address the media afterward, which you can bet had much more to do with his disappointment than it was about saying something costly. Brad Miller said plenty, including his high praise of a Lakers team that is playing better than any squad in the league right now.
"LAís a really good team this year," he said. "Itís one of the best Lakers teams Iíve seen since Iíve been here. Even with Shaq and Kobe that first year, I felt like we matched up really well and played them tough. Theyíre versatile this year, and theyíre tough to beat. So we canít make mistakes at the end of games."
Are they potential champs?
"You never know in the West," he continued. "Itís the most balanced conference from one to nine that Iíve seen since Iíve been in the West."

***

Considering there were Kobe "MVP" chants roaring through Arco Arena, then maybe there are Lakers fans perusing through the Kings blog. If so - or for Kings fans who are closet Kobe fans, too - you can relive the game here via video.
A few observations before this LA story actually heads to LA (Clippers on Wednesday night)...

* The Kings remain the only team in the league that hasn't defeated a divisional opponent. It's 0-8 and counting with another chance coming on Wednesday against a Clippers team that's already downed the Kings twice.

* I wouldn't call it a game-breaker, but the decision by Kings coach Reggie Theus to keep Kevin Martin out for the first six minutes of the fourth quarter didn't seem to help matters with Kobe about to heat up. Martin was out of rhythm when he returned, and he took just one fourth quarter shot while Artest took nine. My opinion alone (meaning this isn't coming from Martin), but it just seemed a little long considering he had 23 points on 8 of 16 shooting through three quarters.

* Anthony Johnson continues to get time over Quincy Douby (who had none), which makes little sense if only because the clock is still ticking here. Douby is in his second season and the question mark above his name remains, and there's really no way to remove that if he doesn't play.
His time has been strangely sporadic, too, as he played nine or more minutes six times last month while playing a combined six minutes in the other eight games. The tragedy to me was Feb. 9 at Golden State, where he should have been rewarded for a 15-point-in-14-minutes outing in a win over Utah the night before but didn't even play until there were three minutes left in the third quarter against the Warriors.
And it's not like Johnson is running the offense with any real positive impact. He has a combined 10 assists and 10 points on 5 of 16 shooting while averaging 10.5 minutes in the eight games he's played (he didn't play in one game).

* Because the Lakers' win was all about Kobe in the fourth, Pau Gasol received no kudos from this Sacramento side. Not that he didn't deserve any, as he had another stellar night at the office with 31 points on 10 of 15 shooting with 10 rebounds. Kobe had 10 boards as well, bringing their collective total on the night to 65 points and 20 rebounds.
Such ridiculous production made me think of the Lakers' shoot-a-round on the Arco Arena floor on Tuesday morning, when Kings TV's Angela Tsai was asking Kobe what superhero he fashioned himself after. He picked Batman.
Tsai then asked if that made Pau his Robin. Kobe said no - mainly because the visual of Pau in tights was just too weird. I digress, but that seemed a little hypocritical...

Kobe.jpg

Kobe couldn't come up with a better pick. But since Dwight Howard is the new Superman (sorry, Shaq), let's just say that this is like Batman and Spiderman joining forces to dominate the hoops planet. And if it's Lakers v. Orlando in the Finals, well then this is what it will look like.

Superheroes.jpg

* Speaking of monikers, Kings director of player personnel and TV personality Jerry Reynolds deserves kudos for his new nickname of Beno Udrih - The Tasmanian Slovenian.
With Udrih's wicked spin he does so often through the paint and the fact that he's been playing at a furious pace, it's perfect in every way. There was even a printout at Udrih's locker with the new nickname and a picture of Beno next to the Tasmanian Devil.

* John Salmons was a different man - scoring in transition, finding opportunity instead of waiting for them. He scored 17 points on 7 of 10 shooting, and it was one of those performances in which you can't help but wonder if this was Kobe-related as well. KB is so phenomenal that he absolutely inspires opponents to raise their games. Salmons certainly did that, scoring in double digits for the first time since Feb. 9. What's more, his defense had everything to do with Kobe being contained through most of three quarters. - Sam Amick

March 3, 2008
Artest fined

Today was supposed to be low key. File an expense report, throw a blog up and call it a day while Melody Gutierrez handled practice and Ailene Voisin weighed in on the critical comments Ron Artest had for Kings coach Reggie Theus after the Kings' win on Sunday. (Also read entry below - "Artest unplugged...again" - for full extent of his comments)
Then came the call: Ron Artest would be fined. Monumental? Hardly. Newsworthy? Certainly. Theus regained some measure of respect by fining Artest, if only because not fining him would have only become the latest fodder for some of his players to point to when claims of double standards arose. But in this one micro-category that could be deemed 'Public statement or conduct missteps,' Theus has been consistent. John Salmons bolted out of the locker room frustrated in Minnesota early this season, and was fined because he happened to run right into the media. Mikki Moore voiced his displeasure with the coaching staff for not being more involved at New Jersey about a month later, and he was fined. If Artest hadn't been fined, then Theus would lose even more credibility in that realm.
And make no mistake that this is all about the message sent and the principle. After all, $5,000 to a man who will make $7.4 million this year is approximately $34 to the guy who will make $50,000 this year. But given the alternative of turning a blind eye while one of your core players rips you for all the world to hear, there's most certainly a payoff for Theus.

ODDS AND ENDS

* So much for Tyronn Lue heading to Denver. According to Sekou Smith of the Atlanta Journal Consitution, the former Kings point guard who came to Sacramento briefly after he was traded from Atlanta in the Mike Bibby trade on Feb. 16 will sign with Dallas. Not a bad gig, being Jason Kidd's backup.
As for the calf injury that had kept Lue out of action with the Kings, former teammate Lorenzen Wright chuckled when he was asked about how close Lue was to being ready to play when the team was in Dallas.
"When he touches down in Denver, I think he'll be OK," Wright said.
It's looking more like Dallas, of course, but you get the point.

* Our Melody Gutierrez dug up quite the little nugget for Tuesday's Kings notes, where she points out that - according to the Elias Sports Bureau - Tuesday's Kings-Lakers game at Arco Arena marks the latest two teams in the same division have met for the first time in a season in NBA history.
That's great news for the Kings, of course, because surely they would rather play the Kobe Bryant-Pau Gasol version four times instead of facing the Kobe-Kobe edition or yesteryear.

Kobe Pau.jpg

And it's not like the Lakers have won 12 of 14 since playing with Gasol. What's that? They have? Oh boy...
Here's the latest marvelous outing. - Sam Amick

March 3, 2008
The Heat was on

Kevin

The heat was on. Not the Miami Heat, mind you, but the heat was on the Kings.
Down 23 in the first half, it didn't take long for nearly everyone in the building to wonder aloud if this team was waving the white flag on the season before they pulled it out. Yes, it was that bad.
As in so bad that nobody bothered to defend the three-point line bad (Miami hit 9 of 15 before halftime). So bad that Dwyane Wade actually looked like Dwyane Wade again (18 of his 26 points in the first half). So bad that the Kings starters not named Ron Artest scored a combined 23 points before the break.
But the subplot here is this: what impact did the day off on Saturday have? The Kings were scheduled to practice, but word is there was grumbling from the players because typically teams won't practice on the first day home from such a long trip (five games and nine days). Alas, practice was cancelled, which seems wholly reasonable.
And because of the sluggish start and the strong finish, the joke from Kings coach Reggie Theus afterward was that they certainly wouldn't get a day off in that situation next time if they had blown the game. There was nothing funny about this situation before the second half.
"I'd like to say I did a great job at halftime, but they came out and got after it defensively," Theus said. "We talked about what we did wrong, and (I) basically just challenged them and said, 'Do you guys really want to go out like this?'' We did talk about not having another day off. We did talk about that."

ARTEST UNPLUGGED...AGAIN

Artest seemed intent on criticizing Theus any way he could see fit afterward.
And while much of the material is in the game story, there was quite a bit more. Asked about what happened in the first half, Artest blamed it largely on his coach.
"Beno (Udrih) came out (of the game) with (one) minute to go in the first quarter, and then he sat out for like seven more minutes after that," Artest said. "So we knew when he got back in the game that we'd have a chance to win, (but) we were just wondering when was coach going to make that decision to put him back in the game? Sometimes we had a bad lineup out there too today. We're out there with Q (Quincy Douby), Beno, and Kev (Martin) - some of our worst defenders out there playing against some of the best players in the league, and that don't work.
"We got down 20 (points), and you wonder why we're down 20. But we got back in it as a team. The players decided to play. We're trying to make the playoffs. And once we get the coaches believing that we can make the playoffs, we'll be fine."
This wasn't the first time Artest had talked about who believes in the playoff push and who doesn't. In Atlanta on Wednesday, he said there were some people on his unofficial list of believers, but he didn't want to reveal who because that, of course, would expose the non-believers. A few days later, he obviously didn't mind disclosing at least some of that top secret information. - Sam Amick

March 1, 2008
A (moral) victory!

Dirk.jpg

AP Photo/Donna McWilliam

It's been a long time since I pondered whether the Kings had achieved the almighty moral victory. Their latest loss, for the record, certainly counted.
But really, it's not a good thing for them that the question is even being pondered. That's how things were back on Nov. 3, when they were getting blown out in Dallas and I was convinced the entire season would be a nightly question of whether they'd lost with or without their dignity. It's not quite as bad as those disastrous early days right now, but it's far from good.
A strong defensive effort early didn't hold up, as Dallas unleashed a 30-10 run between the first and second quarters in which they scored all their points in a stretch of 8 minutes, 34 seconds. It was much of the same from their recent play, as they've now allowed an average of 113.2 points in the last six games and slipped to 24th in the league in points allowed (103.3 per game). And suddenly, in this season of survival that seemed at least somewhat more promising for Kings fans than the last, they have the same 26-32 record they did under first-year coach Eric Musselman at this point last season.
"It's not what we were expecting to get from this road trip," Kings point guard Beno Udrih said. "Somebody once said, 'You win together, you lose together.' We've got to keep working hard and keep trying to get better.
"Coach said to us, 'If (you) play as hard as you did today, you shouldn't have problems winning.' That was us. I think the last three games, that wasn't really us."
Is that silver lining I hear, even with a 1-4 road trip and a four-game losing streak?
"It's still 1-4," Kings center Brad Miller made clear. "Weíve played pretty good against the good teams all year."

***

In the interest of taking myself off the hook and letting it be known that I kept my end of the bargain, there is no Saturday Q&A session this week because there were only a handful of questions in the mailbag and none were incredibly relevant. We'll blame it on post-trade deadline hangover. - Sam Amick



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