Kings Blog and Q&A

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

December 31, 2008
Overtime: More Martin and other musings

Martin.jpgKINGS 92, CLIPPERS 90: Game story, Game notes

Box score

There were plenty of non-Kevin Martin happenings that took place in Tuesday's win over the Clippers, but they're almost all worth overlooking because his return and what it might mean matters so very much more.

A team that's widely seen as low on talent welcomes an All-Star caliber scorer back into the chaos, hoping the lost season could be at least mildly intriguing with him helping out. I spent much of the game story trying to explain the situation regarding his left ankle, but there was more to tell. Mainly, the emotional side.

December 30, 2008
Martin: "It's good to be back out there with the guys"

Kevin Martin returned to score 20 points in a 92-90 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday at Arco Arena.
Here's what he had to say after:

Kenny Natt said it was nice to get over the hump and he hopes his team continues to build on the lessons learned in Tuesday's game.
"We just have to stop being our own worst enemy and we'll just continue to work on that," he said.
More from Natt here:

December 30, 2008
Good news alert: Martin to play

Kevin Martin will play tonight, logging his 10th game of the season against the Los Angeles Clippers at Arco Arena.
"I'm going to give it a go," said Martin, who has been out with a left ankle injury that included bone bruises. "It's just getting better every day and that's all I can ask for. I feel ready to go."
Kings interim coach Kenny Natt said getting Martin back is a nice treat.
"Yeah, it is good news," Natt said. "Being able to actually have him out there and have him provide us with another threat is going to be a big plus for our team."
Natt said he is still debating whether he will insert Martin into the starting lineup tonight.
"That's a game-time decision," Natt said.
Martin, who has missed the last 10 games, has played in only nine games this season. Last week, Martin returned to practice, where his progress has been impressive, Natt said.
On a side note, the results of Spencer Hawes' abdominal MRI were not yet available. Hawes has been experiencing soreness in his abdomen and missed Monday's practice and this morning's shootaround. The results of his MRI will determine whether he plays tonight.

December 30, 2008
Opening tip: The curious case of Jason Williams

Clippers (8-21) at Kings (7-24)

Scoring: Kings 21st (96), Clippers 28th (93.7).
Shooting: Kings tied for 16th (44.8 percent), Clippers 30th (42.6).
Scoring defense: Kings 28th (105.8), Clippers 20th (100.2).
Shooting defense: Kings 29th (47.9), Clippers tied for 11th (44.8).
Rebound differential: Kings 27th (minus-3.5), Clippers 26th (minus-3.2).

The link: Clippers coverage in the Los Angeles Times.
The almanac: On this date in 1961, Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors scored 42 points, the 14th consecutive game in which he broke 40, a league record. On this date in 1971, the Lakers beat the SuperSonics to go 16-0 in December, the best record for a month in NBA history. On this date in 1990, Scott Skiles of the Magic had a league-record 30 assists against the Nuggets. On this date in 1997, Michael Jordan of the Bulls scored 33 points to break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's record of 787 consecutive games in double figures.

__________


It's intriguing in general because this is Jason Williams we're talking about, a flashpoint of conflicting fan emotions, controversy and talent refined by the years. And it's intriguing in the moment because he was supposed to be at Arco tonight with the Clippers.


That he isn't is part of the serpentine J-Will legacy: inconsistent talent and inconsistent dedication as a King, more grounded the longer he played, starting point guard for the championship Heat, signed a one-year contract with the Clippers in August only to quit in late September, a few days before camp opened. The Clips, aiming for the playoffs, were counting on him as Baron Davis' backup and had stopped pursuing others for that role. They got stood up.

He is his own man all the way the latest unique standing.

Untouchable.

December 29, 2008
Could Martin return tomorrow? Perhaps.

Some five hours after my last post, I'm back again to amend a previous statement.

The Kevin Martin return, I've been told, could be Tuesday night against the Clippers. Now, he certainly could miss his 23rd game with this ankle injury as well, but today's practice went well enough that he is waiting until the morning to gauge the pain and feel of the ankle. Keep in mind this injury has frustrated him so much that even the slightest chance of a setback means he'll give it more time.

As I said a few days back, this was more than just an ankle sprain. The sprain is long since healed and bone bruises were the problem, with the road to recovery thrown off course quite a bit because of the original diagnosis and treatment used thereafter.

But that long and winding road led to a conversation with interim coach Kenny Natt after Monday's practice that we could see from the media room. As the two sat in seats courtside chatting, Martin grabbed the ankle on several occasions as he seemed to describe what he was feeling. Natt listened intently for several minutes, and the two parted ways with a friendly fist bump. Should Natt get Martin back in the lineup tomorrow, he just might give him an all-out hug. - Sam Amick

December 29, 2008
Practice update

For the most loyal lot that is still paying attention after last night's Boston beating, there were a few notable developments revealed at practice today.

And while there will be more depth, comments etc. in tomorrow's paper, here's the Cliff Notes version ...

* Kevin Martin (left ankle) practiced again and looked good. And while I don't see him playing tomorrow at home against the Clippers, a return some time in the upcoming road trip (Jan. 2 to Jan. 6 at Detroit, Indiana, New Jersey and Chicago) is looking possible.

* Spencer Hawes has had an abdomen strain of some sort for the last couple games. He did not practice and may not play tomorrow. Even if he is available, interim coach Kenny Natt indicated that Hawes' removal from the starting lineup against Boston (in which Mikki Moore regained his spot) was a one-game change based on matchups and he is undecided as to tomorrow's lineup.

* Francisco Garcia (right calf stiffness) said he will play tomorrow. He did not play in the second half against Boston after his calf tightened up.

* Donte' Greene was excused from practice for personal reasons.

* And for those of you disgusted with this team's effort and wondering if anyone on the team understands why, take solace in the fact that Mikki Moore gets it. There will be much more of this type of material tomorrow, but here's a sneak preview in the form of a single-question Q&A ...

Q: Mikki, a lot of people don't even blame you guys and want to put it all on (Kings basketball president Geoff) Petrie for assembling this roster. That being said, how much is this group of guys underperforming as you see it?

A: Regardless of that fact, there's 300 players in the NBA, and there's how many people in the world, 10 billion? And there's only 300 people in the NBA. Wouldn't you have enough pride to go out there and compete? (I'm) not even saying (how) you're getting paid to do it, that it's your job, that it's your 9 to 5, (that) you get a check for this. You could be on the corner slinging dope or at KFC working a drive-thru or the post office. I'm not even saying that. Wouldn't you have enough pride to say, well I'm one of the 300 people who's in the NBA and go out there and compete for your recognition? That's how I feel about it. That's how I feel every time I step on the court. - Sam Amick

December 29, 2008
Overtime: Celts show off gold-mettle

BOSTON 108, KINGS 63: Game story, Game notes, Ailene Voisin column

Box score

KingsPlus: A look at this week's games and the weekly "Fire and Ice" results

Phelps.jpg

There were smiles from Kings fans on Sunday night at Arco Arena. Just look at that pic above for the proof. Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, of course, claims the purple passion more than ever now. Gavin Maloof bleeds purple (and would someone get the man a tourniquet?!) And Olympic legend Michael Phelps, according to Gavin during this sideshow between the first and second quarters, is a Kings fan.

But beyond the three amigos, everyone else affiliated with the Kings wore a look of serious concern after this night of historic humiliation. How bad was the mood in Kings land? Let's just say it was no coincidence that Phelps was a major topic of discussion on the team's television postgame show, with the powers-that-be opting against the standard opponent interview that usually follows games.

December 29, 2008
Hitting the books

The Kings' blowout loss to the Celtics earlier tonight was so perplexing that I came home and started going through my old media guides, trying to determine if I had ever witnessed a more one-sided performance. I started at the beginning, with my first year as an NBA beat writer covering the 1981-82 San Diego Clippers, who under first-year owner Donald Sterling won a grand total of 17 games. Interestingly, when I went through the roster, I was struck by the fact that the league's second-worst team featured eight scorers in double figures, led by rookie forward Tom Chambers. The roster also featured Michael Brooks, Brian Taylor, Swen Nater, Jerome Whitehead, Freeman Williams, Joe (Jellybean) Bryant, Armond Hill, and the late Phil Smith, one of the most gracious athletes I have ever known.

The 1982-83 Clips won a whopping 25 games, yet when you consider the talent, it bolsters the argument that a 23-team NBA - which at the time only allowed an occasional underclassman to enter under hardship terms - provided a better product because the players went to college and were more polished when they entered the league. Additionally, with seven fewer franchises, the talent level wasn't so diluted. Consider that the '82-83 Clips, who again finished 22nd of the 23 teams, included Chambers, Brooks, Terry Cummings, Lionel Hollins, Craig Hodges, Randy Smith, Bobby Gross, Whitehead and Bill Walton, who attended law school at Stanford during the week and played basketball on the weekends.

As for figuring out whether I have seen a worse thumping than Sunday? I'm not sure. I still have some research to do. I've seen a lot of really bad basketball. Still. This one was a beauty. When an opponent is blocking your jump shots, as did the Celtics a number of times Sunday, you know you're in deep, deep trouble.


The Carril Connection

Though I didn't make the connection at the time, two of Pete Carril's former Princeton stars were on that woeful 1981-82 Clippers team - guards Armond Hill and Brian Taylor. Hill is currently an assistant on Doc Rivers' staff. Geoff Petrie, as we know, spends most of his time at the practice facility across the way from Arco Arena.

Right now, I'd say Armond has the sweeter gig.


Can't get enough of this


Practice should be interesting on Monday. I am curious to hear what interim coach Kenny Natt emphasizes. His team can't shoot, won't pass, doesn't rebound, doesn't defend. I think I'd start with the defense, though.

December 28, 2008
Opening tip: The old men and the Cs

Celtics (27-4) at Kings (7-23)

Scoring: Kings 17th (97.1), Celtics eighth (101.3).
Shooting: Kings 13th (45.3 percent), Celtics second (48.5).
Scoring defense: Kings 28th (105.7), Celtics third (91.7).
Shooting defense: Kings 29th (47.8 percent), Celtics tied for first (42.2).
Rebound differential: Kings 27th (minus-2.8), Celtics first (plus-5.6),

The links: Celtics coverage in the Boston Herald and Boston Globe.
The almanac: On this date in 1950, Dolph Schayes of the Syracuse Nationals had 35 rebounds against the Philadelphia Warriors, at the time a single-game record. On this date in 1995, Dick Motta of the Mavericks became the third coach to win 900 games.

__________


This is a particularly bad night to be the Kings. The Celtics have lost two in a row, to the Lakers on Thursday and the Warriors on Friday, and no way Boston is willing to go 0-for-Northern California within 48 hours against these two lotto types. Just maybe the defending champs will be locked in.


That's part of their greatness -- focus and intensity and attitude. (Attitude: When the Celtics won Best Team at the ESPY Awards at the Nokia Theater, next door to Staples Center, Ray Allen smart-alecked, "Another win in L.A." Attitude: Kevin Garnett.) They're not much for holding back.

Look at the numbers. The Cs were built on a foundation of veterans last season, went until June 17, had a little more than an extra quarter-season in the playoffs, had five more postseason games than anyone, got older, lost important depth in the offseason ... and keep pounding the minutes.

December 27, 2008
Overtime: Finding the fixes from Hawes to Martin

TORONTO 107, KINGS 101: Game story; Game notes

Box score

You're tired of the excuses, I know. From the team and the beat writer. Last time, I blamed the loss of my voice recorder on not having more material to share after the latest loss, and now I'm claiming operator error as the reason for my miscue.

At the tail end of Kenny Natt's postgame news conference, he made a mention of Spencer Hawes and how he may be better positioned for scoring success if he faces the other teams' second units. That, of course, typically would mean Hawes would have to be part of the Kings' second unit. It was one of the last things Natt said and - truth be told - I was itching to get into the locker room and failed to ask the interim coach to elaborate. Melody Gutierrez is on duty at practice today, and she may have more on the situation in tomorrow's paper.

But Hawes' situation is just one of many that isn't working all that well for the Kings. The other is that of Kevin Martin, the shooting guard who has missed 21 games with his left ankle injury. Natt said before facing Toronto that he doesn't expect to have Martin at least until the New Year, and so the fifth-year player will continue to take unjustified hits in regards to his absence.

The vague way in which the organization has handled his injury has left him looking soft to many fans, but this is clearly something more serious than the original "sprained left ankle" that it originally was called and the "sore left ankle" it was dubbed after his two-game return. I've been told that it is more of a bone bruise, a deeper pain that comes with a much longer recovery time.

It doesn't take a medical degree to see this much: the expected recovery time from the Nov. 10 injury was seven to 10 days, and it's 47 days later. There were two MRIs and the endless distinction of "no timetable for his return." The lack of insight offered has led to the speculation and surely a salt-in-the-wound element for Martin as he attempts to return. Whether it's his eventual addition or a Hawes revival or a trade (nothing there at the moment, from what I'm told) or someone else stepping up, this team needs help of some kind. - Sam Amick

December 26, 2008
Opening tip: Well, it sounded good in theory

Raptors (11-17) at Kings (7-22)

Scoring: Kings 17th (96.9), Raptors 22nd (95.8).
Shooting: Kings tied for 12th (45.3 percent), Raptors tied for 18th (44.5).
Scoring defense: Kings 28th (105.7), Raptors 18th (99.4).
Shooting defense: Kings 27th (47.6 percent), Raptors tied for 19th (45.4).

The links: Raptors coverage in the Toronto Star and Toronto Sun.
The almanac: On this date in 1976, Larry Kenon of the Spurs set a league record with 11 steals. Kendall Gill of the Nets tied the mark April 3, 1999. On this date in 2000, Don Nelson of the Mavericks moved into third place on the all-time coaching win list with 945 victories. On this date in 2001, Larry Brown of the 76ers became the ninth coach to reach 800 NBA victories.

__________


Kenny Natt said he would be straightforward, and he has been. In referencing players who need to improve in certain areas, he has named names. In trying to upgrade the defense, he has gone to the most basic of high school practice drills. In trying to streamline the offense, he told the Kings to walk the ball up in hopes of cutting down on turnovers.

The Natt explanation for the rise in turnovers since he became coach, though, is not true. Factually incorrect. Mishandling of the ball has been a constant problem and has come under greater scrutiny as criticism of Beno Udrih has increased and Natt came up with the perfect dodge by citing a heavy workload as the cause.

His exact comment to Melody Gutierrez in the Wednesday paper was, "I'm playing some guys a lot of minutes, because I need to play them a lot of minutes, and obviously, fatigue sets in. Bringing guys out earlier in the game will keep guys fresher and make us more efficient."

In reality: Natt is playing guys less.

December 23, 2008
Overtime: For the record(er), Hawes struggling from PF spot

SAN ANTONIO 101, KINGS 85: Game story, game notes.

Box score

SAN ANTONIO - It's a wonder I don't lose more things on the road.

To steal the recent phrase from Kenny Natt, it's a whirlwind existence, one in which it's tough to keep the hotel room numbers straight in your head and where there's not always time to triple-check under the bed for that stray sock. The point is that I lost my voice recorder after last night's Kings game at San Antonio in which Beno Udrih had a humbling homecoming.

If I hadn't, you would be reading revealing comments from the locker room scene after the latest loss: John Salmons saying Udrih needs to know his teammates still have his back despite his recent struggles, Natt - the Kings' interim coach - saying that Udrih's intensity and effort were there even if the execution was not, Natt adding that Udrih's career-high six steals were a silver lining that "exposed" (I remember that part) his ability to agitate his opponent and mean he could be doing it more often.

But I did manage to transcribe one particular quote before my digital turnover, a comment from Spencer Hawes regarding the Kings' impotent offense and how the issues go beyond one player. On the four-game trip, they averaged just 87 points and shot 41 percent (123 of 300) overall.

"We've got plenty of scorers," Hawes said when asked about how he perceives the problem. "The majority of the people on the team are offensive-minded guys. We've just got to figure out some cohesion, and play a little bit more unselfish."

December 22, 2008
Opening tip: Should there be an actual change at point guard?

Kings (7-21) at Spurs (16-10)

Scoring: Kings 17th (97.4), Spurs 19th (96.5).
Shooting: Kings 13th (45.5 percent), Spurs seventh (46.2).
Scoring defense: Kings 28th (105.9), Spurs fourth (93.8).
Shooting defense: Kings 26th (47.4 percent), Spurs tied for 18th (45.5).

The link: Spurs coverage in the San Antonio Express-News.
The almanac: On this date in 1956, Bill Russell made his professional debut with six points and 16 rebounds to help the Celtics beat the St. Louis Hawks in Boston.

__________


Was going to toss this out the morning of the previous game, Saturday at New Orleans, except Beno Udrih had a sore hamstring and there seemed to be little sense discussing the merits of a lineup change when injury might prompt one anyway. Then it struck me.


This is exactly the perfect time.

Kenny Natt could experiment, against the Hornets and tonight against the Spurs, without pecking at Udrih's confidence -- have to bring you back slow, Beno, want to make sure this hamstring heals once and for all, get limited minutes in San Antonio followed by three days off before the next game.

As it turned out, Udrih did not play Saturday but is listed as probable for tonight and a likely starter. This does not appear to be anything close to a dramatic moment. Plus, no way Geoff Petrie allows a guy to get buried a little more than five months after signing him to a six-year extension, and a benching could definitely bury Udrih and his, um, intestinal fortitude that had been mockingly questioned by teammates in his previous stop, the Spurs.

December 22, 2008
Overtime: Natt tells Kings to ramp up the aggression

New Orleans 99, Kings 90: Game story, game notes

Box score

Kings Plus: A look at this week's games and the weekly "Fire and Ice" results

SAN ANTONIO - Here's the thing about the Kings and their awful defense: it has everything to do with their offense.

It may not be ideal, but it's true. As former coach Reggie Theus said time and time again, this group has a tendency to ramp up the defensive intensity and focus when their own shots are falling only to revert to sleepwalking mode when they're not scoring. And while their defense certainly needs an upgrade from Swiss cheese to cheese cloth, the numbers show that the losing will continue until they find a way to get, as Donte' Greene likes to say, buckets!

Sixteen times the Kings have scored fewer than 100 points this season. And 16 times they've lost. In the 11 games in which they've scored 100-plus points, they're 7-4. It is a real problem, and it's not real easy to fix.

As it stands, John Salmons and, to a lesser extent, Francisco Garcia are the only scorers whose buckets are coming somewhat consistently. Meanwhile, Spencer Hawes is being tinkered with in the post and on the perimeter as interim coach Kenny Natt tries to figure out how he is best used, Beno Udrih just isn't shooting like he did last season and Brad Miller's role is such that his scoring will come and go as a matter of routine. And while Salmons' 19.9 points per game average would seem to be a positive in every way, his isolation ways still have a tendency to bring the ball movement to a halt if he goes to work for a few possessions in a row.

Yet while the Kings' offense is far from atrocious in the rankings (17th in points scored at 97.4 per game and 13th in field-goal percentage at 45.5), their inability to get to the free-throw line (ranked 24th at 23 attempts per game) has hurt their production and certainly not helped their defense. Long rebounds on jumpers mean an easy start the other way in transition and a defense on its heels. Not to mention the fringe benefit of getting a few more breathers during play while the easy points add up.

While this is only one element of their scoring situation, take it for what it's worth that they are averaging 24.1 free throws in their seven wins as well as 25.1 attempts in the 11 games in which they scored 100-plus points. Natt addressed this situation after Saturday night's loss, which may have been the worst of the season on this front. By the time Miller had drove the lane and been fouled with 2:22 left in the third, the Kings had shot exactly two free throws the entire game and trailed by 11 points. They would get more aggressive down the stretch and finish with 17 attempts (making 15), but that was too little too late as far as Natt was concerned.

"We were looking for perimeter shots too much," Natt said.

Asked specifically about Salmons, who has been baffled recently at his inability to get calls and earned a rare technical at Houston while sharing that frustration, Natt said it's not all the fault of the officials.

"It's more him," Natt said. "It's being more aggressive early instead of settling for perimeter jumpers. It's not only John, but Cisco. They'd be much better off if we can get (the opposing team) on their heels by being more aggressive."

***

* Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News has a good read on Udrih as he is set to play in his old stomping rounds.

McDonald attended the Kings' walk-through while I was being delayed back in New Orleans, but Udrih said at the session that his sore left hamstring felt good and he should be ready to play if he feels the same way Monday night.

* Steve Luhm of the Salt Lake Tribune writes an insightful piece about Natt and his new job. I hit on the topic in Monday's paper, with an analysis on how Natt became the replacement for Theus. - Sam Amick

December 21, 2008
Trade talks inevitable

After learning from my colleague, Sam Amick, that a Brad Miller-Gerald Wallace trade was a non-starter partly because Charlotte coach Larry Brown is not a fan of the Kings' starting center, I was reminded of my conversation with Brown while he was trying to become involved in the post-Eric Musselman coaching search two summers ago. Humiliated by the Knicks situation, eager to redeem himself, and not finding much interest on the NBA market, he was pushing hard to get an interview with Geoff Petrie. While we were talking about the situation, Brown, who had rejoined the 76ers as a personnel consultant, began gushing about a gangly 7-foot center from Washington - Spencer Hawes - who had been in Philadelphia hours earlier for a predraft workout. Brown went on and on about Hawes' footwork and low post skills, and thought that with quality coaching, he would become an outstanding NBA center.

All of which is another reason Geoff Petrie at least should have invited Brown to Sacramento for an interview. The Maloofs love the big names and dynamic personalities, though whether they would have met Brown's financial demands remains unclear. Still, you have to wonder. How much further along would the Kings' rebuilding process be with Brown tutoring Hawes, Jason Thompson, Donte Greene, Bobby Brown, Beno Udrih and John Salmons? And while Brown might not be a Miller fan, he would have been a big fan of Miller's unselfishness and passing abilities. (Remember Rik Smits).


Is that you, Vlade?.

During my conversation with Vlade Divac the other evening, I teased him about his English. It's slipping, understandably. After retiring from the NBA in 2005, the former Kings center spent two years in Madrid before moving last September to his native Serbia, which afforded him fewer opportunities to practice his second language. As we were chatting, he paused often and occasionally struggled for words. "It comes back quickly," said Divac, who spoke absolutely no English when he was drafted by the Lakers in 1989. "A couple days (in America). That's all it would take. It's easier (laugh) for my kids."

December 20, 2008
Udrih out, Jackson questionable for tonight at New Orleans (Update: Jackson to start)

BLOG UPDATE: Bobby Jackson will start tonight against New Orleans despite an ailing Achilles'. Udrih is, in fact, out.

NEW ORLEANS - The Kings have lost six straight road games since downing the Hornets on their home floor Nov. 19. If they're going to do it again tonight, they'll have to do it without Beno Udrih.

The starting point guard who left Friday night's game in the fourth quarter with a sore left hamstring will not play tonight. What's more, veteran backup and former Hornet Bobby Jackson may not play either, as he is dealing with an Achilles' ailment. Enter Bobby Brown, the rookie who hasn't seen more than 25 minutes all season and is averaging 15:48. I will update this blog post when I get to the arena. - Sam Amick

December 20, 2008
Brad Miller for Gerald Wallace? Not so fast. (And other trade talk)

NEW ORLEANS - The trade chatter surrounding Brad Miller continues, as well it should.

He's atop the list of most likely Kings next to go, and league sources continue to indicate that the Kings are officially engaged and somewhat motivated on the trade front.

The latest Miller report to pop up comes from ESPN's Marc Stein, who says Charlotte is offering former King Gerald Wallace in return for Miller. While Wallace is available for the right player in return, I'm told from a source close to the Bobcats that Miller does not fit that bill if it's up to Larry Brown.

The Bobcats' coach always has had major influence on personnel from his coaching seat, and he took that job in part because he knew he would have the ear of Charlotte exec Michael Jordan. But the question is whether Jordan's virtual status of "absentee GM," as he was referred to in this Chicago Sun-Times piece, means Brown's voice isn't being heard quite as much by the actual general manager, Rod Higgins. If it's up to Brown, though, he wants a more traditional big who can bang and do damage in the post. On the other side, the Kings aren't looking to take on the $38 million remaining over the next four seasons on Wallace's contract when wing players are far from a problem on their roster.

I'd be more inclined to keep an eye on the Chicago situation in which Miller could go there and the Kings likely would have their eyes on Drew Gooden, Joakim Noah, and perhaps Tyrus Thomas. The Bulls would have to send a few players the Kings' way, as Gooden's expiring deal is worth $7.1 million and Miller is making just shy of $11.4 million this season and $12.2 million in the final year of his deal next season.

A few tidbits to remember ...

* Gooden has been on the Kings' radar since he was hanging with the Maloofs two summers ago. He was the player offered in the Mike Bibby talks with Cleveland, a clear sign that Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie and vice president Wayne Cooper saw him as a decent fit in Sacramento. Gooden wasn't the hangup in those talks.

* Petrie badly wanted Joakim Noah in the 2007 draft, and the second-year player's struggles likely have done nothing to deter the exec who isn't quick to change his opinion of players just because things don't look so good from the outside looking in. Noah would give the Kings another young big to develop and hope he helps with their futile frontcourt.

* While Miller isn't as motivated this season as he was last, he still is a Petrie guy. And when you're a Petrie guy, that means he will try to make a move that is mutually beneficial for his team and the player. Chicago qualifies. While Miller has said he would prefer to retire in his home state of Indiana with the Pacers, he spent two seasons with the Bulls and Chi-town is only a three-hour drive from his home in Kendallville, Ind.

* Lest you forget, the Kings added a player to their front-office team last week, when former Kevin Martin agent and attorney Jason Levien officially began as assistant general manager/team counsel. As a quick side note, I'm told he was given the former office of fired coach Reggie Theus.

It would seem safe to say that the potential for communication between the two clubs has never been better, since just last summer Levien was successfully negotiating Luol Deng's six-year, $71 million deal with the Bulls in which he dealt directly with Chicago owner Jerry Reinsdorf. - Sam Amick

December 20, 2008
Opening tip: Francisco Garcia is still loved

Kings (7-20) at Hornets (15-7)

Scoring: Kings 15th (97.6), Hornets 22nd (96.4).
Shooting: Kings 13th (45.5 percent), Hornets tied for eighth (46).
Scoring defense: Kings 28th (106.1), Hornets third (91.5).
Shooting defense: Kings 28th (47.5 percent), Hornets tied for 11th (45.3).
Three-point defense: Kings 30th (42 percent), Hornets 22nd (36.8).

The link: Hornets coverage in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
The almanac: On this date in 1966, Seattle was awarded the league's 11th franchise. About a month later, the team is named the SuperSonics. On this date in 2001, Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn missed the game against the Rockets following heart surgery, his first absence in more than 36 years.

__________


Francisco Garcia and Reggie Theus didn't have the usual coach-player thing. They were together at Louisville, Theus as an assistant and Garcia as a first-round pick of the future. Garcia was a Theus favorite and Theus was a Garcia favorite. Theus put him in a featured role last season that resulted in a five-year extension for Cisco. When Garcia was queried the other day about his relationship with Theus, Garcia replied: "Don't ask me a question you know the answer to. We're very close."


Nothing wrong with any of that. Garcia is three-plus seasons into what should be a long career. He's a leader. He's the kind of versatile talent you want to invest in. Geoff Petrie obviously agrees -- five-year extension -- so it wasn't just life as the teacher's pet.

But if there's a player to watch in this Theus / post-Theus world of the Kings, it's Garcia, for the very reason that no player has as much to lose by the firing. Personally, for sure. On the court would have rated closer to a maybe, given that Garcia is obviously in the rotation.

December 19, 2008
Overtime: Shooting blanks with a limited Kings' cache

Houston 107, Kings 96: Game story, game notes.

Box score

HOUSTON - The good news: Spencer Hawes isn't one-dimensional anymore. The bad news: Spencer Hawes' best dimension seems to have disappeared.

He is one of their core weapons. That much has been established in the big man's second season, which is good on the developmental front but not so rosy when it comes to the question of whether he can produce on a consistent basis. And while there were a number of other reasons the Kings fell at Houston on Friday night, Hawes' inability to find an offensive rhythm as he shot 3 of 13 overall and was 0 for 8 in the third quarter played a large part. It's been that way of late for Hawes, who has hit 35 of 102 shots (34.3 percent) in his last nine games. If there was a stat for persistence, he would have racked up those numbers, as he never hesitated to try to score inside no matter how many times Yao Ming wouldn't let him.

"I don't think I've been shooting well the last couple of games, but I think there are other parts of my game I try to focus on," he said before Friday's game. "In the past, if I wasn't scoring, I wasn't doing anything, because I let that impact all facets of my game. Now I realize that if my shots not falling, I can still contribute by blocking shots, setting guys up, rebounding and other areas."

To that end, he had nine rebounds and two blocks. He's still among the league leaders in total blocks, having entered the Rockets game tied for fourth with 49. And his defense continues to draw praise for how far it has come along. But while the Kings logged another loss in the 'valiant-effort' department, Hawes' off-night from the field revealed once again that they simply don't have enough weapons that can be counted every time out on to shoot actual bullets instead of blanks.

On this night, point guard Beno Udrih played his way into that category as well, hitting just 1 of 5 shots for two points in 27 minutes before leaving for good in the fourth quarter with a sore left hamstring (status unknown for tomorrow). So long as Kevin Martin remains out, Udrih's scoring is a must even more than it is for Hawes. Yet he has now scored a combined 10 points in the last three games.

THE JOYS OF REBUILDING

Kenny Natt warned you. The Kings interim coach talked about 10-man rotations and explained how they would be necessary on some nights to get all the relevant players floor time while trying to see who was hot and who was not and somehow manage to not lose a grip of the game in the process. The task itself, though, is tougher than reading that run-on sentence.

So in the latest outing, the Kings had worked mighty hard to be three points down with 2:26 left in the third. Except that Donte' Greene hadn't played yet. And well, Greene needs to play. And heck, John Salmons needs a breather at some point so the rookie comes in for a spell. And then he stays in the fourth quarter, when it's Bobby Brown, Bobby Jackson, Greene, Mikki Moore and Jason Thompson on the floor to start the period and the three players keeping you in the game (Udrih, Brad Miller and Francisco Garcia) aren't there to keep it close. Fast forward to the 10:55 mark of the fourth, and the three-point deficit has grown to 11 and it's getting out of hand quickly.

"Sometimes that happens with substitutions," Natt said afterward of the third quarter. "That's where we have to do a better job of keeping an eye on that. It kind of gave them a little momentum again. But again, we didn't fold. We came back and played hard. Those are the types of mistakes that we'll have to correct and try to get better...We have to keep an eye on it and make sure we don't lose momentum in the process."

ARTEST ON MARTIN

It's three reunions now between preseason and tonight and that means it's officially time to move on, but not without Ron Artest revealing which of his former Kings teammates he continues to keep in touch with and how he was inspired by Kevin Martin.

"Kevin always calls me," said Artest, the Houston small forward who was traded from Sacramento in August. "I call him every once in a while. Kevin's going to be a friend for life. Kevin helped me re-energize and rejuvenate my career."

How so, Ron?

"When he was there, he was always working hard," he continued. "When Reggie Miller left (Indiana when Artest played there), nobody really did the things that Reggie Miller did. I see a lot of Reggie Miller (in Martin). He's actually better than Reggie Miller, but the only thing Reggie had on him was he was a better team defender than Kevin." - Sam Amick

December 19, 2008
Opening tip: You've got to give the Maloofs this much

Kings (7-19) at Rockets (16-9)

Scoring: Kings 15th (97.7), Rockets 16th (97.2).
Shooting: Kings 13th (45.4 percent), Rockets tied for 25th (43.6).
Scoring defense: Kings 28th (106.1), Rockets fourth (93.5).
Shooting defense: Kings 27th (47.4 percent), Rockets seventh (43.8).
Assists: Kings 15th (20.6), Rockets 24th (19.5).

The link: Rockets coverage in the Houston Chronicle.
The almanac: On this date in 1956, upon his return from Australia and a starring role in the Olympics, Bill Russell signed his first contract with the Celtics. On this date in 1992, Pat Riley of the Knicks recorded his 600th coaching victory.

__________


You get the good with the bad with Joe and Gavin, and that means the unfiltered emotion and a rare level of honesty in a good-bad duel.


There was never one of those phony votes of confidence for Reggie Theus, the tack a lot of other owners would have taken, or at least the ones who deign to communicate with the public more than once or twice a year. Gutting Theus in the Bee and on KHTK on Nov. 14 was surely poor management style, but there are a lot worse things to be criticized for than being too forthcoming with fans.

This is worth reviewing now that the inevitable Theus firing has happened.

Joe Maloof never said he was misquoted, never said he misspoke and needed to clarify his thoughts with more of a pro-Theus bent, never said he was caught in a moment of unusually great frustration. He had obviously been doing a slow burn on the subject for a while, he said it, he meant it, and that's that.

December 18, 2008
The continuing observations of Kenny Natt

HOUSTON - There's more to talk about when it comes to Kenny Natt. Much more.

And when the Kings' schedule takes a quick breather here in the next few days, I'll take a deeper look at what led to him becoming the Kings' interim coach. For now, though, it's worth watching the daily goings-on of how he is running the team and what kinds of reactions he's prompting.

Today marked the first official practice of the Natt era, as the Kings had done a shootaround (Monday) and a team-meeting type gathering (Wednesday) but had yet to take part in a legitimate practice with the new coach. They did so at the Toyota Center, where the consensus was that he will provide structure and - you've heard this word before - simplify preparation in such a way that the young team should be able to elevate its performance.

"It's been a little different, a little more structure which I think is a personality thing you could've expected," forward Spencer Hawes said. "He's simplifying things, trying to get back to the basics. And it's resonating with a lot of the guys."

Even Kenny Thomas was impressed. While Thomas may not be playing (because he hasn't in some two seasons but also because he has a left calf strain that is "a week or a week and a half" from being 100 percent), he is a veteran who has played for some quality coaches and can offer some insight on how a practice is run.

"It's just one of those things where just the whole environment of practice ... is just a totally different environment as far as what's going on," Thomas said. "It looks like it's structured and everything a little bit better. Not to knock what (fired coaches) Reggie (Theus) and Chuck (Person) were doing, but it's just a totally different concept, which I think is going to benefit us in the long run.

"This isn't brain surgery, and it just seems like everything is more simple. I've had some great coaches. I've had Larry Brown. I've had Rudy Tomjanovich, and it's kind of the same concept. Kenny Natt comes from being under Jerry Sloan and stuff like that. It's kind of the same concept. It's very structured, which is good."

Natt went into great detail discussing how he is trying to improve the defense. While he is retaining the defensive system that was installed under Theus and is used by Cleveland (among others), he is emphasizing some of the more basic points as if it's training camp - no, high school summer league - all over again. Apparently these are necessary steps when your team is giving up an average of 109.1 points in the past 13 games.

"We're starting from scratch in regards to getting the guys down, moving their feet, what we call the zig zag drill, guarding a guy one on one full court down and back," he said. "That's how you become a better team defensively. You teach guys how to move their feet and guard their own man. We started with that and it's a first step. We're still building."

Whether a win over the Rockets is a realistic building block is debatable, but Natt set the standard for how opponents of any kind will be viewed. Even if they do include former Kings small forward Ron Artest.

"We're not looking to run away from anyone," he said. "We have to face every team in this league. We see Houston as a good team and we respect them, but we don't respect them any more or any less than any other opponent. It's going to be a heck of a challenge. Ron is a very good defender. We know that. He'll probably really get up into John (Salmons) and Cisco (Garcia) and those guys. ... We'll have to get more productivity in pick and rolls, maybe even post-ups." - Sam Amick

December 17, 2008
And One: Unemployment-line edition

*Is it possible beating the Lakers at Arco Arena ended up costing Reggie Theus his job? Backwards logic, but consider the timing. The Kings had several moments as bad or worse than the first quarter against the Knicks on Saturday, what turned out to be Theus' finale, but didn't make a move despite a schedule that would have allowed successor Kenny Natt more practice time. But the Maloofs / Geoff Petrie gave their coach two games after what Joe Maloof said "might have been the most important regular-season win since we bought the team" and one game after a credible showing against the Lakers in L.A.? Sure seems like the win in a charged Arco made management realize the Kings are capable of doing much better now, before the roster was at full strength with the return of Kevin Martin.

*What timing. The Kings are in Houston on Friday for a Rick Adelman reunion. That would be the same Kings who are on their third coach since firing Adelman in May 2006, with the strong likelihood of a fourth around the three-year anniversary. This is no time to get nostalgic about how he should still be in Sacramento. The pairing had a very good run, but it was an understandable breakup after eight years. Rick himself does not debate that notion. It's everything that happened after that makes Adelman look so good and the Kings decision-makers so bad.

*It used to be that coaches loved seeing the Knicks -- mostly talentless, mostly heartless -- on the other bench with coach Isiah Thomas mailing it in. Now: lock the doors if you see them coming. New York used seven players because of trades that recently shipped out its two leading scorers and still dropped 122 on Washington, and the Wizards fired Eddie Jordan about 36 hours later. Oklahoma City fired P.J. Carlesimo seven days after losing to New York. Then the Knicks game became Theus' farewell.

*That makes 14 coaching changes around the league since the end of last season, one short of half the teams. Pat Riley left the sidelines on his own in Miami and Mike D'Antoni sort of left on his own in Phoenix, having gotten the message that it would avoid an ugly scene if he found employment elsewhere. Mike Woodson, in his fifth season in Atlanta, is the longest-tenured coach in the Southeast Division by four seasons. Erik Spoelstra replaced Riley in the summer and is already tied for 17th in the entire league.

*And not a Clippers firing among them. What are the odds.

December 17, 2008
The post-mortem in Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. - The headline doesn't apply to the game, but it just as well could with the way the Kings were routed by the Blazers.

But the autopsy on this night related to Reggie Theus, whose absence created a surreal feel around the team and plenty of conversation and investigation about what Kings life without him would be like. At the moment, it means a complicated and unnecessary travel schedule that serves as an unwelcome parting gift.

With the Kings playing Tuesday in Portland and Friday in Houston, the logical and industry-standard plan would be to return to Sacramento after the game. It's a relative trip up the street by plane, meaning the Kings could sleep in their own beds for two nights before practicing in Sacramento on Thursday and heading for Houston for their three-game trip that also includes New Orleans and San Antonio.

But for reasons beyond most everyone still with the team, Theus and also-fired assistant Chuck Person had opted to have a day off in Portland on Wednesday before heading to Houston later in the day. They would then practice in Houston on Thursday and play Friday.

I had asked about this last week, mostly because it meant I'd be covering a four-game, eight-day trip instead of a three-game, six-day trip and I - like so many of the players and the team's staff - wasn't too thrilled about that notion. The answer I received was that a practice in Houston could be longer and more beneficial than a getaway-day session in Sacramento. Safe to say, however, that my read on it was the same as the overwhelming majority.

Truth be told, odd and illogical travel decisions were among the many small things about the Theus era that grew bigger as time wore on. This is one of many head-scratchers that occurred, and it is quite revealing that the new powers that be went to work trying to change the original plan right after he was fired. From what I was told, they couldn't get a new charter plane in time and had no choice but to keep the itinerary. Now, of course, that is even more problematic.

The rare snow and ice storms in Portland have the team wondering if it will get out after tomorrow's morning practice (Kenny Natt added a practice so he could squeeze in much-needed work with the new power structure and the players). This city, as the locals have told me all night, simply can't handle this kind of weather and the respective runways and planes aren't so easily de-snowed and de-iced as they would be back east. Chains are required just outside the city limits, and I was among the many today who spun my tires on an icy road. It's only supposed to get worse tomorrow, with a few folks telling me tonight that there is no way my afternoon flight ever gets off the ground.

As a final note, the weather sparked a pretty comical conversation in the locker room before the game. On one side, you had rookie Jason Thompson (a New Jersey native who is continuously ribbed for claiming to be a Philly boy) asking what chains are because he simply had no idea. On the other side, Ohio native Kevin Martin was all but calling Portland folks winter-wussies with all the talk of chains, saying that folks from Zanesville just plow right through the snow and see where you end up. Back in Sacramento, meanwhile, no such problems. - Sam Amick

December 16, 2008
Opening tip: Meet the new plan, same as the old plan

Kings (7-18) at Trail Blazers (15-10)

Scoring: Kings 14th (98.5), Trail Blazers 15th (98.3).
Shooting: Kings 22nd (46 percent), Trail Blazers 19th (45.7).
Scoring defense: Kings 28th (106), Trail Blazers ninth (95.2).
Shooting defense: Kings tied for 27th (47.7 percent), Trail Blazers tied for 23rd (46.4)
Turnovers: Kings 22nd (15.7), Trail Blazers fifth (13.1).

The links: Trail Blazers coverage in the Oregonian.
The almanac: On this date in 1961, Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors began a streak of seven consecutive games with at least 50 points, a record.

__________


Joe Maloof said as recently as last week, with the Kings at 6-16, that "We're not out of it yet," and Reggie Theus restated about the same time that playing time would be based on the best chance to win that night, not finding more minutes for young players who will provide the best chance to win in 2009-10 and beyond. It was the ultimate, ongoing conflict for a team needing to generate excitement to sell tickets and wanting to build on the promise of the future.


So it was only logical that Kenny Natt get the question his first night as Theus' successor:

Will you commit additional minutes to the prospects or continue to give Brad Miller, Mikki Moore and Bobby Jackson run?

"I don't really know what I'm going to do with the minutes," Natt said after Monday's victory over the Timberwolves. "Obviously we want to keep the guys in as much as possible and give them an opportunity and get better. But we're in the business of trying to win basketball games too, because this is a team and you have other guys ready for an opportunity to play. Yes, we will try and give them all the minutes that we can, and the better that they play -- I hope they continue to play as well as they did tonight. That will save Brad and the veterans and make them fresher for down the road later in the season."

December 16, 2008
Hours after Reggie Theus departs

In an unsually chatty, upbeat postgame locker room - a common occurrence when one head coach has been replaced by another - I was talking with Bobby Jackson, who dropped one of the most unexpected nuggets of the night: This was the first time in his 12 NBA seasons that he has experienced an in-season firing. "It's kind of strange, now that I think about it," he said. "I was wondering how guys were going to take it. But we responded. Hopefully we can continue to come out and play the type of basketball we're capable of."
Brad Miller, the longest-tenured King, now in his 11th year and his sixth in Sacramento, also noted that he has been on only two teams that changed head coaches. "Dave Cowens quit when I was in Charlotte," said Miller, "so I don't even know if that counts."
Then there were Jason Thompson, Donte Greene and Bobby Brown. The rookies are only 25 games into their NBA careers, and their coach is a goner.
Life in the NBA. Welcome to it.


The guessing game begins


Kenny Natt could pull off a major upset here, guide the Kings into the postseason, develop Spencer Hawes into Bill Walton and Jason Thompson into Karl Malone - OK, just kidding - and keep his job at season's end. But the odds and NBA history suggests otherwise. There will be too many established head coaches available during the offseason, with the Kings' front-office types particularly enamored of Flip Saunders. You know. Experienced. Innovative offense. Excellent teacher.
Of course, the historic pre-Xmas flurry of six firings suggests Saunders will be a hot commodity in the offseason. So here's the question: other than the millions to be earned, who would want this job? OK. Never mind. Can't feel too sorry for millionaires in this economy ...


A few other postgame reflections:

* First of all, those were the Minnesota Timberwolves, on the second night of a back-to-back, who the Kings victimized Monday night at Arco Arena. So don't schedule the party just yet.
* Donte Greene has an absolutely beautiful, high-arching jump shot. He says he has favored the hang-time since boyhood. His defense is another matter. "But I'm getting better," he insists. "This is all new to me. In college (Syracuse), we played nothing but zone. This is all new to me."
* When Hawes commits to defending and rebounding, as he did Monday night, he is an incredibly valuable asset. I keep reminding myself: This is a kid who is 7-foot-1, who completely transformed his body during the offseason, who clearly wants to be great, and who is only 20 years old. If he doesn't lose his edge, his desire and his willingness to learn, he will become a special player in this league. Who knew? A steal at No. 10 in the 2007 NBA draft.
* Natt had only a few hours to prepare his team for the game, and typically, teams get energized by coaching changes. But after a sluggish start, the Kings definitely played some of the most inspired defense in a while - excluding last week's Lakers game at Arco - and eased into their early offense. John Salmons' defense was particularly noteworthy, almost offsetting his tendency to dribble into a crowd and dominate the ball. I will be curious to see if Natt challenges Salmons, demanding that he become a more willing passer.
* Reggie will be missed. He was an incredibly bright, classy guy to deal with, even as the pressure intensified. I definitely see him resurfacing somewhere as a head coach, probably in college. What mother could resist his charms as a recruiter?
* I still don't understand why Chuck Person, who was Reggie's de facto lead assistant, was in charge of the defense. Person was one of the league's great scorers during his career, and the league's Rookie of the Year in 1987. True, he was a tough, physical player, and a tireless worker. But wouldn't it have made more sense for him to oversee the offense?
* Natt has one advantage: He has a quality locker room. Aside from the occasional grumbling from a veteran who wants more minutes, there isn't much not to like.
* Most impressive about Monday's victory? The Kings competed. These last few weeks, it wasn't the won-lost percentage that doomed Theus, but the tenor of the lopsided defeats. When players stop giving an effort, their coaches are soon to be history.
* With Jack Nicholson in town for his induction into the California Hall of Fame, I couldn't help but think about the time Jack mooned the crowd from his lower balcony seat during the Lakers-Celtics Finals. Was it 1987? Anyway, as he probably would attest, the passion of the old Boston Garden crowds has yet to be duplicated. The ovation was so loud, it drowned out the second half of the national anthem. Sorry, Kings fans, or those who not so long ago were regarded as the most impassioned in the league. Not even close ...


Nice timing, Kevin

Kevin McHale, who already looks exhausted mere weeks into his gig as the Wolves' head coach, endured a miserable loss on the same night his old club, the Celtics, tied the record for the best 25-game start (23-2) in league history. I couldn't help but recall McHale's role in what I still consider to be one of the most impressive feats I've encountered in my decades of covering the NBA: the Celtics' 40-1 home mark during their championship 1985-86 season. McHale, who was not only an incredibly unique power forward, with his long arms, inimitable post moves and terrific defense, but a gutsy performer. He was also known as the "Black Hole," but that's another story. The following season, he played on a broken foot during the Celtics-Lakers championship series. As a result, he still limps noticeably. Maybe old school wasn't always so great.

December 15, 2008
The rundown of possible replacements, again

This is not an exact replica of the list of candidates to replace Reggie Theus that appeared in the Nov. 19 post, a few weeks premature but relevant because Theus was pretty far out on the ledge. It's a close copy, though.

What changed in the interim is the NBA doing its part to drive up the unemployment rate. A year after Chicago's Scott Skiles was the only in-season firing of 2007-08, six coaches flooded have the market the first seven weeks of this campaign, some of whom will realistically come up in the Kings' search.

More credible, experienced names are now available -- Eddie Jordan, Maurice Cheeks, Sam Mitchell -- and the Kings desperately need credible and experienced. It will cost the Maloofs, but the risk may have just become too great to try another promising first-timer like Celtics assistant Mike Thibodeau. Four coaches in as many seasons -- Adelman, Musselman, Theus, Natt, since serving as interim coach for 58 games isn't very interim -- makes it so.

The new rankings:

1. Flip Saunders. He has been successful developing young talent and winning deep into the playoffs with veteran squads. But he'll cost you a lot. And it seems unlikely he'll jump at anything. Flip has the standing to wait for the job he wants, not take what becomes available.

2. Eddie Jordan. Not as strange as it seems considering Geoff Petrie fired Jordan in 1998. That was on orders from then-owner Jim Thomas and against Petrie's wishes, when the personnel boss didn't have the hammer he does now. EJ in Sacramento again after being fired by the Wizards would only appear to be going back to something that didn't work before.

December 15, 2008
Theus unplugged on his firing

Not much setup needed for this material. I spoke with Reggie Theus by phone around 11:45 a.m. this morning about his firing, and below you'll find the majority of our conversation. I saved a bit of more specific material for the newspaper tomorrow, so be sure to come back then as well. He found out from Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie when he came to the office this morning.

THEUS

On whether he saw this coming...

"I could see maybe if we had another bad stretch, but after beating the Lakers and competing with the Lakers, I just think losing to the Knicks. ... It's just not one game. It's not one situation. It's more just what they believe is what they have to do. Whether it be rational reaction or not, what's in front of you and what's in black and white and the reality of the scenario is not always true. They have to justify why they move forward or why they do something. What you think and what you believe is never the case."

On whether he clicked with Petrie during his tenure in Sacramento and whether he ever felt his firing was inevitable...

"You know as much as I do the parameters in me getting hired, whether I was the guy or not the guy and so on and so forth. You know what I'm talking about. So last year, the relationship was exactly what it was. Anybody who knows Geoff knows that it takes a minute to get to know Geoff.

I completely 100 percent feel confident that Geoff and I got to know each other a lot better over the summer and that our relationship and the direction and my marching orders were all (established). I think we were all on the same page. Geoff made a lot of suggestions that were good suggestions, and we implemented them into what we were doing. I just felt really confident that he and I were on the same page. I'm a pretty good judge of people, and I really feel that he knew that he could trust me and that I was doing what I was asked to do with the team."

On whether he has any greater understanding of why he was fired...

"You know what, there's no way I'm going to understand. There's no way I could ever understand it because, Sam, the team hasn't been healthy in two years going back to last year. This year, the team hasn't been healthy. It's still not healthy. Unless they thought we should be fighting for a playoff spot.

"Either you're rebuilding or you're not. And if you're rebuilding and you're healthy and you expect your team to play a certain way and the team isn't playing that way so the young guys can develop, then yeah you should make a move. Absolutely. I'd be the first one to say, 'Yeah, I did a (bad) job and that's the way it should be.' But under the circumstances that I have no control of - players being out from the beginning of the season (in Francisco Garcia) and has not played one game this year where he's been healthy. Kevin (Martin) has been out 15 games already and is probably going to be out several more. Our two young guys in Spencer (Hawes) and Jason (Thompson) are being talked about all over the league as being guys who are being developed and are being great. Bobby Brown shows potential, Donte' (Greene) shows potential. The minutes of what they asked me to do are moving the direction of where they should be. And at the same time, we have competed in almost every game. So when you look at that, there's nothing that I can say that wasn't in line with what I was asked to do.

"The locker room is immaculate. Compared to locker rooms in all of sports, our locker room is immaculate. The camaraderie, the togetherness of the team, how hard my staff works. There were no negatives at all. The only negatives came from somebody else's view of what should be happening with our team talent-wise. - Sam Amick

December 15, 2008
Multimedia: What Kenny Natt and Geoff Petrie are saying

Kings interim coach Kenny Natt talks about what he hopes to accomplish this season and what he sees as his biggest challenge.

Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie said he had a long talk this morning with now fired coach Reggie Theus. Petrie said he felt the Kings needed to try a different voice.

And here's a throwback video from April 20, 2007, of Petrie discussing why Eric Musselman was let go.

December 15, 2008
Reggie leaves without a whine

I just spoke with Reggie Theus about his firing earlier in the day, and he remained consistent to the end. He was upbeat, gracious, and grateful to have been given the opportunity to coach an NBA club after only two years as a college head coach. But Theus remains convinced he accomplished what was asked of him, namely, develop the young players, implement a system and keep the locker room intact.

"It's like arguing with the referee after he calls the foul," Theus said while driving. "There's no point in going through everything. It doesn't matter. I can see it one way, but they obviously are seeing it differently. Given the injuries to Kevin (Martin) and Cisco (Garcia), I thought we did a pretty good job. Taking over a team that was struggling in the first place, we knew it was a daunting challenge, but when I look in the mirror, I think we did the best we could. I'm just sad I won't be here to see it through. They've got good young players. They've got money (salary cap relief) coming."

Theus said he was approached by Petrie early Monday when he arrived for the pregame shootaround. He said they had a cordial conversation for about 20 minutes, and then he left. He plans to return to his home in Los Angeles within the next few days, then start considering his future. Not surprisingly, Theus did not sound worried about obtaining another head-coaching job, and said he would be receptive to coaching in the NBA or college. There already have been murmurings about Theus returning to college coaching - a notion he frequently mentions - because of his previous success at New Mexico State. Thus, he was careful with his comments, and obviously has no intention of burning bridges.

The closest he came to a parting shot was this:

"Things around here tend to be on the negative side. That's the one thing I hope that changes. You have to pull for each other in an organization on all levels."

December 15, 2008
Opening tip: Reggie Theus never had a chance

Timberwolves (4-19) at Kings (6-18)

Scoring: Kings 15th (97.7), Timberwolves 26th (94.9).
Shooting: Kings tied for 10th (45.8 percent), Timberwolves 30th (42.7).
Scoring defense: Kings 28th (106.1), Timberwolves 22nd (101.7).
Shooting defense: Kings 28th (47.9), Timberwolves tied for 25th (46.9).
Rebound differential: Kings 19th (minus-1.7), Timberwolves 15th (minus-0.2).

The links: Timberwolves coverage in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press
The almanac: On this date in 1997, the Bulls announced their 500th consecutive home sellout, the third-longest streak in history. Only the Trail Blazers (814) and Celtics (662) have better attendance runs.

__________


This came down to simple math and logic: You can't fire 14 players, so you fire one head coach.


There is no shock value, of course. Reggie Theus knew he was on soft ground, Joe Maloof publicly moved him there, and a lot of people had their own calendar for when this would happen. In mid-November, I called Dec. 3 because the schedule would finally allow practice days, the kind of timing where teams like to change coaches, but Geoff Petrie said nothing would happen until Theus could be evaluated with a full roster.

Instead, with Kevin Martin still out, Theus got it Monday morning. Just to double check: Not having your best player means the roster is not complete, right?

December 15, 2008
Reggie Theus fired

BLOG UPDATE (10:40 a.m.): The news has been confirmed by the Kings media relations staff.

(10:10 a.m.)

A Kings head-coaching position that has been a musical chairs post in recent years changed once again around 10 this morning, when - according to two sources close to the team - Reggie Theus was fired with assistant Chuck Person and assistant Kenny Natt was given the role of interim head coach.

While Theus entered the season on the hot seat because the option for his third season (2009-10) had not been picked up by the team, the seat had grown hotter by the day during the Kings' atrocious start. They have lost 14 of the last 16 games while dealing with the continued absence of injured shooting guard Kevin Martin (left ankle), yet quite clearly Sunday's blowout to the Knicks was one defeat too many for Kings co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof and team basketball president Geoff Petrie. The Kings fell behind 43-21 after the first quarter and did it much the same way that had incensed ownership early this season, giving up a barrage of three-pointers (13 of 27) and allowing 100-plus points for the ninth time in the last 11 games.

While Natt will have 58 games to prove himself and perhaps earn a chance of retaining the job beyond this season, the Kings are expected to begin a coaching search for the third time in the last four summers. Unemployed coaches Flip Saunders and Eddie Jordan, should they still be available, will likely be pursued. Jordan is reportedly a candidate to take over in Philadelphia, and the Kings could make another change long before the summer based on such circumstances of urgency as well.

By all appearances, Person's firing is tied to his culpability as the team's defensive coordinator as well as his close relationship with Theus. While Natt was the lead assistant, Person had taken on much of the lead assistant role midway through last season and had a much greater influence on Theus. The firing means the Kings have yet another coach to pay to go away, as they owe Theus the remainder of his salary through this season from his original contract (two years guaranteed for approximately $4 million). They are still paying Eric Musselman as well, as the payment of his contract ($5 million remaining) was spread out over four years from his April 2007 firing.

Theus did not immediately return a phone call for comment. Stay tuned for more... - Sam Amick

December 14, 2008
Don't worry. The laid-back Kings are just waiting for the playoffs to focus

Wow! The Knicks came out firing threes and trying to push the ball right at the rim. Who saw that coming with a Mike D'Antoni team?

What a night. Not sure if the most-telling part was the coaching staff emphasizing at shootaround how New York would be launching at will from behind the arc and Kings players still not coming out on shooters or the way the Knicks yucked it up on the bench and the court in the fourth quarter. So many special Kings moments to choose from.

Not to worry, though. Your Kings will flip the switch and focus every night once things start to get serious. They'll be tuned in for the playoffs.

As is usually the case with the wandering bunch, it's more about attitude than execution. They were terrible on defense -- perimeter defense, interior defense against the dunk-a-thon, pick-and-roll defense -- but mostly because they didn't put out the effort in that unforgivable first quarter. A D'Antoni team is always going to score. No getting around that. But contesting the shots may have been a novel approach.

So I mostly asked the Kings about their obviously flawed chemistry / personality in the glum post-game locker room. This is so about focus. Some players agreed with the premise. Some disagreed. Some talked around it, even when pressed, maybe because they're covering for each other or really don't know.

You decide.

John Salmons:

Question: What was the difference between the last two games (win against the Lakers on Tuesday, competitive in a loss against the Lakers on Friday) and this game in terms of approach and intensity?

Answer: I just think the way they (the Knicks) play. It's hard to play a team like that off of a back-to-back, not seeing them play all year. A team that comes out and plays helter-skelter like that, it's just hard to prepare for that off a back-to-back.

December 13, 2008
Grumbling in the kingdom ...

It didn't take long for all the goodwill generated with the Kings' victory over the Lakers last Tuesday to dissipate. Saturday night's crowd at Arco Arena was uncharacteristically brutal. If you didn't know better, you would have sworn the Kings were playing the Knicks in New York. As the Kings were being hammered 43-21 in the opening period, Reggie Theus turned toward one particularly vocal group seated behind the press table and asked, in his classic, controlled manner, "Do you guys like those seats?" That shut the guys up for a few minutes, but they were back at it after intermission. They blasted the Kings for being "soft," for that 17-3 drubbing on the boards in the first quarter, for their indefensible defense - most notably the inability to defend the three-point shot - and stayed on Theus throughout.

"Thank god they sell beer," cracked one of the fans, a longtime Kings partisan from Walnut Creek. "This is unwatchable."

As for the offense? It's probably a good thing Pete Carril returns home to Princeton on Monday. The legendary "Coachie," who has been in town for his annual visit with his doctors, must have become ill watching the "my turn, your turn" sequences, along with the Kings' chronic dribble, dribble, dribble tendencies. What ever happened to movement, hard screens and the extra pass?

Whither Brad Miller?

Sam Amick, The Bee's Kings beat writer who wrote about Brad Miller for Sunday's editions, has impeccable timing. Miller is a mess. There is little doubt that the veteran center, a two-time All-Star, is struggling with both his game and his role. For the first time since he became a starter in the post-Vlade Divac era, he was removed from the lineup at intermission. Spencer Hawes slid over to center, and rookie Jason Thompson started the third quarter at power forward. But Miller is a sensitive guy and a very capable player, and I suspect all this talk about the rebuilding/youth movement has him unsettled, especially since the five-game suspension (for violating the league's substance abuse policy) started his season off horribly. Even before last night's four-point, one-rebound, 11-minute first half, his playing time and production have been increasingly inconsistent, his rebounding most noticeably. He seems to be getting pushed around under the basket, and on the offensive end, he has been tentative with his perimeter shot and his once-scintillating passes. When Miller's sharp, he's the best passing center in the league. Too often this year, though, his bounce passes have been late, or forced. He seems out of sorts, discouraged. Someone in the front office might want to talk to him and ask what's going on, or better yet, offer some clarity.


Seeking a breather

Before Saturday's game, I spent about 15 minutes chatting with Mike D'Antoni, the New York Knicks coach (and former Italian League scoring star), about his move from Phoenix to New York and his offseason spent as one of Mike Krzyzewski's assistants with the U.S. Olympic team. While there is no doubt that USA Basketball czar Jerry Colangelo is hoping for a Coach K encore in London 2012, D'Antoni said he needs a break from USA hoops. He has a son in high school, he noted, and it's not like coaching the Knicks is a stroll in the park.

If Krzyzewski decides that coaching one gold medal team is enough? Just a guess here, but that might make things interesting. London isn't Italy, but it's close.

December 13, 2008
Opening tip: The other way to do it

Knicks (10-12) at Kings (6-17)

Scoring: Kings 16th (98), Knicks third (104.6).
Shooting: Kings tied for eighth (46.2 percent), Knicks tied for 22nd (43.9).
Scoring defense: Kings 28th (105.7), Knicks 29th (107.5).
Shooting defense: Kings 28th (47.9 percent), Knicks 30th (48.4).
Turnovers: Kings 23rd (15.9), Knicks 20th (15.5).

The links: Knicks coverage in the New York Times, New York Daily News, New York Post, Newsday and Bergen County Record.
The almanac: On this date in 1983, the Pistons beat the Nuggets 186-184 in triple overtime in a game that set league records for most points in a game by one team and combined, most field goals by one team (Detroit, 74) and combined (142), and most assists combined (93). On this date in 1991, Robert Parish of the Celtics became the fifth player to appear in 1,200 games, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elvin Hayes, John Havlicek and Paul Silas. On this date in 2000, John Stockton of the Jazz recorded his 14,000th career assist.

__________


The over-under is around 218-219, to the surprise of no one who choked while noting the defensive numbers in the stat pack. Arco ushers had better be handing out fire extinguishers to anyone sitting near the nets or a scoreboard. No need to worry about the safety of players, though. They won't be expending enough energy on defense to hurt themselves.


Either way, the Knicks are the perfect comparison opponent at the perfect time.

The Kings are back to showing signs of life, with a very impressive performance Tuesday against the Lakers followed by good energy most of the way Friday in the rematch before losing to a much better team. New York, though greatly improved from the comedy routine of 2007-08 and more rested than Sacramento on the second night of a back-to-back, is on the same competitive level. It's a fair barometer game for the Kings.

It's also an example of rebuilding with a purpose. In contrast to the organizations that leak along.

December 12, 2008
Opening tip: Oklahoma City and the Sacramento connection

Kings (6-16) at Lakers (18-3)

Scoring: Kings 16th (97.8), Lakers first (108.3).
Shooting: Kings ninth (46.2 percent), Lakers fifth (47.3).
Scoring defense: Kings 28th (105.5), Lakers 14th (97.6).
Shooting defense: Kings 28th (47.8 percent), Lakers sixth (43.7).
Assists: Kings 18th (20.6), Lakers second (22.9).

The links: Lakers coverage in the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register, Los Angeles Daily News and Riverside Press-Enterprise.
The almanac: On this date in 1971, the Lakers beat the Hawks for their 21st consecutive victory, breaking the league record shared by the Washington Capitols (over two seasons) and the Bucks. Los Angeles went on to win 33 in a row. On this date in 1988, the Heat set the record for most consecutive losses at the start of a season, 17. The Clippers later tied the mark. On this date in 2001, Rick Adelman became the 22nd coach to register 500 wins as the Kings beat the Magic at Arco Arena.

__________


More on the impact of the NBA in Oklahoma City as an accompaniment to the story in today's paper, because there can always be more. It's that impossible to overstate the emotional value of the Thunder.


There has never been a situation like it in American sports: a city so branded by tragedy looking to a franchise to lead the perception change. Sports was certainly part of the healing in New York after 9/11 and New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina, as two examples, except those places already had major-league franchises in place. Oklahoma City pursued the NBA with the specific intent to help shape the perception.

As a hoped-for credibility boost of a city that even its mayor says lacks an image, it's not hard to draw a comparison to the impact of the Kings coming to Sacramento. The Thunder coach until a few weeks ago, P.J. Carlesimo, said he heard the correlation several times. The mayor, Mick Cornett, openly uses Sacramento as part of his Oklahoma City blueprint.

December 12, 2008
A meeting of the minds and what it might mean

There just had to be more to the story. And considering I was the one chronicling the event as the Kings shocked the Lakers on Tuesday, that wasn't a good revelation to have.

Yet three days after the league's most downtrodden team had its way with one of the league's best, it appears I've found some clarity as to how energy, execution and pride returned for the Kings on that one night. And it clearly began in the small locker room inside the team's practice facility.

That's where the team had a meeting with players and coaches on Sunday afternoon, when complaints were lodged, grievances were aired and the question of whose job it is to motivate an unmotivated team was at the center of the discussion. Numerous veterans called on the coaches to have a greater impact, with John Salmons even telling a tale of his experience in Philadelphia with Larry Brown while voicing his opinion that it starts at the top. The coaches discussed the importance of veterans holding young players accountable, relaying lessons learned from the later stages of their playing careers. And while the meeting included plenty of negative moments, the end result and what it may have caused were undeniably positive.

"It was just about us asking each other, 'What are we, as men, going to do about this?' " point guard Beno Udrih said.

While the notion of team meetings and their potential impact is - in my opinion - an overused angle of sports media coverage, I will legitimize this one because it seems so sincere. It wasn't anything close to a rosy spin-job on the part of the coach, who offered no information about the meeting until asked and declined to talk in specifics because of the in-house nature of the session.

The only conclusion drawn by all involved was that this was a candid, no-holds-barred, no-feelings-spared discussion on dysfunction. And truth be told, even some of the players themselves weren't sure what it would lead to once they walked out of that room.

In attempting to quantify the worthiness this mini-event, I also considered frequency in the equation. This tactic is a rarity by all accounts, something that becomes contrived or pointless once it becomes routine.

"I think you can do it once, maybe twice, a year if you have a bad situation or a situation that's tough," Theus said.

While the background info about the meeting was found elsewhere, I leaned on Theus to discuss what it all meant and how it went down. I also matched his recollections with a few others to ensure that this was no PR stunt (I'm just a reporter not wanting to relay rhetoric doing his due diligence).

It was, quite obviously, only one meeting and only one game. But from a therapeutic sense, there is much to be said for the power of a clear mind. Going forward, as everyone in Kings Land likes to say, we'll see how much the collective couch session paid off.

Theus on the meeting

"We just had to clear the air about some things. When there's so much speculation, whether it be veterans, my guys, my (hot seat) situation - and my situation I think is a distraction also - it's important to clear the air and let them know so we're at least on the same page, that we understand.

"And that conversation goes full circle. It goes from OK to bad to OK again to bad to, now at the end, it's good. That's what you want to do in those types of situations. The thing we left the locker room with was that all this is great, but if you don't take that moment out on the floor with you, then we've just been wasting our time.

"I think it's an important moment for the team. My job, regardless of what happens, is to try to find a way to keep us together because that's what (Kings basketball president) Geoff (Petrie) wants and what (co-owners) Joe and Gavin (Maloof) want. They want us to stay together. What we talked about was, 'There is nothing that we can accomplish out on the floor together if we can't be together in that room.'

"To their credit, to the personalities and the intellect that's in that room, it's an easy group to talk to. When you do those things there's a lot of self-sacrifice and a lot of self-evaluation, and the maturity of saying, 'Well maybe I haven't been OK.' Maybe I've been doing something that's not cool. And that realization and togetherness, I think, helped keep the cohesion together on the team.

"Mostly everybody had something they had to say or they wanted to say. The thing that helped us a lot is that you have four coaches on this team that have been in that locker room (Theus, Chuck Person, Randy Brown, Kenny Natt). We all were able to shed light on our situation. Not light that somebody told you about or you read in a book, (but) these were personal situations that were very similar to what we are in.

"Randy talked about the end of his career. Chuck talked about his, and I talked about mine, and how it all works. (The vets mentoring and motivating the young players is) not the end of somebody's career, it's just so we keep focused on the bigger picture. The bigger picture is that we keep things moving forward, and that's all that matters." - Sam Amick

December 10, 2008
Money can't buy me ... a stress-free environment

I called Joe Maloof a few minutes ago to see how he was feeling, and he immediately picked up his cell phone. That's always a good sign. He also was breathing hard, so for a few minutes there, I wondered what the heck he was doing.

As it turns out, he was working with the physical therapist who has been helping him recover from double-knee replacement surgery. Of greater significance, Joe confirmed that he did in fact have a stroke last week. "Just a mild one, a mild one," the Kings co-owner informed me. "I'm fine. I just have to get back to working out consistently, which I wasn't doing because of my knees. But I'm so much better now. I'm coming back to Sac in a few days, and I'll be around. I'm feeling so good now I can hardly believe it."

And, of course, he was in a great mood because the Kings beat the Lakers on Tuesday night. "I loved the way we played," he gushed. "We passed the ball, we defended. The youngsters played a lot. That might have been the most important regular-season win since we bought the team, given the circumstances (Reggie Theus' status, slumping attendance and fan interest, the economy, etc.). I am really happy for Reggie. Maybe we can get on a roll. We're not out of it yet."

With that, he went back to pumping iron, or whatever one does in physical therapy.

December 10, 2008
Midway into Rivalry Week

Watching Bobby Jackson against the Lakers last night reminded me of his performance in Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference finals here at Arco Arena. A younger, thinner Jackson - I'm guessing he was 10 pounds lighter - repeatedly and successfully attacked the Lakers defense, and unlike some of his former teammates, wasn't overcome by the magnitude of the moment. I still believe the outcome might have been different if Jackson had been on the floor during the deciding moments, or about the time Doug Christie and Peja Stojakovic were hoisting airballs.

In the Kings' improbable victory Tuesday night, Jackson contributed 15 points in a similar, aggressive manner, mostly by driving the ball or pulling up in transition and converting off-balance, high-arching jumpers. He has been struggling of late, and not very happy about his playing time. But he looked a lot younger than his 35 years last night. He had more help than usual, as well. As he noted afterward, "I remember the 'old' Sacramento Kings used to have six players in double figures every game. ... We haven't played like this all year. We're young, but we have a lot better talent than our (record suggests)."

In a game Reggie Theus desperately needed to win to soothe some of the "fire Reggie" sentiment that has been building, the Kings received contributions from everyone who played. John Salmons was particularly impressive. He defended Kobe Bryant and played an excellent floor game, eschewing the one-on-one play that so often detracts from his overall abilities.


It's in the genes

After my colleague, Sam Amick, alerted me to Joe Maloof's recent illness - what initially was thought to be a stroke - I approached Gavin Maloof for more details. He said Joe was hospitalized overnight about a week ago in Las Vegas, but passed all the tests, and was released the following day. He suggested that his brother's illness was stress-related, which is not exactly uncommon. Not long after the Maloofs bought the Kings almost a decade ago, Joe shared a story that speaks to his intensity: After his father died in the early 1980s, he and his mother approached members of the Coors family and asked if they could continue running the company's beer distributorship in New Mexico. At the time, Colleen Maloof was a homemaker, not a businesswoman, and Joe and Gavin were 24 and 23 years old, respectively.

Anyway, Joe said Adolph Coors agreed to let Colleen keep the distributorship, but that a short time later, he became so anxiety-ridden that he was hospitalized and diagnosed with an ulcer.

In his few visits to Arco Arena this year, Joe hasn't looked well. He is recovering slowly from the double-knee replacement surgery he underwent in August, and which he only half-jokingly called "the worst decision of my life." He has lost approximately 30 pounds, and not only can't work out, but only recently shed the cane and walker.

"He's OK," Gavin said. "It was a scare, but he's OK. He's just had a tough time of it lately."

Friday night could be frightful

Just a hunch here, but the rematch between the Kings and Lakers on Friday at Staples Center might reveal a lot about the Kings, for this reason: the Lakers won't take Tuesday's season-worst defeat lightly. They will go at the Kings hard. If the Kings respond well and make a game of it, that would suggest Tuesday's impressive showing was more than an aberration.

December 9, 2008
We interrupt this regularly-scheduled programming...

This blog has changed in the past year, mostly for the better but in some ways for the worse.

While our crack team of Kings/NBA reporters strive to provide insight, injury updates, analysis and extra interviews, we rarely offer much in the way of off-beat material anymore. But considering this season has been heavy on the negative and light on the positive, today is the day to break the trend. As such, here's a random assortment of content that should translate into 20 minutes or so of lighthearted content for your enjoyment.

December 9, 2008
Opening tip: Brad Miller's trade value

Lakers (17-2) at Kings (5-16)

Scoring: Kings 20th (97.1), Lakers first (108.4).
Shooting: Kings ninth (46 percent), Lakers fourth (47.6).
Scoring defense: Kings 28th (105.7), Lakers 12th (96.2).
Shooting defense: Kings tied for 29th (48.2 percent), Lakers fifth (43).
Rebound differential: Kings 20th (minus-1.5), Lakers fourth (plus-4.5)

The links: Lakers coverage in the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register and Los Angeles Daily News.
The almanac: On this date in 1988, Jerry Sloan became Jazz coach following the resignation of Frank Layden. On this date in 1993, Kevin Johnson of the Suns became the 13th player to record 10 steals in a game. On this date in 1997, Michael Jordan of the Bulls passed Moses Malone to become the third-leading scorer in league history.

__________


Whether Brad Miller is available is up for debate. One executive said his team was told by the Kings that they were not interested in Miller talks, a strange notion in a strange season, while an exec from another club said he very much got the impression that the Sacramento front office would welcome Miller conversations.


Obviously a bad cell connection somewhere. Geoff Petrie is not one of those flip-flopping personnel bosses who plays games and aggravates peers with an inability/refusal to deal directly. He is well regarded as someone as straightforward behind the scenes as in public.

But let's say Miller has to become available eventually, if he isn't already. Just has to be. The season is going nowhere fast, Miller isn't part of the next generation, Spencer Hawes has quickly developed into a worthy successor at center, and Mikki Moore (for his defense) or Jason Thompson (for his offense, for his potential to get the job one day anyway) could replace Hawes at power forward.

December 8, 2008
Kevin Martin out again - "not a timetable" for his return

Kevin Martin is not expected to play Tuesday against the Lakers, as the Kings shooting guard continues to deal with pain in the area of his left ankle and had an MRI today as a precautionary measure.

While the team announced that the MRI did not reveal a new injury, they also noted that there "presently is not a timetable for his return." Martin, who left in the third quarter of Saturday's debacle against Denver, admitted in the days leading up to facing the Nuggets that his ankle wasn't entirely comfortable.

And while the injury that kept him out of the previous 12 games was continually referenced as a left ankle sprain, all involved acknowledge that it's not that simple. Martin has dealt with pain from his Achilles tendon and simply can't move and explode like he's accustomed to doing. According to Kings coach Reggie Theus, he will start Francisco Garcia in Martin's place. - Sam Amick

December 6, 2008
Opening tip: The Kings at the quarter pole

Nuggets (13-7) at Kings (5-15)

Scoring: Kings 15th (97.7), Nuggets sixth (101.7).
Shooting: Kings tied for fifth (47.1), Nuggets eighth (46.1).
Scoring defense: Kings 28th (105.1), Nuggets 17th (98.2).
Shooting defense: Kings 29th (48 percent), Nuggets tied for fourth (43.3).
Free throws: Kings 10th (77.5 percent), Nuggets 12th (77.1).

The links: Nuggets coverage in the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News.
The almanac: On this date in 1986, the SuperSonics beat the Rockets 136-80 at the Summit in the most lopsided road victory ever. On this date in 1997, Dallas and Houston played the first regular-season game in Mexico City, a 108-106 Rockets win. On this date in 2000, Antawn Jamison and Kobe Bryant each scored 51 points as the Warriors beat the Lakers 125-122 in overtime, the first time in nearly 38 years and the third time in league history that opposing players broke 50. It was also the second game in a row Jamison scored 51.

__________


It's not precisely the quarter pole. That would be tonight at halftime. But the Kings have played 20 of 82 and one-fourth of the season down is a good time for a progress report.


The 5-15 record projects to 21-61. I don't think the end result will be that bad. Logic says the roster can't be this fractured all six months. Twenty wins in 2007-08 would have been third-fewest in the league, in case anyone has started to count ping-pong balls.

The shooting defense is on early pace to be the worst for the Kings since 1992-93.

The scoring defense is tracking to their worst since 1993-94.

On the side of encouragement, the Kings undoubtedly will be represented at All-Star weekend for the first time since Peja Stojakovic was in the three-point contest in 2004. Spencer Hawes has to be among the second-year players in the rookie-sophomore game, with a good chance one of his first-year opponents will be Jason Thompson.

December 5, 2008
Retirement celebration in the works ...


Remembering the good times ...

Sometime within the next few weeks, the Kings will announce plans to retire the jerseys of Vlade Divac and Chris Webber during games later this season. The retirement date for Divac appears set: March 31, during pregame festivities when the New Orleans Hornets and fellow Serbia native Peja Stojakovic visit.

The date for Webber's ceremony still is being discussed. The Kings are working to accommodate their former power forward and his business obligations, including his duties as a TNT analyst. The best guess here is sometime in February or early March. Webber, who was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers when the Kings began dismantling the aging, injury-riddled team that was wildly entertaining during the early part of the decade, played briefly for the Detroit Pistons before ending his career last year with his original team, the Golden State Warriors.


Not the retiring type

Although Geoff Petrie has tabled any conversation about a contract extension (his current deal expires at the end of the 2009-2010 season), I was reminded again earlier this afternoon about why I believe another multiyear agreement is inevitable: He is one of those people who would go crazy in retirement. Assuming the Maloofs remain committed - and Petrie continues to wield tremendous influence over at Arco - there is no doubt in my mind that he's not going anywhere. The only other consideration would be his health.

The Kings' longtime basketball president was diagnosed with walking pneumonia last Tuesday and told to stay home and rest for four or five days. Yet there he was while the team was practicing, wandering in the lobby of the facility, and still appearing pale and tired. Asked what he was doing at work, he laughed, and stated the obvious: he was bored. Three days of hanging around the house was the most he could tolerate.


Changing careers

At a chance meeting at a cafe near Arco, I bumped into Edna Campbell, the former Monarchs guard who is also a breast cancer survivor. Campbell, who remained in Sacramento after retiring from the WNBA, said she recently completed her coursework for a nursing degree. She takes her boards next month. Eventually, she hopes to enroll in a master's program to become a nurse practitioner.

"This is a good time for me," said Campbell, who is healthy, and looked fit enough to suit. "I finished school and I turned 40 today."

December 5, 2008
The Hall of Fame nominations are in

Jerry Sloan, in a change of heart after previously telling the Jazz he did not want to be nominated, is among four first-ballot candidates from the NBA expected to gain easy entrance into the Hall of Fame, with the added scheduling twist of the first step in the enshrinement process coming just as Sloan is about to mark 20 years as Utah coach.

The fourth-winningest coach in history is believed to have dropped his previous stance, a product of preferring to avoid the spotlight, because he would be inducted in the Class of 2009 with one of his former stars, John Stockton. The other, Karl Malone, will enter in 2010.

Sloan cannot be considered an automatic in any process where No. 2 on the win list, Don Nelson, has yet to be enshrined. But Sloan's two Western Conference titles and amazing longevity should be impossible for voters to overlook.

The three players on the list, as nominations closed this week, who are automatics:

*Michael Jordan.

*David Robinson. MVP, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year. Wooden Award at Navy. Two titles with the Spurs. Two Olympic gold medals and one bronze. One gold in the world championships. First- or second-team All-Defense eight times.

*Stockton. Arguably the greatest true point guard ever. Record holder for most assists and most steals. Two Olympic gold medals.

December 4, 2008
Open mike time with the Kings' vets

It started with Kevin Martin.

The Kings shooting guard made it clear leading up to Thursday's practice that he had a few things to get off his chest in regards to the ongoing situation with his coach. And by the time the media session was over afterward (and with one follow-up phone call to Beno Udrih), he wasn't alone. From Martin to Brad Miller, John Salmons, Udrih, and Bobby Jackson, it was a day of much discussion about the recent plight of Reggie Theus and his team. As an aside, The Bee's Melody Gutierrez chatted with a candid Quincy Douby after the continuation of his strife-filled season in this story.

For those of you in the mood to absorb and analyze this mess and hear how they plan to clean it up, here's the extra material from those interviews that wasn't in today's story.

December 3, 2008
And One: The local basketball factory, Newell, Kings meltdowns, and more

*This has turned historically bad for the Kings. There have been far worse beatings and many longer stretches wandering aimlessly in the dark, as if any veterans of this roller coaster need reminding. For lack of heart and lack of judgment, though, for really going it without a flashlight, the last four games hold up for the generations: the missed free throws, the perimeter defense, the overtime technical against the Nets; giving up 44 points in the third quarter against the Nets Jazz; scoring 78 points, having defenders quit on plays and losing to the Mavericks by 23; and seeing the chance to beat Utah disappear when Quincy Douby is thrown in the game cold. That was a poor impersonation of the Jazz -- no Carlos Boozer, no Andrei Kirilenko, no Matt Harpring -- but a flailing team simply needs to give itself a better chance for a much-needed emotional lift than a guy who played 33 minutes the previous seven games taking so many big shots.

*Jamal Crawford was a logical trade target for the Warriors, and not just because anyone was a logical trade target if it meant getting away from Al Harrington. Golden State needed a point guard and, better, a big point guard because the newcomer would be paired with a 6-3 shooting guard, Monta Ellis. Crawford is 6-5. The Warriors also considered 6-7 Shaun Livingston when he was a free agent and 6-5 Javaris Crittenton of the Grizzlies. Crawford definitely won't help them on defense, but his size will prevent the Warriors from getting run over in the backcourt once Ellis returns. Stephen Jackson would move to small forward in that scenario, but undoubtedly guard a lot of the opponents' best backcourt threats.

*And then there's Harrington. He missed six consecutive Warriors games with a strained lower back while unhappy with his role in the offense and hoping for a trade. He was dealt to the Knicks ... and played the first game after the move became official. He's cured! It's a miracle!

*Not merely a giant of the college game, the broader legacy of the late Pete Newell is that he may have touched basketball in California more than anyone. He grew up in Los Angeles, played at what is now Loyola Marymount, coached at Cal and USF, was general manager of the then-San Diego Rockets and the Lakers, worked as a consultant for the Warriors, and at the time of his passing lived in San Diego County. Though the impact in the pros gets little attention compared to his college work, the turn as coach of the Jerry West-Oscar Robertson 1960 Olympic team and the later years with the Big Man's Camp, Newell helped swing the trade with the Milwaukee Bucks that brought Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Los Angeles, the first step toward five Lakers championships.

December 2, 2008
Opening tip: The overlooked important development of the season

Jazz (11-7) at Kings (5-14)

Scoring: Kings 18th (97.9), Jazz eighth (99.9).
Shooting: Kings fourth (47.4 percent), Jazz second (48.4).
Scoring defense: Kings 28th (105.4), Jazz 11th (96.3).
Shooting defense: Kings 29th (47.8 percent), Jazz tied for 18th (45.9).
Three-point defense: Kings 30th (43.8 percent), Jazz 28th (39.4).

The links: Jazz coverage in the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News.
The almanac: On this date in 1978, Al Attles of the Warriors became the 10th coach to record 400 victories. On this date in 1986, the Washington Bullets beat the Celtics to end Boston's 38-game home winning streak, with an asterisk. The game was played at the Hartford Civic Center, but still counted as a Celtics home game.

__________


So, Spencer Hawes in as starting power forward and Mikki Moore out. Not a great surprise, in timing or personnel. Jason Thompson may be the PF of the future, but Hawes earned the first promotion and, besides, the Kings always felt he would pair well with Brad Miller in what by actual definition is a two-center lineup.


The Kings are losing, a lot, and lately looking especially bad in the process, so the search for signs of life turns to Hawes. That would make sense anyway -- obvious skills, a passion for the game, basketball IQ far beyond most 20-year-olds, all of which were known long ago.

The new, very important progress report:

Five weeks into his second season, and his first healthy season, Hawes is defending at a rate that surprises even him. This is not to be confused with quickly turning into a stopper. But compared to the projections of someone with the chance to be a standout on offense and an easy mark on defense, compared to what looked a year ago like a long road ahead, his defensive improvements early in 2008-09 has become an unexpected bright spot.

December 2, 2008
More on Moore (and other matters of playing time)

The issue of youth vs. vets resurfaced at Monday's practice and is examined in my piece in today's paper about Mikki Moore being taken out of the starting lineup.

But there were some interesting takes from all involved that I saved for the blog, from the views of coach Reggie Theus to Moore to Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes. We'll start with Hawes, who seems to have a pretty good feel for this situation.

"There's a fine line you've got to follow, especially with the situation we're in now where we're playing young vs. playing the vets," Hawes said. "It's not something you can figure out overnight. It takes time and going back and forth."

Now, it's state-the-obvious time as we take a peek at a few reasons no one should be surprised if the move toward youth continues even further...

* It's a tough sell to management to get so little production from your starting power forward, no matter how legitimate the discussion of Moore's intangible value.

According to 82games.com, the Kings rank 29th in the league in terms of scoring at the power forward spot. And while that includes all the Kings' power forwards, Thompson has played a large portion of his minutes at small forward and Hawes has done the same at center.

And then there's PER, the John Hollinger (via ESPN) stat that puts per-minute statistical production into one number (league average of 15). It's anti-Moore math by definition, since it in no way quantifies intangibles like setting good screens, being a solid help defender and a good energy and locker room guy.

But it is also an increasingly relevant gauge and hard to ignore when your starting power forward is ranked 59th among power forwards (10.80) while the guy you're putting in his position (Hawes) has a mark of 16.78 and is 16th among centers. As an aside, Thompson's PER is 15.78.

Until recently, Theus' argument about Moore and his impact on the defense was holding water because the team was far worse on that end without him in the four games Moore missed with his ankle injury. But allowing an average of 112.3 points in the last three games while falling to 28th in points per game allowed (105.4) and 29th in opponents' field-goal percentage (47.79) hasn't helped on that front.

And by the way, Mikki himself is well on his way to rolling his eyes at all these numbers by now. That's not a knock, just the candid truth from a guy who plays on feel.

"I'm not a big stat guy," he said on Monday. "Most of my stuff comes from playing defense and setting screens, getting guys open, offensive rebounds. That's about it. But you can't go out there and just keep losing, losing, losing and (be worried) about your stats."

* With the way Thompson played in the first couple of weeks this season, I doubt any of Theus' bosses would have minded if he were put in the starting lineup right then and there. Yet recently, he's gone from being a guy who averaged 27.4 minutes in his first 15 games to averaging 18 minutes in the last four games (albeit while battling serious foul trouble).

* In light of the roster, injuries, lack of defense, occasional lack of energy etc. and the way the first month went overall, Jim Mora should be a postgame guest speaker every so often just to chime in with his infamous rendition of "Playoffs?!" The more out of contention this team gets, the less justification Theus has to rely on the vets.

* Theus - and most of the NBA at large - is very high on Hawes' progression. And while the coach explained Hawes' lack of playing time Saturday against Dallas as connected to Hawes having "reverted" offensively by going to too many moves in the post and trying to do too much, he sung his praises before tipoff.

The discussion focused mostly on where Hawes was as a defender, with The Bee's Scott Howard-Cooper asking Theus about the relevance of Hawes' gaudy block statistics to the state of his real progression on that end. Hawes, for the record, entered Monday tied with Boston's Kendrick Perkins for second in the league in total blocks (37).

Theus on Hawes

"I think he's doing extremely well. I think he's gotten a lot better. I think even his fouls are a good thing to the point where those will eventually change for him if he keeps playing that way, if he stays aggressive, and if he gets a little bit better with his positioning. ... I think he's doing really well, but I think he's still got a ways to go to be a great team defender. Going after every shot has not only helped us as a team, but it has helped him in the way he's perceived now.

On how different he is defensively as compared to last season

"I think he's more aggressive. Last year, when he was over on weak side of balls, we showed him tape after tape after tape about (how he wasn't) going after blocked shots. And this year he's going after them. As I've said, too, I never thought Spence got to be 100 percent last year after his (knee) surgery.
"I've told Spence this, said 'You're in a good place playing-wise. Your consistency level is much better now than it ever has been since you've been in this league.'"

As for what some of the others are thinking, delve in ...

Moore on becoming a reserve (which he's done plenty before, if you consider he started seven times in the 303 games before his breakout season in New Jersey)

"Me and coach had a meeting this morning. He said it wasn't about me playing bad or anything like that, but he said he'd rather have my energy coming off the bench. With us losing, he wanted some new blood in the starting lineup but he said it's not (set) in stone.

"I'm not going to argue with coach. If that's what you think is going to work, I'll go with it. I'm not going to call my agent and (complain) about it. I'm going to let you do what you've got to do. I'll put myself to the side for the team. I'll come off the bench. If it stays like that, hopefully I'll get Sixth Man of the Year.

Moore on how his situation and Theus' aren't all that different

"He's just like me. I've got $6 million on the table. That's a big jump from ($6 million) to $2 million (which is what he's guaranteed if he's cut by June 20, 2009) and not knowing if you'll have a job. We're both on the hot seat, to tell you the truth. And I'm one of the vets on the squad. That's why I try to put a lot on my shoulders. I'm playing and my ankle's not 100 percent, but you know I've got to be out there. If you've noticed, I'm not dunking like I normally do because I can't get lift. But with me sitting on the sideline, I just can't help it." - Sam Amick

December 1, 2008
Theus changes lineup in hopes of changing outcome

BLOG UPDATE: I hadn't been on hand for Kevin Martin's update interview, but it sounds as if the shooting guard is a gametime decision for tomorrow as opposed to a lock to return.

***

It's still the Jazz coming into Arco Arena tomorrow night, and possibly a highly-motivated Utah team at that.

A day after their Kings drubbing, they were on the other end of a blowout against New Jersey on Saturday. So with six straight losses overall, six straight at home and nine of the last 10 ending in defeat, a Kings lineup change doesn't necessarily change that.

Nonetheless, Kings coach Reggie Theus will roll out his eighth starting lineup tomorrow night. The most notable difference will be the absence of forward Mikki Moore, who will come off the bench and be replaced by Spencer Hawes. And while Kings shooting guard Kevin Martin will make his official return after his left ankle injury, he will not start. The lineup will be Beno Udrih at the point, Bobby Jackson at shooting guard, Francisco Garcia at small forward, Hawes and center Brad Miller. Swingman John Salmons (thigh strain) will be a gametime decision.

Theus went out of his way to make it clear that the decision had nothing to do with what Moore was not doing and everything to do with what he expects him to do coming off the bench. He highlighted all the little things he values in Moore's game. What's more, he discussed the reality that so many fans - and perhaps even the team's own front office - have nights when they would much rather see the team's young talent than the veteran big man. Ironically, Hawes will get the start after playing a combined 41 minutes the last two games (and nine through three quarters of the Jazz game).

"Anytime there's a charge being taken, 90 percent of the time it's Mikki Moore taking it," Theus said after today's practice. "He does all the little things, and those things matter. People talk about defense. The fans talk about defense, but then they want the guy who's a defensive guy to be out of the game.
"I look at several different things. I look at not only who's starting, but which combinations are best coming off the bench. I look at the fact that Spence has a tendency to get into early foul trouble. Is he better off getting those fouls late in the first half or early in the first half?...He's also got to learn how to not get those fouls." - Sam Amick



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