Just Desmond Mason's luck, the Kings didn't cap their roster at lucky No. 13 after all.
Geoff Petrie's prediction/declaration that his team would have 13 players this season was followed two days later by the signing of Mason, so pardon me for not being sure what to make of all of it. What's more, Mason - who has a non-guaranteed deal and will have to prove healthy and productive in order to become No. 14 - adds another log to the wingman jam while the position of greatest need - that being center - is the fire that remains untended.
But after all, it's been hazy around here for some time now, so just hold your breath and wait for the smoke to clear. Because Kings coach Paul Westphal says so...
"So much of how this is going to look when the smoke clears is based on competition, and the more competition that you can provide these players, the more you're going to find about them, about who can rise to the top and who deserves the opportunity to play and learn from their mistakes and who deserves to sit and watch and learn," Westphal said today. "You can learn a couple different ways."
In other words, give him a little bit of time before shooting off the flares.
It's true that the move doesn't seem to fit the stated plan, namely because Andres Nocioni, Francisco Garcia, Donte' Greene, and Omri Casspi must produce or develop for varying reasons that all weigh heavily in this perception game as it relates to the Kings and their direction or lack thereof. But not only did Westphal make it clear that he thinks a healthy dose of competition will bring out the best in players of all kinds, there is the fact that Mason isn't exactly a known commodity right now either.
He missed the second half of last season after hyperextending his right knee on Jan. 28 and undergoing arthroscopic surgery. And while he cleared the physicals and was given a clean bill of health, the Kings did not hold a workout for him and will draw more of their own conclusions once the real work begins on Sept. 29. Among the looming questions that I couldn't get answers to because I never heard back from Mason was this: why did he wind up here instead of Denver when it clearly wasn't as if the Kings outbid the Nuggets (who may not have bid at all)?
"If he has recovered from the injury, he could help anybody (in the NBA)," Westphal said. "He had surgery, has rehabbed and recovered. Swelling's not a problem anymore. He's been working out hard and passing all the physicals and everything. Two-a-days and training camp is the next step for anybody coming back from an injury, but there are no particular yellow lights about it. He said he's good to go, and the doctors seem to think he's good to go, so we'll be glad to get him out there and give him a chance."
A chance, mind you. Not a guarantee (hence the contract).
Asked if this was a move made mostly because of Mason's basketball talent or his personal qualities as a known leader and good character guy in the locker room, Westphal said the role could be both.
"I think he can bring all those things depending on how healthy he is," he said. "The biggest question is, 'Are we going to see the Desmond Mason of three years ago, or are we going to see somebody who really can't play anymore? There's only one way to find out.
"He is acknowledged pretty much universally by anyone who has coached him or played with him or been around him to be a solid person. He has good leadership ability and never creates any problems. It's always a positive to add a quality person to your team."
Mason's defense, Westphal said, was a major part of the Kings' attraction.
"Depending on what he's able to do physically, he could - best-case scenario - add a defensive presence to the two and three position that I don't think we have anywhere else," he said. "I think he's the kind of guy that you put on the other team's best scorer, and he does as good a job as you have any right to respect. We don't have anybody who can do that at the two or three. That's the void I see him having a chance to fill.
"We have a lot of question marks at that position as far as, We think guys have a chance to be able to develop and do certain things. But outside of Kevin (Martin) and Cisco, it's more based on potential than track record. It's nice to have a guy with a track record."
Speaking of tracks, Westphal's team will clearly be on the run. He repeatedly mentioned going small with Nocioni at the power forward spot.
"I'm very high on (Nocioni)," Westphal said. "Depending on a lot of variables...Nocioni is somebody who can play the three and play the four but doesn't necessarily pencil in as absolutely a three or absolutely a four. He's definitely part of the puzzle, but we just need to see who compliments each other. What we've declared is that we're going to be a better rebounding team and a tougher team. Well, I think Desmond has a chance of contributing in that area and I think Nocioni has a chance of contributing in that area. What position and how many minutes and who they're playing with and they all compliment each other? That's all going to get worked out through the competition."
He also acknowledged the obvious lack of a backup center, with that deficiency likely forcing the up-tempo style even more. And the lucky winner of that improvised role, Westphal said, would often go to Jason Thompson.
"I don't think there's any doubt we'll look at Jason quite a bit at the five, based on our roster right now," he said. "Who else are you going to put there, size-wise, who can match up against centers? He's going to have to get some minutes at center. How many that will be or how that all works out? Again, that comes with the competition these guys will have in training camp and in the preseason."
And if you haven't noticed the trend here, Westphal likes what competition can do for his teams.
"To me, when you add talent to a team it really can't be a bad thing, and then we'll see how it works out when they compete against each other," he reiterated. - Sam Amick