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Around the NBA, the Kings always used to be good for a few
laughs. A trip to Sacramento usually meant a few one-liners from
the team's resident humorist, director of player personnel Jerry
Reynolds. "Larry Bird and I might be the two best-looking people
from French Lick, Indiana," Reynolds likes to say. "That ought
to tell you what ugly rascals they got living in that town."
Then there was the team itself, which caused more than a few
chuckles with its inept play. Opponents almost always left town
with a victory and a smile.

But no one laughed at the Kings last year. Their new
black-purple-and-silver uniforms conveyed a don't-mess-with-us
attitude, and a pair of bruising rookie forwards--6'9",
255-pound Brian Grant and 6'8", 230-pound Michael Smith, aptly
nicknamed Animal--put some muscle behind that message. The Kings
won 39 games, the most for the franchise since it moved from
Kansas City before the 1985-86 season; only a loss to Denver in
the final regular-season game kept them out of the playoffs.
This year they plan to go at least one step further. "One thing
you can count on," says guard Mitch Richmond, "is that we're
going to the playoffs." For a change, no one is laughing.

Still, reaching the postseason won't be easy for the Kings, who
are likely to find themselves in a five-team race with Dallas,
Denver, Golden State and Portland for the last two of the eight
Western Conference playoff spots. They are better equipped for
that battle than they have been in years. Grant and Smith
energized the Kings last season, but the best thing about the
team remains Richmond, the muscular shooting guard nicknamed
Rock who has been Sacramento's foundation since he arrived in
1991. Last season Richmond was named to the All-NBA second team
for the second straight year and won the MVP award at the
All-Star Game, but true superstar status has somehow eluded him.
"There are probably some guys who are better known on a national
scale who aren't as good as he is," says Reynolds. "That's just
the way it is."

Part of the reason for Richmond's relative anonymity is that the
spotlight rarely finds its way to a market as small as
Sacramento, but a bigger reason may be the Kings' woeful
history. Last season was the first in Richmond's tenure that
they won more than 30 games. "The market situation could be
rectified with wins," says coach Garry St. Jean. "You see in the
Portland market or the Utah market the respect that Karl Malone
and John Stockton and Clyde Drexler have gotten. As this team
continues to grow, and now that he's got the [All-Star] MVP,
maybe his recognition level moves up another notch."

Richmond, 30, realizes it might help if he were a flashier, more
spectacular player. "I've got to get some young legs," he says.
"I'm a guard who doesn't have leaps like Michael Jordan. I'm
pretty much on the floor. I don't talk trash, I just play hard.
Guys around the league understand that."

The Kings don't have an illustrious draft history, but they
appear to have made the right choice in taking Grant with the
No. 8 pick in '94--he runs the floor as well as any power forward
in the league. And Smith, the 35th selection, was an absolute
steal. He immediately gave a rather soft team a more physical
aspect in his backup role. The Kings added another wide, if not
particularly tall, body by drafting 6'7" Corliss Williamson in
June (page 44). Since they don't have a topflight center, making
do with the combination of Olden Polynice and Duane Causwell,
the Kings are apparently collecting power forwards.

Sacramento would not have made such an improvement last season
if Walt Williams, the team's lottery pick in 1992, hadn't made
great strides as well. Williams, 6'8", had dipped from a scoring
average of 17 his rookie season to 11.2 in '93-94, shooting only
39% from the floor. He was carrying too much weight and too
often sat at the three-point line launching bricks. He also had
trouble staying healthy and finding a permanent position. But he
reported in shape last season and had the best all-around year
of his career, pushing Lionel Simmons to the bench and the
trading block.

Lack of depth hurt the Kings last season, as they faltered late
in the year after a 28-20 start. The addition of veterans Tyrone
Corbin and Sarunas Marciulionis will help them avoid that
problem this year. It all adds up to a team that should give the
faithful Sacramento fans, who have produced 411 consecutive
sellouts, their most enjoyable season in years. But no matter
how much fun the Kings and their supporters have, don't expect
the visiting team to be laughing.


COLOR PHOTO: ROCKY WIDNER With the addition of enforcers like Grant (33), the Kings now reign in the lane. [Brian Grant]



PPG (Rank) FG% (Rank)

OFFENSE 98.2 (19) .468 (12)
DEFENSE 99.2 (8) .453 (2)


The Kings had both the NBA's best and worst free throw shooters
last season (minimum 125 free throws made): Spud Webb led the
league at 93.4%, while reserve forward Michael Smith, who
otherwise enjoyed a solid rookie season, made less than half of
his attempts. The last team to claim this dubious distinction
was the 1964-65 Sixers (Larry Costello made 87.7%; Wilt
Chamberlain, 46.4%).

Best Free Throw Shooters


Spud Webb 226 242 .934
Mark Price 148 162 .914
Dana Barros 347 386 .899
Reggie Miller 383 427 .897
Muggsy Bogues 160 180 .889

Worst Free Throw Shooters


Michael Smith 127 262 .485
Dale Davis 138 259 .533
Shaquille O'Neal 455 854 .533
Chris Gatling 148 250 .592
Vin Baker 256 432 .593


Point guard Bobby Hurley is still struggling to adjust to the
NBA after a near-fatal auto accident 19 games into his rookie
season two years ago. This past off-season the Kings traded
starting point guard Spud Webb to Atlanta for backup shooting
guard Tyrone Corbin, and reserve Randy Brown signed as a free
agent with Chicago. Even though Sacramento has been in the
market for more help--Indiana's Mark Jackson has been
mentioned--the door is open for Hurley to establish himself at
the point. The Kings are being patient with Hurley for more than
sentimental reasons; they're aware that point guards like Mark
Price, John Stockton and Kevin Johnson took time to develop into
stars. Hurley will get every opportunity to improve on last
year's averages of 4.2 points, 3.3 assists and 16.3 minutes. His
body may finally be ready to make the most of his chance. "We
got some spurts out of Hurley last year that gave us some
encouragement for the future," coach Garry St. Jean says. "We
believe he's going to be much better."



SF Walt Williams 16.4 ppg 4.5 rpg 4.1 apg
PF Brian Grant 13.2 ppg 7.5 rpg 1.45 bpg
C Olden Polynice 10.8 ppg 9.0 rpg 54.4 FG%
PG Bobby Hurley 4.2 ppg 3.3 apg 36.3 FG%
SG Mitch Richmond 22.8 ppg 4.4 rpg 3.8 apg


G Sarunas Marciulionis 9.3 ppg 1.7 apg 40.2 3FG%
F Michael Smith 6.9 ppg 5.9 rpg 54.2 FG%
F Lionel Simmons 5.6 ppg 3.4 rpg 1.5 apg