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Inside The NBA

Kings crown the year with a strong off-season

The Kings are hotter than Latin music. After years of obscurity
they have become one of the NBA's most popular teams, thanks to
an up-tempo offense, flashy stars like forward Chris Webber and
point guard Jason Williams and their near upset of the Jazz in
the playoffs last season. Sacramento will play on national
television 20 times in 1999-2000, which is six more appearances
than it has made in the last 14 years combined. Nine of those
games will be on NBC, which has never shown a regular-season
Sacramento game. The Kings have also been chosen by the league
to open the season in Japan against the Timberwolves, a sign
that the NBA considers them to be one of its most appealing

While these are heady days for Sacramento, team management
realizes that it's easy to go from up-and-coming one season to
down-and-out the next. The 1996-97 Bullets (now Wizards) and the
'97-98 Nets seemed to be on the verge of bigger things after
strong playoff showings against the Bulls, but both missed the
postseason the following year. The Mavericks appeared to be
ready for a breakthrough season after Jimmy Jackson, Jason Kidd
and Jamal Mashburn led them to a 23-game improvement in 1994-95,
but they went 26-56 instead.

To make sure the Kings don't suffer similar slippage, general
manager Geoff Petrie, last season's NBA Executive of the Year,
has addressed Sacramento's two biggest needs: a tough,
established shooting guard and a backup for Williams. Petrie
filled the first hole by trading guard Tariq Abdul-Wahad and a
first-round pick to the Magic for 10-year veteran Nick Anderson
and plugged the second by signing Darrick Martin, a free agent
from the Clippers. Anderson should fit right in with the
close-knit Kings because of his relationship with Williams, who
has the same agent, Bill Pollak. Williams lived and worked out
with Anderson in Orlando last summer. "It's important that we
didn't stand pat and assume we'll just walk out on the floor and
be better this season," says Sacramento center Vlade Divac.
"Geoff is making the moves that need to be made. Nick is exactly
the kind of player we needed, but the biggest thing that will
keep us from being like those other teams is keeping our nucleus

It appears that the Kings will do that now that Webber has
changed his mind about wanting to leave Sacramento. When Petrie
acquired him from the Wizards last summer, Webber made it clear
he intended to go as soon as his contract expired in 2001. Now
he says he wants to work out an extension with the Kings, who
are expected to lock him up for five years beyond the end of his
current deal.

Webber's long-term presence in Sacramento looked more definite
last week than that of free agent Corliss Williamson, the Kings'
other starting forward. Williamson, who's after a seven-year
deal in the $50 million range, seemed certain to re-sign until
negotiations hit a snag. His agent, Elbert Crawford, says
Williamson will begin talking with other teams by the end of
this week, but with most clubs having used the bulk of their
salary-cap space, it appears likely that Williamson will stay in

Besides, there's never been a better time to be with the Kings,
especially now that they're owned by the energetic, unorthodox
Maloof brothers, Joe and Gavin. The Maloofs, who made their
fortune in liquor distributorships, hotels and gaming, say that
their numbers will be listed once they move into the houses they
are building in Sacramento, and that fans who call the Kings'
office and want to talk to them will get to do so. The brothers
have unveiled plans for a state-of-the-art practice facility,
and they rewarded the team for its playoff performance by
throwing a weekend-long party in Las Vegas in June. The Maloofs
picked up the tab for players, coaches and spouses at the Four
Seasons Hotel and provided them with 24-hour limousine service.
Says Joe, "Really, it's just the way we do business."

Forward-looking Spurs

The NBA-champion Spurs' hunt for a small forward to replace Sean
Elliott, who's awaiting a kidney transplant and is out for the
season and perhaps for good, has gone from frustrating to
infuriating. San Antonio offered restricted free agent Tyrone
Nesby of the Clippers a three-year, $8.9 million deal but lost
him when Los Angeles matched the offer. The Spurs'
disappointment turned to anger when another Clippers forward,
Lamond Murray, backed out of an oral agreement with them. Murray
consented to a sign-and-trade instead, reaching a seven-year,
$25 million deal with L.A., which then sent him to the Cavaliers
for guard Derek Anderson and forward Johnny Newman. "Cleveland
stole him from us," says R.C. Buford, San Antonio's director of

But the ire of the Spurs is aimed more at Murray and his agent,
Arn Tellem, than at the Cavs. "We had a commitment," says
general manager and coach Gregg Popovich. "We even informed the
league that negotiations had stopped and that we had an
agreement. It was after the fact that they started to renege on
the deal."

Murray says the arrangement with the Spurs fell through because
they offered him $6.6 million over three years instead of the
$8.9 million they could have offered. San Antonio says it
offered the higher amount. "There are always verbal agreements,
but nothing was ever concrete," Murray says. "Then the Cavaliers
came in with a sign-and-trade that was financially better for
me. Cleveland just wanted me more than San Antonio."

So the Spurs' quest continues. The silver lining in the Murray
flip-flop is that his joining the Cavaliers may make free-agent
small forward Cedric Henderson less likely to return to
Cleveland. San Antonio is pursuing Henderson, as well as free
agent Shandon Anderson of the Jazz, with the $2.6 million
exception the league granted it because of Elliott's illness.

Cavaliers' Concern

The Cavaliers' front office hopes that power forward Shawn Kemp
has just lost its phone number. Otherwise there may be trouble
brewing. At week's end the Cleveland brass hadn't heard from
Kemp in more than a month. There has been speculation that Kemp
wanted Isiah Thomas to be the Cavs' new coach and is upset that
Cleveland hired Randy Wittman instead, but no one has been able
to reach Kemp to ask him. That includes new general manager Jim
Paxson, who last spoke with Kemp in early July. "I heard the
rumor about Isiah, but Shawn didn't say anything to me about
it," Paxson says of that conversation. "The only concern he
expressed was not wanting to be in a rebuilding situation again
with a lot of young players."

Since then Kemp hasn't bothered to return repeated messages from
Paxson and Wittman (and, last week, SI). Cleveland doesn't need
to be reminded that unhappiness with his contract led to a
similar off-season silence from Kemp in 1997, and it marked the
beginning of the end of his tenure with the Sonics. Although the
Cavaliers are trying to put the best face on the
situation--"This isn't uncommon," Paxson says. "It's hard to
reach a lot of these guys in the summer"--they'd feel much
better if Kemp would just pick up the phone.

For more news about the NBA from Phil Taylor and Marty Burns, go

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Williams and Sacramento were flashy last season but must prove they weren't a flash in the pan.

COLOR PHOTO: BILL BAPTIST/NBA PHOTOS Kemp may be miffed at the Cavs' coaching choice.

Around The Rim

The Rockets don't appear likely to grant Scottie Pippen's
request to be traded to the Lakers. They've turned down L.A.'s
offer of forwards Glen Rice and Robert Horry, partly because
they are wary of Rice's contract demands when he becomes a free
agent after next season. If Rice isn't part of the deal, making
it work under the salary-cap guidelines will be difficult for
the Lakers....

Mavericks center Shawn Bradley finally agreed to attend Pete
Newell's camp for big men this summer. Despite his coaches'
urgings, Bradley had always skipped the week of camp because, he
said, he wanted to be with his family in the off-season....

Second-round pick who has been impressive in summer-league play:
Nuggets point guard Chris Herren. Second-round pick who's been a
disappointment: Hornets forward Lee Nailon, the nation's
eighth-leading scorer last season at TCU, who hasn't exactly
dazzled Charlotte with his work habits. "I don't think he knows
how hard you have to play in the NBA," says Hornets general
manager Bob Bass....

The Jazz tried to acquire center Ike Austin from the Magic
before he was traded to the Wizards. After Orlando turned down
Utah's offer of center Greg Ostertag, the Jazz proposed point
guard Howard Eisley, center Greg Foster and a first-round pick,
but the Magic still declined. Now that Austin is unavailable,
Utah is talking to free-agent center Will Perdue.