Seated in the Kings' practice facility, Bobby Jackson talked confidently about coming back from the injury that kept him out for nearly a third of the season. He rubbed the patchy growth on his head--which one reporter described as a "half-fro"--and addressed the team's off-season losses. Sure, Sacramento gave up a center, but Jackson saw blue skies ahead. "We haven't lost a beat," said the 6'1" guard. "We're more physical, and that's a good thing."
This may sound like an assessment of the Kings' current situation, but it's actually what Jackson said last year at the start of training camp. Welcome to the déj√† vu world of the Kings.Entering 2003--04 Jackson was coming off a season in which he had missed 21 games with a broken hand, and the team, after a heartbreaking playoff elimination, had traded center Scot Pollard. Now Jackson is back after missing 32 games with an abdominal strain, and the team is recovering from another playoff exit and the departure of another center--Vlade Divac, to the Lakers.
Only this time things look more dire. Shooting guard Peja Stojakovic, upset over Divac's leaving and frustrated with his role in the offense, demanded a trade and remains disgruntled. Forward Chris Webber implied that unnamed teammates didn't play hard enough in the postseason. And coach Rick Adelman may be a lame duck. This, his seventh season in Sacramento, is a contract year, but ownership is not jumping to re-sign him.
Because Doug Christie has a sore left foot, Jackson will have to play more minutes--which is what, Adelman thinks, led to his injuries before. For now, though, he's healthy, and this remains a talented, proven team, ready to make one last run at a championship. --Chris Ballard
ENEMY LINES an opposing team's scout sizes up the Kings
The window is closing fast on their title hopes. Their players are either in their prime or in decline, which means there's no room for improvement.... Without Chris Webber they were 43--15, Brad Miller was having his best season while filling in at power forward, and they were moving the ball unselfishly. Then Webber came back from knee surgery, and they were 12--12. He couldn't explode, he had no lateral movement, and he upset their winning chemistry. I love Webber's game when he's healthy, but is he going to continue to be a shell of himself? ... Then there's the soap opera of Webber, the guy they'd like to trade but probably can't because of the remaining four years and $80 million on his contract, and Peja Stojakovic, the star they'd like to keep but who wants out. Stojakovic isn't just the best shooter in the NBA--he'll also beat you off the dribble, he'll rebound, and he makes an effort defensively. If they deal him at midseason, all bets are off.... This league is filled with guys who demand tons of shots in the first 45 minutes yet want no part of the last two or three, but Bobby Jackson and Mike Bibby are just the opposite: They'll take and make those shots at the end. Bibby isn't spectacular but he gets them into their offense and his scoring earns the respect of the defense, which is crucial for point guards today.... How did the Kings tumble from No. 1 in field goal defense in 2002--03 to No. 26 last season? I can't explain it, other than to point out that they missed active defenders like Jackson, Keon Clark and Scot Pollard. They hurt their offense by not resigning Vlade Divac, but the signing of Greg Ostertag gives shot blocking and rebounding to a team that absolutely must improve on D.
The 2003--04 Kings were the first team to lead the NBA in field goal (.462) and three-point (.401) percentage since the 1992--93 Cavaliers.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2003--04 statistics
Record: 55--27 (4th in West)
Points scored: 102.8 (2nd in NBA)
Points allowed: 97.8 (25th)
Coach: Rick Adelman
(seventh season with the Kings)
NEW ACQUISITION (R) Rookie (statistics for final college season) *PVR Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 86)