Stojakovic's trade demand leaves Kings on verge of breakup
Posted: Wednesday August 11, 2004 3:13PM; Updated: Wednesday August 11, 2004 3:13PM
Peja serves his country -- just not at the Games
So Chris Webber thinks Peja Stojakovic isn't tough enough? Wait 'til C-Webb hears how his teammate spent his summer vacation.
Stojakovic, 27, recently completed a three-month stint in the Greek army. Although Stojakovic was born in Yugoslavia, he added Greek citizenship years ago when he played for PAOK in the Greek League. And for all Greek citizens, military service is compulsory.
As part of his service, Stojakovic wasn't required to perform military exercises. Instead he had to report to an office in Thessaloniki, the seaside town where he lives in the offseason with his girlfriend, Greek model Aleka Kamila. For the most part, Stojakovic handled administrative duties such as downloading information on computers, according to his agent, David Bauman. "I told him if you're doing any exercises with live ammunition, let me know," Bauman said.
Stojakovic, who also was awaiting the birth of his first child this summer, said he welcomed the opportunity to serve his second country. He added that he appreciated the military's willingness to work around his NBA schedule. "It's a funny thing to the people here, but military in Europe -- it's a serious thing," Stojakovic told the Sacramento Bee. "You are obligated to serve there."
Stojakovic didn't feel the same obligation, though, when it came to serving his other national team in the upcoming Olympics. Citing the need for rest, he joined fellow countryman Vlade Divac in declining to suit up for Serbia & Montenegro at this year's Games. "I've played for the national team for six years," Stojakovic said. "Every summer there is something going on -- the world championships, the European championship, the Olympics. I just felt tired."
-- Marty Burns
The Lakers might not be the only Western Conference power to undergo a major shakeup this offseason. The Sacramento Kings, L.A.'s rivals to the north, are feeling tremors that could leave them in a hole as well.
Vlade Divac started the exodus when he bolted Sacramento for the hated Lakers, and now Peja Stojakovic, coming off a season in which he averaged 24.2 points per game -- second best in the NBA -- has asked for a trade.
"You could see this year, late in the year, we didn't have good chemistry and didn't play good basketball," Stojakovic told The Associated Press last week. "I just think that the team had [its] chances, and opportunities are closing, and the team needs new players. I'm probably one of the easiest players to trade, and I'm willing to go."
Kings GM Geoff Petrie has got to be feeling sick. After skillfully putting together one of the NBA's best and most exciting clubs, he finds it threatening to unravel. The Kings no doubt could get a quality player in return for Stojakovic, one of the game's best pure shooters (the Pacers reportedly are offering Ron Artest), but it would mean a total transformation of the team's identity.
On top of seeing his club disintegrate talent-wise, what really has to concern Petrie is how Sacramento's once-great chemistry (on the court and in the locker room) has so quickly vanished. Chris Webber's return from knee surgery late in the season clearly disrupted Sacramento's rhythm. The gimpy power forward then made it worse by publicly questioning the Kings' toughness, comments many took to be aimed at Stojakovic. "Always go with the ones who are the hardest workers and who, when your backs are down, they're the ones who will step up," Webber said. "Don't go with the ones who just flow through it. Go with the ones that it hurts them to lose. Go with the ones like Doug Christie."
Stojakovic denies Webber's comments have anything to do with his trade request, but few believe him. After all, Stojakovic and the Kings were riding high last season until Webber returned and the Kings' quick-paced crisp-passing offense ground to a halt. Reduced to being mostly a stand-still shooter, Stojakovic stopped getting as many good open looks. His scoring plummeted, and he wound up looking like the goat in Sacramento's playoff loss to the T'wolves. Once his good friend Divac agreed to sign a free-agent deal with the Lakers starting at $4.9 million (the Kings offered about half the amount), Stojakovic apparently decided he'd had enough.
Though he has tried to be diplomatic, he has not backed off his trade demands. He still has three years left on his contract, but the Kings probably don't want to keep him around if he's unhappy. Adding to the Kings' sense of urgency is a threat made by Stojakovic's agent, David Bauman, who says his client is prepared to exercise an opt-out clause in his contract after two years and leave Sacramento with nothing in return.
Petrie has remained patient, apparently hoping time will work out the issues, but given Stojakovic's hard-line stance, it now seems more than likely a trade will be made. And while it would be smarter for the Kings to deal Webber, his knee injury and humongous contract ($80 million over the next four years) make him all but impossible to move.
The unfortunate turn of events must be especially painful to Kings fans now that Shaquille O'Neal is finally out of the West. If Sacramento had just been able to hold it together one more season, it finally might have conquered its nemesis. But then again, that's just the way things have gone for Sacramento in recent years. From Robert Horry's shot in the 2001 playoffs to C-Webb's injury against the Mavs in 2002 to Bobby Jackson's injury in 2003, it's been one bad break after another. Maybe the Maloofs left all their luck in Las Vegas.