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Fresh air (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday August 9, 2006 1:04PM; Updated: Wednesday August 9, 2006 2:11PM
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SI.com: Ron Artest. How long ya got with him?

Ziller: I think Artest will be with the Kings until his contract expires. If the Kings disappoint this season -- a low seed in the playoffs or worse -- Petrie might try to find a buyer in the offseason. But no one is going to run him out of town before he turns a maniac, because the town is in love with him. Artest in Sacramento right now is a solid step above where Chris Webber in Sacramento was in the middle of the '01-02 season. I'm not exaggerating. There's not a better character to be playing in Sacramento than this dude.

SI.com: Musselman has an undeserved reputation for not playing the youngsters; he's more or less been vindicated for his rotation choices as coach of the Warriors. How do you see him finding time for prospects such as Kevin Martin, Francisco Garcia and Quincy Douby?

Ziller: Martin will be a starter, and I think will get at least 30 minutes a game, unless he seriously regresses (sub-40-percent-shooting "regresses"). Garcia will be the backup swingman, and all indications so far say that the player Muss has connected with most strongly so far is Garcia. Douby is a tougher nut to crack. I don't think he'll get much playing time at the point this season, as I think John Salmons is really being groomed as the main ballhandler off the bench, even though Garcia might be the best ballhandler on the team. Douby, though, should be the person most likely to benefit from an injury to a backcourt guy in front of him.

And with the Kings, there will be injuries. If Bibby or Salmons goes down, Douby could get some minutes at the point. If Martin, Garcia or Artest goes down, there should be some time for Douby at the off-guard. Other than that, he might be playing for garbage time this season. I really hope he gets some court time, though. He's one of the more exciting rookies we've had in a while.

SI.com: The Kings are still a fun team to watch, they're a dynamic group that can play a couple of different styles, and they're probably better than last year's 44 wins would indicate. But are they a contender for the Western crown?

Ziller: I think the Kings are a player away from being a contender. Not a great player away -- just a good player away. That's why Kings fans were salivating over the possibility of getting Jamaal Magloire. A defensive-minded center is exactly what this team needs to seriously think about knocking off San Antonio, Phoenix and Dallas. Also, judging by Kenny Thomas' lack of enthusiasm for coming off the bench, I'd say depth at power forward is also a concern. Otherwise, this team is incredibly versatile, which will help it match up with any team it faces.

Though Bonzi Wells is gone, this is still one of the stronger/tougher teams in the West and will be one of the quickest, as well. And Musselman really is a factor to consider. No one was listening to Adelman last season -- Artest was even calling timeouts! Musselman is a great basketball mind and apparently a master motivator. If Muss can corral those players and get them in sync, this team could contend for a crown. Ask me in January.

SI.com: Which King has to be at the top of his gig next year for them to make any noise?

Ziller: It's an oligarchy in Sactown, not in the sense that everyone is replaceable but that all the top players are equally irreplaceable. A Miller injury is death for the front line; you'd have to go tiny with Abdur-Rahim and Thomas or bring in the loved and feared Vitaly Potapenko. An Artest injury or (cough) suspension could rally the remaining to overachieve, but he's the only great defender on the roster -- assistant coach T.R. Dunn notwithstanding.

Bibby has better depth behind him than ever before, but he's your top scorer. Missing Martin off the bench squeezes the depth of the team significantly. Petrie has constructed the team to not rely on one player, but in doing that, he's relying on them all. And now, to answer your question: If Martin turns into the player serious Kings fans hope he will (which is a slashing-type Reggie Miller or Joe Dumars), these Kings can beat anyone.

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