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6:10 PM ET, 5/06/06
Kings are rough around the edges
Posted by Kelly Dwyer
Bonzi Wells (right) might not be around to celebrate with Mike Bibby next season.
Sacramento general manager Geoff Petrie has a wee bit of soul-searching to do this summer, but not as much as you'd expect from your typical defeated eighth seed. His Kings made a pretty good show of the first round of the playoffs, taking the defending champs to six games while renewing interest in a franchise that hadn't really seemed interesting since Chris Webber's desperate 3-point attempt against the Timberwolves rimmed out of the cylinder in 2004 -- denying the Kings another chance at the Western Conference finals.
Obviously, the Ron Artest trade in February turned this squad on its ear. To a man, each King took on Artest's mind-set (showing effort on defense, trying to attack the basket, looking to make the extra pass) as their own. Obviously, both Petrie and the team's prime (Mike Bibby and Brad Miller) knew that the days of trying to dominate on offense alone were long over, but it took Artest's presence to obliterate whatever bad habits the current Kings carried over from the Peja Stojakovic/Webber/Vlade Divac era.
So, the core of the group has been established. The Kings don't have any designs on winning a championship over the next few years, but they are very interested in remaining a playoff team. To an outsider, it appears as if it's in the front office's best interest to keep enthusiasm for the team at a fever pitch, especially as negotiations for a new arena drone on and on. The group has a solid window to work with; Artest, Bibby and Miller will be 26, 28 and 30 years old when 2006-07 starts. Though the Pacific Division will only get stronger in the coming years, the nucleus has enough to keep up.
It's the fringe that needs work. Rick Adelman isn't under contract for next season, and it'll be hard for Petrie to add depth on this team if he's working under the idea that Adelman will only give legitimate minutes to six or seven players a night. You can't blame a coach for relying only on contributors he can trust, but at the same time, it's up to a high-paid coach to engender trust and draw consistent output from the part-timers. With a paucity of attractive coaching talent out there (though Eric Musselman is still waiting by the phone), expect Adelman back next season.
Beyond that, Petrie needs to figure out what to do with his best free agent. Bonzi Wells had a dominant postseason (averaging 23 points and 12 rebounds), and Petrie would be best served trying to secure a sign-and-trade and ship Wells out of Sacramento. He's drafted plum wing prospects in consecutive years (Kevin Martin and Francisco Garcia), and it's hard to see the point of overpaying someone who will be 30 by the time 2006-07 starts and has yet to play 80 games in a season.
And even if Wells returns to Sacto, don't bank on him falling back into his dunderheaded ways due solely to the presence of Artest.
If you compare the NBA to the world of crimes and misdemeanors, Wells' malfeasance in Portland and Memphis fell along the same lines as holding up a liquor store at 10 p.m., then returning to the same liquor store around midnight to ask for a bottle of Rebel Yell. Artest's issues fall more in line with the skinny loner who kept unspeakable things in his freezer. The point being, Wells and Artest won't band together in the same way that Wells bummed around with Rasheed Wallace or Jason Williams -- Ron-Ron is much too nutty for a partner in crime.
Petrie can be brilliant at working around the edges, and with a few expiring contracts and very tradeable contracts already on the Kings' roster, he has room to work. A full season under with Artest helps. It'll take care of little things like late-game defensive assignments, relative interest in Wednesday night games against the Magic and the small matter of that putrid 14-16 record against the Eastern Conference. Sacramento should be right around the 45- to 50-win mark next season, especially if Adelman delves deeper into what has proved to be a dynamic bench.