SI Vault
 
No. 7 SACRAMENTO KINGS
Phil Taylor
November 10, 1997
After watching his team's first six practice sessions during training camp, managing general partner Jim Thomas declared 50 victories to be a reasonable goal for this season. "I don't think that's out of the question," he said. "That's where we should be." It's a measure of coach Eddie Jordan's boundless optimism that he didn't immediately begin scanning the want ads upon learning of his boss's expectations. The Kings, who haven't finished better than .500 since Reagan's first term, won 34 games last year and will be hard-pressed to equal that total. Their best player, guard Mitch Richmond, is underpaid and unhappy about it; their most talented forward, Brian Grant, left for Portland as a free agent; and their starting point guard, Bobby Hurley, has career averages of 3.8 points and 3.4 assists.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 10, 1997

No. 7 Sacramento Kings

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

BY THE NUMBERS

1996-97 TEAM STATISTICS
Record: 34-48 (sixth in Pacific)

SEASON AVERAGES

Points per game (rank)

FG pct. (rank)

Rebounds per game (rank)

Turnovers per game (rank)

Kings

96.4 (16)

.454 (16)

41.5 (11)

16.2 (20)

Opponents

99.8 (23)

.462 (18)

41.5 (18)

15.3 (20)

After watching his team's first six practice sessions during training camp, managing general partner Jim Thomas declared 50 victories to be a reasonable goal for this season. "I don't think that's out of the question," he said. "That's where we should be." It's a measure of coach Eddie Jordan's boundless optimism that he didn't immediately begin scanning the want ads upon learning of his boss's expectations. The Kings, who haven't finished better than .500 since Reagan's first term, won 34 games last year and will be hard-pressed to equal that total. Their best player, guard Mitch Richmond, is underpaid and unhappy about it; their most talented forward, Brian Grant, left for Portland as a free agent; and their starting point guard, Bobby Hurley, has career averages of 3.8 points and 3.4 assists.

If Jordan can guide Sacramento to 50 wins, he should not only be Coach of the Year but should also have a statue in his honor erected outside Arco Arena, one just like that other Jordan has in Chicago. Still, he chose to react to Thomas's statement diplomatically. "That tells me the team and the coaching staff must be doing a great job if he can say that after six practices," said Jordan, who replaced Garry St. Jean for the final 15 games last season. "It's good for us to have high expectations."

No one knows quite what to expect from Richmond, 32, a five-time All-Star. He has been a paragon of professionalism during six years with the Kings that have included only one playoff appearance, but there are indications that his long-standing dissatisfaction with his contract—he will earn $3 million this season and $2.5 million next—has finally started to affect his attitude. He not only didn't play in Sacramento's first three preseason games, but he also didn't even bother to attend two of them. While he blamed his failure to go on the road with the team on a sore Achilles tendon, he was no doubt sending a message to management with his absences.

Richmond isn't the only player causing Jordan to cross his fingers and hope for the best. Forward Corliss Williamson, limited his first two seasons by back problems, will move into the starting lineup. At 6'7" and 245 pounds Williamson has been branded an "in-between" player: too short to line up at power forward and not quick enough for the small forward slot. Jordan hopes Williamson's performance over last season's final eight games, when he averaged 17.6 points and 5.6 rebounds at small forward, was a sneak preview of what he will produce this season.

But the most intriguing King this season will be Hurley, who was nearly killed in a car accident in 1993, during his rookie season. He returned to action 11 months later, but his career never took off—at least not until Jordan, upon his promotion from assistant coach, inserted Hurley into the starting lineup. The 6-foot, 165-pound Hurley responded with an average of 8.1 assists over the final nine games.

That earned him the point job this season and the chance to prove that he is an NBA-caliber player. His passing skills have never been questioned, but his defense and his jumper have—he's a career 34.1% shooter. In the off-season he fired 300 to 500 shots a day and intentionally turned himself into a gunner on his summer league team in New Jersey, shooting off pick-and-rolls and working on his three-point shot. "I don't think I've ever had the thought that this could be my last shot," he says. "I want to be calm on offense but play with abandon on defense. I want to see if a big guy can really knock me on my face with an elbow when I set a pick. Some people may think that's crazy, but that's how I hope to play—very aggressively."

Jordan is confident that Hurley will be one of the league's pleasant surprises. "He had great success with Duke [where he won NCAA titles in 1991 and '92], and he's seen the lowest of times as a professional," Jordan says. "And he's still there working every day. That shows a lot of strong fabric, and that's what this team needs." Unfortunately for Jordan and the Kings, they need far more than that.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

1