Kings crown the year with a strong off-season
The kings are hotter than Latin music. After years of obscurity they have become one of the NBA's most popular teams, thanks to an up-tempo offense, flashy stars like forward Chris Webber and point guard Jason Williams and their near upset of the Jazz in the playoffs last season. Sacramento will play on national television 20 times in 1999-2000, which is six more appearances than it has made in the last 14 years combined. Nine of those games will be on NBC, which has never shown a regular-season Sacramento game. The Kings have also been chosen by the league to open the season in Japan against the Timberwolves, a sign that the NBA considers them to be one of its most appealing attractions.
While these are heady days for Sacramento, team management realizes that it's easy to go from up-and-coming one season to down-and-out the next. The 1996-97 Bullets (now Wizards) and the '97-98 Nets seemed to be on the verge of bigger things after strong playoff showings against the Bulls, but both missed the postseason the following year. The Mavericks appeared to be ready for a breakthrough season after Jimmy Jackson, Jason Kidd and Jamal Mashburn led them to a 23-game improvement in 1994-95, but they went 26-56 instead.
To make sure the Kings don't suffer similar slippage, general manager Geoff Petrie, last season's NBA Executive of the Year, has addressed Sacramento's two biggest needs: a tough, established shooting guard and a backup for Williams. Petrie filled the first hole by trading guard Tariq Abdul-Wahad and a first-round pick to the Magic for 10-year veteran Nick Anderson and plugged the second by signing Darrick Martin, a free agent from the Clippers. Anderson should fit right in with the close-knit Kings because of his relationship with Williams, who has the same agent, Bill Pollak. Williams lived and worked out with Anderson in Orlando last summer. "It's important that we didn't stand pat and assume we'll just walk out on the floor and be better this season," says Sacramento center Vlade Divac. "Geoff is making the moves that need to be made. Nick is exactly me kind of player we needed, but the biggest thing that will keep us from being like those other teams is keeping our nucleus together."
It appears that the Kings will do that now that Webber has changed his mind about wanting to leave Sacramento. When Petrie acquired him from the Wizards last summer, Webber made it clear he intended to go as soon as his contract expired in 2001. Now he says he wants to work out an extension with the Kings, who are expected to lock him up for five years beyond the end of his current deal.
Webber's long-term presence in Sacramento looked more definite last week than that of free agent Corliss Williamson, the Kings' other starting forward. Williamson, who's after a seven-year deal in the $50 million range, seemed certain to re-sign until negotiations hit a snag. His agent, Elbert Crawford, says Williamson will begin talking with other teams by the end of this week, but with most clubs having used the bulk of their salary-cap space, it appears likely that Williamson will stay in Sacramento.
Besides, there's never been a better time to be with the Kings, especially now mat they're owned by the energetic, unorthodox Maloof brothers, Joe and Gavin. The Maloofs, who made their fortune in liquor distributorships, hotels and gaming, say that their numbers will be listed once they move into the houses they are building in Sacramento, and that fans who call the Kings' office and want to talk to them will get to do so. The brothers have unveiled plans for a state-of-the-art practice facility, and they rewarded the team for its playoff performance by throwing a weekend-long party in Las Vegas in June. The Maloofs picked up the tab for players, coaches and spouses at the Four Seasons Hotel and provided them with 24-hour limousine service. Says Joe, "Really, it's just the way we do business.".
A Search for Elliott's Heir
The NBA-champion Spurs' hunt for a small forward to replace Sean Elliott, who's awaiting a kidney transplant and is out for the season and perhaps for good, has gone from frustrating to infuriating. San Antonio offered restricted free agent Tyrone Nesby of the Clippers a three-year, $8.9 million deal but lost him when Los Angeles matched the offer. The Spurs' disappointment turned to anger when another Clippers forward, Lamond Murray, backed out of an oral agreement with them. Murray consented to a sign-and-trade instead, reaching a seven-year, $25 million deal with LA, which then sent him to the Cavaliers for guard Derek Anderson and forward Johnny Newman. " Cleveland stole him from us," says R.C. Buford, San Antonio's director of scouting.
But the ire of the Spurs is aimed more at Murray and his agent, Arn Tellem, than at the Cavs. "We had a commitment," says general manager and coach Gregg Popovich. "We even informed the league that negotiations had stopped and that we had an agreement. It was after the fact that they started to renege on the deal."