Rebuilt Kings excited about abbreviated NBA season
When the Sacramento Kings open their NBA regular season Friday night in San Antonio, they might want to wear name tags and shake hands before tip off. Just in case.
Gone are guards Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and Mitch Richmond, forwards Billy Owens and Otis Thorpe, center Olden Polynice and coach Eddie Jordan. Enter all-star inside players Vlade Divac and Chris Webber. Add draft choices Jason William, Jerome James and Predrag Stojakovic. And veterans Vernon Maxwell, Oliver Miller and Jon Barry. And longtime coach Rick Adelman, assistants Byron Scott (a former “Showtime”-era Laker) and Steve Fisher.
In the topsy-turvy NBA, free agency and the college draft have made it possible to completely rebuild a team in just a few months. The Kings have proven that.
“There’s definitely some potential here,” said Adelman, who took the Portland Trail Blazers to the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992. “And I hope the young guys can see that we have a solid core (here) that can be built around.”
Sacramento faces a rough early schedule that includes the likes of perennial contenders Phoenix, Houston, Utah and Seattle in the season’s first month. Despite the make-or-break start, the team’s off-season personnel moves have made the Kings’ the subject of water cooler gossip and have rejuvenated playoff hopes for the strike-shortened season.
“We have to change the attitude of this team and organization to want to be winners,” said Divac, a 10-year NBA veteran and a native of Yugoslavia.
Sacramento signed the 7-foot-1 center on Jan. 22, the finishing touch on a formidable one-two inside punch with the 6-10 Webber. Divac is a proven winner, having played in 63 career playoff games with the Los Angeles Lakers and Charlotte Hornets.
Webber, acquired in a May 1998 trade with Washington, brings a proven scorer and rebounder to Sacramento. Webber, a member of Michigan’s heralded ‘Fab Five” recruiting class, averaged 20 points and nearly 10 rebounds a game for the Wizards last season. Versatile for his size, the cagey six-year NBA vet brings a confidence and sense of purpose to this redesigned Kings squad.
“We got some cocky guys on this team. I’m one, I’ll admit it,” said Webber, who will reunite with assistant Fisher, a former Wolverines head coach. “You’ve got to believe in yourself. That’s how you’ve got to be to win, and that’s what we want to do here.”
The anchor for the Kings will be forward Corliss Williamson, one of the few Sacramento players retained for the 1998-99 season. Williamson, the Kings’ 13th pick out of Arkansas in the 1995 draft, has improved in each of his three NBA seasons. The 6-7, 245-pound forward averaged 17.7 points and 5.6 boards for Sacramento last season on his way to second place in 1998 NBA’s Most Improved Player voting.
But Kings players and coaches seem to be most excited about the arrival of Williams, the team’s selection as the seventh pick overall in the 1998 NBA draft. Williams, who played with Marshall and Florida during his two-year collegiate career, will likely start at the point. Williams’ brief college career was maligned by occasional off-court problems, including a violation of team rules that forced his dismissal from the Gators 20 games into the 1997-98 season. His image as a ‘bad boy’ hasn’t turned off his supporters, however, who see a great deal of potential in the 22-year-old rookie.
“The kid just has unbelievable vision on the court,” said Adelman of Williams, a high school teammate of Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss. “He’s got a lot of strength in him and that’s why I like him.”
“I think Jason is going to be the most underrated – or maybe the most unknown – point guard,” said Webber, who has played with all-star point guard Rod Strickland the past three seasons in Washington. “He has all the skills, which is good because the sky’s the limit for Jason.”
And, just maybe, for the 1999 Sacramento Kings.
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