Artest and Kings will be contenders in 2006-07
(Sports Network) – The Sacramento Kings did not make a lot of personnel
changes during the offseason. But, they do have a new head coach and former
Defensive Player of the Year Ron Artest will be in the lineup from day one of
the 2006-07 campaign
Sacramento finished last season with a 44-38 record and returned to the
postseason for the eighth straight year. The Kings were the eighth seed
in the Western Conference playoffs and faced No. 1 San Antonio in the opening
round. The Spurs knocked out Sacramento in six contests, 4-2.
The biggest move for Sacramento was made on the bench, as Eric Musselman is
the new head coach. The Kings hired Musselman, who was an assistant coach
with the Memphis Grizzlies for nearly two seasons and is a former head coach
of the Golden State Warriors, on June 3rd as their new general after
relieving Rick Adelman in early May of the head coaching duties. Adelman,
who guided the Kings to three Pacific Division titles, spent eight seasons
with Sacramento and is the franchise’s winningest coach.
Last season was saved on January 25th when Sacramento dealt sharp-shooting
forward Peja Stojakovic to the Indiana Pacers for Artest. With the 26-
year-old Artest in the lineup, the Kings were a solid 26-14 in the regular
season and were able to get back to the postseason.
Artest, who is a one-time All-Star and was the 2003-04 NBA Defensive Player
of the Year, averaged 16.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists for the
Kings last season. His intensity and hard-nosed defensive style rubbed
off on his teammates and helped Sacramento become a tougher squad to
Starting point guard Mike Bibby, who completed his eighth year in the NBA, had
his best season as a pro for the Kings in 2005-06. He led the team in
scoring (21.1 ppg) and assists (5.4 apg). Bibby and forward Kenny Thomas
Bibby were the only Kings to play in all 82 regular-season games.
Two-time All-Star center Brad Miller had another solid season, as he averaged
15.0 points and a team-best 7.8 rebounds, while forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim,
who signed with the Kings as a free agent in August 2005, contributed 12.0
points and 5.3 boards per contest.
Bibby is on the verge of finally receiving a well deserved spot on an NBA All-
Star team. The 28-year-old guard is the leader of the Kings and loves to have
the ball in his hands when the game is on the line. Along with Artest and
Miller, Bibby gives Sacramento a very dangerous and tough threesome.
Even though Bibby is the team leader, its Artest who has set the example on
the court as to how the Kings are going to play. To say the controversial
Artest has had problems in the past would be an understatement, but he has
been nothing short of excellent in Sacramento.
There was one incident during last year’s playoffs, as Artest was suspended
one game without pay for making forearm contact to the head of San Antonio’s
Manu Ginobili in Game 1 of the first-round series. However, the fact is in the
postseason emotions and physical play can and does get the best of any player.
Acquiring Artest has transformed the Kings into a different squad and it is
showed in the teams attitude and their all-around play. They were once a team
who simply tried to outscore their opponent. Now, Sacramento actually attempts
to play defense and force the opposition into turnovers or bad decisions.
Dallas did not get over the playoff hump until it decided to play an all-
around game. Head coach Avery Johnson got the Mavericks, who used to play the
same way the Kings did, to play defense. The result was the first trip to the
NBA Finals for the franchise. Even though Dallas fell in six games to the
Miami Heat in 2006 finals, the Mavericks are a more dangerous and feared team
with their new style of play.
It’s hard to believe, but Artest has had a positive influence on the Kings. On
the court, they are a more complete team that has a swagger and plays with a
chip on their shoulder.
Yes, San Antonio and Dallas are still the favorites in the West. However, if
Artest keeps his concentration on playing basketball and the Kings continue
to follow his lead on the court, there will be another serious contender
in the Western Conference.