The end of the Kings?

By Chad Ford
NBA Insider
Send an Email to Chad Ford Wednesday, May 19
Updated: May 20
12:13 PM ET

In and out.

It's the story of Chris Webber's career. He has the pedigree. The smile. The good looks. He says all the right things. His game is pretty. So was the 3-pointer he took as the buzzer sounded on the Sacramento Kings' season Wednesday night.

Summer Blueprints
What will your team be up to this summer? NBA Insider Chad Ford breaks it down

# Utah Jazz
# Philadelphia 76ers
# Atlanta Hawks
# Washington Wizards
# Phoenix Suns
# Cleveland Cavaliers
# Seattle SuperSonics
# Chicago Bulls
# Golden State Warriors
# Los Angeles Clippers
# Orlando Magic
# Boston Celtics
# Portland Trail Blazers
# Charlotte Bobcats
# 2004 Free agents

The ball rattled in and out. The Kings (once again) are dead. The fingers (once again) are pointing C-Webb's direction.

"I definitely thought the last shot was good," Webber told reporters after Minnesota beat Sacramento, 83-80, in Game 7 of their semifinal series. "It did everything but go in."

That, in essence, is the story of the Kings and Webber. They do everything but win Game 7s.

How will Webber and the Kings respond to yet another season of disappointment? Will they circle the wagons and claim a few bad breaks and one bad injury (this year to sixth-man Bobby Jackson) robbed them of their throne?

Or will owners Joe and Gavin Maloof and GM Geoff Petrie decide it's time to lay this version of the Kings to rest and start over?

Either way, the answer starts with Webber. Can Webber overcome the worst season of his professional career to lead the Kings on a revenge tour next year? Or has the injury- and scandal-ridden star worn out his welcome in Sacramento? Here's a look at what to expect, as Insider continues its summer blueprint series.

Kings Summer Blueprint

DRAFT: The downside of being consistently good every season? It leaves the Kings very little wiggle room when it comes to rebuilding. Teams that can find a real sleeper late in the first round (as the Nets did with Nenad Kristic two years ago) come away with an enormous benefit. The Kings haven't even had a first-round draft pick since taking Gerald Wallace in 2001. For a guy who has a reputation as a draft guru, Petrie has been relatively quiet.

This may be the year to awaken the beast. As evidenced by the slim rotation coach Rick Adelman used in the playoffs, the Kings need depth everywhere, but especially in the frontcourt, where the fragile Webber and the aging Vlade Divac command the most attention.

The great news is this draft is filled with big guys who, down the road, could be special. The key for the Kings is finding the right one late in the first round.

Several big (but not big-time) prospects should be hanging around when the Kings pick 26th, including high schooler Robert Swift and international players such as Peter John Ramos, Anderson Varejao, Johan Petro, Uros Slokar and Ha Seung Jin. American players such as David Harrison, Lawrence Roberts and Brandon Bass also could be around.

All of them have the upside not normally found late in the first round, but all also have the usual risks and caveats intrinsically entwined with drafting that late.

FREE AGENCY: The Kings have only one major free agent going into the summer, but he's a doozy. Divac's contract is expiring, and there are big question marks about whether he'll be back next season. Divac, 36, still has some fight in him, but the Kings are ready to hand over the starting center duties to Brad Miller next season.

Divac, who is most effective when he's playing 25 or fewer minutes a night, is probably OK with a reserve role, but it may come down to money.

Vlade Divac
Sacramento Kings

81 9.9 5.7 5.3 .470 .654

The Maloofs have stretched themselves thin by offering big deals to Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Mike Bibby and Doug Christie. Can they afford to keep Divac?

Several other teams looking for a veteran presence in the middle will come calling. The Kings have been good to Divac, and it makes sense for him to stay. Still, if he has a chance to win a title elsewhere, it's not inconceivable he could bolt. Darius Songaila also is a free agent, but it's likely the Kings will re-sign him to a reasonable deal.

Sacramento's payroll will be around $57 million next season, about $12 million over the projected $45 million salary cap. There's no end in sight. The team's payroll isn't expected to dip below the cap until the 2008-09 season, barring trades. The Kings do have their full mid-level exception. Will the Maloofs give Petrie the green light to use it?

This isn't a great free-agent class, and there aren't many players on the market who really would be worth the money for the Kings. A player such as Adonal Foyle or Antonio McDyess could add some toughness. Don't be surprised if the Kings scour the international market for a free agent. Players such as Andres Nocioni (Argentina), Fabrico Oberto (Argentina), Sarunas Jasikevicius (Lithuania) and Arvydas Macijauskas (Lithuania) could provide veteran leadership and toughness.

Nocioni is a tough swingman who dominates international competition. Oberto is a tough, wiley center cut out of Divac's mold. He just turned 30, so it's now or never for him. Macijauskas is another interesting prospect. Described as the best shooter in Europe, he could give the Kings another long-distance option besides Stojakovic.

TRADES: If the Kings are going to have a major shake-up this summer, it's probably going to happen with a trade, and it likely would involve Webber.

Trading Chris Webber (left) will be tough, but the Kings should at least explore the possibility.
Injuries and scandals have tarnished Webber's reputation in Sacramento. The Kings thrived without him and struggled when he returned. No one is second guessing how effective Webber can be when he's healthy, but lately his health and his passion for the game have been legitimate questions. Are the Kings better off trading him?

The answer may be yes, if they can get a talented, and perhaps younger, player in return. That's easier to write than to accomplish. Webber will make $17 million next season. Few teams are going to offer a young, big post player in return for Webber and his contract.

Still, there may be a few options worth exploring. Making a run at Washington's Kwame Brown could make some sense for the Kings. Brown has struggled in Washington, but there's no doubt he has talent. Perhaps a different town and less pressure to be "The Man" would suit him.

Swapping Brown, Larry Hughes and Christian Laettner for Webber would give the Kings significant cap savings, and could give the Wizards the missing piece to be a contender in the East. Webber's relationship with the club was rocky during his first tenure in Washington, but on a more veteran team, he should be OK.

If the Nuggets are willing to give up Nene Hilario and Nikoloz Tskitishvili for Webber, that also would be another good option for the Kings. However, don't expect Denver GM Kiki Vandeweghe to give up the future for the immediate gains Webber would bring.

Oher options aren't as attractive for Sacramento. Teams such as the Mavericks, Magic and Bulls would love to acquire Webber, but it's doubtful they could offer enough in return to make it worthwhile for the Kings.

COACHING: Rick Adelman has done a great job in Sacramento, and his players seem to be fond of him. There's going to be talk that perhaps the system is stale or the Kings need to try something else, but the truth is Adelman is a big part of the Kings' success. When they're playing the right way, they're one of the best teams in the NBA. Dumping Adelman at this point would be a mistake.

FRONT OFFICE: The Kings have been a model NBA franchise for the last few years. Another painful loss is discouraging, but the team is in pretty good shape. A shake-up may be in order, but not an overhaul. Petrie is going to have to be savvy about how he drafts, who he signs and who he's willing to move.

However, history suggests he's up to the task, and even minor modifications could make a big difference next season. Critics will continue to say the Kings' window of opportunity is closing, but with a young core of Bibby, Stojakovic and Miller, and veterans such as Webber, Christie and Divac still capable of playing important roles, I expect the Kings to keep competing for another three or four more years.


College coaches struggle with NBA demands

By Chad Ford
NBA Insider
Send an Email to Chad Ford Thursday, May 20
Updated: May 20
11:47 AM ET

There was no surprise Wednesday when the Warriors fired head coach Eric Musselman. The writing had been on the wall for months, and the minute the team officially hired Chris Mullin as GM, Musselman knew it was time to pack his bags.

The only real mystery is why it took them so long to pull the trigger. I've been saying for months that firing Musselman was a terrible idea. He got more out of the Warriors than any coach in the last decade. His players didn't always agree with his methods, but it was hard to argue with the results. Musselman never led the Warriors to the playoffs, but Mullin & Co. are fooling themselves if they believe any coach could have reached the postseason with that roster.

Eric Musselman got the most of a thin roster. Will Mike Montgomery be able to do more?
The surprise, though, came when word leaked that Mullin had targeted Stanford coach Mike Montgomery to replace Musselman. You'd think Mullin would've fired Musselman only if he had another, experienced head coach waiting in the wings, a coach he believed could get more out of the team. Instead, it looks as if Mullin is tapping Montgomery, a very experienced college coach with a great reputation in the Bay Area.

The problem? A number of "highly respected" college coaches have fallen flat on their faces when making the jump to the NBA. Rick Pitino, Lon Kruger, Tim Floyd, John Calipari and Leonard Hamilton were just the latest in a long and ugly line of top college coaches unable to make the transition to the pros. What makes Mullin think Montgomery is different?

The way Montgomery turned Stanford into a consistent national power has been amazing. He truly is one of college basketball's finest coaches. But so were Pitino, Kruger, Floyd and Calipari. His hiring will be popular in the Bay Area, but so was Pitino's hiring in Boston.

The NBA game is so different these days. Relating to good players on bad teams in the NBA is an area in which most former college coaches struggle. The losing gets to them. The demands from front offices to develop and play young players at the expense of winning wears on them. They often flame out within two seasons. Given the direction Mullin seems to be leading the Warriors, and the current trend of firing a coach the second things start going poorly, you've got to wonder if Montgomery would last even one season.

Musselman's future
Don't be shocked if Musselman resurfaces soon somewhere in the Eastern Conference. The Atlanta Hawks, New Orleans Hornets and Toronto Raptors are all looking for new coaches, and several other jobs could open up this summer, especially now that someone as respected as Musselman is available.

Look for the first buzz about Musselman to come out of Atlanta. The Hawks already have interviewed John MacLeod and Del Harris, but they likely will talk to Musselman. He was a very popular assistant there and is the type of young head coach who could get the most out of a very young squad in Atlanta next year.