Election Day holds key to future of Sacramento | TheUnion.com

Election Day holds key to future of Sacramento

After just one game, more questions than answers arose about this year’s version of the Sacramento Kings, a team with a new look from top to bottom and – dare we say it – a franchise that could also be looking for some new digs after Tuesday’s election.

According to Ian Thomsen, a columnist at Sports Illustrated (www.si.com), the Maloof family doesn’t expect to win the vote on raising a quarter-cent sales tax in Sacramento County in order to fund a $600 million replacement for Arco Arena.

That sound you just heard was a collective groan from the “NBA’s Loudest Fans.”

And, Thomsen writes, five cities are poised to get on bended knee and promise Joe and Gavin the world if only they’d bring the Kings to town. Anaheim, Las Vegas, San Jose, Kansas City and Seattle (if the Sonics head to Oklahoma City) will be watching Tuesday night’s returns with a closer eye than Phil Angelides.

At least there’s a possibility that one of them could actually emerge a winner.

So if the voters do thumb their noses at the Bordeaux-drinking and Carl’s Jr.-eating brothers, and the franchise bidding war does begin (My guess: Vegas, baby, Vegas), the days to call the Kings your own are numbered.

But who are these Kings anyway?

They’re certainly not your older brother’s Kings, the ones that just a few years back looked ready to take over the league. But before Sacramento could finally break though to the NBA Finals, the window of opportunity was slammed shut by an aging roster, by ego-driven infighting and by Chris Webber’s salary-cap choking contract.

So off they went.

C-Webb to Philly, Vlade to L.A., Bobby to Memphis, Christie to Orlando and Peja to Indiana.

Sure Mike Bibby and Brad Miller Ð proven players – are still on the floor, but whether the rest of Sacramento’s roster can help the Kings contend again remains to be seen.

Don’t get me wrong, the talent is there.

It might sound ridiculous to some, seeing as though he only averaged 16.9 points and and 5.2 rebounds per game last year, but Ron Artest has the potential to be one of the most dominating players in the league today.

But he’s the Nuke Laloosh of the NBA: a million-dollar game, but 10-cent head.

I know, I know … “Ron Ron” has been the model citizen since landing in Sac. And perhaps he has matured a bit since his stay in Indy. But the bottom line is the guy has not played up to his talent level since slipping into that Kings jersey.

Artest’s ’05-06 averages weren’t abysmal, but they were telling.

At 6-feet, 7 inches and 260 pounds, the guy is a nightmare for opponents, able to face up and drain the jumper, drive to the bucket or dish off to a teammate cutting to the bucket.

But his powerful physique has always made Artest most effective when he’s on the block in the paint, fighting for position Ð without the ball in his hands.

Last year he hit just 38.3 percent of his shots. In Wednesday’s opene he managed to convert just six of 24 attempts. Hopefully, for the sake of Sacramento fans, first-year coach Eric Musselman will be able to pry the rock from Artest’s clutch and get it in the hands of those capable of setting him up for a better look.

Bibby has to become “the man” with the ball, and not only when he’s looking to score. The Kings have too much untapped talent to not spread the ball around more.

Kevin Martin has shown a sharp eye from the field, hitting nine of 15 in the opener and connecting at a 48 percent clip last season.

And what has happened to Shareef Abdur-Rahim? Despite the fact that Kenny Thomas is getting the start, the Kings would do well to look to Abdur-Rahim more often. This is a guy who averaged more than 20 points per through his first eight years in the league.

In Sacramento, he’s scored around 12 points per outing. That decrease, though, is not due to him not hitting his shots. He’s just not getting many looks. On Wednesday, he was 4-for-7 shooting and he made 52.5 and 57.1 percent of his shots in his two seasons in Sacto.

Imagine what Artest would average with such a shooting percentage – actually, he averaged a career-best 24.6 points while shooting 49.6 percent for the Pacers in 2004-05.

Of course, though, that was just seven games into the season, before he helped set off perhaps the ugliest moment in NBA history – or, at the very least, a close second to Kermit Young’s bone-crushing haymaker to the face of Rudy Tomjanovich.

Once all the spilled beer had been wiped up from the Motor City melee, Artest was suspended for the rest of the season. But, of course, even when he came back to the team the following year, he was constant distraction for Indiana – even after the legendary Larry Bird welcomed him back with open arms and posed for the cover of Sports Illustrated alongside the ticking time bomb.

Kings fans can only hope it doesn’t happen here.

But even if Artest is able to stay out of his own way, one still has to wonder where these Kings are headed?

In the short term, Artest and Bibby will likely have the most to say about that.

In the long term, Sacramento County voters will determine that on Tuesday night.


Brian Hamilton is sports editor at The Union. His column is published Saturday. He may be reached via e-mail at brianh@theunion.com or by phone at 477-4240.

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