The reason for Brad Miller's five-game suspension will undoubtedly drift into a forever mystery. That's the secrecy of the anti-drug policy. The team is not informed what caused the discipline, the few people who do know have historically kept the silence like no other silence is kept in this loose-lips league, and Miller can disclose or not disclose without worry of the truth coming out. He can claim the discipline is for something as low grade as missing a required drug test and have great confidence that no one in position to know the truth will publicly confirm or call him a liar.
Then there are the certainties.
Miller is on the books for $10,743,056 next season, after losing $631,944 because of the suspension, to keep himself ready to play center for the Kings. And, Spencer Hawes is the only one who can come out of this looking good.
That's it. Not Miller and not an organization that takes another hit for the latest in what has become a pattern of missteps rather than a rare bad moment. Hawes.
He just became the starting center for the showcase of opening night and the four games that follow, plus whatever additional time coach Reggie Theus may give Miller to get in game condition. By then, it will have been about two weeks of practices only for Miller and there is a difference between game shape and practice shape.
Barring a giant closing of the gap that has been developing in the shroud of the offseason, Miller is still much better. There is no genuine race for the starting job.
But there is a big opportunity for Hawes. Obviously, five (or so) games will not dictate the outcome of an entire season. Just try minimizing the number of Kings eyes that will be scrutinizing that opening block of games, though, to assess the development of the first-round pick from the year before and projected permanent successor to Miller.
The important consideration of the moment, heading into summer league, is that the same execs and coaches have been realistic all along with the Hawes expectations. They downplayed any rookie impact, got the best progress report they had a right to expect for a 2007-08 hampered by injury, inexperience and 19 year old trying to physically stand up to older men, and continued to build toward an actual arrival sometime in his second season.
The other key points in the growth chart suddenly made timely by Miller's suspension:
*The knee injury from training camp became a bigger problem than originally anticipated or realized. Comparing the way Hawes moved during summer league '07 to the first half and maybe even three-quarters of the rookie season, there was a difference. He said full mobility did not come until just after the All-Star break.
*There was some progress on becoming better defensively. Not great progress, but some. That's the important aspect to track. The skill set on offense is obvious.
*His personality remains a defining characteristic. Great guy -- fun, smart, carries himself well. But cocky. One of the jokes within the locker room was that Hawes is already a star and knows everything, and if you don't believe it, just ask him. It's not a problem as long as he keeps it in check, though. If anything, it's a positive 'tude that translates into a fire the Kings love. He is dedicated, harder on himself than anyone and works with a chip on his shoulder. That internal drive bodes very well for a player reaching his potential.
Bottom line, the Kings are in this for the long haul with Hawes. He'll get more than 13.1 minutes a game, but they are prepared to ride out the inevitable setbacks and build toward something real in 2009-10, when Miller will be an expiring contract and much easier to deal, or 2010-11, when Miller could be elsewhere as a free agent. Maybe he gets traded this season, maybe he's still here in three at a reduced price tag, but the move to a lineup change is building and could turn into a pressing decision if Miller falters and Hawes continues to move forward.