Enough maneuvering, enough waiting, enough speculating. The Kings officially reunite today, first for the annual media day certain to be high on optimism and low on news and for the actual start of camp itself Tuesday. Then: news.
It doesn't figure to be an October of blaring headlines with this Ron Artest-less group. But there will be developments worth charting. There always are, for any team, except that this is the first preseason since the late 1990s of the Kings officially tracking to the future, and so watching the storylines of progress will be uniquely important for this roster and this time.
Adding to the value of the next four weeks leading up to the regular-season opener at Minnesota, most of the biggest mysteries on the court have come about or grown since the Kings last played. Suddenly, it's not such a sleepy camp.
We won't know until the games count for real whether Beno Udrih can handle the pressure and expectations of a big contract, a legitimate question based on his history. Likewise how well power forward Jason Thompson can defend and rebound, the two pressing issues the Kings needed to address in the summer and, based on opponents' opinions of Thompson, may not have answered with their first-round pick.
Good stuff, with thanks that this won't be a simple by-the-numbers month.
In order of importance:
*Where does Francisco Garcia go from here?
The Cisco debate was in play anyway -- big Reggie Theus favorite, a nice player on a bad team approaching the time to prove whether his future is a solid player who will always have a job in the league or a versatile difference maker for a playoff-caliber club.
Then the Artest trade created an opening at small forward and Garcia got an extension worth $29.8 million over five seasons and the point-guard situation evolved, and there you have it. Garcia in the real high beams.
He could race John Salmons to succeed Artest, he could challenge Bobby Jackson and Bobby Brown for minutes as the backup point guard, he could turn the momentum from last season into a breakout 2008-09 as sixth man. Either way, nearly $6 mil a season changes the perspective.
The Kings could have waited, let Garcia use the next 82 games to make his case for the next deal, and negotiated next summer with the comfort of knowing there would be little chance of losing a restricted free agent. But they went pretty big now. The same approach with Peja Stojakovic earlier in Peja's career worked out very well. That's the plan again.
*Did Kevin Martin get better still on offense?
Martin went into the summer saying he wanted to add a post game, based on his own desire and input from the Kings. It was logical at the time: give defenders who already have to worry about his outside shot and aggressive moves to the basket something else to worry about, take advantages of mismatches that may come with a big lineup of Garcia at the point in a big backcourt.
It's become more like mandatory. The Kings' weak post game has been reduced to nothing with the Artest trade and the Shareef Abdur-Rahim retirement. Opponents will love seeing a one-dimensional, perimeter-only offense and, of particular interest to Martin, be in easy position to send extra men to crowd him.
*What is Jackson's role?
Exhibition games won't give the entire answer, of course. But how much he plays early will tell a lot about whether Jackson will contribute or simply occupy a roster spot as a player acquired for his desirable contract. It's not like Theus will need to keep him fresh for the playoffs or anything.
It will be more telling as symbolism. Jackson is a veteran with no future here. If he plays over the prospects, the decision will come up often when speaking of former coach Reggie Theus.
Those are three subplots to be tracked in camp. There are others (Shelden Williams and his conditioning, Spencer Hawes and his readiness to start the first five games in place of the suspended Brad Miller), but none with the big-picture impact. Now bring on the answers.