With the Kings only hours away from their season opener against the Minnesota Timberwolves, a few thoughts:
* These Kings desperately need a renewed commitment to defense, which is what inspired a competitive, impressive start a year ago. The ability to score off the defense will determine whether the Kings are lottery-bound by midseason or capable of a surprise run at a playoff berth.
* The Clippers, Warriors and Kings should form a three-team scrum in the Pacific Division behind the Lakers and Suns. If Spencer Hawes and Kevin Martin consistently stretch for rebounds, I wouldn't be surprised if the Kings finish ahead of the Clips and Warriors. That says nothing about playoffs, however. Can't even talk about that until we see a semblance of a disruptive defense.
* Who will Kevin Martin be? Is he an elite scorer, a la Peja Stojakovic, or capable of becoming a more versatile contributor? During a conversation with Houston's Tracy McGrady the other night, T-Mac praised Martin for his offensive abilities, but left it at that. He noted that the league has plenty of prolific scorers, but not an overabundance of all-around performers. Can't disagree. I think the slinky, athletic Martin is capable of collecting 4-5 rebounds per game, and though not a particularly gifted passer, is more than athletic and capable enough of getting into the passing lanes and coming out with a decent number of steals.
* I want to see more of Jason Thompson. The rookie power forward is an instinctive passer, and I like the way he pursues the ball. The frontcourt combination of Hawes and Thompson offers something to build on, and assuming Beno Udrih emerges as a capable, consistent point guard, Geoff Petrie's next great challenge is to find the complementary small forward. Is it Donte Greene? Much too soon to tell. But based on Greene's struggles during preseason, he would benefit from a season under Jay Humphries in the NBA Development League. Reno isn't that far away ...
* Brad Miller must be miserable. He is in terrific shape, perhaps the best of his career, and he has to sit out the first five games after being suspended for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Dumb. Really dumb. At least he didn't sit around sulking and gaining weight. He really does look good, and I suspect he will have a very productive season.
* How John Salmons is the Kings' best perimeter defender, and I'm wondering when he is going to understand this and stop fixating on offense. The way he brooded after becoming Ron Artest's backup last season was ridiculous. The way he dominates the ball and disrupts the offense is absurd. Salmons is a much better player than that. We watched him record triple-doubles two seasons ago. He CAN pass. But it's up to Theus - and to a lesser extent Udrih - to establish his role and demand that he move the ball.
* Martin should be afforded a minimum of 15 shots per game. If the offense is flowing, that number should be closer to 20. And it should be openly acknowledged that the veteran shooting guard is the Kings' go-to player.
Why hang around?
I am looking forward to talking to Don Nelson before Wednesday night's Warriors-Hornets game in Oakland, mostly to ask Nellie why he would want to prolong his coaching agony with a team that has no chance of winning his elusive NBA title. (He has five as a player with the Boston Celtics). But, duh. Where have I been? Apart from the fact that everyone is seeking job security during this economic downturn, Nellie needs only 53 victories to surpass Lenny Wilkens' as the league's winningest coach.
Yes, that matters. There is no shortage of ego in the NBA. Nellie will need two seasons to pass Wilkens, hence, his desire for the two-year extension, the Chris Mullin-Robert Rowell standoff notwithstanding. Well, why not? Wilkens and Nelson are among the league's aging coaching giants, and they deserve the chance to be recognized.
He will be missed
It's disappointing to no longer have Del Campo's Matt Barnes with the Warriors, but after his traumatic 2007-08, he obviously needed a change. He never seemed to emotionally recover from the loss of his mother, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer before the season started, and had completely lost his edge by the end of the year. During one of my visits to Oakland in April, I was shocked at the 6-foot-7 swingman's appearance. He had lost much of his upper body definition, and barely resembled the lean, athletic journeyman who enjoyed such a marvelous 2007-08. I will be curious to catch up with him when the Phoenix Suns visit.
The microfracture curse?
Greg Oden leaves with a sprained right foot a mere 13 minutes into his NBA regular-season debut Tuesday night, and what are we all thinking? The dreaded mIrcrofracture surgery. I completely agree with Geoff Petrie about this. Lighter is better. Players who undergo the controversial procedure that is designed to develop a protective buffer between the joints - much as cartilage functions - seem to fare better with slimmer frames, rather than heavier and more muscular physiques. I know the Blazers urged Oden to lose weight after his rehab, but he still looks too heavy to me. That's one reason I like what the Kings are doing with Spencer Hawes. They are urging him to become more flexible and stronger in his core, not simply asking him to add upper body muscle mass. Less stress on the knee is better.