Spencer Hawes is getting roasted. Being served up by fans after one exhibition game merely makes him the latest target of unhappy customers frustrated by a losing club and getting the Marty Mac Treatment is simply the life of a lottery pick facing expectations, except that being called out by teammates and coaches nine days into camp is an actual bad sign.
If that's the feedback being offered for public consumption, you can imagine what's being said behind the walls. Rule of thumb: Take whatever is said to the media, on good topics or bad, and multiply it to get a gauge of the actual mood in the locker room. So if Reggie Theus is saying "Spencer's got to find himself now" and Beno Udrih and Mikki Moore are essentially saying Hawes is flailing away and Sam Amick notes that Udrih is "exasperated" by the topic and that Theus is having to measure his words, this is a pretty bothered group.
Again: one exhibition game, nine days.
This is a long-term project, though, and always has been. Nothing has changed. The Kings were very realistic in their expectations of Hawes last season as a rookie -- he would not have much impact in what would have been his sophomore year in college, and that assessment was right on. No one ever oversold him.
That's still the case. Hawes is 20. He averaged 13.1 minutes a game and didn't break 20 twice in a row until March. You'd like to think he would not get overwhelmed by Greg Oden on Tuesday, what with Oden in his debut after missing all 2007-08 with a knee injury, but Oden is supposed to be that much better than Hawes.
Oden will be tearing through opponents the next 10 years. Hawes is striving to be Vlade Divac.
That's the realistic comparison: Hawes to Divac. Vlade was historically good passing the ball for a big man, and Hawes can easily be one of the best of his generation. Divac was not a great rebounder (averaged nine or more boards four times in 16 seasons), but had a long run as one of the better centers. Not someone who was going to make Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson or Shaquille O'Neal shiver in fear, but good.
If the Kings have a dependable starter for eight or 10 years at one of the hardest positions to fill, without being considered a star, the investment of the No. 10 pick in 2007 will have been worth it. If not, criticize away. Just don't think Hawes will ever be the muscle man who is feared as a rebounder or shot blocker. That never has been him.
He's a passer in the way that makes teams better, a shooter with a mid-range game, a crafty scorer inside who can get his shot with either hand, and a young player who already has a very good feel for the game. He's also a dedicated worker who will put in the time to get better, to actually be as good as he already thinks he is.
Prospects need time, prospects with one season in college and one abbreviated season in the pros need more time, green prospects who are big men need even more time, and Hawes is a 20-year-old 7-footer with a skill set on offense. This is the way of the NBA.
Andrew Bynum, 18 years old when he made his debut, was nowhere with the Lakers for two seasons. Kobe Bryant was trying to stuff him in a box to ship Bynum to the Nets for Jason Kidd. Then last season, in his third season, Bynum exploded, was on track to become the Most Improved Player until downed by a knee injury, and L.A. has the potential of a decade of an inside force.
Tyson Chandler, 19 when he broke in, was close to nowhere with the Bulls for three seasons. Then he averaged 9.7 and 9.0 rebounds. Then Chicago traded him to the Hornets to clear cap space to sign Ben Wallace. (Must be a misprint. No way the Bulls really sacrificed Tyson Chandler to get Ben Wallace.) Even without an offensive game, Chandler is now an upper-echelon center for New Orleans at the elderly state of 26.
The Kings know all this. They're still on the realistic timetable.
They probably don't mind him feeling fire at his feet, though. Hawes loves to counter-punch with anyone who dares to challenge him and looks for chances to incite debate, and so maybe the recent days of feedback over initially refusing to take the conditioning test followed by the Oden mismatch followed by the comments is exactly the conversational combat he needs.