EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - On paper, nothing changed. I ventured off to Baltimore for a day to report on a Donte' Greene feature while Melody Gutierrez headed off to Detroit and Indiana, and the Kings lost both games. I returned for last night's New Jersey game, and they fell yet again to make this the worst start ever for a Sacramento Kings team through 35 games (8-27).
But this was different. Losing with Kevin Martin - and with Martin playing at such a high level - has quickly created more friction around this team than I've seen in quite some time. There are no excuses anymore for these players, no hope that maybe things will change when Martin comes back and the roster is at full strength (yes, I realize Spencer Hawes has been out, but almost every team always has at least one player out and Hawes is not Martin).
The vicious vibe could be felt in the locker room, where John Salmons shared his frustrations and it surely didn't stop there.
In one corner, there was a justifiably content Kenny Thomas. The veteran/resident forgotten man played for the third time since Jan. 2, 2008 and played well in his 24 minutes. Not far away, there was a less-than-satisfied Mikki Moore.
Moore - who scored four early points and took a charge but played just 13 minutes by the end - couldn't get on the team plane quickly enough. When reporters - myself included - asked Moore to discuss the game, he offered a "no comment" and a shaking head. The former Nets forward then referenced his reunion game here last season, when the Kings won but he - and not Salmons - was the one venting about the coaches. While I had initially reported that Moore was fined $5,000 by former coach Reggie Theus, it turns out it was quite a bit more.
"Last time I talked after a game here, I lost $20,000," he said.
Moore was fed up even before the game, when he was talking with the Newark Star-Ledger's Dave D'Allesandro and had this to say about the losing this season:
"It's hard, especially when you're not being used like you want to be used. I have to play my role, and whatever they ask I'll do, because I have to earn my check. But everybody's frustrated right now."
This time around, though, Moore hit the mute button before going too far. As for Salmons, we'll see if he winds up cutting a check for being so candid.
If you can blow away the scouts, then you're really doing something. And by those standards, Martin really did something in his incredible first half.
When Martin hit a three from the left wing that made him 5 for 5 and cut the Nets' lead to 29-28, a scout near my seat said, "He's the most unassuming 20-point scorer I've seen in the history of the game."
Vinsanity was impressed, too, even if the Nets had stuck Keyon Dooling on Martin and double- and triple-teamed him into 3-of-12 shooting in the second half.
"He was just lights out," Nets guard Vince Carter said afterward. "He's a tremendous player. He's a very unique player. He has a game that you don't see often.
"It was important for us to make it tough on him in the second half, to just make him give up the ball and if we were going to lose the game then we'd lose it (because) of somebody else. He was still trying to get to the basket and make plays. He's definitely playing at a high level right now."
And there was this from New Jersey coach Lawrence Frank before the game:
"Kevin's rise started a couple years ago. He's one of the elite players at his position. He's so good off the ball. There's Kevin and (Detroit's) Rip Hamilton are the two best guards off the ball. Whether playing off Brad Miller, scissors action or wide pindowns, he's great. Plus he's a double-digit free-throw taker. Pump-fakes, very unorthodox. If you haven't played him often, he can throw you off. He's a fun player to watch."
And all this from a reserve. Look for that to change against Chicago on Tuesday night. As if there needed to be evidence to make that move, the latest game provided even more. The Kings were 2 of 12 from the field and fell behind 9-4 before Martin entered for the first time with 6:16 left in the first quarter. From the sound of it, though, the decision to have Martin come off the bench has had more to do with the player than the coach.
Martin had said he preferred it for a few games and then wanted to keep it that way when Francisco Garcia had a decent game at Indiana on Saturday. In the process, he just set a record for points scored off the bench in consecutive games in the modern history of the NBA. Admittedly, that's a stat I didn't have until seeing it on "SportsCenter" a moment ago. So if it's wrong, it's on them.
Speaking of ESPN, Chris Sheridan was on hand and hell-bent on finding out if Thomas' playing time was - as his story's headline would later indicate - a showcase special.
I poked around and was told that wasn't the case, which doesn't mean Geoff Petrie didn't enjoy the leverage gained in potential Thomas dealings because the veteran showed he can still play. To which Thomas would surely roll eyes, as he has said all along that being the forgotten man didn't mean he'd forgotten how to play.
But Thomas said he was given a heads up from Natt before the game that he should be ready to hit the floor, and he was certainly ready. His four steals all came in the second quarter, and they were one off his career high. He was an agitator in the paint and the rare King to hold onto his rebounds (they were outboarded 53 to 38).
As we spoke with Natt afterward, Sheridan quipped that his "showcasing radar" had gone off. Natt gave a good laugh before saying - among other things - that he considers Thomas his "best post defender." What is obvious is that Natt will play the most motivated players and even use guys like Thomas to remind the others that no one's playing time is safe right now (Exhibit A: Beno Udrih, whose 12-minute and no-fourth-quarter outing at Indiana on Saturday was followed by a 21-minutes-with-three-minutes-in-the-fourth-quarter outing at New Jersey).
"Kenny's hungry," Natt said. "He came in, and he gave us a lift. That's his role that he plays. It's not about him scoring. It's about him defending and rebounding."
Was it a showcase, Sheridan asked?
"Was it?" he repeated. "Well he hadn't been around for a while (due to a left calf strain). He'd been injured. There's one thing that Kenny has always been able to do in this league, and that's defend. He's our best post defender. He can defend inside, with his hands and with his feet. And when he has his head right, he can be one of the better rebounders. Those are the two things we really need right now. ... No, that wasn't a showcase. Kenny was available and ready to play. ... I knew all along that Kenny was capable of playing. ... We'll see where it goes from here."
For the record, Sheridan floats the idea of a Stephon Marbury deal that has been floated both on this blog and - more importantly - within the front-office halls of Kingsland.
THOMPSON SHINES ON HOME TURF
With the Kings in the midst of back-to-back back-to-backs (Detroit and Indiana followed by New Jersey and Chicago) Jason Thompson came close to having quite a back-to-back of his own.
He had his jersey retired at Rider University (Lawrenceville, N.J.) on Sunday night, then scored 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting (with six rebounds) in 26 minutes while playing in his home state for the first time as a pro. Thompson - who grew up in Mt. Laurel, N.J. - couldn't do enough on his own to pull out the win, but he was able to inspire victory from his old teammates.
Rider downed Marist 76-65 in a Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference on that night. Thompson, who was the first Rider player to go pro, said he was able to stretch his communication major wings while giving an unexpected speech to the crowd of 1,650.
"They didn't prepare me, and I didn't have a speech prepared or (anything) like that," said Thompson, who graduated with his degree. "But I'm a communications major, so it didn't really bother me at all. I tried to pull something out of my sleeve and make it sound good.
"It was great. It's something I wouldn't have imagined coming in there as a freshman, being the guy who was trying to fit in with the team. All the work I put in, the ups and downs. When they said they were looking at (retiring the number) this year, I was honored, obviously. It's a great feeling."
THE OTHER OWNERSHIP
For the record, Kings co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof don't own the entire team. Thus, minority owners like John Kehriotis. The developer has been on this road trip, and I had written the below item about his getaway that had to be cut out for space reasons in the paper. Consider this the purge-the-notebook section of the blog ...
(As it would've been seen in the paper)
* John Kehriotis took two shots on the Izod Center floor Monday.
With Kings players well into their warm-ups before facing the Nets, the Kings minority owner buried one jumper and came up short on another before returning to his courtside seat. As Kehriotis knows, the odds of the Kings getting a new arena in Sacramento may not be much better than that. But if they do, his fingerprints will be all over the new facility.
The developer has spent this road trip doing his homework about a new potential home, taking notes at Detroit's Palace of Auburn Hills, Indiana's Conseco Fieldhouse and New Jersey's Izod Center while eagerly anticipating today's trip to Chicago's United Center. Kehriotis, who said he owns "an eighth" of the team, said the facility of his dreams would be "a combination of Chicago and Indiana."
"The big thing I'm looking at is the design stuff, from signage to speaker sound systems to the way the trucks come in and how much square footage we'd need," Kehriotis said. "Chicago is neat because they have a great relationship with their club seating. Many of the designs we will do in a new arena will be associated with that style."
Kehriotis' running mate on the trip was his son, Alex, a 24-year-old who owns one percent of the Kings and was celebrating his birthday Monday. This isn't a new endeavor for Kehriotis, who said he traveled to six road games for the same purpose last season. During the offseason, he approached Kings co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof with ideas that could be incorporated into Arco Arena and had many of them implemented.
"I went to las Vegas (to meet with the Maloofs)," he said. "It's funny because no one has ever sat with Joe and Gavin for four hours. They have attention deficit (disorder) (laughs), so one hour and that's it. But I got them for four hours. They immediately had a meeting with (Kings president) John Thomas, and implemented a lot of the stuff I came up with. ... I'm a developer, so Joe and Gavin respect my views."
Kehriotis said he's not aware of any developments in the push for a new Kings arena.
"(The NBA and league consultant John Moag) are having ongoing meetings (with Cal Expo officials) and keeping it hush hush until they're ready to present something to us," he said. "I know by March they're supposed to get back to us, but they could get back to us next week." - Sam Amick