Not to be lost in the revolving door of Kings coming and Kings going is the news that Tracy McGrady is done for the season in Houston and that Amare Stoudemire may be done in Phoenix, faraway developments that reverberate in Sacramento.
The Kings have the Rockets' first-round pick unless Houston is in the lottery. Rick Adelman's club was already close enough, then lost McGrady to knee surgery, complete with the indignity of T-Mac telling the media before he told the team. The Rockets, having stuck up for him for years through public-relations beatings of nonstop first-round playoff losses, were understandably bothered by his communication skills.
Whether they're worse off for the absence remains to be seen. More than one non-Houston executive has suggested in stinging assessments that these Rockets might be better, minus the loss of 15.6 points a game or not. (Also the loss of 38.8 percent shooting).
The early going without McGrady: 4-1, a loss to the Bucks followed by victories over the Nets, Mavericks and Bobcats, with only Dallas managing to get within 11 points.
Either way, they Rockets are 35-21 and No. 5 in the Western Conference, 3.5 games ahead of No. 9 Phoenix and the lottery. Of course, the Rockets are also three games out of No. 2, so this could go any number of directions, but it will be interesting and it will be watched from Northern California.
If the Rockets make the playoffs, the Kings get the pick. If the Rockets miss, Houston keeps the selection and the Kings get paid off in 2010 for the Ron Artest trade. That wouldn't be the worst development for Sacramento, given the trajectory of the '09 draft as weak and greatly lacking the star power of the previous two years. It would, however, be a setback to the rebuilding.
The important stretch for the Rockets was Jan. 28-Feb. 22, the 10 games against 10 opponents with a combined .393 winning percentage and only one team better than .500, the Mavericks. Houston went 7-3 and climbed from the ninth-best record in the league by percentage to eighth-best. The Kings lost one place in the draft order.
The Western Conference standings of the moment:
1. Lakers -- 46-10.
2. Spurs -- 37-17, eight games behind.
3. Nuggets -- 37-20, 9.5 GB.
4. Trail Blazers -- 35-20, 10.5 GB.
5. Rockets -- 35-21, 11 GB.
6. Hornets -- 33-22, 12.5 GB.
6. Mavericks -- 33-22, 12.5 GB.
8. Jazz -- 34-23, 12.5 GB.
9. Suns -- 31-24, 14.5 GB.
A nine-team race for eight spots, with none of the stragglers capable of catching that lead pack and the Lakers threatening to turn the chase for No. 1 into a foregone conclusion for the final month. That could soon make it eight going for seven spots with ever-changing circumstances and the Kings along for the ride.
McGrady is out. The Suns lost Amare Stoudemire to an eye injury, probably for the rest of the regular season, and, unlike the debatable impact of McGrady's absence, going it without Stoudemire is a definite setback. The Jazz got Carlos Boozer back Monday after 44 games on the sideline because of a knee injury, a potential huge boost for Utah that could create another ripple.
Big happenings all over. Sacramento's got a race to track, after all.