Now that Vlade Divac and Chris Webber's jerseys have been retired, the nostalgia has got to go. It really does.
No offense to the Kings fanbase that had such a blast during those most glorious of years, but those very memories - as I see it - too often keep the faithful from accepting the reality of the organization in its present state and embracing the process of becoming competitive again. Yes, as I remind our readers in today's piece, it's ugly. But it's still pretty fun, because it's sports and because the road to recovery will certainly be full of intriguing twists and turns and no shortage of drama. Not saying that's a winning pitch to renew season tickets tomorrow, but it's worth watching from a distance at the very least.
All that being said, I love nostalgia just like the rest. In small doses, it's a welcome distraction to the situation at hand. As such - and because the Kings will miss the postseason for the third consecutive season - we present a playoff preview as it pertains only to former Kings. But first, two quick Kings-ish sidenotes: 1) almost-Kings-head-coach Scott Brooks officially won the Oklahoma City job today and 2) Quincy Douby won the job that Will Solomon could not, as the third-year guard out of Rutgers picked 19th by the Kings in 2006 was signed by Toronto through next season on a partially guaranteed contract.
Now on to the postseason and how former Kings will play a part...
1) Chicago Bullish on Salmons and Miller
(Chicago at Boston, Game 1 Saturday at 9:30 a.m. Pacific, ESPN)
After winning 12 of their final 16 games, the Bulls will take on the reigning champion Boston Celtics.
The February trade that sent John Salmons and Brad Miller to Chicago for Andres Nocioni, Cedric Simmons, Michael Ruffin and Drew Gooden has clearly worked out for the Bulls, who are 16-11 since the new additions first took part. Salmons has produced as a starter and played big minutes, including a 13-game stretch in which he averaged 23.1 points (although he's cooled lately and is 9 of 36 shooting in his last four games).
Miller is coming off the bench and doing it well, with his best basketball coming in March (13.3 points per game on 51.1 percent shooting and 7.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists) and his lesser play coming this month (10 points per game on 40.4 percent shooting, seven rebounds and three assists).
You have Mikki Moore here as well, as the former Kings forward who was waived in February and has seen substantial time as a reserve (averaging 19 minutes in 24 games) since signing with the Celts. He has scored when needed in mop-up style and even managed three double-digit rebounding games, a feat he accomplished just once all season while with the Kings.
There's also former Kings guard Eddie House, the three-point assassin who is so deadly off Boston's bench. And on a regional note, don't forget about DeMarcus Nelson, the Sheldon High School product (Sacramento) whose wacky rookie season has taken him from the starting lineup in Golden State to the D-League and now to a roster spot with the Bulls
Prediction: Bulls in six (Boston routed Chicago by 16 and 18 points with Kevin Garnett, but news that he's likely out for the playoffs means this could be upset territory. The Bulls downed the Celtics 127-121 on March 17 in their lone meeting in which Garnett didn't play, with Salmons scoring a career-high tying 38 points).
2) Can Bibby-licious sweeten the stakes?
(Atlanta vs. Miami in Game 1, Sunday at 5 p.m. Pacific, TNT)
Last postseason, former Kings point guard Mike Bibby was the one trying to bully the bullies. While Bibby's numbers were subpar in Atlanta's wildly entertaining seven-game first-round loss to Boston back then, his experience and veteran guile played a big part in the almost-inexplicable confidence his team possessed.
Exhibit A: After the Hawks were blown out by 23 in Game 1 at the Garden, Bibby got sly and implored the local reporters to ask him about Boston's fans after the next day's practice. They did, and he proceeded to dub them "bandwagon jumpers" and yank the green spotlight (and venom) in his direction. According to one in-house Hawks person I spoke to, Bibby was looking to penetrate through the Celtics' mystique with his PR stunt while also keeping the attention away from his younger teammates who weren't quite so used to the big stage. And while the Hawks couldn't finish the upset, that series certainly became a success story for the then-fledgling organization and has led to another strong season.
Atlanta's 47-35 record was good enough for the fourth seed in the East, meaning the Hawks will host Miami in Game 1 of their series that begins Sunday at 5 p.m. Pacific (TNT). Bibby has played well, averaging 14.9 points this season. His 43.5 percent shooting overall was his best since the 2004-05 campaign (44.3). His .390 three-point percentage was his best since his .392 in the 2003-04 season. He also averaged five assists per game and a career-low 1.6 turnovers.
Lest we forget, former Kings guard Maurice Evans is a a contributing member of the Hawks' starting unit as well.
Prediction: Heat in seven (Atlanta won three of four meetings this season, but the D-Wade believer in me says he finds a way to pull off the mini-upset and add to his magical season).
3) Ron-Ron's Rockets blasting off
(Houston at Portland, Game 1 Saturday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN)
The Rockets were kind enough to lose their season finale to Dallas and thus improve their draft pick for this June, which belongs to the Kings and is officially No. 23. And if former Kings small forward Ron Artest plays in the postseason like he did against the Mavs (4 of 13 shooting, 0 of 5 from three-point range with three turnovers), then it will be a quick exit for Houston in its first-round series against Portland .
Nonetheless, Artest deserves a ton of credit for the way he played after Tracy McGrady's season ended on Feb. 9 (microfracture knee surgery). Houston was 22-8 without T-Mac, with Artest producing all the while and platooning with Shane Battier to make up the league's toughest duo of defenders.
Prediction: Rockets in seven (Artest terrorizes the Blazers' inexperienced talents on both ends and turns the Game 7 Portland scene into R.I.P. City in the series finale)
4) Can Hedo make the Magic trick work?
(Orlando at Philadelphia, Game 1 Sunday, 2:30 p.m., TNT)
The Magic is limping into the playoffs, with former Kings small forward Hedo Turkoglu (left ankle injury) and Rashard Lewis (right knee tendinitis) banged up and Orlando having lost five of its last nine games to end the season.
It has made for a disappointing finish to an already-down season for Turkoglu, after he won the league's Most Improved Player award last season.
Prediction: Orlando in six (Dwight Howard's Superman act won't fly when it comes to facing the Eastern Conference elite, but he won't let the Magic bow out in the first go-round).
5) Can Peja get "back" to being his old self against Denver?
(New Orleans at Denver, Game 1 Sunday at 7:30 p.m., TNT)
Former Kings small forward Peja Stojakovic continues to see his career minimized by back problems, and this season is no different. Stojakovic played in just 61 games in all, missing 15 straight games due to back spasms before returning April 3.
Both he and the Hornets have been inconsistent since then, as New Orleans lost 11 of its last 21 games of the season and will face a Nuggets team that has suffered through five straight first-round bowouts and has home-court advantage for the first time since 1988.
Prediction: Denver in six (Hard as it is to admit considering I picked the Hornets to hold the Larry O'Brien trophy back in October, they aren't healthy enough or cohesive enough to contend like they did last season).
Hopefully I didn't miss any former Kings in there, although it's entirely possible. The last one who came to mind was Ronnie Price, the former Kings point guard who isn't seeing much time for Utah and likely won't as they take on the Lakers in the first round..
BLOG UPDATE (12:21 P.M.) - Thanks to Chris Malone of Davis for adding to the list. I wrapped up around 2 am-ish and was entirely comfortable with the idea that the list might not be complete. Sure enough, it wasn't.
"I suppose Anthony Johnson on Orlando might deserve a mention," Malone writes. "Technically, there is also Jerome James on the Bulls and Lorenzen Wright on the Cavs (who will blow by Detroit in the first round), but that really is splitting hairs since neither of them is likely to see a single minute of playing time." - Sam Amick