Kings Luck is timing: All was well until Williams got stress fracture

October 19, 1993|By R. E. Graswich | R. E. Graswich,McClatchy News Service

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- In our continuing effort to honor and respect the Sacramento Kings, to leap on the Bobby Hurley bandwagon and take a kinder, gentler approach to an NBA team that never wins 30 games, we request a brief timeout.

Excuse me, but wasn't anyone worried that things were a little too quiet at training camp? Didn't anyone think the Kings were overdue for bad news?

Right on schedule, here comes Walt Williams, out four or five weeks with a stress fracture in his lower left leg. Chalk it up to Kings Luck.

Those of us who have followed Sacramento's franchise for the last nine years understand the phenomenon all too well. Kings Luck strikes when fortune seems poised to give the Kings a break.

It works like this: Just when the Kings are making progress -- not fighting among themselves, staying healthy and holding their own against playoff teams -- Kings Luck pounds on the door.

Maybe Wayman Tisdale tears a muscle in his foot. Maybe Kenny Smith breaks his hand. Last season, Kings Luck washed ashore when Mitch Richmond was named to the All-Star team. He broke his thumb.

This fall, the Kings avoided calamity. Nothing bad happened. Then came the doctor's report on Williams. Kings Luck was back.

You never know when Kings Luck will strike. But you can guess. This season, the players reported in good shape. They survived eight days of camp without serious injury.

There were no player rebellions, no ominous stirrings from the owner's suite. Jim Thomas barely showed his face, creating the illusion that he actually plans to let coach Garry St. Jean and general manager Jerry Reynolds make some decisions.

It was too good to believe. Still, the news that Williams must spend the next month on the shelf should be considered a relief. Anyone who understands Kings Luck knows it could have been worse.

Now that the Kings have suffered their first injury, an educated guess suggests the next batch of bad news will arrive from a different direction. The Kings are sitting on a time bomb and don't seem to realize it. We're talking about the schedule.

If the 1993-94 schedule doesn't exhaust the squad, the Kings will have been blessed. Simply, the schedule is miserable.

It begins today, with a nine-day transcontinental trip. St. Jean tried to put a happy face on the journey. He dished up optimistic gibberish about how the preseason test will provide time for male bonding. Alas, the only thing the trip will do is wear down the team.

Then life really gets tough. Once the regular season begins Nov. 5, the Kings must make three Eastern swings in seven weeks. They will play 14 of their first 27 games on the road.

If they survive the brutal opening weeks, the next four months will be a breeze. But if their record stands at 6-21 on Dec. 31 -- don't laugh, it could happen -- St. Jean and Reynolds may not be around to celebrate the arrival of 1994.

The NBA doesn't talk much about its scheduling procedures. The league would like fans to believe the schedule just comes together, without manipulation. In fact, teams exercise a great deal of control over schedules. They seek specific dates and generally get them.

A Kings executive once told me the club got about 75 percent of everything it asked for on the schedule. And that was back in the days when the Kings wished the league would have allowed them to avoid road games against the Bulls, Pistons, Lakers and Celtics.

In other words, the Kings have themselves to thank for their brutal schedule. The preseason was designed with money in mind -- this is the most profitable exhibition trip in Kings history. The regular-season configuration is a calculated risk, a desperate hope that the team will survive seven weeks before bad luck hits.

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