Kings making statement without $123M man Webber


Pro Basketball

November 11, 2001|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

While Chris Webber was negotiating with several NBA teams this summer in search of a deal similar to the one being offered by the Sacramento Kings, the Kings were trying to make a move that would help keep Webber in Sacramento.

The seven-year, $122.7 million contract he eventually signed made Webber the second-highest paid player in NBA history, and the team's trade of point guard Jason Williams for Mike Bibby certainly didn't displease the team's star, either.

The deal between Sacramento and the then-Vancouver Grizzlies was considered by most NBA executives a steal for the Kings. Nothing in the season's first two weeks has altered that thinking.

With Webber out with a bad ankle sprain from the preseason, the Kings won their first four games before losing Wednesday night at Indiana and Friday night at Orlando.

Though fourth-year forward Pedrag Stojakovic has become Sacramento's main scorer, Bibby has been credited with keeping the Kings a cohesive bunch without Webber, who is running again and could return in a couple of weeks.

"We have a less flashy but more steadied attack," assistant coach Pete Carril said. "[Bibby] plays a more cerebral game than what we had in the past."

Bibby, 23, is finally getting a chance to show his skills on a team that is expected to be one of the Western Conference's strongest. In his first three seasons, the Grizzlies were a combined 53-161.

"I feel like I'm in back in school," said Bibby, who as a freshman helped lead Arizona to the 1997 NCAA title. "This is the most fun since I came out [of college]."

A three-game road trip, which ended last night in Miami, was part of a difficult stretch that includes a home game against Toronto on Tuesday and a trip to Los Angeles to play the NBA champion Lakers next Sunday.

But Sacramento already has made a significant impression with its convincing, 103-83 victory over San Antonio on Nov. 4.

"They beat us bad," said Spurs guard Steve Smith. "I think sometimes when you don't have your best player, like Chris, and going up against a team that is pretty good, like us, you kind of get scared. So you feel you have to go out there and play hard."

Now it's `D'-troit

The "D" is back for the Pistons, something that fans at The Palace or, for that matter, the Silverdome, haven't seen from their basketball team in recent years.

"It's the best defense we've played since I've been here," Pistons guard Jerry Stackhouse said after Detroit's 100-78 win over the visiting Wizards on Sunday

Aside from a fairly easy schedule, Detroit's 4-1 start has been sparked by a newly revamped defense. The Pistons are allowing a league-low 82.6 points a game.

New coach Rick Carlisle has deflected much of the praise toward assistant Kevin O'Neill, a former head coach at Marquette, Tennessee and Northwestern. But O'Neill is not taking all the credit.

"Rick and I met for hours and hours over the summer, discussing how we wanted to play at both ends of the floor," O'Neill said. "Rick has done a tremendous job expressing to the players how we wanted to play defense and that we were going to be a defensive team."

The Pistons have built their frontcourt around former Wizard Ben Wallace, who ranks among the league leaders in rebounds and blocked shots, as well as veteran Cliff Robinson.

O'Neill is smart enough to point in the direction of the court when the credit comes his way. "You can have the best system in the world, but if the players don't play hard, it won't work," he said.

Rockets rising?

Houston's 5-1 start is not unusual for a team that has started that well, or better, in six of the past nine seasons.

But given the questions surrounding the Rockets this season after longtime star Hakeem Olajuwon left for Toronto, it has helped Houston gain some ground over the slow-starting Utah Jazz in the tough Midwest Division.

"Once we recognize that we have a good team and that we're all capable of scoring, we're going to win big," said point guard Steve Francis, who in his third year out of Maryland is the team's unquestioned leader. "We expect more. We feel that we're a better team than the one that has been playing. The good thing is that last year, we were losing these games."

Bulls stuff

That was not a misprint you saw as the result of Thursday night's game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Chicago Bulls. But Minnesota's 127-74 victory was probably more telling of Chicago's problems than the first 5-0 start in T'wolves history.

First, the 53-point loss was the worst in the Chicago franchise's quarter-century history, eclipsing the 115-68 defeat to Orlando on April 2, 1999. Both losses came under beleaguered coach Tim Floyd, who must ask himself daily why he ever left Iowa State.

"What you saw out there tonight was pathetic," Floyd said. "The young guys were pathetic, and the old guys were pathetic. We couldn't beat a sloppy junior high team tonight."

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