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Chicago JK
07-07-2003, 10:06 PM
Ailene Voisin: Clark's decision could leave Kings in a bystanders' role
By Ailene Voisin -- Bee Sports Columnist
Published 2:15 a.m. PDT Sunday, July 6, 2003
This is not like the Kings. Much too quiet. The previous four offseasons have exploded with free-agent fireworks and salary-cap acrobatics and hastily called news conferences featuring the Maloof brothers and a beaming Geoff Petrie.
Now, nothing, the silence interrupted only by the incessant bleating of cell phones.

Can you hear me now?

With the franchise salary-capped and the valuable $4.9 million mid-level exception devoured last week by the disappointing Keon Clark, the Kings have slipped into the role of conflicted bystanders, unable and/or unwilling to pursue the one free agent who would have made the most sense and the most significant impact -- Miami Heat center Alonzo Mourning. Instead of wooing 'Zo, they are left to observe the avaricious maneuverings of their most feared competitors, including the dethroned Los Angeles Lakers.

This is risky business, a major Maloof roll of the dice, if you will, perhaps even necessary for the long-term fiscal viability of the franchise.

But as the Western Conference becomes increasingly treacherous, the Kings are the only contenders tightening their belts. The bank is closed for the season. So now it's their turn to twist and turn while the Earth moves. And it will move.

If Gary Payton signs and Karl Malone comes along, as promised, the Lakers reclaim their role as favorites. Following close behind will be the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, their own prospects for a repeat surely enhanced by anticipated free-agent acquisitions, possibly Jason Kidd, Jermaine O'Neal, Mourning or Rasho Nesterovic, among others.

Meanwhile, down in Dallas, Mark Cuban continues romancing Mourning, who reportedly has indicated that if he eschews larger offers and agrees to the $4.9 million exception, it will be with the Mavericks. If that happens, the Mavs' defense suddenly becomes distinguishable from the middle of a doughnut.

In fact, should even a few of these scenarios transpire, the Kings will be stripped of their label as Most Talented Team. They would enter the 2003-04 season in transition, in a sort of limbo: deep, skilled and experienced, but still missing that fierce, Mourning-type competitor to provide an imposing defensive presence, consistent rebounding and toughness.

Zo would have been a risk. No question. After missing 69 games in 2000-01 and all of last season with a kidney disease that is in partial remission, the 6-foot-10, 260-pound center has been cleared to play, though his playing time undoubtedly will be reduced. No problem here. With a rotation of Vlade Divac, Chris Webber and Scot Pollard, the seven-time All-Star would have been the perfect, final piece.

That was supposed to have been the erratic Clark, of course, one of two major moves (along with re-signing Mike Bibby for a whopping $80 million) in the Maloofs' offseason gamble a year ago. It didn't happen, not Clark, not Bibby, not the ring. And when the 6-foot-11 backup forward/center recently exercised the second year of his contract, the Kings were left with even less wiggle room.

"It's a challenge," said Petrie. "If you want to maintain a team like ours or keep moving forward, you have to do certain things. We could make a run at a lot of those guys (free agents), but not within the confines of our situation. We've reached the limits of our economic headroom. The option of adding future salaries is probably not there. Our ability to escape the luxury tax is somewhat of an important issue."

Dollars and sense.

That's what this is about.

With the Kings' payroll at $71 million -- $18 million above the league's allowable team "threshold" of a projected $53 million -- the Maloofs expect to incur an additional $18 million fine from the NBA's dollar-for-dollar luxury tax. Additionally, they are precluded from sharing in the player escrow account (10 percent tax on each contract) that is distributed annually among teams under the cap.

"People don't appreciate the enormity of the penalty," explained Joe Maloof. "You're talking about being out $36 million. Plus, that player escrow could have brought us as much as $8 (million), $10 million. The scales have just gone too far the other way (basketball vs. business). If something makes sense, we'll do it. But we are not going to mortgage the future of our franchise with too many long-term contracts.

"The No. 1 problem in our league is when a player is in his twilight, that fifth, sixth, seventh year at huge money. That just kills you. Next year when Vlade (Divac), Lawrence (Funderburke) and Keon come off the payroll, we'll have some flexibility. This year we just have to improve with what we have, and while I am not making any more predictions, I think we have great talent, enough to win it all."

He says that now. He says that, then anxiety and uncertainty creep into his voice, and he requests a league-wide update.

"Yeah, yeah, you worry about what all these other teams are doing," Maloof acknowledged, glumly, "but we're making the best decisions we can. This league is all peaks and valleys."

The Kings might be headed for one of those dips in the road. Then again, this is the NBA. No team is assured health and happiness, no matter the price tag.

MFFL
07-07-2003, 10:28 PM
Meanwhile, down in Dallas, Mark Cuban continues romancing Mourning, who reportedly has indicated that if he eschews larger offers and agrees to the $4.9 million exception, it will be with the Mavericks.

Now all we need is a sign and trade with the Jazz for Malone and we're set.

Nash13
07-07-2003, 10:47 PM
I think that they shouldn't be shopping for players because one, they did all they need to do for the last 2yrs, and two, they shouldn't mess with their current team, b/c if the'd had Webber, there's a possibility that they could've beat us.

Mandyahl
07-07-2003, 11:59 PM
if they had webber, there is a good possibility they could've won it all. but if all the other teams are improving and they're not...well, that doesn't bode well for them. and they are getting fairly old.

Nash13
07-08-2003, 02:35 AM
Mandy, my point is is that they don't need to improve until they show everyone that they can't win with a fully-healthy team. When they lost to the Lakers, they added Keon Clark and Jim Jackson, who almost sent the Mavs home in the second round without Chris Webber.

madape
07-08-2003, 08:46 AM
The depth of average to good players on this team is expensive and is costing the Kings a chance at landing a big name free agent this year. Instread of Malone, Mourning, Payton.. they spent their full exception on Keon Clark. Jim Jackson is another guy that provides excessive depth. I think they are admitting that signing Keon Clark was a big mistake. All Jackson did was make Turkoglu more expendable, but no one is biting...