AS THE Kings crumble for the second straight year, are they most
disappointed about their numerous injuries, their blown leads or
their failure to build upon their core of young talent? None of
the above, says second-year forward Michael Smith. What's most
vexing, he says, is that Sacramento didn't learn from last
season's collapse. "Last year we were right there [in contention
for a playoff berth]," says Smith. "But we couldn't make it
happen. And now here we are again, making the same mistakes."
Those shortcomings--inconsistency at point guard and an overall
absence of leadership--had dropped the Kings, who began the
season 19-9, to a 28-35 mark at week's end and into a dogfight
with the Nuggets and the Warriors for the final playoff spot in
the Western Conference. Moreover, defeats like Sunday's 115-84
debacle against the Cavaliers have put Sacramento coach Garry
St. Jean on the hot seat.
The early-season hopes were high that Smith and forward Brian
Grant would perform better than they had in their superb rookie
season. The Kings' second 1995 draft pick, point guard Tyus
Edney, quickly earned a starting job. Resident All-Star guard
Mitch Richmond was playing so well that he seemed a lock for one
of the two open spots on the '96 U.S. Olympic team. And swingman
Walt Williams, a tantalizing talent, seemed poised to break out.
But on a 1-4 January road trip, which hit its nadir when the
Kings coughed up a 25-point lead and lost to the Celtics, the
weaknesses that plagued Sacramento last year reemerged. Foremost
was erratic play at the point. In the 5'10" Edney's first swing
through the league he had exhibited quickness and court savvy,
but the second time around teams exposed his defensive
frailties. Then the 152-pounder crashed into the rookie wall;
Edney has been so exhausted in recent games that St. Jean has
had to burn timeouts to give him a breather. On March 3, St.
Jean inserted third-year point guard Bobby Hurley into the
starting lineup even though St. Jean had lobbied to trade Hurley
for more than a year--with no takers.
On Feb. 22, with Williams threatening to exercise an escape
clause in his contract after the season because he wanted to
play in a larger market, the Kings traded him to Miami. In
return Sacramento got hobbled forward Billy Owens, who has
played with an injured right foot most of the season.
Meanwhile, Richmond has failed to deliver what the Kings need
most: leadership. At week's end he was averaging 23.8 points,
but he remained uncomfortable about getting in his teammates'
faces. Now, as a result of Sacramento's sharp decline, his
Olympic status is in doubt. The Kings' struggles also have taken
a toll on Grant, who is flustered by the double-teaming he now
sees regularly and often runs into early foul trouble.
After a 2-13 February, say sources, Sacramento ownership
considered replacing St. Jean with director of player personnel
Jerry Reynolds, who twice before has served as the Kings' coach.
But Kings general manager Geoff Petrie preached patience. St.
Jean acknowledges his tenuous position but adds, "Let's not
forget, through all the clouds, we're still very much in the
If as recently as last year someone had predicted that
recovering alcoholic Chris Childs would make point guard Kenny
Anderson expendable to the Nets, that underachieving forward
Danny Ferry would average double figures for the Cavs and that
CBA forward George McCloud would become a cornerstone of the
Mavericks offense, we all would have said, "You're nuts!" But
look: Childs, Ferry and McCloud are the biggest surprises of the
1995-96 season. Here's why:
Childs. Low point: June 26, 1993. Childs, who was not drafted
out of Boise State in '89, has been out partying until 6 a.m.
even though he has an 8 a.m. practice with his USBL team, the
Miami Tropics. "I drank about 24 beers and a couple of shots,
and smoked a bag of marijuana," Childs says. "The sick part of
it was, I was supposed to be in rehab." Tropics owner/coach John
Lucas confronted Childs, who was undergoing treatment at Lucas's
rehabilitation center. This time, Childs checked into a Miami
facility called Better Way, where patients included pimps,
prostitutes and drug pushers. "What I saw there scared the crap
out of me," says Childs. "I didn't want to end up like them."
Childs says he has been sober ever since. He was signed by the
Nets in July 1994. This season he has performed so well that New
Jersey has hardly missed Anderson, who was dealt to the Hornets
in January. Through Sunday, Childs was averaging 12.3 points and
6.8 assists, including an 18-point, 14-assist, 10-rebound
performance in the Nets' 97-93 loss to the Bulls last Saturday.
He will be a free agent this summer but hopes to return to the
Nets to take care of "some unfinished business."
Ferry. Low point: first round of the 1994 playoffs. Cleveland is
swept by Chicago, and Ferry's three-game totals are four
minutes, one assist and one turnover. Ferry, the No. 2 pick
overall in the '89 draft, is heckled as he leaves the floor.
"There were a lot of expectations when I came out of Duke," says
Ferry. "I had as many as anybody. But I put too much pressure on
myself to be perfect."
Even after that embarrassing postseason, Cleveland told Ferry it
wasn't ready to give up on him. This season, that faith has paid
off. Through Sunday, Ferry was averaging 32.6 minutes and 13.4
points a game. Despite a mutual escape clause in his contract
after next season, Ferry refuses to look ahead. "No matter what
happens, it won't change this year and the satisfaction I feel,"
McCloud. Low point: 1990-91 season. A former first-round draft
choice out of Florida State, McCloud averages just 4.6 points a
game for the Pacers. His mother, Verbena, dies of a heart attack
on Valentine's Day. He's napping in his family's home in Ormond
Beach, Fla., when he hears a gunshot: His father, the Reverend
George McCloud Jr., despondent over Verbena's death, has
committed suicide. The devastation of losing his parents,
coupled with nagging ankle and thumb injuries, drove him from
the NBA. "I wasn't strong enough to deal with all the hurt," he
McCloud played in Italy in 1993-94 and then joined the CBA's
Rapid City Thrillers for the start of the '94-95 season. Dallas
signed him in January '95. This season, with Mavericks forward
Jamal Mashburn on the injured list since Dec. 12, McCloud has
taken his spot. Through Sunday he was averaging 19.0 points a
game. The highlight: a career-high 36 points against the Suns on
Dec. 16, when he tied an NBA record with 10 three-pointers. "I
still have my bad days," McCloud says, "but I look ahead knowing
the worst has already happened to me."
LINE OF THE WEEK
Lakers forward-center Elden Campbell, last Thursday versus the
Warriors: 29 MIN, 8-10 FG, 4-4 FT, 20 points, 4 rebounds, 9
blocks. Campbell made four of those career-high blocks in the
fourth quarter to spur the Lakers to a 106-103 victory.
AROUND THE RIM
Last November, Pistons coach Doug Collins confided to friends he
was worried that 11th-year guard Joe Dumars's legs were gone.
But on Feb. 5, with Lindsey Hunter struggling, Collins put
Dumars back in the starting lineup. Through last weekend, Dumars
had averaged 38.6 minutes and 12.6 points a game, and the
Pistons had gone 12-5 in games in which he had played (Dumars
did miss four contests with a strained right quadriceps).... In
his first five games back with the Blazers following a
suspension for going AWOL that caused him to miss six games,
guard Rod Strickland averaged 21.4 points and 10.8 assists.
Portland won all five contests.