Fall from Royalty, Part One: The decline of the Sacramento Kings, 2003-05

Sean CottenCorrespondent IFebruary 20, 2008

By the 2000-1 season, Geoff Petrie had assembled a championship quality team from the ground up and turned water into wine in the Sacramento Valley. 

For the next four seasons, the Kings played in the Western Conference semi-finals or finals and won at least 55 games a year. 

Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, Doug Christie, Peja Stojakovic, Bobby Jackson, Mike Bibby, Hedo Turkoglu, Scot Pollard, Gerald Wallace, Lawrence Funderburke, and Jabari Smith all played on at least three of those four successful teams.  

That core of 11 players—with key one-year contributions from Jason Williams, Jon Barry and Brad Miller during that span—made for entertaining and successful basketball.

That success put Geoff Petrie's ability to build a successful team on a league-wide pedestal.  He had pulled in Webber for an aging Mitch Richmond, drafted unheralded studs like Peja, Jason Williams, Wallace, and Hedo, rolled the dice on aging vets like Christie and Divac and—despite Sacramento's love for White Chocolate—pulled off a heist in parlaying Williams into Bibby. The last move pushed an entertaining and successful team to the brink of a championship.

However, despite the development of the roster, the Kings lost game-seven matchups in three consecutive years.  First, the free-throw debacle in Game Seven of the "Big Shot Rob" series with the Lakers in 2002, the Webber injury against the Mavs in 2003 and KG's one shining moment in 2004.

So. What has King Geoff done lately?  How has the 2002-3 team, which returned 11 players, evolved into the current roster following the Bibby deal?  In this three-part article, I will go through the major deals, ignoring the Rodney Bufords and Ronny Prices of the world.

For part one we'll go through the 2005 deadline deal of Chris Webber.  Here we go...

Step 1: Turkoglu for Miller (summer 2003)

After winning 59 games and dealing with the idea of a difficult off-season surgery for his superstar, the summer of 2003 was a time to reconsider the team's direction.  They had swung with all their might for two straight seasons and hadn't reached their goal, plus Divac wasn't getting any younger and was a liability against Shaq and the Lakers. 

In July 2003, the Kings unloaded injured fan-favorite Pollard and a promising Turkoglu for Brad Miller in a three-way trade.  A move seen as an admission that Divac was almost through and that Webber was going to miss significant time.

While the Kings have to be pleased with Miller, Turkoglu is showing in Orlando that he is the real deal and was on the bubble for an All-Star spot this season.  Given that Miller has outperformed Hedo over most of the last 5 seasons, I'd have to say this deal shows that Petrie still had his mojo.

Step 2: Leaving Gerald Wallace in the Bobcat expansion draft (summer 2004)

The first real chink in Petrie's armor may not have been his own choice.  Each team could protect only eight players in that draft, meaning that at least one of the King's core would be gone.

However, given what happened only months later (traded Webber, traded Christie), why on earth would the Kings have left Wallace and not left Webber, Christie, even Darius Songalia, for the Bobcats!  Hadn't anyone watched the kid play for the Kings.  He was the most athletic player Sacramento has ever had and though he couldn't get much playing time behind Peja and Hedo, how do you let a 22-year old with that kind of tenacity unprotected.  Boo, Geoff.  Boo. 

Step 3: Draft Kevin Martin (summer 2004)

After leaving their only athletic wing man unprotected, the Kings drafted two in the 2004 draft. However, considering the Kings had the 26th pick, getting the skinny Martin has to be considered extremely successful.  He is clearly the best player taken in that draft after Josh Smith was taken at 17 and Al Jefferson at 15.  He'd be a top-10 pick if the draft was held tomorrow.  Kudos for Petrie, though I would still rather have Wallace.

Step 4: Christie for Cuttino Mobley (Jan 2005)

Petrie showed some skill in sending Christie (and his wife) to Orlando for Steve Francis' best friend, Mobley.  This deal is not a major trade in the history of the franchise, but Mobley proved to be much better than Christie and came off the books at the end of the season to go to the Clippers.  Given Christie's physical (and personal) decline since then, give Petrie a point for ridding Kings fans of that hideous FT ritual for his wife. 

Step 5: Webber for Corliss and Kenny Thomas (Feb 2005)

Well, this is where the Kings really changed their tune.  Up to now Petrie had more or less held it together.  Miller for Vlade, Mobley for Christie, but then WHAM!—he shipped off Webber and Kings fans up and down the valley (and in Stockholm, Sweden) went into mourning.

Was this a bad deal for the Kings?  I would say yes, but it's not really that clear cut.  Without this deal the Kings are paying $20m a year for a guy who's complaining about the soul food in Sacramento, but they would have at least enjoyed Webber's renaissance in 2005-6, when he went for 20 and 10.  They would have also held onto a local Del Campo High kid named Matt Barnes who may or may not have found himself for the Kings like he has for Nellie in Golden State. However, Petrie had watched Webber enough in practice to know that the knee wasn't right and that the returns were going to be iffy. 

I think Petrie took the only offer he could get for Webber and that monster deal, knowing that the last two years of that deal would be ugly.  Now he's got a terrible contract on the books for Thomas, but $7m is easier to move than $20m. 

All in all, I am guessing that Webber would have loved playing with Artest in 2005-6 and managed to stay healthy enough to play out the contract 50 games a year and that the Kings would have been a win or two better with a gimpy Webber than with what the received from Philly, depending on how often CWebb suited up.

Looking at the numbers for Webber vs Williamson and Thomas for the 2.5 years after the trade (we'll ignore this year for everyone's sake):

Williamson + Thomas

2004-5, 24/26g, 52mpg, 23ppg, 12rpg, $11.5m

2005-6, 37/82g, 38mpg, 12ppg, 10rpg, $12.5m

2006-7, 68/62g, 43mpg, 14ppg, 9rpg, $13.7m


2004-5, 21g, 33mpg, 16ppg, 8rpg, $17.5m

2005-6, 75g, 38mpg, 20ppg, 10rpg, $19.1m

2006-7, 61g, 30mpg, 11ppg, 7rpg, $18.2m

All this tells me is that getting rid of Webber in this deal was sort of a statistical wash.

In the end the deal has saved the Kings some cash at the expense of the face of the franchise that they are have yet to replace.  How does Petrie score?  How about charging him a point for sacrificing the soul of the franchise and another for the fact that Kenny Thomas still has $16.5m on his deal after this season.

Well, now I, like you the reader, am getting tired of this article, so I promise to post the more treacherous steps in a new article later this week.  So keep an eye out for my article about the Kings' thug deals that replaced the smiles of Vlade, Webber and Peja with street attitude, in the form of Bonzi Wells and Ron Artest.


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