Can Stumbling Kings Stave Sonics Surge?
This first round matchup is a story of two teams - the Sacramento Kings, who lost three straight to tumble from a near sure-fire top seed to a #2 seed and the Seattle Supersonics, who ten games ago looked poised to be out of the playoffs, now in the postseason as the 7th seed.
Adding to the drama is the fact that the Sonics beat the Kings in 7 games to win the West last year and go on to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Boston Celtics in five games.
Can Sacramento reverse its endseason drought and dispel the Seattle curse? That's the million dollar question as they prepare for this discomforting series.
Filip Svorada vs. Andre Quarles
The 31 year old Czech ressurected his career after GM Jestor signed him in free agency, capturing the starting PG job and compiling 16.9 points, 11.2 assists and 1.6 steals in the regular season. Very good scorer and floor general, pretty decent on defense. If there's a knock on him, it's that he can't really be called great at anything.
Quarles did well last year against the Kings, but he's still a 2 guard playing the 1 and is 34 years old. Still, he showed no signs of slowing down, averaging 18 points and 8.1 assists. Primarily a scorer, though he's done better than expected running the offense and in some ways he's a better defender than Svorada.
William Tackett vs. Vladimir Tupolev
Tackett's really best suited to play PG, but he's not a bad SG as his 14.9 points, 5.4 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.6 steals demonstrate. Extremely accurate, to the tune of over 50%, but he's erratic in terms of his production. He'll follow up a 30 point game with a 7 point one and doesn't always bring focus and intensity to the court. This is particularly true on defense, where opposing guards usually score at will on him.
Bad news when the opponent is the Russian Tupolev, the 22 year old who now has three straight seasons of 21 and change points per game. Also had 1.3 steals. Subpar defender in turn and only adequate with ballhandling and passing, the same in rebounding. He's been overshadowed by Damian Thomas as the league's brightest young star, but Tupolev is definitely among them.
David Anyan vs. Russell Sims
Age is catching up to the 35 year old Anyan, who's no longer the playmaker on defense he once was and who's really developing butterfingers with the ball. While he did amass 20.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, a block and a steal per game in the regular season, that scoring total was his lowest since 2019. Jestor's already said Anyan won't be back next year, but he's still a tough defender and a dangerous player to take lightly.
The 21 year old Sims continues to have a ridiculously good career and is now arguably the best all-around player on the Sonics, with no true weaknesses. Averaged 19.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.1 blocks in the regular season. In fact, he might be the best all-around player in the entire league. Certainly his skill set is like nothing we've seen in a very, very long time. The swingman every team would love to have; he's that good. He's shot over 55% every year he's been in the league.
Ronnie Fry vs. Freddie Tackett
Fry, 25, and a key early-season acquistion from the Grizzlies that involved Shane Holliway going back to Memphis, hit a major shooting slump at the end of the year that played a large part in the Kings' three straight losses. Still an accurate shooter though, a decent rebounder and a shutdown defender in the mold of Anyan. Averaged 17.5 points and 9 rebounds. His major weakness is in ballhandling. Asking him to pass or hold on to the ball is handing a free turnover to the other team.
The continued maturation of Tupolev and Sims, especially the latter, meant that Tackett could take a step back and average 17.1 points and 6.3 rebounds. As absurdly accurate as Sims, but has the poor ballhandling of Fry and doesn't play all that well on defense, nor is he a good rebounder.
Jim Johnson vs. Martin Beerbohm
Johnson was slow coming back from a badly sprained ankle, but the 22 year old still was able to show steady improvement in his third season, averaging 12 points and 8.3 rebounds. A deadly force inside, he's average in all other facets of the game, but is continuing to work hard at improving himself into the best player he can be.
Beerbohm's a shotblocking specialist, a smart player who really knows how to draw fouls. Averaged 9.9 points, 10.8 rebounds and 3.2 blocks in the regular season. Not a noteworthy part of the offense and he doesn't need to be. He just needs to grab rebounds, block shots and force the opposing centers to pick up quick fouls.
Terrence Howard divided his time between starting and serving as the 6th man, putting up 12.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks. Like Johnson, a hammer jammer inside. Has some shotblocking and rebounding ability, but at 35, he's too slow to defend quicker, younger big men. Big (7'1, 304 lbs) Brandon Edmond is the best min-sal deal in the NBA, posting 6.4 points and 4.9 rebounds off the bench as a good all-around reserve. Nigel Abel still has game as a role scorer, averaging 6.1 points even at 37.
Cory O'Brien is a solid all-around reserve, better than his 6.1 points suggests, though he appears to have been a reach at 9th overall last season. Scott Costello is the banger inside, a terrific defender and blocker who averaged 6 points and 4.5 rebounds off the bench. Rookie Andrey McSwain showed hints of being a capable reserve, averaging 4.2 points.
The Kings are certainly beefed up on defense at the forward spots and Svorada is more balanced than Ray Fields was last year at PG. Twizzler Johnson looks improved as well. But somehow, we can't shake the feeling that even with all those additions, there's simply still too much firepower for Sacramento to contend with. And in a year where a 43-39 team stays at home, the same team that has a superstar in Sonny Boxler, winner of both the league scoring and blocks title, we wouldn't be surprised to see all upsets in the first round in the West half of the bracket. The conference is that strong in its top 8 or 9 teams that any one of them can beat the other on any given night or in any given series.
Prediction: Seattle in 6
Well, can't say I fault them that assessment, especially with how we've played lately.
Murphy's Law kicks in and we run out of steam in the second half. There's a bitter taste in my mouth right now after watching Andre Quarles light us up for 39 points, Vladimir Tupolev score 20 and Scott Costello grab 11 bench boards. We played fairly well, with William Tackett getting 25 points and Jim Johnson (18 points, 10 rebounds), Ronnie Fry (12 points, 11 rebounds) and Filip Svorada (14 points, 11 assists) getting double-doubles, in addition to Terrence Howard's 13 bench points, but it wasn't well enough and we're behind the 8 ball even before we really begin.
[b]Final - Seattle 109 Sacramento 102
Lose this one as well and I wouldn't be surprised to see us swept. Sure enough, we once again collapse, but this time the game stays tight until the fourth quarter, when the Sonics rally for the comeback win and the commanding 2-0 series lead. Vladimir Tupolev scores 31, Freddie Tackett unloads for 28 points, Andre Quarles distributes 16 points and 11 assists and Martin Beerbohm chips in 11 points and 13 rebounds. We can't match that, not with Filip Svorada and Ronnie Fry's 22 points a piece or Jim Johnson's 14 points and 10 rebounds. Dvid Anyan shoulders a lot of blame for this one, shooting a hideous 3 for 12.
[b]Final - Seattle 112 Sacramento 104
Down 0-2 as we go to Seattle and really, the script couldn't be any worse right now. Then again, I should have expected this, given our disappointment last year and our absolute stinking down the stretch. Vladimir Tupolev drops 35 points and Russell Sims hangs 25 points on us. I'm quietly pondering where to trade William Tackett or Filip Svorada even as Ronnie Fry and David Anyan are scoring 20 and 24 points, Svorada's good for 12 points and 15 assists and Terrence Howard scores 12 off the bench. Our biggest margin of defeat yet and we're looking at an embarassing sweep in a year in which I committed a ton of money to try and bring home the title.
Final - Sacramento 105 Seattle 118
We're not playing for a series win now. We're just hoping to avoid getting swept. And finally, we're able to turn the tables. Freddie Tackett finds ways to score 21 points and Ron Morant comes up with 10 bench points, but we more than match it with David Anyan's 25 points, Jim Johnson's 13 points and 15 rebounds, Filip Svorada's 12 points and 10 assists and Nigel Abel and Terrence Howard coming through with 12 and 11 points to lead the reserves. Still, it feels like we've only delayed the inevitable, no matter how convincing the final score looks.
Final - Sacramento 116 Seattle 90
Only one sweep and it's Indiana kicking Cleveland out in four. That's one I wouldn't have predicted and it's an impressive and important step forward for the Pacers.
Back home in Sacramento, we get a barnburner that spills into overtime. Andre Quarles scores 32, Freddie Tackett puts up 24 points and 11 rebounds, Russell Sims hauls in 15 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists and Vladimir Tupolev scores 20. We counter with Ronnie Fry's 24 points, 20 points and 14 assists from Filip Svorada, 20 points from Jim Johnson and one of the most amazing playoff performances I've seen: William Tackett busting out for 27 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists, a block and 4 steals. Our own Mr. Inconsistent, our #18 overall steal, our Rookie of the Year, carries us to the OT win and keeps our very faint hopes alive.
Final - Seattle 113 Sacramento 119 (OT)
Dallas takes down the Jazz in 5 games, the same amount of time it takes Toronto to serve notice to the NBA that their time's not up yet via a major upset of the Hawks and yet more postseason frustration for Oswaldo Apolonario.
And just like that, our offense went out. Nevermind William Tackett's 24 points or Ronnie Fry's 14 points and 14 rebounds. We shot 37.5% and you can't win a game like that. Vladimir Tupolev matches Tackett's 24 points, Freddie Tackett (no relation, by the way) scores 21 and Martin Beerbohm picks up 14 points and 13 rebounds. Game effort on our part, but we finally just ran out of energy.
Final - Sacramento 79 Seattle 96
At least we're not alone in Upsetville. The Grizzlies, those annual Cinderellas, stun the Nuggets in 6 and the Wizards provide the biggest shock of the entire first round so far in punching out the 2 seed Pistons.
So it's Boston/Chicago and Phoenix/San Antonio going the distance. Suns/Spurs has been very bit as entertaining and hard-fought as anyone could hope for. The Bulls knock off the defending champion Celtics in the 7th game, a fair upset, while Damian Thomas has 31 points and 11 rebounds as the Spurs shock the Suns 112-108 in OT to advance!. Of course, there were other great performers for San Antonio, such as Ameirin Qipani with 29 points and 16 assists and I'm now kicking myself for not getting Jamarcus Wilson, who goes 11 of 12 for 24 points.
Bakersfield, the #2 seed in the D-Leagues, loses to Albuquerque in the first round of the playoffs. Ferdinand Kallenberger showed good gains, though, averaging 11.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 1.2 steals for the Otters. My guess is he makes the pro team next year.
Damian Thomas's magic runs out as the Grizzlies squelch the Spurs in 5 games, earning them a West Conference Finals date with Dallas, as the Mavericks eliminate the Sonics in 5 as well. The Pacers continue to show they're legit, punting the Bulls in 5. Indiana will face off against the Raptors in the East Conference Finals, as Toronto outlasted the Wizards in Game 7, ruining dreams and breaking hearts everywhere in the D.C. area.
The royalty of my era against the team that once had men like Reggie Miller, Detlef Schrempf and Mateen Yeaton wear the uniform. That's one hell of an East matchup and in the West, you've got Marcelino Augusto and Devone Allen versus the upstart Grizzlies, who everybody forgets made the NBA Finals in 2013 before losing to the Celtics.
Indiana shows absolutely no respect for Toronto's new blueblood status, sweeping the Raptors to head to the Finals for the first time since 1999 and just the second time in franchise history. Memphis and Dallas turns into a 7 game brawl, with the Grizzlies pulling off the stunner and winning in Game 7 on Shane Holliway's 28 points and 12 rebounds, Ray Fields' 24 points and Deon Sterley's 20 points. Oh yeah, Bernard Kelly had 20 assists, but that's not the point. The point is, I'm the one who dealt Holliway back to the Grizzlies and who was responsible for Fields and Sterley going to Memphis.
Even better for purposes of the Finals, Sterley was originally drafted by Indiana and went from the Pacers to the Nuggets to the Grizzlies all before he started his second pro season.
Amazing Finals matchup, with one of these two franchises guaranteed their first ever championship. Mateen Yeaton's rooting for the Pacers, of course. I'm conflicted on who to root for, but decide on the Pacers in the end, just because it'd piss me off to see a team of my former players win it all.
The Finals turned out to be quite anti-climatic after the dramatic playoffs we had. Indiana looked very much like a top seed, Memphis just like a 5 seed and the Pacers win in 5 games to claim their first ever NBA title, sending Mateen Yeaton into a victory dance in my living room. His favorite team as a kid growing up in Indiana was the Pacers and he was thrilled to be drafted by them after his college career as a Hoosier. That's not to say he'd trade his rings with me and the Nuggets, I don't think, but he'll always call Indiana home.
14. Portland Trailblazers
13. New Orleans Hornets
12. Los Angeles Clippers
11. Los Angeles Lakers
10. Golden State Warriors
9. Milwaukee Bucks
8. Orlando Magic
7. Charlotte Bobcats
6. New York Knicks (-1)
5. Golden State Warriors (-2)
4. Miami Heat (-3)
3. Philadelphia 76ers (+1)
2. Minnesota Timberwolves
1. New Jersey Nets (+5)
And so for the second straight year, there's an upset for the #1 overall pick. Hard luck for the Heat, who stumble as low as they could possibly go.
Marcelino Augusto - Dallas Mavericks - 26.6 PPG 9.8 RPG 2.9 APG 2.6 BPG 1.1 SPG
Defensive Player of the Year
Dontay Williamson - Denver Nuggets - 16.9 PPG 14.5 RPG 2.3 APG 3.5 BPG 0.8 SPG
Rookie of the Year
Tony Bryson - Denver Nuggets - 10.6 PPG 6.8 RPG 1.8 APG 2.0 BPG 0.7 SPG
6th Man of the Year
Brett Johnson - Charlotte Bobcats - 8.0 PPG 7.8 RPG 1.5 APG 0.6 BPG 0.5 SPG
Coach of the Year
Avery Johnson - Dallas Mavericks
All-NBA 1st Team
PG Corey Neal - New Jersey Nets
SG Filip Mikulic - Houston Rockets
SF Russell Sims - Seattle Supersonics
PF Marcelino Augusto - Dallas Mavericks
C Oswaldo Apolonario - Atlanta Hawks
All-NBA 2nd Team
PG Caleb James - Toronto Raptors
SG Sonny Boxler - Portland Trailblazers
SF Devone Allen - Dallas Mavericks
PF John Walker - Boston Celtics
C Connor Augustus - New York Knicks
All-NBA 3rd Team
PG Filip Svorada - Sacramento Kings
SG Jon Wilson - Phoenix Suns
SF Marcus Reeves - Los Angeles Lakers
PF Henry Fisher - Utah Jazz
C Phillip Smith - Milwaukee Bucks
Reeves 3rd Team over Damian Thomas? Pfft. Right.
All-Defense 1st Team
PG Caleb James - Toronto Raptors
SG Sonny Boxler - Portland Trailblazers
SF Russell Sims - Seattle Supersonics
PF Marcelino Augusto - Dallas Mavericks
C Dontay Williamson - Denver Nuggets
All-Defense 2nd Team
PG Kelley Forbes - Milwaukee Bucks
SG Walter Hicks - New Jersey Nets
SF Brian Brown - Golden State Warriors
PF Deon Sterley - Memphis Grizzlies
C Patrick Riley - New Orleans Hornets
All-Rookie 1st Team
PG Kaluj Kazlauskas - Portland Trailblazers
SG Stephen Wilson - Orlando Magic
SF Andrey McSwain - Seattle Supersonics
PF Dennis Edwards - Philadelphia 76ers
C Tony Bryson - Denver Nuggets
All-Rookie 2nd Team
PG Daniel Warley - Charlotte Bobcats
SG Alan Lentz - New York Knicks
SF Kyle Ward - Denver Nuggets
PF Tommy Kent - Denver Nuggets
C Benjamin Williams - Houston Rockets
Before I find out my fate from Will Langhi, there's a very special event I have to attend.
For Mateen Yeaton has retired and been elected into the Hall of Fame, the same year that Greg Oden retired and entered the Hall.
I'll show the article later, but Mateen asked me to give a speech for him and I got choked up when I gave it. There's never been another player, even growing up as a kid, that's meant more to me than Mateen, except for maybe Dan Marino. His career and mine became intertwined in a way that we were synonomous with each other and we have 3 rings in Denver to show for it.
It's only fitting that he and Oden were inducted on the same day, for those two were emblematic of the great Nuggets/Raptors championship rivalries. Denver with its superior backcourt and Yeaton, Toronto with its otherworldly frontcourt signified by Oden (before Justin Richler anyway).
To no one's surprise, it's Denver powder blue and gold #6 that gets retired alongside Toronto purple and red #52 and, as a gesture from the city of Sacramento, Yeaton's #4 Kings jersey and Oden's #45 Kings jersey hang in the rafters for a day to honor the two greats who spent some of their last years under my regime here.
A regime that may be cut short.
Luckily, Will Langhi is willing to give me another year to straighten things out.
Only to find out a few days later that he's sold the team to Roy Rychart, who's an average owner in every sense of his priorities. Wants to win as much as the next guy, but doesn't obsess over it. Recognizes you have to spend money, but doesn't go crazy about it and is willing to give a guy his fair amount of time to do his thing, but not afraid to make a change if need be.
Rychart's absolutely thrilled to have me as the GM and spends the first hour of our meeting in Sacramento's best Chinese restaurant talking about -my- accomplishments. Rather surprising.
I tell him given how good the West is, we should shoot for a playoff team and that with escalating salaries and potential moves I'd like to make, we may be up near the $10 million mark. He counters that $10 million's a little steep for just a playoff appearance, but if I have to do it, fine. He'd prefer I didn't, though.
After I find out my job is safe, I try and talk Mateen Yeaton into accepting a position with us, anywhere in the organization he wants. But he just gives me a secretive smile and tells me he appreciates the offer, but he has other plans.
I'm curious to know what those plans are, especially since he won't tell me, but the only Hall of Famer I've ever had is keeping closed on that score.
We're tabbed in the mocks as taking Wake Forest senior SF Adrian Ausler, but he frankly doesn't impress me. Honestly, it's a terrible class overall. No clear-cut #1 and it's not because there's a host of phenomenal players, either. It's really that diluted a group, kind of like David "50 Ninja" Jackson's class.
2006 Golden Scribe Nominee
2006 Golden Scribe Winner
Best Non-Sport Dynasty: May Our Reign Be Green and Golden (CK Dynasty)
Rookie Writer of the Year
Dynasty of the Year: May Our Reign Be Green and Golden (CK Dynasty)