The Kings are 43-15 -- the best winning percentage in the NBA. They have played without superstar Chris Webber all season, and other players have been out of the lineup with injuries -- Bobby Jackson is the latest casualty. Mike Bibby, Vlade Divac and Doug Christie are the only players on the roster to have played in all 58 games to date. But as he's done in the past, coach Rick Adelman plugs various bench players into starting roles, and the team moves forward.
Now the coach is faced with a different challenge. Webber is back from rehabilitating his surgically repaired knee and serving an eight-game suspension by the league for violating the NBA's drug policy and lying to a grand jury in the Michigan booster scandal. He will suit up for Tuesday's home game against the Clippers.
Webber is Sacramento's best player. Last season, he posted averages of 23.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists. Only Kevin Garnett had better numbers across the board.
But despite Webber's absence, the Kings have played extremely well this season.
Peja Stojakovic not only is the team's top scorer (25.6 points per game on 17.7 shots per game) but he has also emerged as the team leader. Brad Miller, acquired by a beneficial trade with Indiana last summer, stepped into Webber's big forward spot and put up admirable numbers (15 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists). Veteran center Divac, surprisingly the team leader in assists at 6.1 per game, averages 10.8 points and six boards. Rookie forward Darius Songaila, who moved into the starting lineup when Miller sprained his ankle in the All-Star Game and had to sit out seven games, delivered over 12 points and just under eight rebounds a game as Miller's replacement.
How does Webber's return impact all of them? How does Adelman handle this situation? Does he move Webber immediately into the starting lineup? If he does, who sits? Can Peja continue to get a similar number of shots, or does he now defer to Webber for chances to score as well as lead the Kings? And what happens to players like Songaila and Tony Massenburg, who played so well and contributed significantly to the team's success while Webber was out? And finally, what kind of performance can the coach expect from Webber after he's missed the entire season to date?
Fortunately for Adelman, he has faced this situation before. Webber has never played a full complement of games in his NBA career, and he has sat out a significant number of Kings games at the beginning of the last two seasons. Adelman already knows how to work Webber back into the flow of the team game.
The coach also is blessed to have "team players" in Miller and Divac, who are ready to accept fewer minutes of playing time and are willing to come off the bench at the start of the game. Miller agreed earlier to give up his starting position as soon as Webber was ready to return to the lineup. "There's no ego thing on this team at all," Miller recently said.
Webber has also said all the right things. He stated that his coaches told him to simply "come in and play my game," and he doesn't want to "mess up our flow" that he's watched from the sideline.
In a perfect world, Webber will start and play about half the game until he gets his legs back. Adelman will bring Miller off the bench to play about 30 minutes, and Divac will continue to start but play fewer minutes -- about 24 a game. The Kings will still play their great offensive game, improve defensively and not miss a beat in their quest to become NBA champions.
But that's in a perfect world -- something the NBA is not. Coach Adelman will do what he has to do to take care of this situation, but he knows that before the season is over, he'll have other tough decisions to make. It's just part of the job.
Dr. Jack Ramsay, an NBA analyst for ESPN, coached the Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA championship. A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, he is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Click here to send a question for Dr. Jack for possible use on ESPNEWS.