- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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Heard a good one the other day.
Mess up their frontcourt rotation. Mess up their chemistry. Mess up their offensive flow.
You used to simply hear the one about how the Kings were better without Webber. I thought the Dallas series last spring silenced that theory forever, and I have personally tried to shoot it down, but it has gotten to the point that I need help. So I turned to someone with much more inside-the-Kings knowledge than me.
"Why do people say that (stuff)?" Kings center Vlade Divac offered. "It's so dumb."
Indeed. What makes the Kings so dangerous, besides the quality of their top seven players and the offensive firepower at Rick Adelman's disposal, is their team chemistry. For years it has been just about the best chemistry in the league. And with their interior passing, there is no debate. It is the best in the league.
Guess who is at the heart of all that chemistry and fancy passing?
Right. Besides Divac, it's Webber.
The Kings, furthermore, have an advantage when it comes to working Webber back into the lineup, which will most likely happen after the All-Star break, although still no one can say for sure. The advantage: Sacramento has played without him for long stretches before and knows how to work him back in.
As for those who say the scorching-hot Peja Stojakovic might be slowed down more by Webber's return than any opposing defense, Divac counters by saying: "He'll be better with Chris. Believe me." With the attention Webber commands from opposing defenses, no matter what you think about his supposed go-to guy deficiencies, it's hard to argue.
Vlade foresees season in Europe
Another story circulated this week that Divac is done with international basketball. He told me so as well last weekend. I told him I don't believe it.
Although Divac does point out that "my international career ended perfect" -- with a gold medal at the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis -- I question whether he'll be able to resist the temptation of trying to beat a beefed-up Team USA at the Athens Olympics. The other temptation? Team USA is playing an exhibition game in Belgrade before the Olympics, and it's the sort of once-in-a-lifetime occasion Divac will struggle to pass up.
You can believe that Divac, a free agent this summer, is serious when he says he'll retire from the NBA at season's end if Sacramento wins the championship. Or at least take a one-season break from the NBA. Divac turns 36 on Tuesday and says he wants to play at least one full season in Spain or Italy so his children, who have been essentially raised in America, get a chance to experience a full-fledged European lifestyle. "It's probably the only way they'll get to do that," Divac said.
Two of a kind: Stern and Rozelle
Since we chose to roll out our 20-year tribute to David Stern a week early -- the actual anniversary is Sunday -- here's a bonus view on Stern's legacy from deputy commissioner Russ Granik. Stern probably isn't the best choice to talk about his own legacy, anyway.
"His legacy will be having built the NBA into a great multinational, multicultural global business, which was not in great shape when he took over," Granik said. "I think people look at David and the NBA in the same way as, when I was coming out of school, people looked at Pete Rozelle and the NFL. They're the two guys who took their sports to a whole different level."
Don't know who this Rozelle fellow is, but ... Happy 20th, Commish.
You can add Utah to the list of teams certain to pursue Mavericks guard Steve Nash in the summer. Who better to replace Stockton than Nash, another West Coast Conference alumnus? Dallas, of course, remains the heavy favorite to hold off Utah, Phoenix and anyone else interested, because Nash is so tight with Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Finley. "I want to play with them for the rest of my career," Nash said. ... If Portland doesn't get a better offer than Nick Van Exel and Erick Dampier for Rasheed Wallace over the next three weeks -- and if owner Paul Allen, who scuttled trade talks with Dallas, can be convinced to part with 'Sheed -- that's the trade they'll probably make. Because it's the only offer so far that keeps the Blazers on track to be well under the salary cap in the summer of 2005, while keeping them reasonably competitive in the short term. It would also enable Golden State to clear significant cap room this summer, to chase Kobe Bryant or Nash or pursue other ambitious roster alterations, because they'd be acquiring Wallace now strictly to let him go in July. ... The catch? "All I can say is that there are more offers to come," said one confident Portland insider. ... So who goes to the Kings' bench when Webber is healthy? At the start of the season, Adelman had no doubts. "Vlade was going to start, simple as that," Adelman said. Now, though, Adelman admits he's not sure. He has spoken to Divac and Brad Miller and says both have volunteered to go to the bench. Chances are it will be Miller in the end, because Adelman isn't sure how Divac, who hasn't been a reserve since his rookie season in 1989-90, will adjust to coming into games cold at his, uh, advanced stage of life. "Right now," Adelman said, "I think I could go either way." As for which two of those three bigs will finish games, that's an even bigger unknown at present.
No joke, some in Sacramento believe the return of Chris Webber will mess up the Kings. No, seriously.