Stojakovic willing to play for Kings if not moved
After a summer in which he became a father, served in the Greek Army and shocked his teammates by asking to leave Sacramento, the NBA's second-leading scorer last season reported to training camp as scheduled Friday.
Stojakovic seemed upbeat and excited to see his teammates as they began preparations for their preseason trip to China.
But the forward's thoughts about his future still weren't clear after he reiterated his opinion that the Kings would be better off without him -- but he also didn't mind staying in Sacramento.
"I'm still standing behind the words I said in August, but I am professional," Stojakovic said. "I have a contract with the Kings, two years, and I'm going to honor that. It just wouldn't be fair for the city, the organization and for my teammates, who I respect. I'm just going to go out there and play basketball."
Stojakovic averaged a career-best 24.2 points and 6.3 rebounds last season, thriving as the Kings' top offensive threat while Chris Webber was sidelined by a serious knee injury. But when Webber returned from an eight-game suspension after the All-Star break, Stojakovic's assertiveness and production declined.
Stojakovic averaged just 17.5 points in the playoffs, and the Kings were eliminated by Minnesota in the second round. He skipped the Olympics to rest and to serve his military obligation to his adopted nation -- and two months after the season ended, he told the Kings he wanted out.
But Stojakovic gave no concrete reasons for his request, other than a vague declaration that the Kings' chemistry was fractured. After meetings with general manager Geoff Petrie and a conversation with owners Joe and Gavin Maloof, he realized no trade was imminent -- so he moved his girlfriend and newborn son back to Sacramento and went on with life.
"It was my opinion at that time, and I still think about that," he said. "So far, I'm here, and I'm going to play with the team."
Petrie wasn't available for comment, but coach Rick Adelman has no concerns about Stojakovic's focus and effort this season.
"He's such a quality individual," Adelman said. "I never expect him to come out and not play hard. He's just got to find a way to get through this. Everybody has feelings at certain times, but those feelings can change as the season goes on."
Both Stojakovic and Webber denied rumors of a rift. The superstars both joined the Kings along with Adelman and Vlade Divac before the strike-shortened 1999 campaign, leading Sacramento to the first of six straight winning seasons -- the longest stretch of success in franchise history.
"Me and Peja are cool, but I really can't speak on another man, on what he thinks," Webber said. "We're always going to be cool, but I can't speak for him."
The Kings lost Divac to free agency during the summer, but Stojakovic said the departure of his closest friend on the club didn't spark his trade demand. All-Star center Brad Miller will play more minutes now, and the Kings signed Greg Ostertag as a backup.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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