King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Chris Webber sets a great example for the NBA's star big men. No, really. Plus: What kept A-Rod out of New York so long?


Salon Staff
February 20, 2004 1:00AM (UTC)

Has there ever been a team less sorry to lose its star player for eight games than the Sacramento Kings? The NBA hit Webber with the penalty Tuesday for lying to a grand jury and for an unspecified drug violation, and that night the Kings cried all the way to their 38th win in 51 games.

"I don't think it's a big deal," said center Vlade Divac. Yeah, no kidding. Webber, who had knee surgery after tearing cartilage in the playoffs last year, hasn't played a minute this season. Before he was activated, the Kings went 37-13 for the best winning percentage in the league. Since his activation and suspension, they're 1-0.

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You hurry on back, Chris.

Losing Brad Miller for four games after he turned his ankle in the All-Star Game is a bigger short-term issue for the Kings (record since Miller's injury: 1-0), but the Webber situation is a good test of one of my favorite crackpot theories: NBA teams should find a way to have their top big men miss about 50 regular-season games.

Big guys take such a beating over the 82-game "regular season" that by the time the real season starts at playoff time, they're limping along and gutting it out. And I don't just mean post-up centers who spend all winter banging in the low post. I mean 7-foot small forwards too. That's a lot of humanity those legs are carrying for 82 games.

Two teams that might have won the championship last year didn't because a key big guy broke down in the playoffs, Webber of the Kings and Dirk Nowitzki of the Mavericks. Meanwhile the Lakers got beat in part because Shaquille O'Neal never did get himself to 100 percent after coming back from his toe injury. The Spurs kept their big man, Tim Duncan, healthy. The Spurs won the championship. Coincidence? I think not.

The bar to getting into the playoffs is so low -- 16 of the 29 teams make it -- that the half dozen or so clubs good enough to have serious title aspirations almost can't fail to qualify. A lot of attention is paid to having a good enough record to get a high seeding and home-court advantage, but I think playing at home isn't nearly as much of an advantage as playing with a fresh, healthy star big man.

If Webber returns as scheduled, he'll have played 24 games when the playoffs start, plenty enough to get himself into the flow, but not so many that he'll start the playoffs worn down and running on fumes and chickenwire. It says here that's going to give the Kings a big edge when the games really count.

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Teams should start looking for ways to hold their star forwards and centers out until the end of February. Obscure diseases, long "suspensions" to be served while luxuriating at team expense on an island somewhere. A little creativity could go a long way here.

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Curses! Blocked by Aaron Boone [PERMALINK]

My favorite thing about the deal that sent Alex Rodriguez to New York is the idea that the Yankees decided only after Aaron Boone got hurt playing pickup basketball that they had someplace to play A-Rod. "Gee, we'd love to get the best player in the game," the Yankees must have been thinking, "but Aaron Boone is blocking him at third base." Aaron Boone! Aaron Boone wouldn't block Joe Randa, never mind Alex Rodriguez.

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It's too bad the Yankees have Felix Heredia for lefty middle relief, otherwise Barry Zito would be good in that role.

We've seen the same thing happen in other sports. Last year the Lakers were able to sign Karl Malone only after Samaki Walker left, and the Avalanche had room for Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne once Brian Willsie and Sergei Soin came off the books. (Note to those of you who ignore hockey and have no idea who Willsie and Soin are: People who follow hockey don't know who they are either. Thus, the humorous theme of this item continues.)

And I probably shouldn't say this, but my holding down this sports column gig is the only thing that's keeping Salon from hiring Michael Chabon.

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